State health officials provided updated figures for coronavirus deaths Monday, revealing that the pandemic has been deadlier in Texas than previously thought.
Instead of relying on fatalities publicly reported by local and regional health officials, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced it would identify COVID-19 fatalities through the cause of death listed on death certificates, providing a more accurate count.
The change in reporting increased the death toll of the virus by more than 13%, from 5,038 to 5,713 total fatalities, but that number is expected to rise as death certificates are filed for fatalities over recent days.
“This method allows fatalities to be counted faster with more comprehensive demographic data. Using death certificates also ensures consistent reporting across the state and enables DSHS to display fatalities by date of death, providing the public with more information about when deaths occurred,” the agency said in a news release.
A fatality is counted as a COVID-19 death when the medical certifier, usually a doctor with direct knowledge of the patient, determines that the coronavirus directly caused the death, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“This method does not include deaths of people who had COVID-19 but died of an unrelated cause,” the agency said.
Death certificates are required by law to be filed within 10 days, meaning that there will be a delay in the daily death count over the previous week. For example, only four deaths are reported so far for Thursday, a number that’s likely to increase as more death certificates are reported for that day.
The agency reported 44 new deaths Monday, but that number is no longer a single-day increase. It’s the number of new deaths reported each day, regardless of when they happened, according to an agency spokesman.
The updated figures from the state health agency show the daily death toll of the virus was in the triple digits through most of July. For 15 straight days, starting July 2 with 102 fatalities, the state saw more than 100 deaths each day.
The highest daily figure was on July 12, with 167 deaths.
And the change in reporting shows that Texas surpassed 5,000 total deaths nearly two weeks ago, rather than Sunday, as previously reported.
Using data based on death certificates, the agency reported that Texas reached 5,000 deaths July 14, seven days after reaching 4,000 deaths.
The new methodology gives a broader picture of the demographics of COVID-19 deaths.
For the first time, the state is reporting racial breakdowns for all deaths, showing how the virus has disproportionately stricken Black and Hispanic Texans.
The data show that 47.3% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths are Hispanic, while 14.1% are Black and 35.1% are white.
In Texas, 40% of people are Hispanic, about 13% are Black and 41% are white, according to the Census Bureau.
Meanwhile, the agency has not changed its methodology for reporting new cases, an agency spokesman said Monday.
State health officials reported 4,267 new cases Monday as the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases approaches 400,000.
That figure is significantly lower than the number of new cases reported much of last week, but fewer cases typically are reported on Mondays.
There are signs, however, that Texas has reached a plateau in new cases and hospitalizations.
READ MORE: Texas has reached a coronavirus plateau. Is that good enough?
The health agency reported 9,781 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals Monday, a decrease from 10,075 hospitalizations reported Sunday and nearly 800 fewer patients than one week ago.
But state health officials reported that the seven-day rolling average of positive cases is at 13.22%. Gov. Greg Abbott has said anything over 10% would be cause for concern.
Also Monday, Abbott named Cecile Young the executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Young previously served as acting executive commissioner of the agency and held several positions for former Texas Govs. Bill Clements, George W. Bush and Rick Perry. She’ll replace Phil Wilson.
“HHSC plays a vital role in our response to COVID-19, and Cecile will provide immediate leadership to help solve the health care challenges facing our state during this pandemic,” Abbott said.