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How Texas tracks the virus’s toll

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How Texas tracks the virus’s toll

Hide caption Extra hospital beds are ready to be used at the Austin Convention Center. The facility can take as many as 1,500 COVID-19 patients if needed. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN] Ricardo Brazziell The death toll from the coronavirus in Texas came into sharper focus this past week, as health officials added several hundred more fatalities to a tally that now exceeds 6,500.

The jump came as the Texas Department of State Health Services shifted to death certificates listing COVID-19 as the cause of death as a data source, instead of local health reports. State officials said the move provides a more accurate picture of the disease’s human toll.

But the lag time in receiving death certificates — up to 10 days after a person dies — offers a delayed account of the number of fatalities on a given day. That initial incomplete death tally can hinder the work of policymakers responding to the virus and epidemiologists studying it.

The switch also has led state officials to subtract deaths from counties’ tallies. In Nueces and Travis counties, for example, the move initially made it appear that there were fewer deaths in both counties than had previously been reported.

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Annette Rodriguez, health director for the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District, said she’s concerned that the change will sow confusion.

The state health department on July 25 reported 97 total deaths in Nueces County by using death certificates, according to data pulled Friday. That’s 32 fewer deaths than had been previously reported by local officials.

“There’s always been a lag,” Rodriguez said of reports using death certificates. “I think this just causes a lot more confusion. We’re […]

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