Pennsylvania forced to remove hundreds from official COVID-19 death count over glaring discrepancies

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Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 death count saw a major fluctuation in totals as the state dealt with major errors in its reporting process.

After alarming spikes in the number of coronavirus deaths in a matter of days, Pennsylvania officials last week removed hundreds from the official death count, coming under fire for a “lack of leadership” in accurately reporting the data.

(Image: Dr. Rachel Levine/WTAE screenshot)

Pennsylvania’s death count nearly doubled last week as the state added “probable deaths,” those thought to have been caused by COVID-19 while not confirmed, to the state’s tally. But more than 200 of these probable deaths were subsequently removed from the totals in a move that sparked even more questions and criticisms, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“There’s a discrepancy in the numbers. I’m not saying there’s something going on, “Charles Kiessling Jr., president of the Pennsylvania Coroners Association and coroner in Lycoming County said. “I’m not a conspiracy theory guy. But accuracy is important.”

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine addressed the accuracy of the changing numbers.

“We realize that this category can be confusing, since it does change over time,” she said.

“At times, there are things we need to review, and potentially revisit the way the data is being analyzed,” Levine added. “And this is one of those times.”

The addition of 276 deaths overnight last week, raising the total to 1,112 was soon followed with another spike, from 1,204 to 1,564 deaths just two days later.

“These deaths did not happen overnight,” Levine explained, blaming a computer glitch and adding that the “significant increase” also included “probable positive” COVID-19 deaths.

With the second spike in numbers, Levine said: “We will now be reporting probable deaths related to COVID-19 in addition to confirmed deaths,” though a Health Department spokesman said that had already been happening.

According to The Inquirer:

In addition to inconsistencies around death counts, the department has struggled to attain complete and accurate demographic data for positive patients, as well as those who have been tested.

At the same time, the state’s coroners — tasked with investigating suspicious deaths — have grown increasingly frustrated by the Health Department’s reluctance to seek their help.

 

“Coroners are frustrated,” Jeffrey Conner, the coroner in Franklin County, said. “There is a lack of leadership from the Department of Health and a lack of definitive answers.”

By Thursday, after the numbers had spiked then plummeted, the revised data reported just one death for the county.

The confusion in the way the deaths are tallied has been an issue in other states as well.

President Trump retweeted a post suggesting the media is inflating the coronavirus mortality rates in order to “steal the election.”

(Image: Twitter screnshot)

Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume shared a Twitter thread on how COVID deaths are being reported as a way to keep states from reopening.

The series of tweets shared by user Justin Hart pointed to the discrepancies in tallies and how the information was being reported.

Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, told USA Today that up to 1 in 3 death certificates were wrong in the nation even before the coronavirus outbreak.

“The fact is, a lot of these deaths are not going to be autopsied, and postmortem testing is not going to be done, so we’re going to have to rely on secondhand accounts and what the symptoms were,” Anderson said. “We may miss some as a result.”

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Frieda Powers

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