COVID FAQ: Why do Idaho death counts vary by source?

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

One of the questions I get asked most often: Why do the number of deaths we report daily sometimes vary from what other outlets report, and why don’t they line up with the graph on IDHW’s own COVID-19 Tableau dashboard?

Idaho Reports uses the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s daily tally, posted at 5 pm MT daily on coronavirus.idaho.gov. Some of our friends at other news outlets get their daily numbers directly from the state’s seven public health districts.

There is no uniform reporting requirement for those health districts to get their numbers to the state, so frequently, the daily count from the health districts varies slightly from what IDHW posts. In other words, one district might post its numbers on its own website before getting them to IDHW in time to get swept up into the daily statewide count. Also complicating the tally: Not every district reports on weekends or holidays.

That doesn’t mean numbers directly from the public health districts are more or less accurate than ones from IDHW, however. They’re all the same numbers, and they all wash out in the end. Niki Forbing-Orr, public information officer for IDHW, recommends people stick with one source of information to avoid getting confused. If you’re more interested in local numbers, check out the COVID dashboard on your public health district’s website. If you want statewide trends, go with information on coronavirus.idaho.gov.

How about the difference between IDHW’s Tableau COVID death-by-date graph and the daily tally posted by IDHW?

The bar graph, located under the purple tab titled “COVID-19 Related Deaths,” is called “COVID-19-Related Deaths Among Idaho Residents by Date of Death,” and shows the days people actually died, not the days those deaths were reported to the state. 

As you might have noticed, sometimes our daily updates will include three or five or six deaths, or sometimes none at all, especially on weekends. Then the numbers often jump to the 20s or 30s, usually mid-week. But as of Dec. 12, the bar graph shows the day with the most deaths was 20, on Nov. 25.

COVID-19 related deaths by date of death, as of Dec. 12, 2020. Source: coronavirus.idaho.gov.

That’s because the state’s 44 coroners and seven public health districts often report deaths to the state several days after they occurred. It sometimes takes a little bit of time to do the paperwork and check the information – in other words, make sure the decedents were actually Idaho residents, that sort of thing. It’s why I try to be really careful in my script and say “IDHW added *x* deaths to its statewide total today” instead of “*x* people died today,” because they are two different things. 

Again, the numbers ultimately even out in the end.

If you have any questions on our COVID-19 reporting, please reach out.

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