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Here’s why RI revises its COVID-19 death data each day

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – On Wednesday, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced 11 more Rhode Islanders had died after contracting COVID-19.

But if you checked’s COVID-19 data tracking page, you’d see that only four people had died with the virus over the last 24 hours.

Why the discrepancy?

“What we report each day are the newly confirmed COVID-19 associated deaths,” Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said. “These are not the number of people who passed away the day before, but instead the number of COVID-19 fatalities that were confirmed the day before.”

The lag in reporting has various causes, including delayed testing results. In some instances, a person dies with COVID-19-like symptoms, but hasn’t received a test for the disease. The state’s medical examiner will decide whether a test should be administered posthumously, which could take a few days to come back with results.

If the test is positive, the death would be counted on the day the person died — not when the test came back — but it would be reported out as a newly confirmed death at the next news conference.

“It can sometimes take a little while for a cause of death to be determined,” Wendelken explained.

Health Director Dr. Alexander-Scott sometimes distinguishes between the deaths that happened the day before and those that happened at some point earlier, but it’s not always made clear.

In addition to deaths, a lag in testing results can lead to significant revisions to prior-day totals for other data points, including testing and hospitalizations.

On Monday, for example, the state reported 127 people were hospitalized, which has since been revised upward to 128. On Friday, the state reported 84 new positive cases, which have since increased to 87. And it’s possible those numbers could be revised again today. monitors those revisions, and the most up-to-date numbers are reflected on the data tracking website here.

Eli Sherman ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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