Athens City-County Health Department

The Athens City-County Health Department. File art.

By Sydney Dawes

Athens NEWS Editor

The Athens City-County Health Department reported 30 total COVID-19 deaths as of Tuesday, nearly double what it was at the beginning of last week.

The increase in the death count is said to be the result of a delay in reporting of fatalities that occurred in January among residents of long-term care facilities, the health department said in a press release issued Monday. The outbreaks at those facilities have since subsided.

It’s not uncommon for there to be a delay in reporting as a result of the death certification process, according to the health department.

Deaths are not uploaded into the Ohio Disease Reporting System (ODRS) until the decedent’s death record has been received by the local health department and verified by the Ohio Department of Health, the release explained.

A COVID-related death is one that is identified on the death certificate as the immediate cause of death or listed as a condition leading to the immediate cause of death, the health department said in the press release.

Although the department receives and reviews all death certificates for Athens County, certificate information is completed by the attending physician caring for the deceased person, both Health Commissioner Dr. James Gaskell and Health Department Administrator Jack Pepper said during an interview earlier this month.

The attending physician may determine the cause of death as being COVID-19 (indicated in one of four distinct spots in Section 28 of a death certificate), but the physician may instead deem a patient’s COVID-19 status as only an “underlying cause” of death, labeled on another section of a death certificate.

The Ohio Department of Health announced last week that as many as 4,000 COVID-19 deaths may have been underreported through the state’s reporting system, with processing issues affecting the reconciliation and reporting of the deaths beginning in October, reportedly.

“ODH will continue to working with the Auditor of State’s office, which has been engaged in an audit of COVID-19 data since September of 2020,” the state’s health department said in a press release.

The issue related to unreconciled COVID-19 deaths was identified by the Ohio Department of Health during a routine employee training, a press release stated.

“As these deaths are added to the counts, the daily reported death counts will be high for a two to three day period,” the press release stated. “After this increase, normal processed will resume, with increased quality assurance related to the death reconciliation process.”

Only death certificates that indicate COVID-19 as a cause of death (not those with COVID-19 listed as an underlying cause) contribute to a county’s COVID-19 death total.

In Athens County, there are 4,452 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, the health department reported Tuesday. There are 507 known active cases and 3,915 recovered cases of COVID-19 in Athens County.

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