Recalculating data leads to COVID-19 death rate drop in Alameda County

Coronavirus

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) – Alameda County has changed the way it defines who has died from COVID-19, resulting in a lower death count in the dashboard.

The county will align its COVID-19 death counts to how the state of California defines and counts them: 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.

Previously, Alameda County health officials included anyone who died while infected with the virus.

“It is important to note that earlier adoption of the State reporting definition would not have changed the course of the pandemic, nor would it have affected the key measures, including case rate, test positivity, and hospitalizations, that drove public health responses to the pandemic,” the county said.

The update removed 411 deaths from the official count, as of June 4.

“If the question as how many admitted to hospital have a positive covid test than the way Alameda County was doing it would have made a lot of sense,” Dr. John Swartzberg said. 

UC Berkeley infectious disease specialist Dr. John Swartzberg says just because you test positive for COVID doesn’t mean it necessarily contributed to your death.

“What they have done is culled out those cases of those admitted to hospital had a positive covid test, but may have been admitted for another reason like a heart attack or fractured their hip and died of pneumonia and died, but because they had a positive COVID test previous they were counted as COVID case,” Swartzberg said. 

Alameda County is now counting COVID deaths as the state and federal government do.  

Not simply a positive test, but if someone died as a direct result of COVID-19, if COVID-19 was a contributing cause of death, or if COVID-19 could not be ruled out as a cause of death.

“During the pandemic, we have had to revise a lot of our thinking because it’s a dynamic situation. This is another example of here’s a better way to do it, we recognize that and we have made that change,” Swartzberg said. 

Medical experts say this is a unique situation because nationally COVID deaths are underreported and as we look back at the pandemic down the line it is likely overall death numbers will go up. 

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