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Oregon's COVID-19 death toll increases by 550 after state reports 'technical error'

Two computer errors caused approximately 550 deaths to be previously unreported, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
Credit: AP image

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Health Authority (OHA) said in a press release on Thursday that it will begin reporting approximately 550 previously unreported COVID-19 deaths.

The deaths recently became known to state epidemiologists following a technical computer error. OHA said that most of the deaths occurred between May and August 2021.

“We are taking steps to ensure that our reporting is comprehensive and transparent,” said OHA Director Patrick Allen. “We extend our condolences to everyone who has suffered a loss to COVID-19, and we deeply regret the pain this disclosure may cause.”

A spokesperson with OHA said there were two technological issues. The first was an issue with the database where OHA gets death information. It was not pulling in all of the deaths that were coded a certain way, which may have included COVID-related deaths.

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The second issue was said to be a “scripting” issue. Another way OHA sources information about COVID deaths is by comparing case information from the Oregon Pandemic Emergency Response Application (Opera) database to a database with information about people who have died. Opera is used for communicable disease surveillance and reporting. The computer script had been set up to only run a query for one person one time. 

“If we ran the query about an individual once and then information about that individual – such as that they died – is updated, which can happen when information about cases of deaths is delayed, we miss that new information and it’s not reflected in our death counts,” an OHA spokesperson said in an email.

Both the database and script issue are being addressed, according to OHA.

“We deeply regret this computer glitch occurred and the pain that reporting of these new, previously unknown COVID-19-related deaths has caused,” the spokesperson continued in the email.

Oregon previously had the sixth-lowest rate of COVID deaths in the country. OHA said the number of deaths may push Oregon to the seventh or eighth position.

With these previously unreported deaths, OHA expects that daily reports will continue to see high death totals as daily infections begin to drop. This has to do with the backlogged deaths and the delay that already existed between testing and reports when a person dies of COVID.

RELATED: Oregon could reach COVID-19 herd immunity in December, OHSU reports