COVID death toll suddenly drops 25% when California county officials make policy change

News & Politics

Alameda County, a Northern California county that includes the city of Oakland, has revised their COVID-19 data methodology, resulting in a massive 25% decrease in their reported COVID-19 deaths.

What are the details?

The COVID-19 death toll in Alameda County decreased from 1,634 to 1,223 on Friday after officials updated their methodology for COVID-19 reporting, now only including people who directly died from COVID-19 in their count.

Previously, Alameda County officials included in their death toll any resident who died while infected the virus — not just those individuals who died directly from COVID-19.

The Los Angeles Times now includes the following note on its Alameda County data, “Alameda County on Friday reduced its total count of deaths by 411. The county previously reported deaths of any person infected with the virus. The updated total includes only deaths in which COVID-19 was a direct or contributing cause, or if COVID-19 could not be ruled out as a cause.”

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Neetu Balram, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Public Health Department, said the 411 people removed from the county’s COVID-19 death toll died from causes “clearly not caused by COVID,” the Oaklandside reported.

More from the Oaklandside:

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Oaklandside that although some adjustments are to be expected, 25% “seems high.” Adalja said he has never seen this big of an adjustment in a death count with other infectious diseases.

In a press release, Balram said Alameda County’s definition of a COVID-19 death lagged behind the state’s official definition, which explains the sudden change.

“Alameda County previously included any person who died while infected with the virus in the total COVID-19 deaths for the County,” the press release explained. “Aligning with the State’s definition will require Alameda County to report as COVID-19 deaths only those people who died as a direct result of COVID-19, with COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, or in whom death caused by COVID-19 could not be ruled out.”

In total, more than 67,000 people have died from COVID-19 in California.

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