Special to Atmore News
Death counts from COVID-19 appear to vary widely based on their reporting sources — the news media, hospitals and county health departments — and there are reasons these apparent discrepancies in the number of deaths occur.
“The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) considers any death to be a significant loss to family, loved ones and friends,” said ADPH’s Dr. Karen Landers. “We work to provide information that has been vetted by our team in terms of accuracy related to COVID-19 deaths. The Alabama COVID-19 Dashboard Hub (at arcg.is/0brSGj) remains the most accurate source for all data related to COVID-19 in Alabama.”
Dr. Landers pointed out that new deaths added to the state health department’s “Deaths” box on the COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard (at arcg.is/1uKqbC) may not reflect deaths that actually occurred on the day they are added.
When an individual dies due to COVID-19, it takes a median of 25 days for the death to be reported to ADPH, she said. As deaths are reported, each death is investigated to determine if it was a COVID-19 death. Confirmed COVID-19 deaths are listed by the actual date of death.
Some reasons death counts may vary include:
*Counts by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) often track 1–2 weeks behind other data.
*Death certificates take time to be completed.
*States report at different rates. Currently, 63 percent of all U.S. deaths are reported within 10 days of the date of death, but there is significant variation between states.
*It takes extra time to code COVID-19 deaths. While 80 percent of deaths are electronically processed and coded by NCHS within minutes, most deaths from COVID-19 must be coded by a person, which takes an average of 7 days.
*Other reporting systems use different definitions or methods for counting deaths.
Some descriptions of terms used in COVID-19 reporting:
Probable versus confirmed — A COVID-19 death is considered a probable death if it only has the death certificate and no confirmatory laboratory evidence. Confirmed and probable deaths are both included in the total deaths on the dashboard.
Current process and priority — The current process for reviewing death investigations hinges on the receipt of the death certificate, with the exception of the COVID-19 deaths occurring for those under the age of 21 or pregnant. If found to be accurate, the death appears on the dashboard in real time. For the most accurate and complete picture of COVID-19 deaths in Alabama, the COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard graphs cumulative COVID-19 deaths by actual date of death under Tab 9 at arcg.is/1uKqbC.
Typically, when there is a spike in cases and hospitalizations, a spike in total number of deaths on the dashboard is soon to follow.