Massachusetts’ coronavirus death count is dropping by nearly 4,000 deaths based on new definition

Jennifer E. Engen

Two years to the day that the Bay State’s COVID-19 state of emergency started, health officials announced that the state’s overall COVID death count is dropping by nearly 4,000 deaths.

That’s because the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is adopting a new death definition that “gives us a truer picture of mortality associated with COVID-19” after state health officials had recorded 22,944 confirmed deaths and 764 probable deaths since the pandemic started in March 2020.

Overall, the state’s COVID death count will decline by 3,700 deaths.

“We are adopting the new definition because we support the need to standardize the way COVID-19-associated deaths are counted,” said DPH state epidemiologist Catherine Brown. “Prior to the CSTE (Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists) definition, states did not have a nationally recommended definition for COVID-19 deaths and, as such, have been using a variety of processes and definitions to count their deaths.

“In Massachusetts, our definition has consistently been broader than most other states,” Brown added. “After a deep dive into our data and reviewing thousands of death certificates we recognize that this updated definition gives us a truer picture of mortality associated with COVID-19.”

Currently, the COVID death definition includes anyone who has COVID listed as a cause of death on their death certificate — and any individual who has had a COVID diagnosis within 60 days but does not have COVID listed as a cause of death on their death certificate.

The updated definition will reduce this time frame from 60 days to 30 days for individuals without a COVID diagnosis on their death certificate.

Massachusetts has applied this new definition retroactively to the start of the pandemic. As a result, 4,081 deaths that were previously counted as associated with COVID will be removed. In addition, about 400 deaths not previously counted but identified through a manual process of matching death certificates with medical records will be added to the COVID death count.

Massachusetts’ coronavirus death count is dropping by nearly 4,000 deaths based on new definition

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