If every state separated COVID deaths from people who died with COVID but not of COVID – we would be looking at vastly different numbers nationwide.
— Alex Berenson (@AlexBerenson) May 15, 2020
During a press conference at the state Capitol on Friday, Gov. Jared Polis sought to quell the notion that his health department might be inflating the number of COVID-19 deaths.
The Montezuma County Coroner George Deavers has told 9News that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment changed the cause of death on a May 4 certificate to COVID-19 when the man died of alcohol poisoning. The man had COVID-19, Deavers told 9News, but didn’t die from it.
Polis acknowledged the incident and at least one other incident where a death certificate was inaccurately changed to include a cause of death of COVID-19. Polis said no one behind a desk should be “second-guessing” the findings of a coroner.
“They need to report to the people of Colorado how many people died of COVID-19,” Polis said. “People are not very interested in, nor should they be, how many people died with COVID-19.”
On Thursday, state Rep. Mark Baisley, a Republican from Roxborough Park, requested an investigation and criminal charges against Jill Hunsaker Ryan, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, for allegedly falsifying death certificates to inflate COVID-19 deaths. Baisley brought the request to George Brauchler, the Republican district attorney for the 18th Judicial District.
Responding to a question about an inquiry to bring criminal charges against Hunsaker Ryan, Polis said criminal charges would be “completely inappropriate.”
Health officials hosted a call with reporters Friday afternoon to answer questions about the COVID-19 death data. As The Colorado Sun reported: “… officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment revealed during a call with reporters that that number does not represent the number of people who have died due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.The death figure CDPHE has been providing for weeks is more accurately described as the number of people with COVID-19 who have died — for any reason.”
Though data is still lagging, the clarification lowers the state’s official death toll from 1,150 as of Thursday to 878 as of May 9.
Separately, a parolee has been accused of murdering a 21-year-old woman last weekend after his early release from prison on April 15 as part of the Department of Corrections pandemic response. The man has been eligible for parole since 2017 was set for mandatory release in August.
Polis signed an executive order in March giving the Department of Corrections more power to release inmates earlier to intensive supervision and special needs parole. Polis responded to the allegations by saying, “Nobody should be released simply because of COVID-19. … No prisoner who is a danger to society should be released early in any situation and of course nobody on that parole board thought that this person was going to do what they allegedly did.”
“I’m glad they didn’t release him in 2017 when he first came up for parole,” he added.
There were about 200 homicides in Colorado last year, according to data from the Division of Criminal Justice.
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