SEATTLE — Washington health officials on Wednesday removed seven deaths from the state’s official COVID-19 mortality count, including three homicides.
The Department of Health said it had been counting as coronavirus deaths all people who died and tested positive for the disease. Authorities say they have now removed deaths from the count that weren’t caused specifically by COVID-19.
Those deaths included three homicides, two suicides and two overdoses. The department said four of the deaths were in King County and three were in Yakima County.
With the revisions, the state now reports that at least 1,226 people have died from COVID-19. Nearly 26,800 have tested positive.
The Department of Health, over the next few weeks, also plans to expand how it reports deaths to identify whether they can confirm or rule-out COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, including identifying probable and suspected deaths. Authorities say the change will provide an “even more accurate” cost of COVID-19 deaths in the state and offer additional context.
Also Wednesday the department said since April 21 it had been including negative antibody test results along with negative molecular test results in the total negative tests.
“This has incorrectly inflated our reporting of individuals who have tested negative for COVID-19,” the department said.
Molecular tests gauge whether a person has an active infection, while antibody tests help determine whether someone was exposed to the coronavirus in the past.
After correcting for the error, health officials say the actual cumulative positive percentage for people tested in Washington state increased to 6.2% from 5.5%.
Also Wednesday, authorities said Grays Harbor County has been approved to move into Phase 3 of easing of Gov. Jay Inslee’s coronavirus restrictions. Authorities say there are now three counties in Phase 1, three counties in a modified version of Phase 1, 21 counties in Phase 2 and 12 counties in Phase 3.
The three counties that remain in Phase 1 — Benton, Franklin and Yakima — are only allowed to let essential businesses open, must limit outdoor recreation and keep restaurant service to takeout and delivery. Two other counties — Chelan and Douglas — are in a modified Phase 1 of reopening.
The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.