Texas State Health Department Corrects Death Toll After Mistakenly Attributing 225 Deaths to COVID-19

By Paula Liu
Paula Liu
Paula Liu
August 2, 2020Updated: August 2, 2020

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced that its system made an error calculating the number of deaths directly caused by COVID-19, according to a tweet sent out on July 30.

The error was discovered on Wednesday, and Texas DSHS indicated that the error incorrectly categorized 225 deaths as COVID-19 fatalities despite COVID-19 not being listed as a direct cause of death on the death certificate, according to the Tweet.

Texas DSHS stated that the issue was revealed after a manual quality check and by the end of the day on Wednesday, the number of COVID-19 fatalities was fixed to reflect the corrected data in time for the COVID-19 deaths update on Thursday.

On Monday, the Texas DSHS began using death certificates as a way to identify the number of deaths directly caused by the disease, according to a news release issued by the Texas DSHS.

Because a death certificate is required to be filed within 10 days of an individual’s death, the DSHS stated that this would greatly improve the speed of counting fatalities caused by COVID-19, as well as providing the public with detailed information about where and when the death occurred.

This method does not count individuals who contracted COVID-19 but died of other causes.

Prior to this method, fatalities were counted and reported to the DSHS through a regional or local health department after it had been notified and had verified the death themselves.

Overcounting COVID-19 Deaths

A problem with the newest method was that when filing death certificates, hospitals were incentivized to overstate the number of COVID-19 deaths due to receiving monetary compensation for doing so, something that Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) called a “perverse incentive,” according to a House hearing that took place on Friday.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said during the panel hearing that he agrees this over-reporting of COVID-19 deaths does exist in hospitals and is something that has been seen with other viruses, such as HIV.

“In the HIV epidemic, somebody may have a heart attack but also have HIV—the hospital would prefer the [classification] for HIV because there’s greater reimbursement, so I do think there’s some reality to that,” said Redfield.

“When it comes to death reporting, though, ultimately, it’s how the physician defines it in the death certificate, and … we review all those death certificates. So I think probably it is less operable in the cause of death, although I won’t say three are not some cases. I do think, though, when it comes to hospital reimbursement issues or individuals that get discharged, there could be some play in that for sure.”