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Ohio Changing How It Reports COVID-19 Deaths After Massive Undercount

Ohio State employee Stacey Boyer, left, receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from Kelli Barnes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio.
Jay LaPrete
/
Associated Press
Ohio State employee Stacey Boyer, left, receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from Kelli Barnes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio.

The Ohio Department of Health says it's retiring the outdated reporting system that led to the undercount of more than 4,200 COVID-19 deaths in Ohio.

Ohio Department of Health director Stephanie McCloud says the agency has been manually counting COVID deaths through a reconciliation process so they could get those numbers out to the public faster, providing a real-time death toll from the pandemic.

But McCloud says that process was fraught with human error – most notably a breakdown that led to a massive adjustment in Ohio's death count.

Starting Tuesday, McCloud says the agency will rely on death certificates after they have been reviewed and coded by the CDC, a slower but more accurate system.

“It’s very reliable. It will be automated," McCloud says. "It will have quality assurance checks on that automated process but it will be somewhat delayed."

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the state's chief medical officer, used a diagram to explain the current reconciliation process, which involved the agency's employees taking steps to speed up the reporting of the death numbers.

McCloud says as a result of the new process, the death total will temporarily go down while the agency waits for death certificates to backfill the numbers. It will also stop reporting "probable" COVID-19 deaths, and will update totals just twice a week as it receives the CDC data.

On Tuesday, the health department listed 16,750 verified deaths from COVID-19.

McCloud says she doesn’t know how much the system changes will cost.