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Washington DOH updates COVID-19 reporting to include death categories

Nurses wearing protective clothing handle a vial containing a potentially infected coronavirus swab at a drive-by testing center at the University of Washington Medical campus. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

In the Washington State Department of Health’s data update on Monday, there were 39 fewer deaths than reported on Sunday. The DOH said Tuesday that this decrease is due to a changed reporting system. The department released a new report July 14, 2020, to explain how the department plans to enhance COVID-19 death reporting statewide.

The report classifies the 1,458 deaths among Washington residents as confirmed, suspected, pending, or non-COVID deaths. There is also a separate category for when a death is probable to be COVID-19 related, but there is no positive test result associated with the death.

The 1,458 number is the deaths of people in Washington state who have had a positive COVID-19 test. It includes 65 deaths for which COVID-19 was ruled out as a cause or contributing factor; nine of which were due to homicide, suicide, or accident, and 56 were natural deaths.

In order to be categorized, data is collected from the cause of death information on the death certificate, testing results, case or contact investigation information, follow-up with medical certifiers, and information from local public health jurisdictions.

Kate Hutchinson with the DOH said in a virtual press conference Tuesday that 89% of the reported deaths, about 1,300 in total, fall into the confirmed category with both a positive result and COVID-19 listed on the death certificate.

Hutchinson also said finalized death reports can take up to a year, but most of the process has been reduced to just a few weeks.

“Determining whether COVID-19 either caused or contributed to a person’s death can be very complex and may take weeks to verify depending on the complexity of the case,” the report reads. “As we go through the regular DOH process for finalizing death counts, we will make all warranted adjustments to these data, and numbers are likely to change over time.”

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The changes are being made to provide more context on COVID-19 death reporting and better reflect deaths where the virus caused or contributed to the death. From this process, 39 deaths were removed, all of which were natural deaths that were determined not to be caused by COVID-19.

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