Massachusetts Admits COVID-19 Deaths “Significantly” Overcounted

The Massachusetts Department of Health said that it is changing its processes for health tracking while admitting prior methods have led to a “significant overcount” of COVID-19 deaths.

The department issued a press release Thursday that confirmed it is removing 4,081 deaths from the COVID-19 count and adding 400 other reported deaths to the total. The overcount was attributed to a process that included a person’s death if they had a confirmed positive test for infection in a specific time frame before their death.

Under previous standards, the department included a person’s death in the COVID-19 totals if an investigation determined infection “caused” or “contributed to” death, the death certificate listed COVID-19 as a cause of death, or if there was a positive test or diagnosis within 60 days of death.

Guidance issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led the Massachusetts department to modify its reporting by cutting the timeframe for infection before death from 60 days to 30 days.

State Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke told reporters that the original “strategy” worked well at the pandemic’s start. She said that “over time,” the time frame used was “too expansive” and led to the significant overcount of deaths. She admitted that many people who had the previous infection and later died from other causes were still included in the COVID count.

Critics of the reporting methods say that the modified standard still results in inflated numbers because infection alone leads to including a death in the count, regardless of whether it was a contributing factor leading to death or not.

Massachusetts state epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown still maintains that the latest update will “make sure” the COVID-related death count “captures the acute impact” of the pandemic.

Currently, over 23,000 COVID-related deaths have been officially reported in Massachusetts. The state has not provided information regarding how many of the deaths have been reported since the change in reporting standards.