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Double Counting in Washington State

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Double Counting in Washington State

Public health officials in Washington state are counting people who were fatally injured with a firearm in the tally of COVID-19-related deaths. This decision – and it appears to have been made consciously – reinforces what we already know about public health officials.

In the best-case scenario, public health officials report data without regard for nuance. Perhaps that is the case in Washington state. As reported in the Seattle Times, “The rapid onslaught of this coronavirus forced officials to part from their normal process of counting deaths, [Health Statistics Manager Katie] Hutchinson said. Their goal was to get the data out as quickly as possible, “in near-real time so immediate decisions could be made to protect the health of Washingtonians,” Hutchinson said.

The data dashboard created by the Washington Department of Health includes people who tested positive for the virus and subsequently passed away from any cause – including gunshot wounds.

“About five cases involved COVID-positive people whose deaths involved gunshot wounds,” according to Hutchinson. The state epidemiologist for noninfectious conditions, Cathy Wasserman, claimed that “There’s a commitment to provide data as rapidly as possible and we have to balance that with our commitment to accuracy.”

Accuracy is critical in scientific analysis – and especially so when that analysis is used to guide policies that impact the people those policies are supposedly protecting. The inclusion of fatal gunshot wounds in this data raises some important questions. 

Is there – or will there be – an effective double count of certain deaths in Washington state? Will these deaths – and the deaths of other COVID-positive people who were killed by some other cause – be counted once as the underlying cause of death and once as COVID-related? KOMO News reported that the counts will be adjusted, but why did the Department of Health put itself in position to need to make that sort of obvious adjustment. 

Why are clear cases of non-COVID fatalities included at all? There is not likely to be disagreement among doctors or coroners about the cause of death, so these cases should not be attributed to anything but that cause. External causes – like gunshot wounds – are not as difficult to determine as internal causes, like a virus or the related effects.

This reflects a long-standing concern with fatality reporting as it relates to Second Amendment issues. Fatalities are tragic. Death certificates are produced for every death in the United States, meaning there is a record of every death and the cause of death. Every death can be counted and accurate counts are used for analysis. The CDC maintains two public databases that provide anyone access to this data (with certain limits to protect privacy) – WONDER and WISQARS

When firearm-related fatality counts are not as high as anti-gun activists would like, they simply change the methodology. They rely on something other than death certificates. The Associated Press and the USA TODAY Network used the anti-gun “Gun Violence Archive” to claim that there were more fatal gunshot-related accidents among children than the CDC reported death certificates. These anti-gun “journalists” just could not believe that the number of such fatal accidents had hit record lows in recent years and so they turned to a notoriously biased web scraper to produce a different count.

A count that did not rely on actual data. 

Data is essential to good policymaking and government agencies that manipulate data – either intentionally or inadvertently – undermine trust in government. The pro-gun community must always closely examine the details of any argument supposedly based on data because, time and again, anti-gun activists will do whatever it takes to push their agenda.

We already know that anti-gun politicians will regurgitate whatever talking points and skewed “data” they think will help their cause. Electing reliable defenders of the 2nd Amendment will ensure that our rights are secure.

We don’t need a dataset to tell us that.

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