The screaming headline in today’s Wichita Eagle inaccurately said “Kansas had worst county in US for COVID deaths per capita last week” but they have no evidence to show how many people died in any county last week. The source of their story, a U.S. Health and Human Services Community Report, references a database of deaths by date reported, not by the dates that deaths occurred.
On December 9, the death graph on the KDHE site showed 1,922 deaths, including 407 listed in October and 565 in November. But by December 21, KDHE had added 14 more deaths to the October tally and 215 more to November; they also added one more death to April, June, and September.
In fact, only 279 of the 511 new deaths reported over that period in December were said to have occurred in December. The other 232 deaths occurred in previous months.
HHS reflected 8 new deaths in Edwards County
The HHS report showed eight deaths reported for Edwards County in southwest Kansas between Dec. 15 and Dec. 21; no deaths had previously been reported for Edwards County, so those eight deaths in a county with only 2,798 residents gave Edwards County the highest number of deaths per capita that were reported for that week across the country. Neither HHS nor media know when then those deaths occurred — some or all of the deaths in Edwards County could have occurred in prior months or earlier in December — but that didn’t stop the Eagle from unnecessarily scaring readers with misleading claims – and it’s not because they didn’t know better.
The Eagle later updated their original story with the following paragraph quoting an Edwards County official who refuted the worst-county characterization — citing the same reason as the Sentinel is reporting.
In an emailed statement, Mitchell Craft, administrator of the Edwards County Health Department, said that “statistics from the White House COVID-19 taskforce and HHS do not accurately represent the time frame in which they are being recorded. We do not know when they are given statistics and how timely they are at recording and publishing them. They could have been sitting on this data for 6 months or they could have just received it and aren’t looking to see the actual date a death may have occurred. Our local data shows that the first death in Edwards County attributed to COVID 19 was in June 2020 and the most recent was in December 2020.”
Media is well aware of the difference between dates that deaths are reported and when they occurred, as the Sentinel twice caught Gov. Kelly misleading reporters and citizens on this basis. In September, she carefully parsed her words to get media to say 23 people died over the weekend even though the KDHE death chart attributed just one death to that weekend; the truth was that 23 more deaths were reported between the previous Friday and that Monday.
The day after the Sentinel exposed Kelly’s false claim, KDHE Secretary was careful to point out new deaths reported that day included deaths from “reconciling” reports from previous months.
Then, Governor Kelly shamelessly did it again in October.
COVID deaths, survival rates by county
The updated list of cases, deaths, and COVID survival rates by county in the HHS database show Edwards County has eight deaths out of 229 cases, yielding a survival rate of 96.5%. That’s a little lower than the state average of 98.9% but not the lowest in Kansas; Gove County has the lowest survival rate at 93.9%. Hamilton and Elk counties have the highest survival rate of 100%.