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New policy to delay COVID-19 death reports in Ohio

The Ohio Department of Health is overhauling how it reports COVID-19 fatalities. It will take longer to provide death data, but that data should be more accurate, according to its director.

This comes less than three weeks after the ODH disclosed it had underreported the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state by more than 4,200.

The ODH announced Tuesday that it would count “only verified mortality” COVID-19 fatalities from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s electronic death registration system.

The CDC method is expected to take longer to verify COVID-19 as the cause of death, said Stephanie McCloud, ODH director.

“It will have quality assurance checks on that automated process, but it will be somewhat delayed,” she said.

The change will cause COVID-19 death numbers to decline temporarily, McCloud said.

That resulted in a reduction of 596 COVID-19 deaths in the state Tuesday, compared to Monday.

The state previously provided COVID-19 death numbers from reconciling two lists: one with initial deaths reported from hospitals, urgent care facilities and health districts, and the other from death certificates.

“There is going to be some fluctuation in deaths as we make the transition,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, ODH’s chief medical officer.

He added that the department “is committed to sharing information as quickly as possible, but not at the price of accuracy. That is why, as we move forward, we will be reporting the gold standard of data from EDRS. The mortality rate will be more accurate.”

The ODH revealed Feb. 10 it had underreported about 4,275 COVID-19 deaths as it had a single employee, who resigned after the issue was detected, manually handling the two databases. That person became overwhelmed when the number of COVID-19 deaths sharply increased during the final three months of 2020, McCloud said.

That meant about 1 in 4 COVID-19 deaths was not reported.

The ODH has made some quality assurance changes that will make the COVID-19 death totals more accurate but also delay the information from being provided to the public, McCloud said.

Instead of death data being provided daily, it will be given once or twice a week, she said.

Death data will lag for as long as six months, according to the ODH.

Because of the change, the total number of COVID-19 deaths listed by the ODH went from 17,346 Monday to 16,750 Tuesday.

Trumbull County saw its COVID-19 fatality number drop from 465 Monday to 413 Tuesday while Mahoning County showed a decline from 544 Monday to 537 Tuesday.

In a twist, Columbiana County’s COVID-19 death number saw an increase – from 183 Monday to 200 Tuesday.

An ODH spokeswoman couldn’t be reached Tuesday to comment on the Columbiana County one-day spike.

But it wasn’t the only county to see more fatalities. For example, Ashtabula County went from 145 COVID-19 deaths Monday to 152 Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, McCloud signed two public health orders.

The first lifted a 300-person limit on wedding receptions, funeral receptions, proms and other events at indoor facilities as long as face masks are used and social distancing is followed.

The second affirms what Gov. Mike DeWine discussed last Thursday about a 30 percent capacity for outdoor sporting and entertainment events and 25 percent for indoor events also with face masks and social distancing.

COVID-19 CASES

The ODH reported 1,709 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, below the daily average of 2,154 during the past 21 days.

The state had a total of 970,583 COVID-19 cases with 914,893 presumed recovered and 16,750 deaths as of Tuesday, according to the ODH.

Mahoning County had 19,470 total cases as of Tuesday with 18,192 presumed recovered and 537 deaths, according to the ODH.

The state reported Trumbull County had 14,337 total COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday with 13,325 presumed recovered and 413 fatalities.

Columbiana County had 8,134 total COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday with 7,629 presumed recovered and 200 deaths, according to the ODH.

VACCINATIONS

The ODH reported 1,725,712 people, 14.76 percent of the state’s population, had received at least the first of the two-dose vaccine as of 6 a.m. Tuesday, including 38,308 in the previous 24 hours.

In Mahoning County, 17.42 percent of the population (39,929 people) had received at least the first dose compared with 15.46 percent in Trumbull County (30,600 people) and 14.43 percent in Columbiana County (14,699 people) as of 6 a.m. Tuesday, according to the ODH.

There were 938,600 people, 8.03 percent of the state’s population, receiving both vaccine doses as of 6 a.m. Tuesday, including 26,276 in the prior 24 hours.

In Mahoning County, 9.83 percent of the population (22,470 people) had received both doses while 7.95 percent of the population in Trumbull (15,731 people) and 7 percent of the population in Columbiana (7,133 people) had both doses as of 6 a.m. Tuesday.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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