The Department of Public Health changed how it counts COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts long-term care facilities on Thursday, aligning with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's national definition — and in the process, cutting the state's cumulative long-term care death toll by 1,220.
In Thursday's weekly report, DPH started using the federal standard for long-term care deaths, which counts all residents of a facility who died from COVID complications in a facility, hospital or other location, but does not count those who recovered from COVID-19 and later died.
Up to this point, Massachusetts had counted all long-term care residents who contracted the virus at some point before they died — even those who recovered between their bout with the illness and their death — as COVID-19 long-term care deaths. The new standard mirrors the CDC's recommendation and that in place in most other states, according to the Baker administration.
"By aligning the long-term death count on the state's weekly dashboard with federal definitions for long-term care facilities, Massachusetts is aligning with the definition that other states use," DPH State Epidemiologist Catherine Brown said in a statement. "DPH also believes this definition better supports long-term care facilities now that so many residents and staff are vaccinated to closely monitor the effect of COVID in a well-vaccinated but vulnerable population."
As a result of the change, the cumulative long-term care death toll in Massachusetts will be listed at 5,502 as of April 12, compared to the 6,722 reported as of April 5 in the final weekly report under the previous state standards. The update does not appear to change the overall cumulative COVID-19 death toll in Massachusetts, which increased from 17,427 in Wednesday's daily report to 17,432 in Thursday's.
Massachusetts Senior Care Association President Tara Gregorio praised the DPH's decision to change its standards as an "important" step.
"In early April of 2020, Massachusetts led the nation by being among the first states to establish a transparent policy of collecting, documenting, and making publicly available COVID-19 infections and deaths among residents and staff in nursing facilities. Later, the federal government announced a similar transparency policy, but with a different definition of a COVID-19 related death," Gregorio said in a statement. "While today's decision to align with the federal system's definition will allow for standardization of data and metrics, we continue to be devastated by the staggering loss of life and illness in the Commonwealth's nursing facilities. And we remain committed to doing all we can to continue to prevent and contain a resurgence of the virus in nursing facilities."