New Virus Gauge Eases Reopening Culpability
with Reshuffling of Texas Deaths Back to Past
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
July 28, 2020
The coronavirus fell one fatality short of the current official record for a single day in Texas on Tuesday based on a new reporting system that could do more to confuse than to help ensure a more accurate count.
But the state had lowered the bar considerably on Monday when it introduced the new criteria for COVID-19 death reporting eligibility that appears to take a time machine approach to the pandemic body count in Texas.
The Department of State Health Services gets to the same cumulative total based on the old and new math that both showed 5,877 deaths today from coronavirus infections in Texas since the disease took the first life here on March 7.
But the means to the common end are substantially different in the distribution of Texas virus killings across the past five months with the new methodology making it appear like the second surge that's been blamed largely on Governor Greg Abbott's reopening hasn't been as lethal as previously reported.
The new fatality tally reporting technique and process that DSHS has discarded both indicate that 164 people died in Texas as coronavirus victims between Monday and Tuesday afternoons. But the method that's now obsolete would show that 695 more virus deaths were added to the count here on Monday compared to the new classification process that shows only one person dying from the disease in Texas in the same span of time without a single fatality the day before.
The death calculation process that the DSHS has junked shows that 1,726 people died with coronavirus infections in the past week. But the state revised reporting system now indicates that the virus either killed 202 or 366 people in Texas during the past seven days with daily tracking numbers that contradict themselves.
The new death tracking procedure shows that 2,491 people died here from virus infections in July - a sharp drop from 3,396 fatalities in Texas so far this month based on the system that's been replaced. The old process showed that 2,481 virus patients had died in Texas by July 1 while the new system pegs the fatality count on the first day of the month at 3,386.
According to the count that's now official, the coronavirus has claimed 1,998 in Texas by June 1 when the DSHS had initially reported there to have been 1,678 deaths here by that point in time when the second outbreak was in the infant stages. Based on the old virus death tracking scheme, Texas had 816 COVID-19 deaths on May 1 compared to 1,071 that the state is reporting now for that day.
The state had apparently been relying on data from local health officials who'd been counting people who'd died from unrelated causes after testing positive as COVID-19 fatalities. The new process will only count fatalities that physicians with direct knowledge of individual patients have certified to be deaths that were directly caused by the virus.
The Texas Democratic Party seized on the policy change today when it accused the Republican governor of trying to sugarcoat the coronavirus crisis with a significant undereporting of fatalities here.
“Texans cannot trust Greg Abbott," TDP communications director Abhi Rahman said. "Thousands of Texans have died from the coronavirus, and Abbott is trying to cover up their deaths. Just like he covered up infection rates and hospitalizations. Abbott has failed Texas families and he knows it. Enough is enough. Governor Abbott must be held accountable for his lies.”
But the eventual effect of the reporting revision could have the opposite effect by narrowing the definition on what constitutes an official coronavirus fatality here. The state says the change was needed as a result of inconsistent local reporting practices and delays that made it harder to obtain demographic details on virus deaths here.