Submitted by Washington State Department of Health
In the continuing effort to collect, maintain and publish the most useful data available to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington State Department of Health has published a new death data report that includes different categories of COVID-19 deaths. Among those who have tested positive for COVID-19, these categories include confirmed due to COVID-19, suspected of being due to COVID-19, non-COVID-19 deaths and deaths pending or missing cause of death. In addition, there are 77 deaths that are probably due to COVID-19, but they are not among those who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Since the first COVID-19 case in Washington in January, DOH has worked to transparently release data in near real-time so that the public, health care providers, policymakers, the media and public health professionals can access current information. This additional information gives context for decision-makers working to stop the spread of the virus.
Approximately 89 percent of the deaths among lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases also reference COVID-19 on the death certificate. An additional 4 percent have been determined not to be COVID-19 related and have been removed from the dashboard count. The remaining 7 percent are pending or the death certificate is unclear and requires further examination and review. Our data dashboard represents approximately 96 percent (89 percent + 7 percent) of all deaths to lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Confirmed Deaths: Deaths that occur among those who have tested positive for COVID-19, and whose death certificates mention COVID-19 as contributing to or causing the death, or a specific COVID-19-like condition (e.g. acute respiratory distress syndrome or pneumonia), without specifically mentioning COVID-19.
Suspect Deaths: Deaths that do not indicate COVID-19 on the death certificate, but which occur among those who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Pending or Missing Cause of Death: Deaths among those who have tested positive for COVID-19 where the death certificate is pending or the cause of death is not yet filled out. Many of these deaths are very recent deaths, out of state deaths that we don’t yet have certificates for or complex deaths still sitting with the local medical examiner or coroner.
Non-COVID Deaths: Deaths that occur amongst those who have tested positive for COVID-19, but who have died of unrelated causes. This includes homicides, suicides, overdoses, car accidents and other natural deaths where COVID-19 has been ruled out as contributing to the death.
To determine whether COVID-19 contributed to a person’s death, DOH uses death certificates, COVID-19 testing results, case/contact investigation information, follow-up with medical certifiers and information from local public health jurisdictions. Determining whether COVID-19 caused or contributed to a person’s death can be a complex process that may take weeks to verify.
This report highlights this complexity by breaking down the ways in which our data collection teams categorize each death, and how they work overtime to investigate deaths and categorize them appropriately.
As we’ve highlighted before, the collection and finalization of death data is normally a long process. It may take up to a year to get finalized counts on COVID-19 deaths.
Learn more about reopening and the statewide response to COVID-19 at coronavirus.wa.gov.
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 your phone wherever you are.