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California County Cuts Its Covid Death Toll By 25% After Adjusting Reporting Criteria

Mediaite logo Mediaite 6/6/2021 Katherine Huggins
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A California county cut its Covid-19 death toll by 25% after determining several deaths “were clearly not caused by COVID.”

Alameda County, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, changed its number of Covid deaths from 1,634 to 1,223.

The county’s older figure included deaths of anyone infected with the virus, regardless of whether or not the infection played a direct or indirect role in causing the death.

County health officials made the change to match the California Department of Public Health’s guidance on classifying Covid deaths, which only include those whom a coroner or medical provider determined died “as a direct result of COVID-19, with COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, or in whom death caused by COVID-19 could not be ruled out.” The state’s definition was created late last year, mid-pandemic.

“Obviously our definition was broader than the state’s,” Neetu Balram, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Public Health Department told The Oaklandside. She added that the removed deaths were “clearly not caused by COVID.”

In a press release, the county health department offered a hypothetical example: if someone who tested positive for Covid-19 died in a car accident, their death would have been classified as a Covid death. Now, it would not.

“When the state implemented these guidelines, Alameda County became aware of the conflicting definitions and made a plan to conduct the update when cases and deaths stabilized,” the statement read.

However, the alteration still has stuck out as odd to some.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Oaklandside that he has never seen this big of a death count adjustment with other diseases.

County officials said they were aware the change would be concerning, but their policy decisions would otherwise remain the same.

“We knew any change like this would have raised some eyebrows,” county health officer Nicholas Moss told The Oaklandside. “Nothing about this changes our policy decisions now or during the height of the pandemic.”

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