An online New York Times article titled “Monitoring the Coronavirus Outbreak in Metro Areas Across the U.S.” circulated misinformation over the weekend.
It ranked Palestine as the number one metropolitan area in the nation for daily average cases in the past two weeks.
The article stated Palestine, Texas was a metropolitan area with a population of 57,735. This is actually closer to the population of Anderson County, which as of 2020 was reported to be 57,747. The population of Palestine is currently 18,150.
The article does not cite where it obtained its information, but claims it is based on a two week average.
“In the last two weeks, Sept. 21 through Oct. 4, Anderson County only had 118 confirmed and probable cases,” said Christina Crockett, director of Anderson County Emergency Management. “While this is a big number, it is nowhere near the 1,424 cases that the article stated.”
In fact, the Department of State Health Services case count by counties shows Anderson County to be at 2,821 confirmed cases in total as of Oct. 4. This count includes the five Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison units in our county that are not being reported in the county daily counts of residents. This total case count is roughly 5% of our population.
As of Sunday, the TDCJ inmate case count shows a total of only six active cases in these five prisons.
The past two weeks of daily reports received by Anderson County have shown a decline in the total number of positive cases of the virus.
The NETHealth website case counts revolve around seven counties, to include Anderson County. Since Sept. 19 there have been a total of 1,339 confirmed and probable cases within these seven counties.
This article circulated statewide and nationally, if not globally. County Judge Robert Johnson reported receiving questions about its legitimacy Monday while at a conference in Abilene. One member of the community, who contacted Mayor Steve Presley with regard to the report, detailed receiving the link from a friend in Florida.
“If you read through the comments on this article you will see that readers from different parts of the United States questioned the statistics for their areas as being incorrect and/or not considered a metro area,” Crockett said.
“The authors of the article responded to these comments by saying that the information gathered was from several areas/counties classified as metro areas, not just the city that the numbers are associated with. If you look at the bottom of one of the graphs it states, ‘Metro and micropolitan areas are bigger than just the city limits of a given place — they often include the surrounding suburbs and exurbs,’” she said.
“We hope that providing local actual COVID-19 statistics from these different agencies has helped in providing a clearer picture of our local numbers compared to the information in the article that was based on bigger, broader, and combined information that includes more than just Palestine, Texas statistics.”
Presley said he feels this error by the New York Times could have a negative impact on our community.
“So many of our opportunities for tourism have already been impacted by this pandemic,” he said. “Now as we enter into the holiday season and have hopes of capturing some tourism dollars from visitors of the Polar Express, the New York Times prints this article that is completely false, possibly hindering annual visitors from continuing their annual trek to our community.”
Calls and emails to the New York Times requesting its source for the data referenced in the article were not returned as of press time Monday evening.