How COVID19 Deaths Are Counted
Photo by Rhodi Lopez on Unsplash
How COVID19 Deaths Are Counted
For the past two years, the true number of COVID19 infections has been hidden due to testing mishaps. This means that the overall official counts of deaths are also inaccurate.
Some health departments across the country are currently being accused of falsely inflating the real number of deaths while other departments are refusing to release data to the public. Data withheld from the public is easier to manipulate.
Unfortunately, assigning a cause of death is sometimes difficult. Even before the pandemic, mistakes were made in cause of death certificates. Red tape held back data pre-pandemic, and now the same regulations make finding valid data even more challenging. The data that is available, however, suggests that deaths related to COVID19 may be undercounted.
Assigning Cause of Death
According to the National Association of Medica Examiners (NAME), death certificates are assigned by the physician responsible for the patient, unless the death happens outside a hospital. In cases of non-hospital deaths, the certificate is completed by a medical examiner or coroner. In some areas, such as Chicago, the medical examiner is involved in every suspected COVID19 death. Asking the medical examiner to handle all COVID19 cases help create more consistency and better documentation. However, the way the paperwork is filled out is causing confusion.
The primary reason for death is listed first, and in cases of COVID19, the first cause of death is often respiratory distress or heart issues, followed by the secondary cause, COVID. This leads some people to argue that the real cause was the first listed cause. They effectively ignore the secondary cause. In many cases, without COVID19, the primary cause would not have been the cause of death.
Additionally, determining that COVID19 was truly the real cause of death is difficult. If a person has a comorbid condition, such as heart disease, it can be hard to determine the cause, especially if the person dies at home. Dying with COVID is different than dying from COVID.
Further, deaths among younger patients causes confusion, as these deaths prove that there are COVID symptoms outside the lungs. Young, otherwise healthy patients who catch COVID19 may not have respiratory issues; instead, they have blood clotting that leads to strokes and heart attacks. Were past early blood-related deaths actually COVID deaths?
Autopsies and Answers
Many wonder why an autopsy doesn’t simply provide necessary answers. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of autopsies performed, and it’s been that way since before the pandemic. Families have to pay for autopsies, and there is an ongoing forensic pathologist shortage. America currently has half the number of forensic pathologists than necessary to handle all the autopsy cases. Additionally, COVID autopsies are dangerous due to the extreme infectious nature of this virus.
Simply put, COVID19 deaths are underreported simply because there was not enough knowledge of the disease when it first began. There are not enough professionals available to assess the dead, and there is some disorganization in some geographical areas regarding who fills out death certificates. All of these reasons together lead to an unsettling fact: we may never know our true COVID19 death rate.
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