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Texas’ count of coronavirus deaths jumps 12% after officials change the way they tally COVID-19 fatalities

A healthcare worker gathers information from a patient at a United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site Thursday, July 16, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A healthcare worker gathers information from a patient at a United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site Thursday, July 16, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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After months of undercounting coronavirus deaths, Texas’ formal tally of COVID-19 fatalities grew by more than 600 on Monday after state health officials changed their method of reporting.

The revised count indicates that more than 12% of the state’s death tally was previously unreported by state health officials before Monday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is now counting deaths marked on death certificates as caused by COVID-19. Previously, the state relied on local and regional public health departments to verify and report deaths.

Public health experts have said for months that the state’s official death toll is an undercount. State health officials said Monday that the policy change would improve the accuracy and timeliness of their data.

Texas law requires death certificates to be filed within 10 days.

“This method does not include deaths of people who had COVID-19 but died of an unrelated cause,” the Texas Department of State Health Services said in a news release.

The first death linked to the coronavirus in Texas occurred March 16 in Matagorda County. As of July 26, state officials said about 5,030 people who tested positive for the virus had died. With Monday’s update, the new figure is roughly 5,700.

After the number of infections in Texas soared to new highs in June and early July, the rate of deaths in Texas has been accelerating. It took 53 days to get from the first death to 1,000 deaths and 39 days to get from 1,000 to 2,000 deaths. On July 10, the state surpassed 3,000 deaths — 24 days after 2,000 deaths were reported. And it took only 10 more days for Texas to reach 4,000 deaths.

While Texas continues to report daily deaths in the triple digits, the number of new daily cases seem to be stabilizing. In the past week alone, state data appears to show new daily infections leveling off, albeit at nearly record highs.

The state recorded its largest number of daily new cases July 15, at 10,791. On Sunday, that number was 5,810.