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Death Counts In Ohio May Not Tell Whole Story

The number of Ohioans dying of unknown causes has tripled so far this year compared with previous years. (Pixabay)
The number of Ohioans dying of unknown causes has tripled so far this year compared with previous years. (Pixabay)
May 5, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio -- A new analysis of the death counts from unknown causes indicates COVID-19 death numbers may be incomplete - which has implications for the process of reopening the state.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate Ohio's overall death rates are flat. Not so in New York, which has seen them double so far this year. That could mean the Ohio lockdown is working to flatten the curve.

However, policy analyst Loren Anthes with the Center for Community Solutions warned that assessment may be overly rosy, because the Buckeye State is lagging behind on reporting its data.

"We're likely looking like we're on trend because the data isn't accurate," Anthes said. "And so what's going to happen is, once the data catches up, we're going to see these numbers change."

The data show a threefold spike in the number of deaths from unknown causes in Ohio over the past four months, which Anthes said could indicate that clinics didn't know what hit them at first. As testing ramps up in the coming weeks, the state will be able to better determine the true COVID-19 mortality rate.

Anthes said the state needs to fully fund the public health system to boost our understanding of the spread of the disease.

"This is a challenge that the state of Ohio faces generally because we've historically underfunded our public health apparatus," he said. "We're one of the lowest states in terms of funding public health."

Experts from Harvard have recommended Ohio test almost 18,000 people a day in order to re-open the state. The state is projected to reach that capacity by the middle of next week.

Disclosure: The Center for Community Solutions contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Poverty Issues, Welfare Reform. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - OH