State: Clinton County at 59 COVID-related deaths since pandemic began; Ohio says ODH restructuring since discovery of around 4,000 unreported deaths statewide

Associated Press - and News Journal

COLUMBUS — Clinton County has had a total of 59 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the State of Ohio’s updated totals as of Friday. This represents 18 deaths since the total of 41 reported as of Jan. 5 — just over five weeks ago.

The state now shows the county with a total of 3,270 cases since the pandemic started, including 152 hospitalizations. Statewide, the Ohio Department of Health reports 934,742 overall cases including 15,136 deaths.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Ohio’s Health Department is restructuring its infectious disease division following the discovery of as many as 4,000 unreported COVID-19 deaths and will investigate how the error happened, the state health director said Thursday.

The Health Department said that “process issues affecting the reconciliation and reporting of these deaths” began in October, with most occurring in November and December. The department identified the problem during a routine employee training.

“We are starting what is our standard administrative review process, as to how the issue arose and why it was not flagged sooner,” Health Director Stephanie McCloud said.

Adding the data will inflate daily reported death counts for two or three days, but the appropriate date of deaths will be reflected on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, the health department said.

The announcement of the underreported deaths came Wednesday night and followed an appearance by McCloud before the House Finance Committee during which she said nothing of the discrepancy.

“While I understand the director has only been on the job less than two months, someone needs to answer for this failure,” said Rep. Erica Crawley, a Columbus Democrat who was among lawmakers questioning McCloud on Wednesday and was concerned no mention was made of the reporting error at the time.

House members have a number of questions and concerns on this issue, said Taylor Jach, spokesperson for Republican House Speaker Bob Cupp.

Thursday’s daily coronavirus death toll showed more than 720 deaths, of which 650 come from previously unreported deaths, GOP Gov. Mike DeWine said.

“We hope, we believe, that is going to put us back from the track where we actually are,” DeWine said.

Republican state Auditor Keith Faber has been auditing Health Department coronavirus death data since September. A spokesperson said the error occurred when health officials were reconciling the state’s death certificate database with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s infectious diseases database.

“We were never able to make that reconciliation ourselves to come up with those figures,” said Matt Eiselstein, Faber’s communications director. The final audit is expected next month.

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