More COVID-19 deaths added to state total as Department of Health revises data reporting process

More COVID-19 deaths added to state total as Department of Health revises data reporting process

WASHINGTON — A two-phased change in how the Washington State Department of Health reports COVID-19 deaths is in the works so that more information is made available on whether the virus caused or contributed to a death.

On Thursday, officials announced that there were 17 additional deaths as part of the new process, as described below:

Phase 1: Remove deaths where COVID-19 did not contribute to death from our death count. For Phase 1, this will result in seven deaths being removed from our current death count, including two suicides, three homicides, and two overdose deaths. Four of the deaths are from King and three are from Yakima. Additional non-COVID-19 deaths may be removed throughout the course of the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Phase 2: Expand how we report deaths to identify whether we can confirm or rule out COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, including identifying probable and suspected deaths. As part of Phase 2, future COVID-19 death classifications will include whether:

  • COVID-19 contributed to the death (death certificate, testing, and other case information available to confirm);
  • COVID-19 probably contributed to the death (death certificate information available but testing information not available);
  • COVID-19 is suspected to have contributed to death (follow-up being conducted prior to ruling out or confirming death); or
  • COVID-19 did not contribute to the death (examples include homicide, overdose, suicide, car accident, or disease with clear exclusion of COVID-19 illness).

As part of the DOH’s investigations for COVID-19 death data, it identifies deaths by linking death certificates and positive cases.

Since February, the department’s epidemiologists have identified a number of deaths that pinpointed COVID-19 on the death certificates but could not link them to positive tests. Those deaths have not been reported in the statewide counts, reflecting the deaths of those who tested positive, officials said.

Due to the revised process, more deaths related to COVID-19 have been identified and reported.

Officials said scientists are working with many data points and sources to give people a better picture of how the virus is impacting the state, so they can understand larger trends.

Officials also stated, “As we speed up the process of collating and releasing sensitive data, we understand these changes can impact people’s understanding of how COVID-19 is affecting our state. We are making adjustments like the one announced today to improve the quality of these data so that shared understanding is more accurate.”

The DOH said it will continue to review its processes to ensure it is providing accurate, up-to-date information and data as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.