Wyoming is on pace to see nearly 400 more fatalities in 2020 than in 2019, but a lack of consistent rules for coroners and the dearth of testing at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic make it difficult to know exactly how many of those will be from COVID-19.
Much of that increase can be explained by the coronavirus. As of press time Tuesday, Wyoming had 202 reported deaths associated with COVID-19. It has averaged 29 deaths per month from the disease, though most have come in the past three months.
At 5,121, the death count in 2019 was the highest in the past 15 years. If current trends hold true, the state will have around 5,490 deaths this year, and at least 240 will be from COVID-19.
Categorizing COVID-19 deaths has become a hot-button political issue, with some arguing deaths are undercounted and others saying that because the vast majority of people who die from COVID-19 have comorbidities, the danger from the virus is overblown.
Coroners and medical providers who sign death certificates do have some leeway in determining cause of death. For instance, if a person dies with both heart disease and COVID-19, they can decide what the primary cause of death was and what was a contributing factor.
Epidemiologists, however, consider them to be COVID-19 deaths regardless of whether the disease was a primary or contributing cause.
“If a provider put COVID-19 on the death certificate as a cause of death, or contributing factor to that, that provider by his or her best clinical judgment said that person would not have died at the time they did in the way that they did if it were not for COVID-19,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said.
To learn more about how different coroners classify deaths, see this week's Jackson Hole News&Guide.