Governor agrees to change in COVID-19 death reporting

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Colorado Governor Jared Polis has agreed to direct a change in the way COVID-19-related deaths are being conveyed on the State/Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) COVID-19 data site. 

Grand County Coroner Brenda Bock, who has served in the elected position for nearly 34 years, began advocating for a change in the reporting policy 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. 

She had reached out to leaders at the CDPHE and been told that, in line with CDC guidelines and other states’ practices, the deaths would continue to be included in Grand County’s overall COVID-related death count. 

So Bock took her request to remove accidental and homicidal deaths, including “drug overdoses, gunshot wounds, and motor vehicle accidents,” from among COVID-19 deaths to state representatives and the Governor himself.

According to Grand County Commissioner Kristen Manguso, who provided an update to the rest of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Tuesday, Bock had finally had a phone conversation with Governor Polis. 

During that 20-minute call, Bock reportedly implored the Governor to change the reporting policy, championing the idea that “it would be really nice if Colorado were known for honest reporting of COVID deaths.”

“I really think that that influenced the Governor a little bit,” recounted Manguso, before noting that the Governor finally indicated that he would direct staff to rectify the numbers on the State’s COVID website.

Manguso further noted that if numbers had not been corrected in the near future, Bock would “continue to push to make sure those State numbers reflect the accurate numbers of death due to COVID.”

In a statement from the Governor’s office, Press Secretary Colin Cahill affirmed, “The Governor and Rachel Herlihy, our state epidemiologist, spoke to the Grand County coroner on the phone about the state’s COVID-19 death data. The Governor is outraged and agrees with the Coroner.

“In an effort to be abundantly clear about what our data means, the state has added language to several places on the website explaining that some of the numbers combine deaths that occurred as a direct result of COVID and deaths that occurred when the individual had COVID-19. 

“For instance, on the graph titled ‘Deaths Among Cases,’ the language states: ‘This graph includes death among people with COVID-19. Covid-19 may or may not be listed as the cause of death in the death certificate.’  We also will be adding information about county-level deaths that delineates those that are due to COVID-19. 

“The Governor has said many times that the public and the media should focus on the number of people who have died from COVID, not the number of people who have died with COVID. The number of people who have died with COVID is not particularly useful because it includes people who died of other causes. 

“At his press conferences, the Governor cites the number of people who have died from COVID and believes that is the number that should be used in communications with the public to inspire maximum confidence.”

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