File-Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addresses the media in this file photo following the return of a grand jury investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Sept. 23, 2020.

(The Center Square) – The death toll due to COVID-19 in Kentucky will increase by more than 10% after an audit initiated by Gov. Andy Beshear found more than 600 additional fatalities that could be tied to the pandemic. 

The governor announced the findings of the audit during his briefing Thursday with reporters. State officials looked at death reports from November to January, which was the last time the state experienced a surge in cases. 

Beshear said every death certificate in the state from that time was pulled and cross-referenced to the COVID list state officials use to determine the count. That list is created through reports the state receives from local health departments, which state officials then verify before officials count it as a COVID-related fatality. 

During the audit, state officials reviewed local health department data, and for those where that’s not available, they then looked for any report of a positive test. Officials also wanted to confirm that COVID was an actual cause of death, even if it was listed on a death certificate. They also made sure that any instances of accidental deaths, such as from a car wreck, were not counted, even if the individual tested positive. 

“Our commitment is first to be accurate, and second, to make sure that there are no unknown soldiers that we account for every single individual we've lost,” he said. 

Neighboring states have completed similar audits recently. Beshear noted that Ohio found an additional 4,000 deaths and Indiana discovered another 1,500. 

On Thursday and Friday, the state added 583 of the audited deaths to the official count. That brought the official tally to 5,695. 

Of the newly reported deaths on Thursday, Beshear said about 200 of those came from long-term care facilities. Since the start of the pandemic, nursing home and congregate care centers have accounted for 2,276, or 41.3 percent, of the deaths. 

The current numbers on long-term care, though, show promise. Both residents and staff members were among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccines, and on Thursday the governor noted that of the 963 new cases COVID cases reported, three were long-term care staff members and only two were residents. 

More audits will likely take place, Beshear said, even after the pandemic ends because there’s still a lot to learn about the long-term implications of the virus. 

“I also think it's going to be years and maybe even a decade before we know the true toll,” he said.