By Jamie Leary

KREMMLING, Colo. (CBS4) – Grand County isn’t the first to report a data discrepancy with COVID-19 deaths, but following a murder-suicide in the region the coroner is talking about the impact it may have.

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“These two people had tested positive for COVID, but that’s not what killed them. The gunshot wound killed them and it’s very misleading for you to put numbers out there saying these people died from COVID when that’s not what they died from,” said Coroner Brenda Bock.

Bock said her investigation wasn’t finalized when the State of Colorado listed the two victims as dying with COVID-19.

“I realize yes, you’re trying to keep count of the numbers, but you need to do it right, and these people did not die of COVID, they died of gunshot wounds and that’s how it needs to be listed,” she said.

The state classifies COVID deaths in two ways:

  • Deaths caused by COVID-19:
    • The vital records death data is based on CDC coding of death certificates, and it reflects the number of deaths due to COVID-19, based on the expert judgment of health care providers and coroners.
      • The number comes from death certificates where COVID-19 is listed as the cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death.
      • This number is determined by the CDC and is updated daily for dates through the previous Saturday.
  • Deaths among people who died with COVID-19:
      • The epidemiological death data reflects people who died with COVID-19, but COVID-19 may not have been the cause of death listed on the death certificate. It comes from two sources:
        • From health care providers and laboratories that report cases to the state using a national case definition.
        • From state-reviewed death certificates where COVID-19 is listed as the cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death. These death certificates may not yet have been coded by the CDC.
        • This information is required by the CDC and is crucial for public health surveillance, as it provides more information about disease transmission and can help identify risk factors among all deaths across populations.

The state’s website states, “The number of deaths due to COVID-19 are not necessarily included in the number of deaths among people with COVID-19. After review, at either the state or national level, some deaths may not be counted as COVID-19 deaths. This is rare, and the expectation is that in the end the numbers will closely align.”

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The state will often collect data before the death certificates are signed, because that process can take weeks. This gives epidemiologists a faster and better picture of how serious the spread is and how it’s impacting the general population.

“Today, Colorado’s reporting 4,156 COVID deaths, these are actually deaths among cases. Then they show 3,230 deaths due to COVID, and so they’re differentiating that, but I think it can maybe go a little further and I think the policy could be changed,” said Richard Cimino, Grand County Commissioner for District 1.

Cimino says while the state is doing a decent job at making a discrepancy, he agrees with Bock. It could be done better, and while the death count won’t impact where Grand County sits on the states dial, for a rural community, just one death from COVID impacts public perception.

“If they could let the coroners weigh in and take a little bit of time and make that determination early on you won’t have those big swings in numbers that might really alarm our population.”

Currently, the state has five deaths from COVID-19 listed in Grand County, while the Grand County website shows one.

Bock says she reached out to other coroners across the state with questions, “And I got replies back from 80% of the coroners in the state all stating the same thing. They’ve all had the same problems, and these are in small counties, so it’s easy for us to keep track of our numbers.”

She said she reached out to the state asking for the recent deaths to be discounted from the COVID-19 death toll, but hasn’t heard back. She hopes other counties speak up and help influence change in the way deaths are counted.

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“I can’t do it alone they need to step up to the plate, too, they need to back me on this they need to fix the way that they’re reporting the numbers,” she said.

CBS4 reached out to the CDPHE for comment, and was directed to classification information on its website. More information can be found here: cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/covid-19.htm#understanding-the-numbers.

Jamie Leary