Washington State's COVID-19 Death Count Is Inflated: Death Certificate Analysis

Washington State's COVID-19 Death Count Is Inflated: Death Certificate Analysis
Ambulance staff prepare to transport a patient from the Life Care Center nursing home where some patients died from COVID-19, in Kirkland, Wash., on March 5, 2020. (Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

A death certificate analysis shows that the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Washington state remains inflated, according to a new investigation.

The Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank, published research in May claiming the COVID-19 death total from the state's Department of Health was inflated by as much as 13 percent by counting every person who tested positive for the disease, even if the death wasn't caused by it.

State officials subsequently admitted that some deaths reported as caused by COVID-19 ended up not being caused by the disease.

A handful of deaths were actually from gunshot wounds, Katie Hutchinson, health statistics manager at the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), told reporters in a phone briefing. Officials were looking into 3,000 certificates that indicated symptoms similar to COVID-19 but were unclear as to whether COVID-19 caused the death.

An internal email (pdf) also revealed Hutchinson saying that "in theory," the Freedom Foundation report author was "correct" in saying a person who tested positive for COVID-19 and died in a car accident a month later would be counted as a COVID-19 death.
About one month later, on June 17, health officials reported a change in counting COVID-19 deaths. "Until now, when a death is reported as a COVID-19 death, it is because the person who passed away also tested positive for COVID-19. However, this method doesn’t just reflect the deaths of people whose deaths were caused by COVID-19; it can include someone who may have died of other causes," the department said in a press release.

But a new analysis by the Freedom Foundation shows that Washington health officials are still over-reporting COVID-19 deaths, potentially by hundreds of deaths.

The foundation analyzed nearly 2,000 death certificates and found no reference to COVID-19 on 170 of them. Another 171 only referenced COVID-19 as a possible "contributing factor," the foundation stated.
“Make no mistake. This isn’t an innocent accounting error we’re talking about,” Aaron Withe, national director of the Freedom Foundation, said in a statement. “This is a state agency under the authority of Gov. Jay Inslee that continues to misrepresent the number of people who have died of COVID even after it was already caught doing the same thing.”

In an emailed statement, Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, told The Epoch Times: "These twisted political efforts to disappear those who have died from COVID-19 are unpersuasive and in very poor taste. We mourn the lives lost. We will continue to fight to save lives. You may contact the state Department of Health for more on their data collection and how it is vastly superior to whatever it is this unqualified dark money think tank is trying to accomplish."

The DOH and Washington State Health Secretary John Wiesman didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from The Epoch Times.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and other leaders speak to the press in Seattle, Wash., on March 28, 2020. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and other leaders speak to the press in Seattle, Wash., on March 28, 2020. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Inslee in May said the death count was based on "the official documents, the best information we have from the local health officials."

"We're making decisions on the best data that is available," he said, criticizing "the conspiracy theories that are fanning people's efforts to go out and do what this group did."

On Dec. 10, state health officials said they were making another change to how they report deaths from COVID-19.

Instead of listing a preliminary cause of death, officials will only use the official registered cause of death on the DOH dashboard. Officials will no longer assume a death is caused by COVID-19 if the person who died tested positive for the disease more than 28 days prior to their death. Until the change, officials correlated positive COVID-19 lab results up to 60 days prior to death.

The changes will provide "more precise reporting," officials said in a statement.

"These changes will result in an adjustment of death totals, including a removal of some deaths from figures made public. Initially, 214 previously reported deaths will be removed from the dashboard. We expect approximately 152 of those reported deaths will be added back once the cause of death is investigated and officially determined to be due to COVID-19. We anticipate this process will take about two weeks," the DOH stated.

The same situation has played out in other states, The Epoch Times found in July.

At least 22 states have counted in their COVID-19 statistics cases or deaths that hadn’t been confirmed with a diagnostic test. These “probable” cases are determined based on symptoms and other general characteristics, the investigation found at the time.

The definition was one of six ways the accuracy of COVID-19 data is diluted, The Epoch Times reported.
Petr Svab contributed to this report.