According to claims made in viral social media posts from mid-January, the U.S. government will allegedly end daily COVID-19 death reporting beginning Feb. 2. Some posts claimed this would allow the federal government to “hide” the COVID-19 death toll.
As of Jan. 28, daily COVID-19 deaths in the United States are on the rise — is it possible that daily death reports stop despite that?
Is the U.S. government ending daily COVID-19 death reporting?
No, the U.S. government is not ending daily COVID-19 death reporting.
WHAT WE FOUND
While a requirement that hospitals report COVID deaths to the federal government is being phased out, the change does not impact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s data, which is collected from official death certificates, the agency said.
On Jan. 6, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) updated its guidance on COVID-19 data reporting for hospitals. The updated guidance, to take effect Feb. 2, says they no longer need to report the previous day’s COVID-19 deaths to the federal government.
Nancy Foster, the American Hospital Association (AHA)’s vice president of quality and patient safety policy, suggested the change was a way to streamline data collection. She said in an emailed statement that the AHA believes the HHS is retiring the hospital reporting of COVID deaths because it’s getting more comprehensive data from the public health agencies.
“While it is likely that most individuals who die of COVID do so in the hospital, some die at home, in a nursing home, or elsewhere,” Foster said. “We believe CDC looked at the conflicting sources of data on COVID deaths, chose the one that was most accurate, and moved to reduce the burden on hospitals to collect data that were less complete and, to the best of our knowledge, not being used.”
The hospital death report data the HHS compiles isn’t used in the CDC’s daily COVID-19 death count. Instead, the CDC uses death certificate reports sent to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a CDC page on COVID-19 death data says.
“This is not a CDC-owned data source and does not impact our reporting,” the CDC said of the hospital death data in an email to VERIFY. “At this time, there are no changes to CDC data sources.”
The initial daily death counts are provisional and slowly updated over time, often 1-2 weeks behind other data. The CDC says this is because death certificates take time to fill out, states report death certificate data at different rates and it takes extra time for the NCHS to code COVID-19 deaths.
For a person to actually see the COVID-19 hospital death data kept by the HHS, they would have to go to the HHS dataset for COVID-19 Reported Patient Impact and Hospital Capacity by State. Within that dataset, the daily hospital death count is displayed as “deaths_covid” which displays the “number of patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 who died on the previous calendar day in the hospital, ED, or overflow location.”
The Jan. 27 HHS dataset update, which displays the numbers from the previous day, counts 1,212 hospital deaths, whereas the provisional figure from the CDC's daily COVID-19 death tally for Jan. 26 is 2,819. The count for that date will likely rise as the CDC updates its provisional data over the next couple of weeks.
The HHS did not respond to requests for comment on the reasoning for the change in reporting requirements for hospitals.
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