While the state added 4,275 previously unreported COVID-19 deaths to its count at the end of last week, Butler County added 143, according to the data reviewed by the Journal-News.
The Ohio Department of Health announced it discovered an error that was blamed on an employee responsible for reviewing and entering data submitted by physicians and from death certificates.
From March 14, 2020 to Feb. 6, 2021, the ODH reported 265 coronavirus deaths in Butler County, according to the report. But the following week, the ODH listed 408 deaths, a 54% jump from the Feb. 6 report.
The reporting error was identified by the ODH during a routine employee training, the department said. It will work with the Ohio Auditor’s Office, which has been auditing coronavirus data since September 2020.
The state said the Ohio Health Department would restructure following the error.
“We are starting what is our standard administrative review process, as to how the issue arose and why it was not flagged sooner,” Health Director Stephanie McCloud said.
Adding the data will inflate daily reported death counts for two or three days, but the appropriate date of deaths will be reflected on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, the health department said.
The announcement of the underreported deaths came Feb. 10 and followed an appearance by McCloud before the House Finance Committee during which she said nothing of the discrepancy.
“While I understand the director has only been on the job less than two months, someone needs to answer for this failure,” said Rep. Erica Crawley, a Columbus Democrat who was among lawmakers questioning McCloud on Wednesday and was concerned no mention was made of the reporting error at the time.
According to the Feb. 13 report from the Butler County General Health District, there were 34,149 coronavirus cases in the county leading to 408 deaths and 1,046 hospitalizations at that time . The most deaths (88) were reported in the 45013 zip code, followed by 45044 (65 deaths), 45014 (64 deaths) and 45011 (60 deaths), according to the county health district.
The increase in the number of deaths reported “underscores” how serious COVID-19 is for many people, said Jennifer Bailer, director of the Butler County General Health District.
She called the number of deaths “just so sad,” and said those who have died include mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and loved ones.
“For many, COVID-19 is simply a minor inconvenience, but for 408 of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones, it is serious and frightening,” Bailer said.
Bailer said the health department continues distributing vaccines to help prevent any further deaths, and she encouraged residents to continue masking and social distancing until the pandemic ends.
After correcting the errors, the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state rose 38 percent, according to the ODH. The data show that 90 percent of the previously unreported deaths happened in November and December 2020, already the deadliest months for Ohio during the pandemic, according to the state.
The deaths in November went from 1,574 to 2,884 and from 2,859 to 5,591 in December.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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