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Health Department finds 86 more Vermonters died of COVID after data review

A man in a suit stands behind a wooden podium with microphones arrayed on the top, speaking in a press conference.
ORCA Media
The Vermont Health Department announced Friday that it had underreported the number of COVID-19 fatalities during the pandemic. The state added an additional 86 deaths to the total tally, bringing to the pandemic death toll to 877. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said a combination of reduced staffing and human error caused the under-reporting.

Vermont’s pandemic death toll is larger than previously reported. The Health Department announced on Friday it found an additional 86 COVID-19 fatalities, some of which date back to April 2020.

The pandemic death toll now stands at 877. The majority of newly discovered deaths occurred last year, the agency said in a press release. The state added six deaths to the total count in 2020 and seven deaths to 2021's total; the remaining 73 unreported deaths occurred last year.

With 11 new fatalities, November 2022 had the most unreported deaths. Meanwhile, Chittenden and Bennington counties had the most unreported deaths over the course of the pandemic, 16 and 15, respectively.

Throughout the pandemic, the state used its COVID-19 data, like case numbers, hospitalization rates, and death counts, to guide policy decisions and when to enact — or rollback — public health measures.

“Even though the metric changed slightly, it didn't change dramatically, and we still had a very, very — I hate to talk about it this way — but a very respectable rate of death during the pandemic,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine in an interview on Friday. “I don't think knowing these additional deaths, at any point in time in the last one to three years, would have changed anything in our policy.”

The department said it found the unreported cases during a data review last month.

An analyst found several reports that hadn’t been entered and after a more thorough review, the department found some death reports hadn’t been processed correctly. The department blamed the undercount on a reduction in staff capacity after scaling back its pandemic emergency operations. Levine said human error also was a factor.

“Many of the systems that [are used] for the death recording require manual entry of data,” he said. “Anytime you have something that's done manually and not automated, allows for potential error.”

The new deaths will be included when the state updates its COVID data portal next week, and will be reflected in the department’s weekly COVID data reports.

The department says the additional fatalities will increase Vermont’s COVID-19 death rate from 126 per 100,000 to 140 per 100,000. Even with that increase, the state’s death rate is still the second lowest in the country with only Hawaii having a lower death rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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