GOV. POLIS: State Is Not Reclassifying Deaths To COVID-19

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks at the state capitol on Friday, May 15. (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

Friday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said the state of Colorado does not reclassify cause of death as COVID-19.

On Thursday, 9News reported State Representative Mark Baisley (R-Roxborough Park) requested an investigation into and criminal charges filed against Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

CBS4 had previously reported on the story as well.

According to 9News, Rep Baisley made his request of George Brauchler, the District Attorney for Colorado's 18th Judicial District (and a Republican) after CDPHE allegedly overruled the cause of deaths in seven cases at the Someren Glen senior care facility in Centennial, Colorado.

Gov. Polis pushed back against Rep. Baisley's actions.

"Of course criminal charges are completely inappropriate," he said. "I have joined in asking the department to make sure we report to the public the people that died from COVID-19."

"I, like many Coloradans, was very upset when I read last week about a case where the doctors thought that somebody didn't die of COVID but somehow they were classified of it," he continued. "There was another case this week. I have told the Department of Health to make sure they're very clear in their reporting. Nobody behind a desk should ever second-guess a coroner or an attending physician that lists a cause of death on a certificate."

The governor noted that CDC reporting standards differ from what he has instructed CDPHE to report.

"They have to report that higher number to the CDC. They have to report under federal guidelines, this is what they tell me, the number that have had COVID and died. But we should also make public the people that died from COVID and I'm going to make sure they do that in a way that engenders the full confidence and support of the people of Colorado."

"What the people of Colorado want to know is not who died WITH COVID-19 but who died OF COVID-19."

Late Friday afternoon, CDPHE held a remote media briefing to explain its reporting methods and said, "The state also emphasized that it does not unilaterally change information on death certificates and does not question or try to change a physician’s diagnosis or causes-of-death determination."

The governor's full remarks are below, as is information from CDPHE on the media briefing.

5-15-20 Colorado Gov. Jared Polis


State explains COVID-19 death data reporting

Additional death data to be presented in dashboard

DENVER (May 15, 2020): The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) today explained the way it has been counting deaths among people with COVID-19 and announced an addition to data reporting going forward. 

CDPHE explained that to date, its data dashboard included deaths among all people who had COVID-19 at the time of death. This included deaths caused by COVID-19 and deaths among people who had COVID-19 at the time of death, but the cause or causes may not have been attributed to COVID-19 on the death certificate. This is the standard way states report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Going forward, the state will present both numbers: Deaths among COVID-19 cases and deaths due to COVID-19. Data is available on the dashboard available at As of May 15, the state reported 1,150 deaths among people who have COVID-19. The number of deaths confirmed to have been caused by COVID-19 is 878 as of May 9, as reported by the CDC. It is important to note that the data reported on the dashboard up to this point, and to CDC, is shared for disease surveillance and tracking purposes. It is separate from the state official death records, which are maintained through death certificates.

The state also emphasized that it does not unilaterally change information on death certificates and does not question or try to change a physician’s diagnosis or causes-of-death determination.

“Every single death is tragic, regardless of the circumstances,” said Dr. Eric France, chief medical officer at CDPHE. “We know this virus can be deadly and can complicate other serious medical conditions and hasten death. As public health practitioners, we need to look at data that helps us understand disease transmission and protect people.”

“We understand it is confusing that there are different systems and ways of counting deaths. It’s important to understand the difference between the official cause of death and the list of deaths among COVID-19 cases,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist.

At 7 p.m., the State Capitol, along with cities, counties and other organizations, will be turning their building lights red to honor those who have fallen victim to this deadly virus. The state is encouraging buildings and businesses across the state to turn their lights red at 7 p.m. and for police and fire departments to turn their lights on at 7 p.m. for one minute. Coloradans can participate by wearing a mask or face covering and observe a moment of silence at 7 p.m. Coloradans are also encouraged to post on social media to raise awareness about the remembrance event.

The slides from today’s media availability are available here.

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