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How does Alberta determine a COVID-19 death?

On Tuesday, 14 deaths that were previously believed to have been caused by COVID-19 were removed from Alberta’s official death count after review.

It’s not the first time a death has been ruled out of being caused by COVID-19 after review, so how do Alberta officials determine whether a death was caused by the novel coronavirus?

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According to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, any death that has been flagged where COVID-19 is a possible cause is included in the initial count, even if the official cause of death remains unknown.

“In those cases, medical officials review the death certificate and files port-mortem to determine if the virus was indeed a contributing cause,” she said.

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Most of the time, those deaths remain classified as COVID-19 deaths, but sometimes, a review identifies that there was a different cause of death.

If that is the case, the province said it makes that information public and adjusts the COVID-19 death toll.

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Hinshaw said the information and update to the death toll is part of the government’s commitment to transparent communications but is not meant to reduce the magnitude of the losses experienced.

“I want to be clear that each one of these numbers, whether the death was from COVID-19 or any other cause, represents the loss of a person who leaves a hole in the lives of those who mourn them.”

In a statement, an Alberta Health spokesperson said there could be a number of reasons why a death may be removed but couldn’t provide specifics, citing privacy concerns.

As of Tuesday, Alberta’s COVID-19 death toll was 2,067.

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