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County amends COVID-19 misreported death toll by 25% after California ‘updates’ definitions

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While there was a time when suggesting that COVID-19 likely originated in a Wuhan, China lab would get you censored on social media, or worse, there has been a sudden shift in attitudes here that remains somewhat of a mystery.

Another factor certain to get one flagged was to suggest that COVID-19 deaths were being misreported, with the figures including anyone who died with the coronavirus, not specifically from the virus.

Alameda County, in California, announced on Friday that its coronavirus death toll has been cut by 25%  — from 1,634 to 1,223 — because they found that some fatalities were not a “direct result” of the virus.

“Alameda County previously included any person who died while infected with the virus in the total COVID-19 deaths for the County,” the Alameda County Health Care Office of Emergency Services said in a statement. “Aligning with the State’s definition will require Alameda County to report as COVID-19 deaths only those people who 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. Based on data available as of May 23, 2021, this update will decrease the overall number of deaths from 1,634 to 1,223.”

“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 release added.

The release explained that under the older definition, a resident who had COVID-19 but died in a car accident “would be included in the total number of reported COVID-19 deaths for Alameda County.”

Located in the San Francisco Bay area, the county will now only attribute deaths as coronavirus-related fatalities when people died as a direct result of COVID-19 or had the virus as a contributing cause of death. They’ll also include fatalities where COVID-19 could not be ruled out as a cause of death.

Late last year, California introduced a new definition of coronavirus deaths, saying death can only be attributed to COVID-19 if the coroner or medical provider can show that the person 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.”

That’s according to Alameda County Public Health Department spokesperson Neetu Balram, who told The Oaklandside, “Obviously our definition was broader than the state’s.”

“There are definitely people who died from reasons that were clearly not caused by COVID,” Balram said.

Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss told The Oaklandside that no policy decisions were impacted by the timing of the change.

“We knew any change like this would have raised some eyebrows,” he said. “Nothing about this changes our policy decisions now or during the height of the pandemic.”

“We were concerned about making a change at a time when the pandemic was so dynamic,” Moss told Mercury News. “We wanted to wait until conditions were more stable to make sure that we didn’t appear to be sort of manipulating the data at a time when we were at the worst state.”

He dismissed those who will point to the sudden drop in the death toll to suggest the pandemic was overblown.

“There are going to be people who make hay out of it and use it to question things about the pandemic, but it’s irrefutable, the severity of the pandemic,” Ross said. “I think anyone who would use this to make the argument that this is somehow overblown is really turning a blind eye to some of the simple truths of the pandemic.”

Tom Tillison

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