Not Everyone “With” COVID Dies “Of” COVID in Milwaukee County Anymore

A recent change in Milwaukee County’s method of recording COVID deaths casts doubt on DHS’ statewide numbers

Dec. 10, 2020

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner says DHS’ method of calculating Wisconsin’s COVID death toll is making the pandemic look “more alarming than it actually is.”

According to DHS, 3,887 people in Wisconsin had died of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, Dec. 9th, and 800 of them were in Milwaukee County. According to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner, Dr. Brian Peterson, only 746 people in Milwaukee County have died of the disease.

WISN-TV interviewed Dr. Peterson this week about why Milwaukee’s COVID-19 death numbers are always lower than what DHS says. Peterson said it’s because DHS counts everyone who dies “with” COVID-19, and he only counts people who die “of” COVID-19. He said it’s an important distinction.

“I think keeping them separate gives us a better idea of who the actual victims are. Again it’s a matter of dying ‘of’, as opposed to dying ‘with’. If you lump them all together, you lose that fine tuning, and it starts looking more alarming than it actually is,” Peterson said.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office didn’t always feel that way. In August, it’s numbers were almost identical to those from DHS. The MacIver Institute conducted an analysis and found, at that time, “every person who dies in Milwaukee County with COVID-19, dies of COVID-19.”

At that time, people were dying of cancer, heart attacks, and strokes in Milwaukee County and it was getting recorded as COVID-19 deaths.

“Almost everyone dying of it has other serious health problems,” Karen Domagalski, Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office Operations Manager, told MacIver News in August.

And yet, the county still ultimately listed them as COVID deaths.

WISN-TV suggests that practice stopped sometime before October. However, Milwaukee County now seems to be alone in its newfound conviction.

The MacIver Institute examined the death numbers from the ten Wisconsin Counties with the highest COVID-19 activity levels, and found no other similar discrepancies.

Even when other medical examiners agree with Dr. Peterson, they aren’t following his example.

“I think the Milwaukee approach is ultimately more accurate,” Dr. Adam Covach, Fond Du Lac County’s Medical Examiner, told WISN-TV.

However, his numbers are almost identical to those provided by DHS. Covach says he counts every death “with” COVID-19 as a death “from” COVID-19 whenever he believes it might have taken away a single “moment” from the patient’s life.

That’s a difficult position to defend given the number of comorbidities many people with COVID-19 had when they died.

Currently, only 2 percent of the people listed as COVID-19 deaths in Wisconsin had no other medical conditions, according to DHS.