Why P.E.I.'s COVID-19 death count went up this week

·2 min read
P.E.I. reports hospitalizations and death counts weekly, but the death counts require review. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)
P.E.I. reports hospitalizations and death counts weekly, but the death counts require review. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)

Following a review, P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Office revised the number of people on the Island who had died from COVID-19, leaving some wondering what had happened.

The number of deaths rose from 35 to 44 on Tuesday. That actually included five deaths that were removed from those COVID-19 related, and 13 that were added. There was, in addition, one death recorded in the previous week.

Current hospitalizations for COVID-19 on P.E.I.

In an email to CBC News, the Chief Public Health Office explained the change came from a review of death certificates.

"The death certificate contains the underlying and contributing cause(s) of death and is considered the official record of death," the statement said.

"A death is deemed COVID-19 related when COVID-19 is listed as either an underlying or contributing cause of death on a registered  death certificate."

A death can be removed from the list when an initial report, perhaps from a nursing home, says the death was related to COVID-19. But if on review the attending physician does not include COVID-19 on the death certificate, then that death would be removed from the list.

On the other hand, an initial assessment may not find COVID-19 to be a cause, perhaps because the person was considered recovered. The attending physician, however, may determine COVID-19 was a factor and include it on the death certificate.

Part of larger data-gathering project

In either case, what is on the death certificate is final, and when death certificates are reviewed, the count of deaths by COVID-19 is amended.

While people have become familiar with COVID-19 death counts, these counts are part of a larger body of information about the causes of death for people in Canada.

"It is important that accurate population-level information regarding the causes of death be available to the public," said the CPHO statement.

Reviews to ensure accuracy are standard practice, it said.

"There would be reason for concern if CPHO did not reconcile what was reported publicly with what is listed on death certificates as the official cause of death."

The CPHO has put in place new protocols to reconcile initial reports and death certificate reviews more quickly, the statement said.

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