Health officials in Washington state said they are reassessing their Covid-19 fatality data, warning of underreported deaths, even after noting that five people who died of gunshot wounds were inexplicably included in the figures.
“We currently do have some deaths that are being reported that are clearly from other causes. We have about 5 deaths… that we know of that are related to obvious other causes. In this case, they are from gunshot wounds,” Dr. Katie Hutchison, health statistics manager for the Washington State Department of Health, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday.
There are a number of nuances to the data that we report and often it is very difficult – especially quickly – to make an assessment on the cause of death.
Though the state said its current coronavirus death tally includes anyone that dies after testing positive for the illness, it remains unclear how the gunshot victims ended up in the count – where they still remain. Hutchison said the figure would soon be revised to account for the glaring error, however.
Between 20 and 30 other cases included in the count are more difficult to rule out, the health department official went on, as the virus is believed to have played a role in their passing, but non-coronavirus causes are listed on their official death certificates. She said it typically takes six months to a year to clarify such questions.
Not included in the state’s count are some 3,000 fatal cases believed to have been caused by the virus and whose death certificates suggest Covid-like symptoms, but remain unconfirmed. Because of that, Hutchison said the true death toll may be understated.
We suspect that we are actually more likely to be undercounting deaths than overcounting them.
Other states have made similar readjustments to their Covid-19 death tallies. Last week, Colorado’s Department of Health and Environment reduced its death count by nearly 300, from 1,150 to 878. The changes were made after several cases of reported coronavirus deaths caught the eye of officials and media, including one incident in which a man who had died from alcohol poisoning had been declared a victim of the virus.
In April, Pennsylvania slashed more than 200 deaths from its own total, citing concerns about accurate reporting.
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