Colorado adjusts how state reports COVID-19 death counts, but Grand coroner says it’s still not enough
Efforts to update COVID-19 data has changed how deaths are reported on the state’s website, but the Grand County coroner is less than happy with the results.
Since December, Coroner Brenda Bock has sought a change in the way the state reports COVID-19 deaths, which included two deaths in Grand County determined by police to be a murder-suicide.
Bock found the causes of death in that case to be blunt force trauma due to gunshot wounds, but the couple had tested positive for COVID-19 in the month preceding their deaths and thus were included in the state’s reporting of deaths among cases.
Bock has maintained that the virus had nothing to do with their deaths.
On the Grand County COVID-19 dashboard, the murder-suicide is not included with the overall death count. However, the state’s reporting for Grand County still includes those numbers.
Bock’s request that the state update its count has centered on the argument that accidental deaths and homicides should not be included in any COVID-19 reporting, whether it is among cases or due to the virus. Following discussions with the state, Bock sent Gov. Jared Polis a letter backed by Grand County commissioners asking that the reporting be changed.
According to Bock and a spokesperson for the governor, during the subsequent phone call between Bock, the governor and the state epidemiologist, Polis concurred with Bock.
“The governor is outraged and agrees with the coroner,” the governor’s spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Combining deaths with and deaths due to COVID-19, the state reports six in Grand County. According to local officials, only two deaths were actually caused by COVID-19. Two additional deaths have been reported on the county’s website as deaths with but not due to the coronavirus.
The state’s website was updated Friday, listing six deaths among cases in Grand County with a separate column for deaths due to COVID-19.
However, the state’s website suppresses the number for any counts of deaths due to COVID-19 of fewer than 10. That means Grand County’s number is still not visible, and Bock doesn’t think the change is enough.
“They didn’t change what I asked them to change,” Bock said. “I asked them to take the two gunshot wounds off. They’re still on there.”
Bock said she spoke with the state epidemiologist Thursday as the changes were being implemented, insisting that the two deaths be removed.
“(The state epidemiologist) basically told me that what is done is all that’s going to be done,” Bock said. “They’re not going to change it. They’re not going to take my gunshot wounds off.”
The state has added language to several places on the COVID-19 website to be “abundantly clear” what the data means, Polis’ spokesperson said. These changes include language explaining that some numbers combine deaths that occurred as a direct result of COVID-19 and deaths that occurred when the individual had COVID-19.
“The governor has said many times that the public and the press should focus on the number of people who have died from COVID, not the number of people who have died with COVID,” the spokesperson said. “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.”
Still, the six deaths among COVID-19 in Grand County remain on the state’s website.
“They basically changed the wording of some of the things on the website, and I think they did that to shut me up,” Bock said.
Maintaining that the county’s report of four deaths among cases is the accurate number, Bock scorned the data on the state’s website as untruthful. The coroner said she isn’t sure what else she can do to get the two deaths removed and was disappointed with how the state handled the situation.
“It’s just very frustrating dealing with the government — imagine that,” she said.
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