County Coroner takes inaccurate COVID death reporting to Governor

0
851

by Marisssa Lorenz
Grand County Coroner Brenda Bock continues in her efforts to see a correction in the way the State of Colorado reports COVID-19 deaths, hoping to remove deaths by accident or homicide from the official county count provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

With the support of the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), she is now appealing directly to Colorado Governor Jared Polis, State Senator Bob Rankin, and State Representative Judy Amabile for a change in reporting practices.
Bock began her endeavor for accurate COVID-19 reporting in December 2020 after two gunshot victims from a November murder-suicide incident in Fraser were included as Grand County COVID-19 deaths on the CDPHE website even before an investigation had been concluded or a death certificate had been issued.

On January 25, 2021, Coroner Bock received a response from Breanna Kawasaki, CDPHE COVID-19 Surveillance Unit Manager, indicating that “senior leadership” had reviewed the definition for deaths among cases of COVID-19 and had also reached out to other states to understand their reporting.

“At this time,” reads the email, “we are continuing to follow the current case definition for deaths among cases (if a person tests positive for COVID-19 and dies within a certain time frame or has COVID-19 listed on the death certificate as an underlying cause of death or other significant condition contributing to death, we will count them as a death among cases). We recognize that this definition is not perfect, but for public health surveillance purposes, try to apply a case definition consistently across cases.”

Bock clarifies that COVID-19 was not mentioned on either death certificate in question. She indicates that she has also reached out to other coroners across the state and country and heard similar frustrations, where accidental and homicidal deaths, including “drug overdoses, gunshot wounds, and motor vehicle accidents,” are being counted as COVID-19 deaths.
That’s just wrong,” stated Bock, emotion evident in her voice.

“I don’t think you need to falsify numbers to get your point across to the public,” she continues. “And yet, I feel that that’s what
the CDC is still doing.”

Bock is an elected official and has served as coroner to Grand County for nearly 34 years. Under Colorado statute, “the coroner, in cooperation with law enforcement, shall make all proper inquiry in order to determine the cause and manner of death of any person in his or her jurisdiction.”

Following the Coroner’s determination, the Grand County COVID-19 dashboard indicates a delineation between residents who have died because of the coronavirus (two at the time of reporting) and those residents who had died with COVID-19 but not because of it.

The State site reports both numbers together by county, though it does offer two numbers for Colorado totals, distinguishing between “deaths among cases” and “deaths due to COVID-19” As of February 10, those respective numbers were 5,746 and 5,537, showing a discrepancy of 209 cases where Colorado residents reportedly died within 28 days of being diagnosed with COVID-19 but where the disease was neither the direct cause nor a significantly contributing factor.

On Tuesday, Grand County Commissioners approved and co-signed a letter authored by Bock to State leaders, supporting her ongoing effort for unambiguous reporting of COVID-19 deaths and questioning both “the legal authority that is permitting a change in any cause of death that occurs in the state of Colorado” and the logic behind consistency at the cost of honesty.

“Governor,” inquires the letter, “the question is: If it is consistently wrong, does that make it right?”

“In order to be honest with the public and understand the true impacts of this horrible virus, the State death data must be separated into two categories–Deaths with COVID-19 and Deaths of COVID-19,” reads the final appeal.

“Without true and honest numbers, how will the public be able to trust our findings? The numbers shown on the State of Colorado
site are not truthful and need to be corrected. Any assistance you can give is deeply appreciated.”

For further statistics on COVID-19 in Colorado, go to covid19.colorado. gov/data. For more information on COVID-19 in Grand County, go to co.grand.co.us/COVID.