Massachusetts decreased its total number of COVID-19 fatalities after revising its death definition.
A total of 4,081 deaths were declassified as COVID-19 fatalities after its new definition was retroactively applied beginning in March of 2020.
On March 10, the state’s Department of Public Health announced it intended to “update the criteria used for identifying COVID-19 deaths to align with guidance from the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.”
Massachusetts had previously defined a COVID-19 death as anyone who had the virus listed as their cause of death and anyone who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 during the 60 days prior to their death. The second group of people did not need to have COVID-19 listed as their cause of death to be included in the state’s total fatality count.
Under the new guidelines, the DPH reduced the preceding interval of time applicable for consideration.
Now only the deaths of people who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 three days prior to their death — regardless of their determining cause of death — can be included in the state’s totals.
The change went into effect on March 14, per CBS News.
Additionally, 400 deaths were labeled COVID-19 after previously being excluded from the pandemic fatality total.
Ultimately, the state’s total number of COVID-19 related deaths since the onset of the pandemic was decreased by 3,700. Previously, Massachusetts had reported 22,944 deaths caused by COVID-19.
“We are adopting the new definition because we support the need to standardize the way COVID-19-associated deaths are counted,” said Dr. Catherine Brown, DPH State Epidemiologist, in a statement. “In Massachusetts, our definition has consistently been broader than most other states. After a deep dive into our data and reviewing thousands of death certificates we recognize that this updated definition gives us a truer picture of mortality associated with COVID-19.”
This sentiment was affirmed by DPH Commissioner Margret Cooke.
“Over time, our approach proved to be too expansive and led to a significant overcount of deaths in Massachusetts. People who had gotten COVID earlier in 2020 and died for other reasons ended up still being included in COVID associated deaths,” said Cooke.
This is the second time the state has revised its criteria for a COVID-19 death.
In April of 2021, the department applied the 60-day timeframe after previously counting any deceased person who tested positive for the virus as a COVID-19 death.
“The distribution of deaths by age, sex and race are not significantly different when using the newest definition as compared to the former definition,” reports WCVB.
The latest revisions constitute an approximate 15% decline in Massachusetts’s COVID-19 death count.