Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

27 Jan 2021

Misleading table on CDPHE website riles up coroners

Posted by Adam Howell


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A misleading table on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) website has several Colorado coroners concerned with how the data set fails to distinguish between deaths from or among COVID-19 cases.

misleading tableSpecifically, on the Colorado COVID-19 Data page of the CDPHE’s State Emergency Operations Center website is a misleading table. Titled “cases and deaths by county” is drop-down table with one column for each county, and one column for the number of deaths.

Misleading table called out by Grand County Coroner

Grand County Coroner Brenda Buck is concerned with how a misleading table on a CDPHE web page fails to distinguish between deaths among COVID cases or deaths due to COVID-19.

“Under Grand County it lists four, but I knew we had only had two. And I asked them why it was listed that way, and they told me it was because the couple had tested positive within 30 days of their deaths.

And I told him that is silly, because that is not what killed them. That didn’t even contribute to their deaths. That they were both gunshot wounds, and I’m still fighting with the state over this.

And that’s what I told them, and they keep trying to tell me, well the website says. And I said the state website does not, it only has the total number of deaths, and that is very misleading, and I don’t think it should be on there.

I’ve been contacted by people all over the nation that are having the same problem. It’s all the way from Maine, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan. I’ve had people calling me from all over saying that they are coming against the same thing.

The coroner from Montezuma was the first one who brought this up.

I read something yesterday in the paper yesterday that all of the flu deaths were down. Well of course they’re down, because they’re all being lumped in with the COVID deaths. I think people are still dying from the flu. I believe everything is being lumped in with COVID, and it’s not right. Coroners and physicians, we took an oath to tell the truth, and for somebody down at the state who sits behind a desk to reclassify them is wrong.

The very first case we had in Grand County the gentleman died of a massive heart attack. And when they went to do the autopsy, he tested positive for COVID, but he was asymptomatic, he didn’t even know that he had it, and they [the state] listed him as a COVID death.

All I know is that you need to tell the truth, and I don’t believe that’s happening. I believe the numbers are very misleading because I know for a fact that deaths that have nothing to do with COVID are being lumped into that category, and it’s not right.”

Misleading table of cases and deaths disputed by Montezuma County Coroner

Similarly, Montezuma County Coroner George Deavers was also pissed off about the CDPHE’s misleading table of “cases and deaths by county.” He voiced is disagreement with the misleading table to the department in a phone call, he said.

“I told them that that’s misleading, that whenever you pull up COVID deaths it should have both of them on the same screen, so you don’t have to dig for it, you can actually look at it, and people aren’t  misled by the numbers.

“The state is going to say we have 18 COVID deaths, and if you look at our website, we have 11 COVID deaths and seven deaths with COVID. So they just flat out show that there’s 18 COVID deaths for Montezuma County. And our Montezuma County website that’s separate from the state website says we have 11 people that died from COVID, and seven that died with COVID, but it was not the cause of death.

The state has told me that they do if you dig deep enough in their website you can find that, but I have never been able to find that. They say that they break it down, but I have yet to see it.

Oh yeah, it pisses me off. It’s misinformation. That’s all they give you. They just run around in circles and they get you dizzy and confused, and pretty soon you are more confused than whenever you called.”



CDPHE responds to questions about table with random unrelated facts

This was the email that I sent to the Colorado State Joint Information Center:

Hello State of Colorado Employee,

I noticed on the Colorado State Emergency Operation Center page that there’s a tab with a drop-down table that’s titled, “Cases and Deaths By County.”

The problem with the data under this tab, is that it doesn’t appear to distinguish between deaths due to COVID, or deaths among COVID cases.

Isn’t this table kind of misleading people to think that all of the deaths listed in the table are deaths due to COVID, even though the San Juan Basin Public Health Department and other health departments do provide that distinction?

Can you please tell my readers where the CDPHE provides data for each county that does distinguish between deaths that are due to COVID, and deaths among COVID cases?

Adam Howell
Horse Gulch Blog

Unidentified state employee replies to email without answering question about misleading table

An unidentified, unaccountable, secret government official replied to my questions without answering them.

Hi Adam,

The main death data that is available are (1) vital records data, and (2) epidemiological monitoring data.

Vital records uses data from death certificates. Coroners and medical examiners determine what goes on death certificates. The vital records statistics represent deaths caused by the virus, or those for which COVID-19 was a significant contributing condition. The data is coded by the CDC and directly corresponds with data on the National Center for Health Statistics website (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/covid-19.htm). Those numbers are reflected in the “deaths due to covid” dashboard number, the CDC provisional death data visualization on the dashboard, and the county dropdown list (as you noted). This entire process can take 1-8 weeks, and thus these numbers lag the epidemiologic monitoring data.

