Four Percent of State’s COVID-19 Deaths Now Reported Not to Have Died From Disease

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The Washington State Department of Health has released a more detailed breakdown of deaths of individuals confirmed to have COVID-19 that shows that 89 percent of all those deaths were confirmed to be a result of the disease and 4 percent have been ruled out as caused by the virus.

On July 14, the department released the report, which clarified the nature of deaths in individuals who had the disease. The report broke out deaths of COVID-19 patients into four categories: those where the disease could be confirmed a cause of death, those that were suspected to be deaths from COVID-19 but the disease was not listed on the individual’s death certificate, those with a pending or missing cause of death but were suspected to have died of the disease, and those where a cause of death was something other than COVID-19.

Of those different categories, 1,301 out of 1,458 deaths of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 were confirmed to have died from the disease, or about 89 percent, according to the report. Sixty-five of the deaths were determined not to be caused by the disease in individuals who tested positive for COVID-19, or about 4 percent of total deaths of confirmed infected, with 67 being deaths suspected from the disease but not confirmed, and 25 either having pending or missing determinations.

The report also indicated 80 “probable” deaths from COVID-19 in the state, which it explained were those where the disease was listed as a cause of death but there was no positive test to confirm an individual had the disease. Of those probable deaths, Clark County had two while Thurston County had one — Lewis and Cowlitz counties had none.

During a press call the day of the report’s release, Washington State Department of Health Statistics Manager Kathy Hutchinson said determination of whether COVID-19 led to an individual’s death could be “very complex,” saying in some cases it could take weeks to know for sure. The determination used a variety of data sources including testing information, case investigations, the death certificate and information from local public health departments, she said.

Hutchinson said that the health department currently does not have plans for regular updates on the report, noting that pending deaths were likely to change to either confirmed or not. Though the rate of daily change in cases prohibit such regular updates, she said the report gave a better understanding of the death toll and would “inform the response” of the state as it handles the pandemic.

Following the call, Gov. Jay Inslee addressed the new report during a press conference generally about the extension of a pause on Washington counties moving into subsequent phases of the state’s “Safe Start Washington” plan. Both he and Washington State Health Officer Kathy Lofy commented that the upshot of the report was the vast majority of cases of death from individuals confirmed to have COVID-19 was the disease.

“The bottom line is it is really a small percent that (removal of COVID-19 as cause of death) happens to,” Lofy remarked.

Inslee shot back at individuals who may use the discrepancy in past counts to the reality of causes of death as reason to question the state’s response to the disease, saying it was “shocking” to him that individuals were willing to argue over specific deaths to COVID-19.

“It would be such a waste if we quibble about whether this (death) number is 1,000 or 1,100,” Inslee remarked. “We know that this is a very serious disease. It’s killing hundreds of people. It has the prospect of killing thousands of more in our state, and we need to act.”

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