Kern County's COVID-19 death toll could be 10 percent higher than what the local public health department is reporting, according to state figures.
The California Public Health Department reports 1,158 deaths in in Kern on its COVID-19 dashboard, which is more than 100 additional deaths than the county's tally of 1,032 as of Friday.
The discrepancy appears to be related to a recent change in how the state reports its data.
A state health official said in an email the department recently changed the way it reports deaths and believes its numbers to be accurate. The numbers now come directly from the statewide CALREDIE database, the official said in the email.
Kern County Public Health Services Director Brynn Carrigan said county public health staff take extra steps to ensure a death is COVID-19-related before it is tallied as a coronavirus death. She said the county public health department is looking into the differences between the two sets of numbers, but those extra steps likely account for the discrepancy. Specifically, county procedures require receipt of the death certificate which lists COVID-19 as a cause of death, Carrigan said.
Carrigan said the county aims to have its numbers match what the state is reporting but is more concerned with accuracy than matching numbers.
"We feel more comfortable the way we’re reporting (deaths), making sure a doctor signed off and said COVID had something to do with them dying," Carrigan said. She noted that over time the gap between state and county numbers could decrease as the county verifies more deaths.
The state numbers for COVID-19 cases, by contrast, are markedly lower than the county's numbers. The state dashboard reports about 94,000 cases compared to the county's total of 105,000.
Carrigan said that is because the state does not count rapid tests in its total.
The more common COVID-19 tests, the polymerase chain reaction tests, are sent to labs which electronically report results directly to the state's CALREDIE database.
Rapid tests, also known as antigen tests, are not sent to a lab for analysis. The county receives those results by fax, Carrigan said, and processes them locally.