How The Use Of Microsoft Excel Caused Misreporting of COVID-19 Numbers

Microsoft Excel

The inexperienced use of the renowned Microsoft Excel software is the reason nearly 16,000 Coronavirus cases have gone unreported in England.

Microsoft Excel Comes Short on Coronavirus Cases

According to BBC, the issue was caused by the way the agency brought together logs produced by commercial firms analysing swab tests of the public, to discover who has the virus.

Here’s where they went wrong. They filed their results in the form of text-based lists – known as CSV files – without issue. The problem is that PHE’s own developers picked an old file format to do this – known as XLS.

Because of this mistake, each template could handle only about 65,000 rows. This is rather than the one million-plus rows that Excel is actually capable of.

Now since each test result created several rows of data, in practice it meant that each template was limited to about 1,400 cases. When that total was reached, further cases were simply left off.

“Excel is for people mucking around with a bunch of data for their small company to see what it looks like.” Prof Jon Crowcroft from the University of Cambridge.

There is one expert who says that even a high-school computing student would know that better alternatives exist.

“And then when you need to do something more serious, you build something bespoke that works. There are dozens of other things you can do. You wouldn’t use XLS. Nobody would start with that.” Continues Prof Jon

To handle the problem, PHE is now breaking down the test result data into smaller batches. This will help create a larger number of Excel templates and ensure none hit their cap.

Some insiders acknowledge that the current clunky system needs replacing by something better that excludes Excel.

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