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Michigan COVID-19 deaths swell, as state tweaks how it tallies cases

Michigan has changed the way it calculates COVID-19 deaths, boosting the total by 4 percent or 240 deaths to more than 5,800 as of Friday, new reports show

The inclusion of “probable” COVID-related deaths reflect cases in which the virus is strongly considered as the cause of death, but victims didn’t test positive for the virus. 

In addition to deaths, the state said there were nearly 5,000 more “probable” cases as well, an 8.5 percent increase over the confirmed cases of 58,241.

The state, however, is reporting the numbers separately and not combining them.

A disproportionately higher number of probable deaths are in counties with large numbers of minorities. Nearly three-quarters of probable deaths were in a handful of counties:

  • More than a third of all the probable deaths were in Detroit, which had 84, and also had more than a quarter of all confirmed COVID-19 deaths. There have been 1,389 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Detroit. 
  • Genesee County, home to Flint, had 10 percent of the probable deaths, 25. The county’s confirmed deaths, 253, account for 4 percent of the state’s total.
  • There were another 37 probable deaths in Macomb County and 31 in Wayne County outside of Detroit.

To get listed as a confirmed case, the deceased must have tested positive for the virus and COVID-19 must be listed as a cause of death.

Probable cases are those in which the victim did not have a positive test but was presumed infected based on symptoms and possible connection to another positive case, like a family member, and COVID-19 was considered a cause of death.

How states classify COVID-19 deaths has been controversial, with some states criticized for more liberal interpretations of COVID-19 deaths. 

Colorado officials changed how they classified after acknowledging the state 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.

Ohio 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.

Through Thursday, Ohio was reporting 2,117 confirmed deaths and 222 probable ones.

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