Freedom Foundation Finds Washington State is Overreporting COVID-19 Death Toll

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee held a press conference to announce he would permit the resumption of dental and elective medical procedures.

Just ahead of the event, however, the Freedom Foundation released a report analyzing his Department of Health’s methodology in calculating COVID-19 deaths. And based on the state’s own numbers as crunched by the Freedom Foundation’s Max Nelsen, Washington state is overreporting deaths caused by COVID-19 by as much 13 percent.


As of May 18, the Washington Department of Health (DOH) reported 18,433 COVID-19 cases and 1,001 deaths due to the virus.

However, the state DOH has a policy of classifying every person who tests positive and later dies as a Coronavirus death — whether the disease is what actually killed them or not. In fact, in 13 percent of the Washington fatalities officially listed as COVID-19 deaths, the disease was not the actual cause of death.

To make matters worse, the Freedom Foundation also confirmed DOH intends to start counting “probable” COVID-19 deaths among its totals, which would result in the inclusion of deaths of persons who had never even tested positive for the virus.

The author of the report, Max Nelsen, breaks down the numbers here.

The conclusion was drawn from several state databases and reporting systems, linked in the above article.

The Washington state press took interest in the report, asking Gov. Inslee two questions during his press conference. The governor was visibly annoyed and defensive.

From the Seattle Times: “Governor, the Freedom Foundation put out an analysis today on COVID-19 deaths in Washington; they’re claiming that as many as 13 percent of the fatalities are not necessarily related to COVID-19 and the information they cited was death certificates where COVID-19 wasn’t listed as the main factor or contributing factor. I’m curious to get your response to that?”

Governor Inslee’s response can be viewed here.

From the Everett Herald: “I just wanted to follow up on the issue raised earlier about the toll of the loss of life from COVID-19, and I don’t think anyone would dispute that 887 deaths is horrific, but given the importance of metrics in your decision making, if one number is inaccurate and it’s a very prominent number in our reporting, are you not concerned it undermines the data and the confidence the public will have in your reliance on the data? Would you review that process and consider changing how deaths are determined in this state?”


Governor Inslee’s response can be viewed here.

His response to both answers was right out of Saul Alinsky’s playbook. In one response, Inslee replied: “The problem is, you’ve got some people out there fanning these conspiracy claims from the planet Pluto. And it’s just disgusting what they’re trying to say about all those crazy, deep state malarkey.”

A number of Washington and national outlets picked up the story, focusing on the governor’s remarks.

Fox News’ Laura Ingraham took interest in the national implications of the story. She interviewed Max Nelsen (link here).

But Washington isn’t the first state found to be inflating COVID-19 death statistics.

Over the weekend, Fox News reported that the Colorado Department of Health and Environment revised that state’s total deaths due to COVID-19 down from 1,150 to 878 after local news reported the state was counting deaths in a similar fashion.

The Virginia Department of Health recently had to retract a spokesman’s claim that the state was “double-counting” patients who tested positive for COVID-19.

On May 4, Joe Macenka, spokesman for Virginia’s coronavirus response said, “If a person is tested on different days, those tests are counted as separate. If (a Virginia resident) tested positive Monday and Tuesday and both are positive, that’s two positives.”

And on May 1, Virginia State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver gave an example of a single patient being tested numerous times for COVID-19, stating, “(W)hat we’re doing now is counting all four tests. That’s the difference.”


The Freedom Foundation takes COVID-19 seriously and every death is a tragedy. However, when governors like Jay Inslee assume dictatorial powers and claim to make decisions based on science and data, it’s more than a little troubling to discover the data is flawed.

Ashley Varner is vice president of communications and federal affairs for the Freedom Foundation, a free-market organization committed to helping free public sector employees from union tyranny.



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