A Washington health official admitted that the state counted some deaths from causes other than coronavirus, including victims of gunshot wounds, as part of the COVID-19 death toll.
The Washington Department of Health held a virtual meeting Thursday with reporters. During the press briefing, a Washington health official said that some gunshot victims had been counted as COVID-19 deaths.
"There are a number of nuances to the data that we report and often it is very difficult — especially quickly — to make an assessment on the cause of death," said Dr. Katie Hutchison, health statistics manager for the Washington State Department of Health.
"We currently have a number where it says unspecified natural causes, for example, again for these deaths, we really aren't able to make a determination on whether they died from COVID or not," Hutchison said. "We're currently reporting only deaths that are identified to a COVID positive case."
"We have a number of deaths, and right now it's just under 100, where the death certificate indicates that the person is COVID-19, or probable COVID-19, we've not been able to link them to a positive case in our disease tracking system," she continued. "So we're not able to definitively rule them in or rule them out."
"Our current dashboard reflects anyone who died, that tested positive for COVID, irrespective of cause of death," Hutchison said during the news briefing.
Included in the COVID-19 deaths are some fatalities where the patients were victims of gunshot wounds.
"We don't always know the cause of death for a death when it is first reported on our dashboard. That is true," Hutchison said. "Over the course of the outbreak, we have been monitoring and recording the causes of death as we know it. We currently do have some deaths that are being reported that are clearly from other causes."
"We have about five deaths — less than five deaths — that we know of that are related to obvious other causes," the Washington health official said. "In this case, they are from gunshot wounds."
"Over the course of the outbreak, we have been very aware of a small number of deaths being reported on our dashboard that end up not being due to COVID," she stated. "We will be removing them over time from our death count."
Hutchison said it might "take up to a year or more to get final counts on COVID-19 deaths."
According to the Washington Department of Health, the state has over 19,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,044 COVID-19 deaths as of Friday afternoon. Nearly 10% of Washington's COVID-19 deaths cannot be linked "to a positive case" of coronavirus in the state's disease tracking system.
"Currently, we're reporting just over 1,000 deaths, I would say that we currently have about a 3% variance on that," Hutchison explained. "So, if we were to take our 30 deaths that are questionable – that we have about a 3% variance on that. And that is really quite excellent — considering how death certificates are processed."
Washington's Department of Health is reviewing the cases that are likely from other causes to see if the coronavirus played a part in the deaths.
Hutchison stated that there are about 3,000 cases dating back to Jan. 1, where the person's death certificate indicated symptoms similar to COVID-19.
There has been scrutiny on other cases when a person's cause of death was labeled as "COVID-19," when it likely wasn't. Last week, there was a Colorado man who died of acute alcohol poisoning, according to the Montezuma County coroner. However, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment said that the man died of the coronavirus.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health questioned the cause of death of a 17-year-old that was initially declared to be from COVID-19.
"Though early tests indicated a positive result for COVID-19, the case is complex and there may be an alternate explanation for this fatality," the statement from Los Angeles County Department of Public Health read. "Patient privacy prevents our offering further details at this time."
San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond said that only six of the coronavirus deaths in his county were "purely, solely" from COVID-19.
Colorado lowered the state's COVID-19 death toll by nearly 300 last week. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment significantly changed the way it counted COVID-19 deaths, lowering the state's coronavirus deaths from 1,150 to 878.