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COVID death reports problematic

For nearly a year, COVID-19 has been making its mark on Ohio, sickening residents and claiming lives.

Throughout that period, state officials have made admirable efforts to keep the public informed. Gov. Mike DeWine has addressed Buckeye State residents at least weekly, and the Ohio Department of Health has made a wide variety of resources available online.

One thing state and county health officials have not done very well, though, is consistently report the number of people who have died while infected with the coronavirus.

With 88 counties to collect data from, of course there will sometimes be delays in updating state records and the tallies listed at coronavirus.ohio.gov. But when it takes days or weeks to align state and county figures – or when numbers released by a county never match the state’s data for that county at all – it becomes apparent that there is a problem with the reporting system.

Earlier this month, the Harrison County Health Department reported 16 COVID-related deaths among residents there. At the same time, the state’s online COVID-19 Ohio Dashboard listed just eight deaths in Harrison County. The discrepancy was a result of clerical errors by county health department staff members.

According to Administrator Garen Rhome, a few of his employees failed to check all the right boxes when adding information to the disease reporting system. That problem was identified and has been corrected, but it seems to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

These discrepancies are nothing new, but they need to be corrected. State reports regarding numbers of infections, recoveries and deaths have differed from the information provided by local health department officials for the duration of the pandemic.

These inconsistencies cause confusion among the public, and that leads to distrust. Ohioans are left to wonder what agencies they can turn to for accurate information, and that causes many to doubt everything they hear about this deadly illness.

State and county health officials need to streamline the reporting process, clearly define the criteria for reporting and ensure that health department employees in each county understand how to properly complete the process. Ohio residents’ peace of mind — and perhaps their health — depends on it.

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