Crashing computers, three-week delays tracking infections, lab results delivered by snail mail: State officials detail a vast failure to identify hotspots quickly enough to prevent outbreaks.
Covid-19 was spreading rapidly throughout the United States, as cold winter weather began to drive people indoors, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was flying blind: The state agencies that it relied on were way behind in their tracking, with numbers trickling in from labs by fax or even snail mail.
Inside the state health department in Oklahoma City, staffers shuffled through piles of paper they’d pulled out of fax machines and sorted through hundreds of secure emails to upload Covid-19 lab results manually to the state’s digital dashboard — a system that often malfunctioned. Other employees desperately tried to work with labs — many of whom had not worked with the state previously — to walk them through the process of sending results electronically.
When the data came in, state employees routinely found errors — instances where a person was counted twice or two people with the same name were identified as a single patient.