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Hundreds of deaths are unaccounted for in Arizona in July, according to new state data

Coronavirus testing
Posted at 7:25 PM, Aug 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-20 19:00:10-04

Hundreds of deaths are unaccounted for in Arizona’s largest county, according to preliminary data released by the state.

According to released data from the vital statistics website, there was a 71% increase in deaths in Maricopa County last month.

In July 2019 there were 2,656 — a typical number for that month, but in July 2020 there were 4,540 deaths.

ABC15 data analyst Garrett Archer going through the numbers and found around 600 deaths are unaccounted for in the numbers.

On Wednesday, during a COVID-19 briefing in Maricopa County, Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine was asked about the deaths.

“It’s a question that we’re asking ourselves as well,” said Dr. Sunenshine, “it does take several months or even longer before can really analyze what all of the causes of deaths are because many of them do take time to be processed by the medical examiner.”

Dr. Sunenshine went on to say that every person who has COVID-19 listed anywhere on their death certificate is counted, as well as those that don’t have COVID-19 listed on their death certificate. “Anyone who has a COVID-19 positive test within a certain period of when they died, is also counted as a COVID-19 positive death.”

Maricopa County has an elaborate system where if somebody dies in their home, or a residence, and there is suspicion of respiratory illness at all, they will send someone from the medical examiner’s office to do a post-mortem COVID-19 test.

“As far as I know we’re one of the only communities that have such a system in place,” said Sunenshine.

ABC15 also founds around 870 unaccounted deaths in July for the entire state of Arizona. A spokesperson for Arizona Department of Health Services said the data will not be finalized until 2021.

In a statement by an email, a spokesperson wrote, “while we have seen an increase in overall deaths this year compared to last year and COVID-19 deaths are a factor, a fuller understanding will emerge from reviewing final death certificate information that can take weeks or months to collect. The department’s final report on causes of deaths in 2020 will be available in late 2021.”

ABC15 wants to point out that deaths are expected to go up because of population growth. In January there was a two percent growth in deaths from 2019 to 2020. However, each month this year has dramatically increased with the number of deaths compared to 2019.

Dr. Sunenshine was asked if some COVID-19 deaths could be missing, “are we capturing every single COVID related death? Probably not,” she said, “but, I think we’re probably doing as well or better than most of the rest of the communities.”

As for the unaccounted deaths — some may be from heat related deaths, and some deaths are indirectly related to COVID-19, “people with chronic conditions, like diabetes or heart disease may not have been able to seek care from their primary care providers or other providers,” said Sunenshine.

A spokesperson for ADHS also said death could have other causes, “informal reports to ADHS about increases in 911 calls may suggest that some are delaying essential medical care during the public health emergency. In addition, drug overdose deaths are increasing and certain counties and communities have reported slight increases in suicide,” a statement read.