The Lead

Levine: New count of COVID-19 fatalities will yield more accurate county tally

By: - May 18, 2020 3:23 pm

Pa. Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine briefs the press on Saturday, 4/25/20

A new system of counting COVID-19 fatalities will yield “as near to real time data,” as possible on people statewide who are succumbing to the disease, Pennsylvania’s top public health official said Monday.

Facing significant pushback over ongoing gaps in county and state fatality counts, the state’s Electronic Death Reporting System will count COVID-19 fatalities based on the deceased person’s county of residence, instead of listing them based on the county where they were receiving hospital treatment or were living in a nursing home at the the time of death, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said.

The professional association that represents county coroners has been voicing concerns about disparities in fatality counts at the state and local level, where death counts often conflicted.

Through midday Monday, state health officials had confirmed 63,056 COVID-19 cases in all 67 counties, with 4,505 confirmed fatalities.

Speaking to journalists during an online news briefing, Levine said the state’s old system, which took deaths from each provider and matched them against people who had tested positive, had been overwhelmed by the pandemic. As a practical matter, that meant it often took several days for the state to reconcile its fatality count against information provided by county coroners.

The new system, Levine said, is in keeping with guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. County coroners will continue to be required to calculate fatalities based on where someone died, she added.

From here on out, fatality counts, both by county, and by nursing homes, will be listed in two different places on the department’s website.

“So it means that total death count and facility deaths count may not add up,” Levine said, adding quickly that the agency won’t be “double counting.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.