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Ohio Department of Health to begin counting COVID-19 fatalities with death certificates

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Posted at 2:25 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 14:41:28-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health announced Tuesday that it will begin using a different system to report COVID-19 deaths, one that will take longer for the sake of greater accuracy and use information from death certificates, according to ODH director Stephanie McCloud.

"The thing that keeps me up at night is trying to ensure trust in the system," McCloud said. "Part of the way you ensure trust in the system is to continue looking under all the rocks that we have, all the data, double-checking, quality assurance that we have for all of the data that we put out. I'm going to continue to turn over rocks."

The new Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS) relies on information from a death certificate that is signed by an attending physician or other medical certifiers and is completed with information from funeral homes.

The data is then sent to the CDC National Center for Health Statistics, where it’s verified and coded as to whether the death was a result of COVID-19.

The state will now post updated mortality figures about twice a week, on unspecified days, as the death certificate data is reviewed by federal health authorities, verified and then returned.

“This process, as you can imagine, takes a little bit more time. It's highly accurate, but it takes a little more time. Generally, (it) is anywhere from one to six months, although we're told that the vast majority of information flows closer to that four to six week time period,” the state's chief medical officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said.

Vanderhoff said the multiple steps to verify someone's death are done to ensure that a death reported as a COVID-19 death is in fact from COVID-19.

Some key takeaways with the new system, according to Vanderhoff:

  • Deaths will no longer be listed as probable because all deaths will be confirmed as COVID-19 deaths based on the appropriate CDC coding.
  • The remaining data, such as case data, will continue to be updated on its current schedule.
  • There is going to be some fluctuation in deaths as the state makes the transition.

The department previously used information coming from the Ohio Disease Reporting System, which gathers information from local health districts, hospitals and urgent cares, allowing COVID-19 deaths to be reported in real-time.

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The Ohio Disease Reporting System vs. the Electronic Death Registration System.

Referring to a couple of weeks ago, when it was revealed that 4,000 deaths in the state had gone unreported, McCloud said the new system will cut down on manual entry, which will lessen the likelihood for human error, calling it the "gold standard." McCloud said there will be a temporary decrease in deaths for about a week or so.

McCloud said the department is committed to sharing as much real-time data as possible but won’t do that for the sake of accuracy. When the pandemic hit, the system was slated to be updated. The department is working with the state legislature to get funding to move forward in updating the existing system.

“We are looking to move toward a system where the reporting comes out from the EDRS system rather than ODRS, where there is less manual entry, less manual opportunities for issues, rely more on technology and the human part will be the quality assurance and using those individuals to do more quality assurance of the technical process to ensure that the technical process is working as it should," she said.

RELATED: Up to 4,000 COVID-19 related-deaths went unreported on state’s dashboard, according to ODH

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