Why are additional COVID-19 deaths added to Michigan’s state count after review of records?

Some people question accuracy of COVID-19 death count

Some people believe coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths are over-counted, while others believe they’re under-counted. So what counts as a COVID-19 death, and why?

DETROIT – Some people believe coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths are over-counted, while others believe they’re under-counted. So what counts as a COVID-19 death, and why?

Counting deaths from the coronavirus seems like a fairly straightforward practice, but there are Michigan residents -- particularly on social media -- who have questions about the deaths that are added to the count after state officials do a review of death records.

There are three ways a death can be recorded for a COVID-19 case, according to Jim Collins, the director of the Communicable Disease Division:

  1. Through a local health department identifying the death during their case follow-up.
  2. A check of vital records, or in the state’s vital records for indications from physicians of COVID-19 as being a contributing cause to the death of a person.
  3. Taking the COVID-19 cases that are referred to the Michigan Disease Surveillance System and comparing the entire list for the past 30 days to the vital records data to see if any cases in the system have died in the past 30 days from natural causes.
    • An accidental death or an accident wouldn’t be ruled out, but natural causes that are recorded on a death certificate for a confirmed case of COVID-19 within 30 days and the onset of symptoms would count as a COVID-19 associated death, state officials said.

Specifically, if someone is COVID-19 positive but dies in a car crash, they don’t count as a COVID-19 death. But there are other unique circumstances.

“If they have cancer and they die within 30 days of their COVID-19 diagnosis, they would be counted as a COVID-19 associated death, and the reason is that cancer patients, in particular, are incredibly vulnerable to these infections,” Collins said.

Collins said state employees tracking COVID-19 deaths know how important the job is, and they want everyone to know they take that to heart.

“We’re scientists,” Collins said. “We’re not politicians and we weren’t -- none of us -- appointed. We were hired hired and we worked in these jobs for years, and the reason we do it is because we believe in public health and we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t.”

State officials said they’re doing the best they can to get an accurate representation of coronavirus deaths. Collins said there are probably many cases that aren’t counted because people die at home but never have COVID-19 testing, so it’s not recorded on their death certificates.

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.