Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said Wednesday a “small” number of deaths “not appropriately” linked to the coronavirus will be removed from data.
“We’re committed to being honest and open, and trying to be as credible as possible, so that if we say it is COVID-related, we believe coronavirus contributed to that person’s demise,” he said during Gov. Andy Beshear’s briefing in Frankfort.
“If you’re in a car accident (and) you have COVID … your death will be categorized as an automobile accident,” Stack said.
Stack did not say how many, or when, such fatalities will be removed. State data showed the death toll as of Tuesday was 674, and three newly reported deaths Wednesday increased it to 677.
The decision reportedly stemmed from a committee that reviewed death certificates with a “questionable” cause of death.
Officials across the U.S. have received criticism over the way coronavirus-related fatalities are classified, with some arguing the method can lead to inaccurate, overstated data.
Minnesota state Sen. Dr. Scott Jensen, a Republican, said earlier this month that he is under investigation by the state medical board after a video he posted about his concerns in May went viral. In the video, Jensen said the state’s guidelines for listing probable coronavirus deaths would lead to data inflation because deaths caused by other illnesses could be included as virus deaths without proper confirmation.
In Wednesday’s briefing in Frankfort, Beshear said he believes the state budget won’t face “a shortfall whatsoever” at the end of the 2020 fiscal year.
A projection in May showed a shortfall of up to $457 million, but Beshear said state revenues were better than expected, and July 15 tax filings will reveal a budget surplus.
The tax deadline was pushed back a month because of the pandemic.
He said the state will probably be able to dodge budget cuts to education, health, public safety and the judicial and legislative branches.
However, Beshear said the 2021 fiscal year, which started July 1, “does look to be as dire … as what we believed it would be.”
“We will be looking at, I believe, the largest budget cuts in our history,” he said.
Without federal assistance, Beshear warned that the state may face up to $1.1 billion in cuts.
“The biggest threat to our budget moving forward is COVID-19,” he said.
Citing data from Goldman Sachs, Beshear said the effects of wearing a mask could save 5 percent of Kentucky’s gross domestic product, which equates to more than $10 billion.
Beshear announced 518 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 24,250, of which 1,204 are probable.
He also said at least 560,161 tests have been performed, and the positivity rate is 4.92%, which is the highest rate in at least the past month.
“Our positivity rate has gone up. That is a concern and that shows it’s not just an increase in testing, it’s more people that are being tested are showing positive results,” Beshear said.
At least 7,000 people have recovered, and 603 are hospitalized, 145 of whom are in intensive care.
The Barren River Area Development District’s COVID-19 Dashboard, which uses state health department data, showed 3,379 confirmed cases, including 2,057 in Warren County, 283 in Butler, 278 in Logan, 214 in Barren, 205 in Allen, 113 in Simpson, 84 in Edmonson, 65 in Monroe, 60 in Hart and 20 in Metcalfe.
The Barren River District Health Department announced 3,075 total cases in its area, including 2,033 in Warren, 285 in Logan, 277 in Butler, 198 in Barren, 109 in Simpson, 87 in Edmonson, 68 in Hart and 18 in Metcalfe. Of the 3,075 cases, 2,340 have reportedly recovered. The department has reported 76 deaths to date, including 21 in Logan, 19 in Warren, 15 in Butler, 12 in Edmonson, five in Simpson, and two in both Barren and Metcalfe.
There are at least 202 confirmed cases in Allen County, according to a Wednesday update from the Allen County Health Department, which is not part of the Barren River district.
Some daily totals may shift because of data being reported incorrectly. Additionally, numbers often differ between the state and local sources because of different reporting methods.
– Follow multimedia journalist Emily Zantow on Twitter @EmilyZantowNews or visit bgdailynews.com.