On Friday, the Department of Public Health changed how it counts COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts long-term care facilities, aligning with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's national definition and in the process cutting the state's cumulative long-term care death toll by 1,220.

In its weekly report, DPH began using the federal standard for long-term care deaths, which counts all residents of a facility who died from COVID complications in a facility, hospital or other location, but does not count those who recovered from COVID-19 and later died. Up to this point, Massachusetts had counted all long-term care residents who contracted the virus at some point before they died — even those who recovered between their bout with the illness and their death — as COVID-19 long-term care deaths.

The new standard mirrors the CDC's recommendation and that in place in most other states, according to the Baker administration.

"By aligning the long-term death count on the state's weekly dashboard with federal definitions for long-term care facilities, Massachusetts is aligning with the definition that other states use," DPH State Epidemiologist Catherine Brown said in a statement. "DPH also believes this definition better supports long-term care facilities now that so many residents and staff are vaccinated to closely monitor the effect of COVID in a well-vaccinated but vulnerable population."

As a result of the change, the cumulative long-term care death toll in Massachusetts will be listed at 5,502 as of April 12, compared to the 6,722 reported as of April 5 in the final weekly report under the previous state standards. The update changed the overall cumulative COVID-19 death toll in Massachusetts, which decreased from 17,432 in Thursday's daily report to 17,100 in Friday's.

The DPH revisions did move the needle slightly in reports of deaths and put a more precise number on the total of positive COVID-19 cases in Cape Ann long-term care facilities.

Until this week, Den-Mar Health and Rehabilitation Center, a 76-bed facility in Rockport, had reported 13 deaths since the pandemic began, but state numbers revised that down to 11. Den-Mar also had been listed as having more than more than 30 positive COVID-19 cases since last spring, but the change in how the state reports the data said 65 residents had tested positive in that time.

Gloucester Healthcare, a 101-bed facility, went from a total of 16 deaths of residents to nine. The facility also had been listed until this week as reporting more than 30 positive COVID-19 cases since last spring, but state data on Thursday put the number at 75 cases. 

Seacoast Nursing & Rehabilitation Center , a 142-bed facility in Gloucester, was listed this week as having 27 cases, when last week it was listed as having 11 to 30 cases. It has had no deaths.

To read the DPH data visit www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-response-reporting

Staff writers Richard K. Lodge and Andrea Holbrook contributed to this story.

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