It has been suspected over the past year that some states have been playing fast and loose with the classification and reporting of COVID-19-related deaths, whether out of pure incompetence or possibly because of particular political motivations.
Wisconsin health officials raised eyebrows recently as they reclassified roughly 1,000 COVID-19 deaths as having occurred in or been directly linked to long-term care facilities, when the housing situation of those deaths had previously been classified as “unknown,” as the Washington Examiner reported.
It’s a big deal because it now means that approximately 45% of all COVID-19 deaths in the state occurred in such facilities. Prior to the reclassification, the state had reported that only about 26% to 30% of its COVID-19 deaths had occurred in long-term care facilities, which was touted as one of the lowest death rates in the region.
The numbers are changing
The reclassification and statistical change was first reported on by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and came after the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) had taken it upon itself to cross-check the addresses of “unknown” COVID-19 patient deaths with regulatory records for the state’s long-term care facility residents.
The Wisconsin DHS was quick to point out, however, that the reclassification had no impact on the total reported COVID-19 death toll, but merely cleared up any confusion about the housing situation of individuals who had died from the viral disease.
According to current figures provided by Wisconsin’s DHS, there have been 2,938 COVID deaths in long-term care facilities, or about 45% of the 6,576 deaths total. There are still 1,720 deaths — about 26% of the total — that remain classified as “unknown” with regard to the housing situation for those victims.
DHS figures also showed that, of the 6,576 total deaths, 5,167 of the victims were age 70 or older, or about 78.6%, highlighting once again how the elderly were the most vulnerable segment of the population to the COVID-19 pandemic and should have been cared for with extra precautions.
What else are they hiding?
The Examiner noted that some Republican lawmakers in the state are crying foul and are looking to hold Gov. Tony Evers (D) and his administration accountable for allegedly undercounting the number of deaths in long-term care facilities, which appeared to be an effort to paint a rosier picture with regard to the state’s handling of the pandemic.
“The Evers administration severely undercounted COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities, making their response to COVID-19 appear much better than it was,” a Wisconsin GOP spokesperson told the outlet.
The change in classification has also prompted questions about the manner in which the Evers administration handled the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines thus far, not to mention whatever else the administration “has been hiding during the pandemic,” according to Wisconsin GOP executive director Mark Jefferson.
Vaccinating the elderly
With regard to the rollout of the vaccines in Wisconsin, the state’s Post-Crescent reported that roughly 25% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, or about 1.4 million residents. Included in that number are roughly 72% of Wisconsin residents age 65 or older — the segment of the population that was supposed to be the top priority in being fully vaccinated before younger residents.
“Considering…concerning reports that long-term care facilities were far deadlier than DHS originally reported, it’s imperative we do everything we can to protect this community as soon as possible,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) told the Examiner.