The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has made several changes in the way COVID-19 data are verified and reported, resulting in “fatality demographic data, the fatality trend, fatalities by county, number recovered and number of active cases [being] impacted by the transition” according to a DSHS statement provided to Matagorda County Officials on Monday.
We are already beginning to see the impact of these changes, most notably in the COVID-19 fatality count and the addition of a “Probable Case” designation in some of the reports we receive from DSHS.
On Tuesday morning, July 28, 2020, Matagorda County’s COVID-19 fatality numbers were updated from 5 to 19, ending a months-long wait for updated fatality numbers. This does not mean that 14 Matagorda County citizens passed away in the past 24 hours. It means that since the start of this pandemic, 19 Matagorda County citizens have passed away, and their certifier (certifying physician, medical examiner, Justice of the Peace, etc.), has listed COVID-19 as either an immediate or an underlying cause of death on the death certificate. Using death certificates instead of a medical records review to certify COVID-19 fatalities is a new procedure.
It is important to note that death certificates are electronically submitted by the certifier and are not a part of the patient’s chart or medical record locally. In addition, death certificates are not public record for 25 years in the State of Texas. Because of these and other reasons such as out-of-county deaths and deaths outside of our health system, Matagorda County Health Officials cannot and will not attempt to disclose any information such as gender, age, or disposition assumed to be on the death certificate of patients likely to be included in DSHS’ certified COVID-19 fatality case count.
Combined COVID-19 fatality demographics for the State of Texas can be accessed by anyone through the DSHS COVID-19 dashboard.
COVID-19 Probable Cases
DSHS has also implemented a “Probable Case” category for persons meeting specific criteria to be deemed COVID-positive without a lab test. Probable cases will be included in our daily and weekly reports as DSHS classifies them as active, fatal, or recovered cases.
Per the CDC, a probable COVID-19 case is defined as:
- A person meeting clinical criteria AND epidemiologic evidence with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID-19;
- A person meeting presumptive laboratory evidence AND either clinical criteria OR epidemiologic evidence;
- A person meeting vital records criteria with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID-19.
Clarification of these terms can be found on the CDC website here. If you or someone in your household has been deemed a “probable COVID-19 case” and you need more in-depth information, contact your medical provider directly.
COVID-19 Case Data Moving Forward
We welcome these changes to DSHS COVID-19 data collection and reporting because we’re already seeing evidence that the numbers reported by DSHS are consistent with what we’re experiencing locally. Going forward under the current changes, and in anticipation of more changes to come, we expect:
- Fatalities to be verified and reported in about 14 days instead of 90 days since the death certificates now used to confirm COVID-related fatalities are required to be submitted within 10 days of death.
- The daily numbers to be timelier and more consistent.
- The daily numbers to not necessarily “add up” perfectly on any given day across the report due in part to the classification and reclassification of “probable cases” and DSHS’ stated impact of the transition to a new reporting structure as they continue to refine the process.
Thank you for reading this update. Questions or comments about DSHS data should be directed to DSHS by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions or comments about the compilation or interpretation of the data presented by Matagorda County Officials should be sent to the EOC by email at email@example.com.