COVID reporting methods revised

County's death toll doubles due to change

May 20, 2020 Cranberry Local News


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Because of a change to a different reporting system by the state Department of Health, the statistics for the death toll from the coronavirus for counties has changed.

“It's all screwed up, and why I'm not real sure,” said Butler County Coroner William Young III.

While some death tolls, Butler County's included, suddenly increased, others, like Beaver County's, decreased.

Butler County's death toll remained at six from April 21 to May 18, according to data reported by the Department of Health. In the department's report Tuesday, however, it changed the way it presented deaths. Coinciding with this change, Butler County's death toll doubled from six to 12.

Young said he did not know where the six new deaths came from. He said he saw five deaths come through his office and was notified of a sixth to a Butler County resident who died in Armstrong County, but he received no information about the six new deaths attributed to the county.

Also troubled by the changes were Armstrong County Coroner Brian Myers, who posted on the office's official Facebook page on Monday, saying he subpoenaed the Department of Health over the weekend over similar circumstances.

According to Myers's post, until Tuesday, Armstrong County was attributed with six deaths.

He issued a subpoena to gather information related to all of the deaths attributed to Armstrong County.

“As of their noon website update, the number of Armstrong deaths had been corrected, and now reads two,” the post said.

Myers said he received word Tuesday night from the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association that local coroners will now be given full access to the information regarding COVID-19 related deaths attributed to their individual counties.

Young contacted the Butler County Health Department to request more information. He said he was told they would have to get back to him.

“I told them I wanted to know the names and ages of the people and where they died,” Young said.

An employee from the Butler County State Health Center said they do not handle the county statistics, and those tabulations were handled at the state level.

On the other hand, neighboring Beaver County's deaths stood at 83 as of Monday, but was reduced by 13 deaths to 70 on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, Allegheny County added two deaths; Armstrong County subtracted three deaths; Clarion added one death; Lawrence added one death; Mercer added two deaths; and Westmoreland added six deaths.

Venango County was the only one to remain the same with zero deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Between Beaver and Armstrong counties, the pair subtracted 16 deaths.

For Butler County and surrounding counties, the combined total of additional deaths was 18.

During Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine's news conference Monday, she mentioned the shift from the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System to the Electronic Death Registration System.

Department spokeswoman Maggi Mumma said Butler County's change in the total number of deaths related to the coronavirus stems from this change.

Mumma said the department also changed the way its data appears daily. The data regarding long-term care facilities and the death statistics are now broken into their own tabulations rather than lumped into the daily report of case counts.

It was also clarified that before Tuesday, deaths in long-term care facilities reflected differently. Before Tuesday, a long-term care facility resident's death was counted toward the county's total in which the facility was physically located.

However, starting Tuesday, if a person living in a long-term care facility died, but maintained residency in another county, then their death would be recorded in the county of their residence instead. This would then mirror what would appear on the person's death record, and it also aligns with CDC guidelines.

“This transition to the new death data reporting system will cause some shifts in data on the death data page,” Mumma said.

Young said the deaths should not be attributed to a county if the death happened elsewhere.

“It's always been wherever the person dies,” Young said. “They can't say that death happened in Butler County when it happened somewhere else.”

Young said a better way of avoiding this type of confusion would be if the Department of Health differentiated the two circumstances or data points, having one table that shows number of residents who died from COVID-19 and another showing the county where people died from the virus.

“They need to have two different categories. That's what they need to do,” Young said. “That would help. That would be my suggestion to them.”

As the state Department of Health released some confusing information regarding death totals, it made good on its promise to release figures relating to long-term care facilities across the state.

The data provides the number of cases, number of employee cases and number of deaths that have occurred at each long-term care facility, which includes nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living facilities.

The Department of Health oversees nursing homes, and the Department of Human Services oversees personal care and assisted living facilities.

For facilities with less than five in any of these data points, the information is redacted.

“Our long-term care facilities are an integral part of Pennsylvania's health care system. People providing care in long-term care facilities must endure these challenges of this difficult time while maintaining continuity and services for people under their care,” said Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. “We are committed to continuing networks of support for these facilities so we can navigate and overcome this challenge together.”

Covid-19 Regional Data

The following numbers on the coronavirus pandemic are compiled daily from the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website and regular releases from Butler Health System.

Tuesday’s COVID-19 statistics:

Butler County

Confirmed cases: 206

Negative tests: 3,117

Deaths: 12

Per 100,000 residents: 6.4

Pennsylvania

New cases: 610

Total cases: 63,666

New deaths: 119

Total deaths: 4,624

Negative tests: 286,034

Surrounding Counties

Allegheny: 1,658 confirmed cases; 23,485 negative test results; and 145 deaths

Armstrong: 58 confirmed; 997 negative; and 2 deaths

Beaver: 534 confirmed; 2,809 negative; and 70 deaths

Clarion: 24 confirmed; 590 negative; and 2 deaths

Lawrence: 73 confirmed; 1,025 negative; and 8 deaths

Mercer: 96 confirmed; 1,187 negative; and 4 deaths

Venango: 8 confirmed and 37 negative

Westmoreland: 431 confirmed; 7,434 negative; and 38 deaths

- The total number of cases includes confirmed and probable cases.

- The total deaths and new deaths include only confirmed deaths, which is a person who tested positive for the virus before their death.

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Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger graduated with a degree in journalism in 2015 from Pitt-Johnstown. A business reporter, he also covers Slippery Rock borough, township and school district.