Department of Health admits to numbers error

Submitted by the Washington State Department of Health

The Washington State Department of Health is expanding reporting on COVID-19 deaths to better identify whether COVID-19 caused or contributed to a particular death. The changes we’re making to reporting will remove non-COVID-19 deaths from the statewide total, and break down the overall data to include more specific categories.

Until now, when a death is reported as a COVID-19 death, it is because the person who passed away also tested positive for COVID-19. However, this method doesn’t just reflect the deaths of people whose deaths were caused by COVID-19; it can include someone who may have died of other causes.

While changing the data, the Department of Health realized an error in its previous reporting.

The department released the following statement:

“As we endeavor to improve our data reporting across all aspects of our COVID-19 response, we’ve discovered that we’ve made a mistake in reporting negative test results and we want to be clear about what happened and how we plan to fix it. Because of an error in a workaround established to handle the high volume of negative test results, we have been including negative antibody test results along with negative molecular test results in the total negative tests we’ve been reporting since April 21st. Our intention was to only include molecular test results. This has incorrectly inflated our reporting of individuals who have tested negative for COVID-19 by 13%. This over-reporting occurs in the negative test numbers reported on the DOH dashboard, and the governor’s Risk-Assessment Dashboard. These negative test numbers, while inflated, have not impacted decision-making as it pertains to counties advancing through phases.

“This issue does not impact reporting of the numbers of positive test results but has underestimated the overall percentage of test results that are positive. The corrected cumulative percent positive reported yesterday would increase from 5.5% to 6.2% for testing as of 11:59 p.m., June 15.

“We have addressed the problem and the corrected numbers will be included in this afternoon’s updates on the DOH dashboard and the Risk Assessment Dashboard.

“We apologize for the error.”

These changes in reporting will take place in two phases. Phase 1 will take place on June 17, and Phase 2 will roll out over the next few weeks.

Phase 1: Remove deaths where COVID-19 did not contribute to death from our death count. For Phase 1, this will result in seven deaths being removed from our current death count, including two suicides, three homicides, and two overdose deaths. Four of the deaths are from King and three are from Yakima. Additional non-COVID-19 deaths may be removed throughout the course of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Phase 2: Expand how we report deaths to identify whether we can confirm or rule-out COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, including identifying probable and suspected deaths. As part of Phase 2, future COVID-19 death classifications will include whether:

  1. COVID-19 contributed to the death (death certificate, testing, and other case information available to confirm);
  2. COVID-19 probably contributed to the death (death certificate information available but testing information not available);
  3. COVID-19 is suspected to have contributed to death (follow-up being conducted prior to ruling out or confirming death); or
  4. COVID-19 did not contribute to the death (examples include homicide, overdose, suicide, car accident, or disease with clear exclusion of COVID-19 illness).

These changes will help DOH deliver an even more accurate count of COVID-19 deaths, as well as offer the additional context of reporting of suspect, probable, and non-COVID-19 related deaths.

DOH will continue to review our processes to ensure we are providing accurate, up-to-date information and data as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A short Q&A about these changes is available on the DOH website.

Learn more about reopening and the statewide response to COVID-19 at

Individuals can also find COVID-19 information on the Department of Health’s website or call 1-800-525-0127. Individuals can text the word “coronavirus” to 211-211 to receive information and updates on their phone wherever they are.