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Oregon and Washington count COVID-19 deaths differently. Here’s how

The state of Oregon does not differentiate between who died from COVID-19 and who died with COVID-19 and has no plans to change their system.

PORTLAND, Ore — The state of Oregon does not differentiate who died from COVID-19 and who died with COVID-19.

The Oregon Health Authority said the state does this because the virus can often have effects on an individual’s health that may complicate their recovery from other diseases and conditions, and to help track the spread of the virus. 

After a KGW Investigation, many viewers asked how the state of Washington tracks and reports COVID-19 deaths.

Washington State health officials used to lump all deaths into the same until late June when they removed the people who died with COVID-19.

According to the state, they removed 3 homicides, 2 suicides and 2 overdoses from their COVID-19 death count.

Washington State Department of Health spokesman, Jamie Nixon, said in an email in part:

Our current definition for a COVID-19 death includes anyone with a COVID-19 positive laboratory test that has died, irrespective of cause of death. As part of that regular investigative process (sped up due to COVID-19) we will find deaths that should not be labeled as a COVID-19 deaths. For instance, someone may have tested positive for COVID-19, and then subsequently killed by a gunshot wound. Once identified as non-COVID-19, we then remove those deaths and inform the public.

Colorado previously reported deaths the same way Oregon does. State health officials were counting people who died from COVID-19 and with COVID-19 as the same thing. But after public outcry when a death from alcohol poisoning was counted as a COVID-19 death, the state changed how they reported coronavirus deaths to differentiate between people who died from COVID-19 and people who died with COVID-19.

“As a clinician and as a physician, that kind of classification makes a lot more sense to me because then we've got more granularity on the data and we know exactly who is directly related to COVID, whereas who may have just died while being infected with COVID,” said Dr. Payal Kohli, KGW's medical expert.

Oregon health officials say they have no plans to change how they report COVID-19 deaths.

Spokesman Jonathan Modie said Monday in an email in part, 

The issue for us is that determining who died because of COVID and who died with COVID (or soon after they had COVID) but of another cause is actually very complicated. Making this determination is not straightforward in many cases, even for the attending physician who knew the most about the person’s medical conditions. In public health, we are looking at health data at the population level, so we must have a simple, objective approach to classifying deaths, and we follow national infectious disease reporting standards in doing so. We know that there may be [the] occasional misclassification, but we have chosen our definition to minimize this and come up with reliable numbers.

Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Email Cristin at CallCristin@KGW.com.

WATCH: Is dying with COVID-19 and dying from COVID-19 the same thing? In Oregon, it is