Ohio auditor: Release separate COVID-19 death category data

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Health Department should begin releasing data on coronavirus deaths in two
categories: those whose death was caused by COVID-19, and those who died of other causes but also had a
positive test, the state auditor said in a report.
Not making the distinction "may lead to confusion for the layperson as to whether an individual died
by COVID-19 or died with COVID-19," said the report from office of Republican state Auditor Keith
Faber.
While the state follows federal guidelines for coronavirus death reporting, some medical professionals
may fill out death certificates for people who died of other causes while also testing positive for
COVID 19, according to the report.
"Although inefficiencies, opportunities to improve transparency, and methods to collect better data
certainly exist, the Ohio Department of Health has generally provided the public with correct
information and managed Ohio’s response to the pandemic commendably," Faber said Tuesday.
Ohio has reported more than 18,300 coronavirus deaths to date. The seven-day rolling average of daily
deaths in Ohio did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 12.71 on March 8 to 7 on March 22,
according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by The COVID Tracking Project.
In February, the state said it had discovered thousands of unreported coronavirus deaths and announced a
restructuring of its infectious disease division.
An outdated reporting system led to the undercount of more than 4,200 COVID-19 deaths in Ohio will now be
retired, the Health Department said.
The auditor’s death reporting recommendations came the same day an Ohio court that handles public records
disputes ruled that Health Department certificates listing COVID-19 as the cause of death are a public
record that must be released.
The Ohio Court of Claims decision rejected arguments by the state that it doesn’t maintain the
information as a "unique report" and isn’t required to provide it.
The Health Department claimed, "improbably during a COVID-19 pandemic," that it isn’t
programmed to release the information in that form, even though it has produced similar reports, Court
of Claims special master Jeffrey Clark said Tuesday.
It doesn’t matter that the state "does not create the requested report for what it considers
‘normal’ agency purposes," Clark said. "Responding to public records requests is a mandated
‘normal’ function of every public office."
The ruling followed a complaint filed last year by Rosanna Miller, of Amanda in southeastern Ohio, who
asked in April for a list of all deaths coded for COVID-19, and including people’s names, ages, county
where the death occurred and whether an autopsy was performed.
The state initially said it could provide the data, then declined in the fall when Miller repeated her
request.
In November, the state argued it was being asked to create a new record, and that Miller was asking for
protected information by asking for names.
"Though some information on a death record may be public, that does not mean that all the
information on the record is public," the state argued.
The special master decision noted that Miller had previously obtained other databases of death records
with individuals’ names. She could also obtain the information from local health departments at great
expense and effort, just to duplicate what the state "easily provides from a database," Clark
said.
Miller, 70, retired from the computer and medical fields, says she can’t wear a mask because of breathing
issues, and has been frustrated because it has prohibited her from receiving medical treatment.
Miller believes harm from pandemic health orders has outweighed the number of COVID-19 deaths, but she
isn’t assuming whether the data will show state coronavirus deaths higher or lower than what’s been
reported.
"What’s wrong with us seeing the data? What’s wrong with the people seeing it?" she said.
"There just needs to be some checks and balances on this."