Michigan changing how it classifies coronavirus deaths. Expect tally to grow.

Michigan will begin tallying ‘probable’ COVID-19 deaths rather than just those confirmed with a test. (Shutterstock)

Michigan passed 5,000 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, and the grim milestone could increase significantly this week when the state reclassifies how it tallies deaths related to COVID-19.

In a move that may increase the state’s death toll by 10 percent or more, Michigan will begin including “probable” deaths in the totals  — rather than deaths that included positive tests for the virus and a death certificate that indicated it “has caused or significantly contributed” to the death, said Lynn Sutfin, a state health spokesperson.

But likely starting this week she said the state will report “probable” cases, Sutfin said Monday.

“That would be a death where the death certificate lists COVID-19 disease as a cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death without a positive COVID-19 confirmed lab result,” Sutfin told Bridge in an email.

The new numbers could help resolve inconsistencies in elevated statewide death totals this year that so far have not been attributable to the pandemic.

Through May 2, the most recent day total state deaths are available, Michigan recorded 41,700 deaths so far this year. 

That’s up 21 percent, over the average of 34,400 between 2014 and 2019, according to death records kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But as of May 2, the state had reported just over 4,000 COVID-19 deaths. (As of Tuesday it had reported 5,017, the fourth most in the country. 

That doesn’t mean the other 3,300 deaths are COVID-19 related; the CDC and others have noted that some people died because they did not seek medical care for other ailments because of the prevalence of the virus and a shortage of health care resources.


Classifying COVID-19 deaths has been controversial and some states have come under fire for using a more liberal interpretation. 

In Colorado, a state representative called for an investigation after the state acknowledged that it was counting as COVID deaths cases in which the disease was not listed as the cause of death, though they had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state had said 1,150 deaths were tied to COVID-19 but just under 900 listed it as a cause of death. For instance, someone could die of cancer and physicians could learn later that they tested positive for the coronavirus. Yet the virus might not have been the cause of the death.

Colorado is now changing how it reports COVID-19 deaths.

In April, New York City began counting “probable” deaths in which COVID-19 was listed as the cause of death but there wasn’t a positive test.

The first wave of probable deaths added over 4,000 to the city’s tally, equal to 60 percent of the 6,840 confirmed deaths at that time.

In Ohio, the state reports deaths both ways: Like Michigan, those with a positive test and as a cause of death, and as “probables” — cases where a physician or medical examiner believes it was the cause but does not have absolute proof.

To date, Ohio has listed 1,556 “confirmed” COVID-19 deaths, with another 164 “probable” deaths. 

If Michigan follows that same ratio, it would mean attributing nearly 500 more deaths to the coronavirus.

In Macomb County, the health department said there were 29 “probable” COVID-19 deaths, according to a county spokesperson. That would be equal to just under 4 percent of the 740 deaths reported there so far.

“We obtain death information during our investigation of laboratory confirmed cases, so our number of deaths (740) is an accurate number,” said Dr. Kevin Lokar, the medical director of the Macomb County Health Department.

Sutfin said probable COVID-19 deaths will be reported separately from confirmed cases, and local health departments across the state have already been collecting the data.

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Kevin Grand
Tue, 05/19/2020 - 8:37pm

When the facts don't support your narrative...change them so they do.

And people cannot figure out why there is waning trust of the occupant in the Romney Building?

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 11:42am

And better yet, refuse to conduct randomized testing in order to establish a REAL infection rate - Which is likely far more than half of the state now. Because that would make them look like the idiots that they are.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 4:50pm

That's a remarkably bold claim. Could you cite any research informing your opinion, or is this one of the "feels over facts" situations?

Bob Butkiss
Tue, 05/19/2020 - 8:47pm

They say the biggest factor in whether or not your state has a lot of deaths due to COVID is whether or not you have a Democratic Governor. This doesn't mean that Democratic Governor's are killing people (although it is possible that their policies are leading to more deaths)- what it means is that Democratic Governor's are the most liberal in counting COVID deaths.

