Fewer than half of COVID-19 deaths reported since B.C. changed counting methods were caused by the disease

A sign at the BC Centre for Disease Control is seen in this photo from the BCCDC website.

When the B.C. government changed the way it counted COVID-19 deaths back in early April, officials warned that the new, automated process would overcount fatalities related to the disease.

Data released Thursday by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control provides some insight into just how much overcounting the switch to "30-day, all-cause mortality" has created.

Before April 2, B.C.'s health authorities manually updated the pandemic death toll after investigating each death to determine if COVID-19 was a factor.

Since that date, anyone who dies within 30 days of a COVID-19 diagnosis has been automatically flagged and reported as a death possibly caused by the disease.

The province's Vital Statistics agency reviews each possible COVID-19 death and determines what the underlying cause was, a process that can take as long as eight weeks.

According to the BCCDC's weekly "situation report" released Thursday, there were 424 deaths between April 2 and May 14 that were flagged as potentially caused by COVID-19 because the person who died had tested positive within 30 days of their death. 

Of those, more than half (218) were still pending review by Vital Statistics to determine the underlying cause of death.

Of the 206 deaths for which an underlying cause had been determined, 94 were considered to be caused by COVID-19, while the remaining 112 had some other underlying cause.

That works out to slightly less than 46 per cent of reported deaths between April 2 and May 14 for which an underlying cause has been determined.

Of the 94 deaths caused by COVID-19, 38 of the deceased were aged 90 or older, according to the BCCDC. Another 34 were aged 80 to 89.

Twelve were in their 70s, seven were in their 60s, one was in their 50s and two were in their 30s.

The median age of death was 87 years old.