August 4, 2020


By Neal A. Shipman

Farmer Editor

When a North Dakota resident is reported by the North Dakota Department of Health as having died of the COVID-19 virus it becomes big news. And it should be news considering how alarmed the public can be when the number of coronavirus cases start rising in the state as they have been for the past several weeks.
But there is a big difference when the state reports a person of dying either “with” or “of” COVID-19.
As the terms imply, if a person dies “with” COVID, it means that at one time or another that person tested positive for the virus prior to their death. The actual cause of the death could have been any number of underlying health conditions, but the official death certificate lists the virus as the cause.
But if that person dies “of” COVID, then it can safely be assumed that the virus was the primary cause of that individual’s death.
So why am I addressing the difference between “with” and “of” in this week’s column?
The answer is because last week North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, during a July 28 press briefing, reported that a McKenzie County woman in her 20s with no underlying health conditions had died “with” COVID and that she was the youngest person to die of the virus in the state.
Immediately we, at the McKenzie County Farmer began trying to find out as much information as we could as to the circumstances of this young woman’s death. We realized that we could not obtain any direct information from the state regarding the woman’s death, but we were able to piece together some details. Unfortunately, we have not been able to confirm any of the details.
This is what we have learned. The McKenzie County woman had previously tested positive for COVID-19, but the North Dakota Health Department did not provide any information as to how long ago she tested positive. But based on the unconfirmed information that we received from multiple sources, it is very apparent that she did not die “from” the virus but rather from an unconfirmed drug overdose.
So theoretically, on July 28, a McKenzie County woman did die. And at some point and time, she had tested positive for COVID-19, which is why she was reported as having died “with” COVID-19.
Obviously, the system that the state uses to report the number of COVID-related deaths has been in place since the pandemic began. But like many North Dakotans, I wish that the death information would be more specific.
For example, as of Monday, Aug. 3, the North Dakota Health Department’s website indicates that 105 state residents have tested positive and died from any cause while infected with the virus, while 91 of those had COVID-19 died as stated on the official death record. Included in the 105 tally is another 10, whose deaths list something other than COVID as the official cause of death. And another four  who died, but did not have a positive test result, were presumed to be positive by a health care provider based on symptoms and/or exposure.
If, as we suspect, we are going to have to live with the coronavirus for years to come, it is important that we truly understand just how dangerous the virus is to the general public. But right now, there are many North Dakotans who are questioning the number of deaths that are being linked to COVID-19.