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Idaho’s high death rate is not indicative of the present COVID-19 situation

“Sometimes we get a report of a death two days after a person died, and sometimes it’s two or three weeks later”
Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 12:58 PM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — As KMVT reported on Tuesday, officials said COVID-19 cases have decreased since what was likely the peak of the latest surge, and yet the state’s death rate remains one of the highest in the nation.

According to data from The New York Times, Idaho ranks among the top five highest death rates in the United States. That is an improvement from earlier this week when Idaho’s deaths per 100,000 people was the highest in the nation.

The South Central Public Health District said when evaluating the COVID-19 situation, it is important to remember deaths are a lagging indicator — meaning they reflect case rates from several weeks ago. Backlogs can also further delay public reporting.

“Sometimes we get a report of a death two days after a person died, and sometimes it’s two or three weeks later,” said the South Central Public Health District’s Brianna Bodily. “That can also impact when we receive that data.”

Bodily added deaths do tend to follow the same trend as cases. Presently, she said the South Central Health District has seen a stagnation of cases in their region, and it is expected the death rate will follow suit in a couple of weeks.

She also said it’s important to understand the process of death reporting in order to understand why there is a slight delay. According to Bodily, when an individual dies from any illness or disease, the presiding physician, the morgue or the county coroner will fill out the death certificate based on all of the medical analysis they were able to find while that person was still alive or during an autopsy.

She said that an individual’s cause of death is determined. A death is listed as a COVID-19-related death if COVID-19 is deemed as either a complicating factor that led to death or the cause of death. Bodily said there is a wide variance in how long it takes for the South Central Health District to receive death reports and backlogs can further compound some of those delays.

Bodily added there is not a perfect metric that measures the COVID-19 status of a community in a given moment. She said whether hospitals are overwhelmed or not offers a better view of the present compared to death rates.

If you have any questions on COVID-19 data, you can contact the South Central Public Health District for more information.

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