The Washington State Department of Health is working on a two-phased change in death reporting that will provide more information on whether COVID-19 caused or contributed to a particular death. As part of this process, DOH is continually improving how to identify the deaths of those who tested positive for COVID-19. Thursday, officials announced the addition of 17 deaths to the state’s official COVID-19 total as part of this process.
The team that investigates death data for COVID-19 identifies deaths by linking death certificates and positive COVID-19 cases. Our epidemiologists have identified a number of deaths since February that identified COVID-19 on the death certificate, but could not link them to positive COVID-19 tests. Officials nave not been reporting these deaths in statewide counts, which only reflect the deaths of those who tested positive for COVID-19. Over the past few weeks, the epidemiology team improved the linkage process, which identified COVID-19 positive tests for 17 of these deaths.
Epidemiologists (data scientists) are working with many data points and sources to create a picture of COVID-19’s impact in our state, so they can better understand larger trends.
As DOH speeds up the process of collating and releasing sensitive data, officials understand these changes can impact people’s understanding of how COVID-19 is affecting our state. They are making adjustments like the one announced Thursday to improve the quality of these data so that shared understanding is more accurate.
Since the first COVID-19 case in Washington in January, DOH has worked to release data in near real-time so that the public, health care providers, policy makers, the media, and public health professionals can access the most current information. However, the normal process for releasing final death data is complex, involves multiple data systems, and can take up to 18 months from start to finish. This modified process requires that they make these adjustments publicly and quickly, but does not impact the quality of the data or of our reporting.
DOH will continue to review processes to ensure they are providing accurate, up-to-date information and data as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can also find COVID-19 information on the Department of Health’s website or call 1-800-525-0127. You can text the word “coronavirus” to 211-211 to receive information and updates on their phone wherever they are.