This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). (Courtesy Alissa Eckert, MSMI / Dan Higgins, MAMS via CDC 2019)

Santa Clara County’s Department of Public Health has redefined the way it counts COVID-19 deaths in the county, which has brought the total death toll down by 22 percent.

The recent change is part of the county’s effort to better understand the health impacts of COVID, officials said on Friday.

Initially, anyone who had COVID at the time of their death was counted in the death toll, in accordance with state definitions.

Now the county is only counting those in which COVID was listed as part of the cause of death on the death certificate, which focuses more on the determinations made by the medical examiner.

It brings the county’s death toll down from 2,201 to 1696 individuals, according to the county’s Public Health Department.

Sarah Rudman, MD, MPH Santa Clara County Assistant Health Officer and STD/HIV Controller. (Photo courtesy Santa Clara County Health Department)

“Throughout the pandemic, we have focused on bringing the best information to the public as soon as we have it,” said Dr. Sarah Rudman, Assistant Public Health Officer. “As we see more vaccinations and fewer cases and deaths, we have had the opportunity to more deeply analyze the deaths that came in during the height of the pandemic.”

Alameda county conducted a similar review of county deaths in early June and their death toll dropped by 411, to 1223 total fatalities.

Rudman said by reevaluating the data, the county can better understand what happened in the last 15 months and inform future decisions.

“At the same time, our hearts go out to all families and loved ones of those we have lost during the pandemic, regardless of whether their deaths were ultimately attributed to COVID-19,” she continued.

Despite definition changes, COVID remains the third leading cause of death for Santa Clara County residents in 2020.

The public health department said it will continue to review data to learn more about the pandemic impacts, “particularly on those communities hardest hit by the pandemic.”