TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—A strange discrepancy exists in the reporting of COVID-19 deaths between Tompkins County and New York State, one that after some questions doesn’t seem easily explained.

Tompkins County, as most are familiar with by now, maintains a graphic that is updated daily informing the public of the current COVID-19 environment in the county, including data surrounding tests, vaccinations, hospitalizations and deaths. Currently, the count of deaths sits at 27, many of which have reported from outbreaks at local nursing homes.

For the majority of the pandemic, The Ithaca Voice has relied primarily on county level data, trusting those on the ground to best report what’s happening here. Recently, though, we noticed a significant discrepancy in how many people the state reports have died in Tompkins County and how many the county is reporting. Seemingly, it could be as simple as a classification difference, but actual answers are still hard to come by definitively.

The state lists two different statistics: the location of the COVID-19 fatality, and the county of residence of people who have died from COVID-19. Respectively, for Tompkins County, those numbers are listed as 43 and 42, significantly higher than the aforementioned 27 that the county has recorded as having died from COVID-19.

Further, the state’s statistics claim that 32 people have died in nursing homes in Tompkins County (seven from Beechtree Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, five from Cayuga Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, seven from Groton Community Health Care Center Residential Care Facility, and 13 at Oak Hill Manor Rehabilitation and Nursing Care Center), which by itself would also surpass the number of total deaths the county has reported.

Inquiries to the state didn’t result in much clarity, as they redirected questions of specifics to municipality governments.

“Fatality data are reported by hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities on a daily basis to the Department of Health through the Health Electronic Response Data System (HERDS),” said Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Health. “For information on how local health departments collect and report COVID-19 fatalities in their counties, please contact them directly.”

The Tompkins County Health Department, of course, has been communicating directly with the local community on a daily basis, which makes the large difference odd. In a recent example of that outreach, Public Health Director Frank Kruppa addressed the strangely disparate statistics at a COVID-19 update event by saying, essentially, that the county isn’t sure how the state has compiled those statistics. It does seem, though, that the county remains confident in their reported figures.

“We get that question a lot, and we are trying to figure that out,” Kruppa said. “The health department here locally runs the vital statistics office, so anyone that is born or dies gets their birth or death certificate through us. We’re combing through the certificates as they come through. We’re just trying to match up what the state calls a COVID death versus what we see in the death certificates. That’s just been a challenge to date, it is unfortunate. It’s not that there’s a difference in what we’re calling a death, we just haven’t been able to get clarity from the state about what they are, so that’s why we’re seeing that discrepancy at this point.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com