The state health department has been in the processing of going through death certificates related to COVID-19.
In the last week, the department has taken a random group of about 100 deaths to confirm.
“How our surveillance system works is that if there is a positive test result it gets reported so those are much easier to track than those that come in with it listed somewhere on the death certificate.” Jolianne Stone, the state’s epidemiologist said.
This group of samples is a bit different because these people have listed COVID-19 was a cause or contributor to their death but they never had a positive test result.
Stone estimated there is a backlog of around 1,100 death certificates.
“We did have a gap from October through January when we saw that large increase in deaths,” said Stone.
Stone said COVID-19 can be a cause or contributor because a doctor was able to make an educated decision on why the person died, even if they weren’t able to get tested for COVID-19.
If they run into a questionable death certificate Stone said they will then make a call to that physician that signed off to clear things up.
“We are not discrediting what our physicians are doing,” Stone said. “We know that they are working hard and doing the best they can.”
The department has also pulled health records from various places to put all of those together for each person who died.
“And we look at the cause of death and does it align with what is on the death certificate,” Stone said.
If more than 90% align of the 10% sample group Stone said that will determine the decisions they make to move forward.
“We are going to then make an inference and an assumption that everyone in the backlog will meet the criteria of a COVID related death,” Stone said.
That will increase our total death in the state, closing the gap between the CDC reporting and the state’s.
Stone noted that because the death count will go up, the deaths won’t have been from that exact day.
“We know each death is a person,” Stone said. “A friend, a family member and we recognize that. That is one of the biggest reasons why we want to ensure when we call a death a true death that we have all of the information together.”
Stone said she hopes they will be able to finish going through the sample group in the next one to two weeks.