Georgia fudged the coronavirus charts used to show it was safe to reopen

Even as he was condemned by health experts, Republicans from his own state, and in a rare instance, President Donald Trump, Gov. Brian Kemp used data models to justify reopening Georgia on April 30. But were the numbers he used, real?

Because of the way the data was presented in the report, the data could have been misinterpreted.

While providing up-to-date information on the pandemic in the state, Georgia’s Department of Public Health (DPH) mixed up the order of dates and the hardest-hit counties in a graph to make it look like its COVID-19 cases were systematically declining.


What made the graph “cuckoo”

On the horizontal x-axis of the graph, the date began on April 28 and went back a day to April 27. It then skipped ahead to April 29 and then to May 1 before going back to April 30. This inconsistency with dates continued throughout the graph.

The colored bars — each color displaying a county — were rearranged in a different order for every date to make it look like the cases were dipping.

While local reporters noted this pattern as early as May 10, the Department of Public Health didn’t make changes to the graph until Monday, May 18th. The governor’s office apologized, too: “Our mission failed. We apologize. It is fixed,”

Candice Broce, Gov. Kemp’s communications director tweeted.

Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC),

“It’s just cuckoo. I don’t know how anyone can defend this graph as not being misleading. I really don’t.”

Have the cases in Georgia really declined?

The short answer is, it’s too soon to tell.

Slate noted that one of the reasons that the cases might appear to be declining is because of the time lag between testing for the virus, reporting it, and then recording it as part of the state’s data.

According to experts, the coronavirus case counts right now don’t represent the outbreak at this very moment, but the numbers from two weeks before. So the dip right now could be reflecting the lockdown’s success.

Why is this important?

At a time when governors are receiving death threats for lockdowns, and anti-lockdown protestors are storming capitols with guns, the state’s apparent flattening of the COVID-19 curve — or their misinterpretation of it — is making Americans question why what Georgia is doing won’t work in their states.

The Wall Street Journal even praised it as the “Georgia Model — An encouraging escape from lockdown.”

Public health experts still think it’s too soon to reopen the economy safely.

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