North Dakota data backlog prompts COVID Tracking Project to switch death reporting metrics 

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Reporting backlogs for death certificates in North Dakota have caused a discrepancy  in the number of deaths reported by the state's health department and the COVID Tracking Project, prompting a change in the project's method of counting coronavirus deaths in the state.

The Atlantic launched the COVID Tracking Project as a volunteer organization to collect and publish data tracking COVID-19's spread in the U.S. In the last week, the project has observed a gap between the number of COVID-19 deaths that North Dakota's health department reports compared to the project's counts of deaths in the state, according to the organization's Dec. 1 blog post. 

On Nov. 30, North Dakota's health department dashboard showed 927 cumulative COVID-19 deaths, but the COVID Tracking Project recorded 680. The state department also reported a steady rise in deaths from Nov. 23 onward, but the project's numbers remained at 674 for seven days. 

"Over the past month, however, reporting backlogs have made the death certificate method of counting deaths fall far behind the state’s own main deaths figure, leading us to reevaluate our policy," the blog post states. 

While most U.S. jurisdictions have chosen just one method of reporting deaths, a few report multiple COVID-19 death metrics. At first, the project counted people with COVID-19 listed on their death certificates whenever they had to make a choice, but it's now changing its policy for counting deaths in North Dakota to counting deaths among cases, rather than counting people with COVID-19 listed on their death certificate. 

The COVID Tracking Project will continue reporting the number of individuals with COVID-19 listed on their death certificates, but if it sees signs of data backlogs starting in other states it will switch over to deaths among cases for those as well. 

Click here to view the full report. 


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