Wisconsin DHS blames ‘incomplete data’ for underreporting group home coronavirus deaths

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Wisconsin’s public health managers are blaming a bad set of numbers for underreporting nearly 1,000 coronavirus deaths in nursing homes and other group homes across the state.

“We have been committed to transparency in the data that we receive from the 98 local and trial health departments throughout this pandemic. And part of that commitment means that we try and get the data to you as quickly as possible,” Department of Health Services Julie Willems Van Dijk told reporters on Thursday.

DHS has begun “correcting” that data. The result is an additional 971 deaths in nursing homes and group home settings.

“When case and death data were imputed into our disease surveillance system, it was common for some fields to be empty or boxes left unchecked due to the inability of the disease investigator to collect that particular information,” Willems Van Dijk added.

The correction doesn’t change the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Wisconsin. That number remains at just above 6,500. But it does change the picture of where people died.

DHS’s new numbers state that 45% of Wisconsin’s virus-related deaths over the past year have occurred in in nursing homes and other group homes. Approximately 26% of virus deaths do not have a location, according to DHS. And Willems Van Dijk said it’s unlikely those deaths can be traced without some “creative” data solutions.

DHS is also updating its death demographics. The state now reports that nearly 92% of Wisconsin’s coronavirus-related deaths are in people 60-and-older. Over half of Wisconsin’s deaths are among people in their 70s and 80s.

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