The Washington State Department of Health on Tuesday announced publication of 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.
In its Tuesday announcement, the health department said that since the first COVID-19 case in Washington in January, it has worked to transparently release data in near real-time so that the public, health care providers, policy makers, 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, the department said.
Approximately 89% of the deaths among lab confirmed COVID-19 cases also reference COVID-19 on the death certificate. An additional 4% have been determined not to be COVID-19 related and have been removed from the dashboard count. The remaining 7% are pending or the death certificate is unclear and requires further examination and review. The data dashboard represents approximately 96% (89% + 7%) 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 which 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, the health department said it 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 over time to investigate deaths and categorize them appropriately,” the department said.
As highlighted before, the collection and finalization of death data is normally a long process, the department said. 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.