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COVID-19 cause of death reporting changes

Deaths not attributed to COVID-19 will not be included in daily data.

Last week I talked about the death certificate as the final chapter of a person’s complicated story. I explained the steps in the death data reporting process and covered how it takes more than a year to get final death trend information. For example, if we wanted to know about how many Pierce County residents died of heart disease this year, we must wait until several months into 2021 to get the final quality checked numbers from Department of Health. 

People want death data immediately to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affects all of us. These numbers are preliminary. Accuracy requires time. Yet health statisticians are urged to provide this information rapidly. We adjust when we learn more about a death, and sometimes we update our numbers  when we learn new information .  

So far, we reported 79 Pierce County residents died of COVID-19 and another 5 tested positive for COVID-19 but likely died of other causes. We separated these deaths that need additional investigation to determine if COVID-19 was a cause. 

A woman holding a death certificate

At the beginning of the outbreak, Department of Health defined COVID-19 deaths as anyone with a recent diagnosis who died. This decision allowed them to quickly capture and report information. Later, health statisticians would re-assess deaths that needed additional investigation. 

In May, the state announced it would remove these unconfirmed COVID-19 deaths from mortality data. Starting this week, we no longer report those unconfirmed deaths. In those cases, a person diagnosed with COVID-19 died; however, COVID-19 was not listed on the death certificate as cause or contributor. Now we will report the number of deaths due to COVID-19 only when the health provider lists COVID-19 as a cause of death. Instead of reporting the number of people with COVID-19 who died, we will report the number of people who died from COVID-19.

COVID-19 has challenged our community’s health, economy, our mental health, and social norms. It also strained our data reporting systems. It is a bit like trying to put out a burning home with a garden hose. We’ve done our best to let you know when we need to make corrections to how we report—what they are and why we’re making them. And we will continue to do our best as we recover.

Thanks for your understanding as we work hard to provide reliable local health information and data. 

For more information about COVID-19, visit tpchd.org/coronavirus.