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Iowa will now follow CDC standards for reporting COVID-19 deaths


Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Last week, the Iowa Department of Public Health set a record by reporting 70 deaths from COVID-19 in a 24-hour period. On Tuesday at 10 a.m., IDPH reported 202 more deaths from the virus. But as Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Kelly Garcia explained to reporters on Monday night, 175 of those cases were added to the state’s total because IDPH is changing how it reports COVID-19 deaths.

Previously, IDPH did not include a death in its COVID-19 statistics, even if the virus was cited on a death certificate, unless that person had tested positive in one specific type of test: the PCR test. People whose infections were detected through an antigen test or who were clinically diagnosed as having COVID but did not have a PCR test before dying were not excluded. That put Iowa at odds with national reporting standards recognized by the CDC, and kept IDPH’s reported death toll artificially low.

Now, IDPH will list all deaths in the state assigned the International Classification of Diseases death code for COVID-19 by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. That means those previous excluded deaths will now be counted in IDPH’s official COVID-19 death total, provided the physician who fills out the death certificate lists the virus as a cause of death.

“We’ve recognized a need to adjust our death reporting,” Garcia said during a video conference on Monday night.

In addition to her role as DHS director, Garcia has been serving as interim director of IDPH since its last full-time director retired at the end of July.

“This information will be helpful for national comparison, and I believe it will also be helpful when we compare causes of death over the course of the entire 2020 calendar year,” she said Monday.

Garcia said the new reporting standards are more accurate than those IDPH has been following since it reported its first COVID-19 death on March 24. Death-related statistics will now be reported once a day, instead of on the rolling basis that IDPH has been using to update its COVID-19 information page since May.

“I absolutely know that it is frustrating to individuals across all sectors of Iowa, public citizens, healthcare professionals and others that our numbers do change,” Garcia said. “This change is with certainty. And we know now that using the national coding system, it alleviates any future change from occurring again.”

COVID-19 test results will continue to be updated throughout the day on the IDPH site.

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, IDPH reported another 1,393 more Iowans had tested positive since the same time on Monday. That number included 52 residents of Johnson County and 66 residents of Linn County, and increased the total number of confirmed cases of the virus reported by IDPH to 246,237.

Also at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, IDPH was reporting ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks in 141 of the state’s long-term care facilities and 900 hospitalized COVID patients. One hundred and eleven of the hospitalized patients had been admitted during the previous 24 hours, and 191 of them were being treated in intensive care units.

On Monday evening, DHS issued a statement disclosing that a resident of the six residential facilities it runs had died from COVID-19. The statement did not identify which of the facilities — the Boys State Training School in Eldora, the Cherokee Mental Health Institute, the Independence Mental Health Institute, the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders, the Woodward Resource Center and the Glenwood Resource Center — the person lived at.

This is the first reported COVID-19 death at a DHS residence. The department said to protect the privacy of the deceased, it would not reveal where the individual lived.

In October, DHS confirmed to Iowa Capital Dispatch that a resident had died, and the death was being investigated to determine if it was COVID-related. It is not clear if the death reported Monday is the same case.

At the time DHS confirmed it was investigating a possible COVID death to the Dispatch, there were spikes in cases of the virus at the Glenwood Resource Center and the Woodward Resource Center.


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