PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The number of COVID-19 deaths in Arizona seemed to be holding steady, with less than ten deaths reported each day in May. Then came Friday, with 67 coronavirus deaths posted on the Arizona Department of Health Services website. That's more than three times as many as any other day since the epidemic started.

Will Humble, the executive director of Arizona's Public Health Association, said that the sudden jump in fatalities doesn't mean the state's coronavirus crisis is getting worse. Health officials are simply using new federal guidelines to go back and track previous deaths, over the past month or so, that may have been the result of COVID-19.

"No, it doesn't mean there was a big batch of additional new deaths that happened, but rather an administrative process where deaths that occurred back in April and late March were re-classified as COVID-19 when they had been classified as something else," said Humble.

The process is called Death Certificate surveillance. As doctors, medical examiners and clinicians learn more about coronavirus, they get better at classifying and identifying symptoms they may have missed a few weeks ago.

Thirty-five of the 67 new deaths reported Friday are from cases dating back to April 12, according to the state's website.

"This surveillance is never going to be perfect," said Humble. "Not every COVID-19 death is going to be captured and classified as a COVID-19 death, but it makes sense for public health to go back in time and re-examine some of these deaths, and be reclassified into their proper category."

Jason Barry is best known for his Dirty Dining Report which airs Fridays at 6:30 p.m. on CBS 5.  He is also the storyteller behind CBS 5's Pay It Forward which airs every Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
 
 

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