Texas Fatality Toll Could Tumble with Boost
from Data Change that Weeds Old Age Deaths
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
July 27, 2020
The grim reaper could have been wrongly accused of killing hundreds if not thousands of people in Texas with coronavirus infections based on the reasoning for the state's redesign Monday of its system for tracking the death toll across the state.
The new COVID-19 fatality counting policy appeared with its debut to be shuffling deaths back in the past without changing the bottom line that pegged the count at 5,713 this afternoon based on the methodology that the Department of State Health Services is employing now. That's 675 cases more than the Sunday count - a dramatic increase on paper that could be due more to a lack of reporting for several days last week according to the rearranged numbers that the state rolled out today. .
But the long-term tally of the killing spree could be dramatically lower in the future with the state making an effort now to weed out deaths that have been officially attributed to the pandemic after elderly people who've tested positive for the virus have died for a variety of other reasons that are usually related to age. The state from this point on will only tag someone as a fatality if a doctor who's familiar with the person certifies the death as a direct consequence of the coronavirus without other contributing factors.
Anyone who isn't aware of the data reporting overhaul, however, might get the impression that the state has been raising virus patients from the dead based on the new body count here. The state had reported almost 1,700 fatalities during the past week before shaving that to a mere 279 today with the new definition in place.
According to the state now, only five coronavirus patients died here on Thursday before the pandemic claimed a grand total of one life here the following day. Val Verde County in the new national epicenter of South Texas had the only fatality in Texas on Friday based on the revised DSHS tally. Harris, Bexar, Montgomery and Wharton counties recorded the only COVID-19 deaths on Friday when Young County had its third that day as a location northwest of Fort Worth where no one had been a fatal virus victim a week before.
The pandemic didn't appear to be as passive today when the state reported an estimated 44 fatalities on Sunday. Based on the elite virus trackers at Johns Hopkins University weren't on the new page with the state on Monday night with a running total that indicates that the coronavirus claimed 695 lives in Texas in the past three days. That would be an average of 232 fatalities a day in a state where the official daily record had been 197 before its lowering today to 167 on July 12.
The cumulative coronavirus death count in Texas had been 5,538 at JHU on Monday before it was updated late tonight to reflect the official state agency tally. That would indicate that an additional 175 virus patients passed away in the past day.
But the state appears to have redistributed the death toll in a way that makes it appear like a significantly fewer number of people have been recorded as official virus fatalities in the past month. The DSHS shows that 3,382 people had died in Texas with COVID-19 infections by July 1 while the running total at JHU has the state cumulative count at 2,481 on the same day. The state is reporting now that 1,998 people had been killed by the virus on June 1 compared to 1,678 that Johns Hopkins has recorded that day based in large part on numbers that it receives from the DSHS.
While the count of new COVID-19 cases has been on the decline for two full weeks, the daily death tally had been spiking during that time as a statistic that's about two weeks behind the daily infection figures. Texas has flattened the curve for the time being at least amid rapidly-growing concerns on yet another wave this fall with the opening of schools across the state.
But this isn't the first time that the state virus accountants have shifted methods for reporting on various aspects of the pandemic especially when it comes to the assignment of cases to individual counties.
The DSHS for example had been inflating the number of diagnostic tests for the disease for a month until admitting that it had been improperly combining those with antibody tests. Texas had been ranked among the worst states in the nation in testing before having to reduce the count amid the puffed-up reporting revelations.
Texas had more than 10,000 people hospitalized with the coronavirus for 12 consecutive days before falling to a daily average below five figures for the past five days. Testing has been going up steadily during the second surge that was getting under way early last month when Governor Greg Abbott moved the state into Phase 3 of a reopening that's been on hold here for several weeks.