Reporting of COVID-19 deaths in Alabama appears to differ from other reporting, ADPH explains the reasons

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Karen Landers, M.D.
(256) 383-1231

Death counts from COVID-19 appear to vary widely based on their reporting sources—the news media, hospitals and county health departments—and there are reasons these apparent discrepancies in the number of deaths occur.

“The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) considers any deaths to be a significant loss to family, loved ones and friends,” Dr. Karen Landers, ADPH, said. “We work to provide information that has been vetted by our team in terms of accuracy related to COVID-19 deaths. The Alabama COVID-19 Dashboard Hub at arcg.is/0brSGj remains the most accurate source for all data related to COVID-19 in Alabama.”

New deaths that are added to our Deaths box on the COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard at arcg.is/1uKqbC may not reflect deaths that actually occurred on the day they are added. When an individual dies due to COVID-19, it takes a median of 25 days for the death to be reported to ADPH. As deaths are reported, each death is investigated to determine if it was a COVID-19 death. Confirmed COVID-19 deaths are found on Tab 9: "Daily and Total Number of Deaths" on the Data Dashboard and are listed by the actual date of death.

Reasons death counts may vary include the following:

  • Counts by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) often track 1–2 weeks behind other data.
  • Death certificates take time to be completed. There are many steps to filling out and submitting a death certificate. Waiting for test results can create additional delays.
  • States report at different rates. Currently, 63 percent of all U.S. deaths are reported within 10 days of the date of death, but there is significant variation between states.
  • It takes extra time to code COVID-19 deaths. While 80 percent of deaths are electronically processed and coded by NCHS within minutes, most deaths from COVID-19 must be coded by a person, which takes an average of 7 days. Alabama uses this method of coding which differentiates between “probable” and “confirmed” deaths due to COVID-19.
  • Other reporting systems use different definitions or methods for counting deaths.

Some descriptions of terms used in COVID-19 reporting follow:

Probable versus confirmed - A COVID-19 death is considered a probable death if it only has the death certificate and no confirmatory laboratory evidence for SARS-CoV-2. Confirmed and probable deaths are both included in the total deaths on the dashboard. Alabama has had a total of 3,146 probable COVID-19 deaths reported.

Current process and priority -The current process for reviewing death investigations hinges on the receipt of the death certificate, with the exception of the COVID-19 deaths occurring for those under the age of 21 or pregnant. For this group, Alabama reviews the report received through the ADPH Report Card. If found to be accurate, the death appears on the dashboard in real time to avoid waiting for the death certificate. This can only happen if the reporters use the Report Card to report the death.

For the most accurate and complete picture of COVID-19 deaths in Alabama, the COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard graphs cumulative COVID-19 deaths by actual date of death under Tab 9 at arcg.is/1uKqbC.

The National Center for Vital Statistics website, linked below, explains how the COVID-19 death data is recorded throughout the country:

COVID-19 Death Data and Resources - National Vital Statistics System (cdc.gov) (cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/covid-19.htm#understanding-the-numbers)

Typically, when we see a spike in cases and hospitalizations, a spike in total number of deaths on the dashboard is soon to follow. That is why it is so important to get vaccinated now.

 

County health departments throughout Alabama provide a wide range of confidential and professional services. Contact your local county health department for additional information.

Mission: To promote, protect, and improve Alabama’s health

Vision: Healthy People. Healthy Communities. Healthy Alabama.

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10/04/2021


ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH
RSA Tower 201 Monroe Street, Suite 910, Montgomery, AL 36104
Phone: (334) 206-5300 | Fax: (334) 206-5520