Epidemiological monitoring data is broader– and is intended to provide quick monitoring of disease spread. It includes deaths among cases of COVID-19, meaning deaths that aren’t necessarily caused by COVID-19. If a person passes within 30 days of a positive test then they are counted as a death among COVID-19 cases.

The vital records data and epidemiological monitoring data are separate and are not reliant on one another. As you noted it can be confusing when the number of deaths among cases and deaths due to covid have issues when presented side by side, as not all deaths due to covid from CDC are always included in the deaths among cases number.  As noted above, the latter number is intended to provide quick monitoring of disease spread, while ultimately the vital records-based data will eventually become the official mortality statistics for COVID-19, once all deaths are registered and data processed.

Thanks,

It was interesting how this state employee failed to explain where the CDPHE provides data for each county that makes the distinction between deaths due to or among COVID cases. They also failed to answer whether the table that they provided for ‘cases and deaths by county’ was misleading.



Misleading graph titles contradict local CDC dataset labels

It appears that Colorado COVID-19 data that’s been provided by the CDC’s provisional dataset is being misreported above graphs for counties, in the titles, on the CDPHE’s public tableau web pages.

misleading graph title

Specifically, it appears that the CDC’s provisional data on “deaths involving COVID-19” has been relabeled by the CDPHE above the graphs as total “deaths due to COVID-19” for each Colorado county.

Me: Why is the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment relabeling the “deaths involving COVID-19” provisional COVID-19 data that the CDC provides for each county as “deaths due to COVID-19” data for each Colorado county?

A CDC data set labeled as ‘deaths involving COVID-19’ was relabeled by the CDPHE as ‘deaths due to COVID-19’ in the titles of graphs for deaths in each County.

My question to the CDPHE: Isn’t this mislabeling of the CDC’s provisional data also misleading the general public who reads this data on the CDPHE website to think that these are actually deaths due to COVID-19, when data from local health departments and the CDC would suggest that their data represents deaths involving COVID-19 or deaths among COVID-19 cases at worst?

CDPHE responds, but fails to answer question about whether relabeling dataset is misleading

My questions were replied to, but not answered by a mysterious anonymous person at the Colorado State Joint Information Center of the CDPHE. None of my questions to the CDPHE have been answered by someone who is willing to identify themselves with a first and last name, suggesting a lack of accountability at the agency.

“Thank you for reaching out to us, and for the opportunity to provide additional clarification on these data and associated labels. The deaths counted among ‘deaths due to COVID-19’ reflect all deaths occurring in Colorado, for which COVID-19 was identified as the underlying cause of death, or a significant contributing factor, and recorded as such on the decedent’s death certificate by the medical certifier (physician, coroner or medical examiner). These counts are initially prepared by the CDC/National Center for Health Statistics and published first on their website ‘Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)’.

CDPHE’s use of the label ‘deaths due to COVID-19’ originates with the same language used by CDC/NCHS on this provisional death counts site, including on labels and within their technical notes published there. The data reflected on this CDC/NCHS website are in turn published on CDC’s data.cdc.gov site, as you also noted, where they are labeled ‘deaths involving COVID-19.’

CDPHE adheres to CDC/NCHS’s official labeling and descriptions of these data, while CDC’s intermediate data.cdc.gov site is where a potential re-labeling occurs. We acknowledge the confusion this can create, and we’ve communicated to our CDC partners as well. We hope this provides some useful clarification.”

Kristen

CDPHE data on cases and deaths by county contradicts CDC and SJBPH data

At the time when this story was written (1/27/21), the COVID-19 death data from the CDC and the San Juan Basin Public Health department appeared to be different from the COVID-19 death data that’s provided by the CDPHE.

For example, San Juan Basin Public Health reported 34 deaths among cases in La Plata and the CDC provisional data reported 33 deaths involving COVID-19 in La Plata County. At the same time, the CDPHE reported 33 COVID-19 deaths in La Plata County.

Despite the contradictory COVID-19 data set labels between the three agencies, an employee at the Colorado State Joint Information Center that refused to identify themselves also refused to explain this discrepancy in the how they label their data sets.

About the author

Adam Howell is an unaffiliated voter and writer who believes in the importance of upholding the constitution. He can be reached with feedback by clicking on this link to the contact page.



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