More Data Irregularities Confuse Number of Recent Deaths From COVID

COVID-19 deaths have appeared to spike recently, but officials say some of those deaths date as far back as early November and went unreported when they happened.

In BirminghamWatch’s weekly analysis of COVID data across the state, the numbers from the holiday period are starting to show up. Just how much of the data spikes can be attributed to catching up with past deaths is uncertain.

In the past seven days, the ADPH has reported 766 deaths from the virus, with more than half — 413 — Tuesday and Wednesday alone. But a notice on the department’s dashboard posted Tuesday states that the agency is continuing to review “a large number of deaths from our Alabama Center for Health Statistics,” adding that most of the 226 deaths reported that day were as a result of that review. However, the ADPH did not provide a specific number of delayed death reports. Because of that, the 7-day and 14-day moving averages of daily deaths would be unreliable.

The statewide death toll since the pandemic began stood at 5,760 as of Wednesday.

The number of new cases reported daily continues to rise, though the rate of increase has fallen a bit in recent days. The past week included two days with more than 5,000 new cases reported, followed by a third day with just less than 5,000. Over the past weekend, new daily cases peaked over 4,000 in both the 7-day and 14-day moving averages and set new records. But since then, the averages have declined. The 7-day average stands at 3,830.14, while the 14-day average is at 3,869.64.

Hospitalizations across the state have stayed fairly level over the past seven days, hovering around the 3,000 mark. Wednesday afternoon’s report showed 2,975 beds occupied by COVID patients, with the 7-day moving average at 3,001.71. Many hospitals across the state have taken extra measures to make room for more COVID beds, including repurposing other spaces and using hotels near hospitals for non-COVID patients who require only observation after procedures. Numerous non-emergency procedures are being delayed.

Positivity rates for the state appeared to drop sharply in the past week, but that is almost entirely because ADPH corrected an error in the way it had calculated the rate in the past. The 14-day rate stood at 21.87% on Wednesday, down from 24.08% on Jan. 7, when the error was fixed. The 7-day rate, which did not have a reported calculation error, fell over the week to 27.53% from 35.78% on Jan. 6.

Positivity rates continue to remain highest across the northern tier of Alabama’s counties, but rates in the Capital Region and the far southern parts of the state have risen significantly over the past week.

In Jefferson County, 3,580 new cases and 88 additional deaths were recorded in the past seven days, and the 14-day positivity rate is at 18.94%, lower than most other counties. There were 47,717 COVID tests administered in JeffCo over the past week.

BirminghamWatch compiles this analysis based on data published by the ADPH daily on its COVID-19 home page.