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The state of Washington adjusts how COVID-19 deaths are counted



Ryan Blethen

The State Department of Health (DOH) is refining death registration to better track the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, DOH has attributed these deaths to the virus every time someone with a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 dies, said Katie Hutchinson, health statistics manager at DOH.

In the vast majority of cases, COVID-19 was the cause of death of the person. But sometimes people with COVID-1

9 die from something else. Or they have incomplete death certificates and the state is not immediately certain whether COVID-19 played a role.

To distinguish between these, DOH began on Monday dividing the deaths of people with COVID-19 into four categories: Confirmed, Pending, Suspicious and Not COVID-19-related.

“We have been slowly working on our process to make this more detailed and provide more information,” said Hutchinson during a press conference on Tuesday.

DOH removed deaths from the official list when it was found that COVID-19 was not the root cause. Hutchinson said the agency plans to continue this.

So far, DOH has removed more deaths from its total than it added in two days. By June 16, Washington had officially five fewer deaths than the previous day; As of July 12, there were 39 fewer.

On Tuesday, Hutchinson declared the new categories of death:

  • Death is considered “confirmed” if the person tested positive for COVID-19 and their death certificate states that the disease was the cause of death or a contributing factor. This group accounts for 89% of COVID 19 deaths reported in the state on Sunday at 11:59 p.m.
  • A death is considered “pending” if the person’s death certificate does not list the cause of death or has not yet been completed. This category can include Washingtonians who have died outside the state. About 2% of Washington’s deaths are still pending.
  • “Suspicious” deaths, which currently make up 5% of the state’s official death toll, describe COVID-positive people who have died for natural reasons and whose death certificate does not mention the virus. In this case, DOH must investigate and determine whether COVID-19 played a role in the person’s death.
  • Non-COVID 19 deaths are those in which a COVID positive person has definitely died of something that has nothing to do with the virus – for example suicide, overdose, homicide or accident. This was 4% of the deaths recorded by the state at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.

DOH did not immediately respond to requests for an explanation of when it began to delete deaths from the state’s official list, or how often it had until then.

On Tuesday afternoon, a few hours after Hutchinson contacted the press, DOH updated the state’s total: On Monday at 11:59 p.m., Washington had 42,304 coronavirus infections and 1,404 deaths.

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