And it makes sense for Democratic Governors to count virus deaths liberally- the more people that are dying of COVID (whether in fact or just in gaming the numbers), the more power that these Democratic Governors get to retain, the more laws and policies they can put in place without legislative or bipartisan approval, the less oversight and FOIA requests they have to deal with, the more no-bid 'emergency' contracts they can award to their supporters and allies, and the more money that they can scam from the feds. It makes sense for them to game the data and numbers.

It just isn't right, that's all.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 11:45am

We are already tracking several confirmed cases where someone died of an overdose or other clearly defined cause and their death was marked as a coronavirus death "because they had antibodies".
We are keeping this list secret and not releasing until we have much more data so that they don't see us coming.
Retribution for this fraud = Ruined political "career" and being reminded for the rest of their lives of how they destroyed an economy and a third of small businesses over fake numbers in order to make themselves feel important.
We will not forgive; We will not forget. Remember that, you stasi pigs - These mistakes will follow you the rest of your miserable, useless lives.
And I'm not even mentioning the list of stasi snitches who snitched on their neighbors for "executive order violations" - Thank goodness that information is public!

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 11:50pm

Follow the data. Unless the science doesn't say what you want it to say, in which case you need to change the data to fit the narrative. Follow the narrative.

Paul Russell
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 8:47am

Gretchin is a control freak. She made disasterous decisions on not allowing treatments to moving covid infected patients to nursing homes where the resulting deaths made up almost half of the total deaths. Other states have opened up with no adverse effects but she will keep Michigan locked down as long as she can. This contributes to stresses she is not taking account of. She is incompetent and a danger to Michigan.

Dems Need More ...
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 9:05am

The democrats need more COVID deaths to further their political agenda. They were happy when people started dying. The Great Dictator Whitmer needs people to be sick and dying for as long as possible so she can continue with her ego-driven, self-serving, preening national media interviews that do NOTHING to help people in Michigan.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 9:11am

Heck, let’s add another trillion or so to the national debt. Everyone knows it’s in the democratic DNA to just shovel money at everything, even if the facts have to be fudged a bit.

George Hagenauer
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 9:39am

This is a good example of the current weakness of our federal system. Early on e should have had a federal definition of what was considered a pandemic death and a consistent counting system . One headache with this is that withCovid19 the lack of testing means a difficulty in classifying Covid 19 deaths. Low testing rates inevitably mean low deaths rates. Also there are now post Covid19 syndromes developing like unexpected strokes that will never be counted due to lack of testing. I worked for 25 years in a position developing data to support the child care sector in Wisconsin. A key factor in starting child care is birth data but the state's ability to provide that varied from year to year with some years it not being available until 9 months or a year after a year closed. (And if you were taking out a half million dollar loan to build a child care center and putting your house up as collateral you wanted solid birth trend data- oddly when Walker Republicans dominated and touted economic development were the worst years to get the needed demographic data to do economic development related child care ). Death data is tied to the same system as birth data and how it is collected not just defined is rather key during a pandemic. My guess is that 50 states all collect it on different schedules and of course with different definitions. That is I think the reason that the New York times article analyzing death rate increases not linked to Covid19 used a lot of international death data and only a handful of state's data - probably because complete death data wasn't available for many states . This would be an interesting area to look into .

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 10:07am

'Really add to the death count with probable' - Its bad enough to have existing Covid19 death count ... I guess we are now counting hospice deaths. Someone in government has lost sight of why people are in hospice. Last time I checked, hospice patients /families sign a waiver for non-life saving management.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 11:46am

I thought hospice + mail in voting was the goal for liberal deep state operatives - Makes their mission of mass voter fraud much easier.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 12:56pm

Five nonsense GOP posts for every non GOP post allowed. Did Bridge get bought?

What's your point?
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 3:52pm

The anti-Whitmer posts all make sense. I'm sure your supposedly deleted post was a fawning and groveling defense of her wrecking the economy all for her own personal gain.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 4:53pm

They're all fear mongering and conspiracy nonsense. No citations, no sources, just the empty talking points of brain rotted conservatives

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 12:58pm

No one cares about under-reporting. It makes the GOP look good. Truth doesn't matter to the flat Earth crowd.