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June 25, 2020

New Jersey begins reporting probable COVID-19 fatalities

Statewide death toll has exceeded 14,000

Illness COVID-19
New Jersey COVID-19 deaths Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Office of the Governor

New Jersey will begin counting probable COVID-19 fatalities, but they will not be lumped in with the state's confirmed death toll, Gov. Phil Murphy says.

Health experts have suggested for months that the actual death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic likely far exceeds those included in states' confirmed totals. 

Looking to more accurately reflect the impact of the crisis, New Jersey began including probable coronavirus deaths in its tallies Thursday. These cases involve people whose underlying symptoms indicate they had COVID-19, but a diagnosis was never confirmed by a test. 

Health officials already have identified 1,854 probable fatalities and will continue providing weekly updates as they sort through thousands of death certificates. New Jersey's COVID-19 death toll now stands at 14,872, including the probable deaths. 

Dr. Edward Lifshitz, who serves as the medical director of the Communicable Disease Service at the state Department of Health, is leading the efforts to identify residents who likely died of COVID-19. 

In some cases, the probable deaths involve someone who died having received a less specific COVID-19 test or stem from an outbreak where someone had COVID-19 symptoms, Lifshitz said. But most have been identified through reviewing death certificates.

State officials will report additional probable COVID-19 deaths on a weekly basis, Gov. Phil Murphy said, adding that he doesn't expect that number to drastically increase. Confirmed and probable deaths will be listed separately. 

"In one day, we are significantly adding to the already weighty toll this pandemic has had on our state and on so many families," Murphy said. "We report this out of nothing else than a solemn sense of duty.

"For many families, we hope that these determinations will provide a sense of closure and of finally knowing," Murphy continued. "For our state, I hope it steels our resolve to do all we can to save every single life we can."

The state has been reporting lab-confirmed deaths due to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. New Jersey recorded 26 additional lab-confirmed deaths on ThursdayOfficials reported another 406 COVID-19 cases, bringing its total to 170,196 since the pandemic began. 

South Jersey has had 21,973 cases and 1,424 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

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