Case updates September 3, 2020; King county report on how COVID-19 deaths are reported

Saturday, September 5, 2020

What counts as a COVID-19 death

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials locally and nationally and others have been concerned about how to most accurately count the number of deaths due to COVID-19.

Unfortunately, there is not yet a national standard methodology for COVID-19 death reporting, although approaches are under development. It might seem simple, but determining and classifying the actual cause of death can be complicated.

Initial counts of deaths in many localities included everyone who died and had tested positive for COVID-19. But that approach can miss cases – for example, there are people who die with COVID-19 symptoms but were never tested. There are also people who test positive, but die for unrelated reasons, such as a fall or a car crash. Those cases are not counted in King County, where deaths due to reasons other than COVID are removed, but some jurisdictions include them in official counts.

To improve clarity, accuracy and consistency, epidemiologists at Public Health completed a thorough review of all available data about local deaths in King County. They reviewed death certificate data to interpret medical information about causes of death, and also reviewed information about illness gathered through case investigations. After assigning classifications based on this information, they then examined trends over time among people who died from January 1 through September 1, 2020.

New categories help clarify how we count deaths, show total of 724
In July, Public Health, along with the Washington State Department of Health, classified deaths associated with COVID-19 into three main categories. A total of 724 deaths fall into these categories:
  • 94% (680) are confirmed (the deceased person tested positive and had a death certificate noting infection with the virus contributed to death)
  • 5% (37) are suspected (the deceased person tested positive for the virus, died of a natural disease that may have been exacerbated by COVID-19, but did not have it listed on their death certificate)
  • 1% (7) are pending (deaths where Public Health is awaiting death certificates or the cause of death is missing, but the deceased person did have confirmatory testing for COVID-19) 
  • Not included in the total are 17 additional deaths classified as probable, meaning that COVID-19 was listed on the death certificate but the deceased person did not have confirmatory testing. 
Over the course of the pandemic, the King County Medical Examiner's Office (MEO) has increased testing of deaths that come under its jurisdiction.

In recent months, approximately 90% of people who died and came under the jurisdiction of the MEO have been tested for COVID-19. By testing the vast majority those who died, this ensures that more deaths are classified correctly.

Case updates September 3, 2020

United States - case totals are reported in 7 day increments
  • cases 6,132,074 including 286,198 cases in last 7 days
  • deaths 186,173
Washington state - *the state is no longer reporting deaths in the weekend releases
  • cases 76,335 includes 479 new within 24 hours
  • hospitalizations 6,848 includes 14 new within 24 hours
  • deaths* 1,953 includes 8 newly reported
King county
  • cases 20,073 - 158 in previous 24 hours
  • hospitalizations 2,249 - 7 in previous 24 hours
  • deaths 732 - 2 in previous 24 hours
Shoreline - population 56,752 (2018)
  • cases 562 - 0 new
  • hospitalizations 100 - 0 new
  • deaths 60 -   0 new
Lake Forest Park - 13,569 (2018)
  • cases 60 -  2 new
  • hospitalizations 3 -  0 new
  • deaths 1 - 0 new


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