BURGAW — On Wednesday, rumors circulated on social media that Pender County was underreporting the number of active Covid-19 cases due to a Microsoft Bing case tracking website that showed 12 active cases had been identified in the county.
Pender County spokesperson Tammy Proctor said she notified Bing — Microsoft’s search engine that runs the Covid-19 Tracker — to correct the number, which was four times higher than the three positive cases the county was reporting at the time.
RELATED: From Surf City to the South Carolina border, most public beach accesses now closed [Free read]
“Bing is incorrectly reporting that Pender has 12 cases … It makes me doubt any of their data,” Proctor said.
It seems Microsoft listened. On Thursday morning, the same profile page for Pender County showed two active cases — one case below what the county was reporting.
Moments later, Proctor said she had just received word that the county was now reporting four confirmed cases, the newest involving a patient who is currently out of state.
“[T]he count of positive cases always refers back to the home address,” Proctor said.
The county’s third confirmed case involved a resident whose test was performed by a healthcare provider outside the county, according to the county’s April 8 situation report.
Those two latest confirmed cases, plus Microsoft’s overestimated case count, reveal the difficulty local governments, large corporations, and agencies like the CDC face while collecting and reporting data in the era of the novel coronavirus pandemic, when information is scattered and changing every minute. But it is unclear how Microsoft came up with its number of 12 cases in the county.
The county’s health director, Carolyn Moser, said Bing’s estimate was evidently making its rounds on Facebook.
“Sometimes we get assigned cases because they think it’s in Pender County but it’s not, and that has to be corrected, but that’s only happened a couple of times,” Moser said. “So I don’t know where they get their data from — certainly not from the state DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services].”
According to Bing’s website, the number of active cases, recoveries, and fatalities are gathered using data from the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) — a handful of the world’s largest health agencies that have been actively monitoring the global Covid-19 outbreak.
But Bing’s Covid-19 Tracker also says it collects data from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia created and edited by volunteers around the world, and a website called 24/7 Wall Street, which markets itself as providing “insightful analysis and commentary for U.S. and global equity investors.”
When asked why the Bing Covid-10 Tracker uses sources like Wikipedia and 24/7 Wall Street, a Microsoft Bing spokesperson said on Thursday that Bing aggregates data from WHO, CDC, and ECDC, “among other authoritative sources, into accessible experiences across MSN [Microsoft News] and Bing.”
“We leverage Wikipedia data as a source along with official government websites and partners to generate the final count numbers that show in our experiences,” the spokesperson said.
In response to why their was such a large discrepancy with Pender County’s official reporting (3 cases at the time) and Bing’s estimate (12), the spokesperson said engineers “are looking into the conflicting data and will inform you when the issue is resolved.”
“As the situation is changing rapidly, we’re refreshing the data multiple times per day, and show a timestamp for when we published the latest available data,” according to the spokesperson. “Our goal is to provide the most up-to-date information and we are working around the clock to ensure that is reflected in the experience.”
By late Thursday morning, Proctor said she had not received a response from Bing regarding its Wednesday estimate.
The county’s April 8 situation report indicated that its health department was aware of 95 residents who have been tested for Covid-19 by healthcare providers within the county. At the time, two of those tests were confirmed positive while an additional test performed by a healthcare provider outside the county was also confirmed positive. Nine tests were reported still pending.
Send tips and comments to the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org, @markdarrough on Twitter, or (970) 413-3815