State defends its decision to release fewer details daily on COVID fatalities

Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 4:47 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 4, 2021 at 4:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some Hawaii public health researchers are decrying the state’s decision to release less information daily about COVID fatalities in Hawaii, citing staffing issues.

Every day throughout the pandemic, the Health Department has provided the rough age, gender, county and presence of underlying conditions for those who have died.

But citing the sheer volume of cases and shortage of resources, the state Health Department said in a release over the weekend that the daily report will now only include the total number of fatalities.

On Monday, DOH spokesperson Brooks Baehr defended the decision in a statement:

“There have simply been too many deaths for our team to verify and document as expeditiously as we had earlier in the pandemic when there were fewer deaths. We will continue to provide weekly information including county of death, gender, age range of decedent, hospitalization status, and whether the decedent had underlying conditions.”

Hawaii just wrapped up its deadliest month of the pandemic ― with 193 COVID fatalities in September. And experts warn fatalities could remain high through mid-October.

UH economics professor and independent researcher Sumner La Croix calls the Health Department’s change an unfortunate decision, especially at such a critical time in the pandemic.

He added that it’s symptomatic of a more troubling problem.

“From our perspective, we don’t have enough data to begin with,” La Croix said. “The Department of Health has released relatively little data so far that’s of use to independent researchers.

“When they’ve released their own studies, they’ve been studies of episodes a long time ago in the epidemic. What we need is more data, not less data.”

La Croix previously used the state’s data to analyze trends and see how the pandemic is progressing across the islands.

“One of the advantages of having good data being released by the government is that independent researchers can add a second set of eyes to it beyond just the people inside the agency,” La Croix said. “There’s people outside the agency looking at it. When people outside agencies look at data, they often see different things.”

The Health Department said moving away from daily fatality reports also allows for the compilation of higher quality and more accurate information as staff members also have to focus on other aspects of the pandemic, including vaccinations and contact tracing.

But for La Croix, simply delaying key info is not the solution.

“This is one of these instances where if the Department of Health is feeling like there’s a lack of resources to keep its data collection going, it ought to be grabbing those resources from other agencies,” La Croix said.

DOH says a full detailed report will be made available on its website every Wednesday.

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