Today’s dashboard includes an important update to the COVID-19 data including notable changes related to the identification of COVID-19 deaths in Arizona. Surveillance of deaths is an important component of any communicable disease investigation. This surveillance can provide key information about risk factors and the severity of a disease, especially when dealing with a novel virus. As a result of recent guidance by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) on how states should certify deaths due to COVID-19 using death certificate surveillance, 35 of the 67 new deaths reported today are from death certificate surveillance dating as far back as the week of April 12. 

The NCHS guidance provides direction to death certifiers on proper cause-of-death certification for cases where confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection resulted in death, which will help physicians report COVID-19 related deaths in a timely, consistent, and accurate manner. As a result, local, state, and federal public health officials will be better able to accurately identify deaths related to this pandemic. In addition to identifying deaths through the public health investigation of known cases, reviewing death certificates can provide information about the number of people who died from a COVID-related cause. 

ADHS implemented the use of death certificate surveillance using this updated guidance on May 1st. This makes our count of COVID-19 deaths more complete and accurate than relying on the public health case investigation alone. While this change will cause the number of new deaths reported on the dashboard to jump more than expected for a few days, the deaths are shown on the dashboard using the date of death. This puts the deaths on the day of the event and causes the deaths to be distributed throughout the “epi curve”. This means there won’t be one spike of deaths on a single day, which allows for a more accurate picture of when COVID-19 related deaths truly occurred in Arizona and maintains consistency in the way the death data on the dashboard can be interpreted. You can view this data on our COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

For clinicians interested in learning more about medical coding of COVID-19 related deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided education about the guidance through a webinar that provides one hour of free continuing education.