(OLYMPIA, Wash.) — Seven months after a Freedom Foundation investigation showed it was inflating the number of COVID-19 fatalities in Washington state and promising to fix its flawed reporting procedures, further research indicates the state’s Department of Health (DOH) is still over-reporting the totals by potentially hundreds of deaths.
Worse, the agency seems to be scrambling to revise its data before its numbers could again be publicly called into question.
In May, a report released by the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based free-market think tank, revealed the DOH was attributing to COVID-19 every death in which the deceased previously tested positive for the virus. However, it’s clear that catching the disease and dying of it are two very different matters.
Washington’s data was riddled with cases — as much as 13 percent of the total — in which the death certificate made no reference to COVID-19 as a cause of death. In several cases, even gunshot deaths were chalked up to the virus.
After being questioned about the misreporting during a press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee responded by ridiculing the Freedom Foundation, calling its findings “malarkey.”
However, internal emails showed DOH officials acknowledged to each other that the Freedom Foundation’s report was “correct.” Within days, DOH — without publicly admitting its mistakes or acknowledging the Freedom Foundation — announced it would remove some deaths from its tally and start providing more detailed information about deaths attributed to COVID-19. Though some deaths were removed, DOH has yet to begin providing additional information about the deaths it attributes to COVID-19 in its data dashboard.
“Make no mistake. This isn’t an innocent accounting error we’re talking about”, said Aaron Withe, Freedom Foundation National Director. “This is a state agency under the authority of Gov. Jay Inslee that continues to misrepresent the number of people who have died of COVID even after it was already caught doing the same thing.”
Withe continued, “It’s a nakedly political act intended to scare the public into letting him continue to abuse the almost unlimited “emergency powers” that have needlessly bankrupted thousands of Washington businesses and thrown tens of thousands of its residents out of work.”
This week, the Freedom Foundation completed a groundbreaking follow-up investigation in which it analyzed the death certificate information of each of the nearly 2,000 deaths in Washington blamed on COVID-19 as of early September.
The probe found that 170 death certificates contained no reference whatsoever to COVID-19. Another 171 only referenced COVID-19 as a “contributing factor” and not part of the causal chain of events leading to death.
Dozens of other death certificates for fatalities attributed by DOH to COVID-19 indicate the death had only a questionable or minimal connection to the virus.
Even as the Freedom Foundation was preparing to make its latest findings public, DOH on Dec. 10 announced once again that it was making changes to its reporting procedures and expected to reduce its death count by approximately 200.
“Assuming DOH actually keeps its promise this time, the changes it has announced are certainly a step in the right direction,” said Freedom Foundation Labor Policy Director Maxford Nelsen, who conducted the investigation.
“But even so, our research strongly suggests DOH will still be attributing an unreasonably high number of deaths to COVID-19.”
In any case, he noted, “The agency’s history of misleading the public about its data, combined with its inability or unwillingness to release detailed data in a timely fashion, seriously undermine the notion that the state is basing its COVID-19 response on the best available science and data.”
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Director of Labor Policy