Coroners are begging for coronavirus tests as they warn that the death toll may be higher than we know

Coroners are begging for coronavirus tests as they warn that the death toll may be higher than we know


REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid

Healthcare workers wheel the body of deceased person from the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 2, 2020.

  • Coroners across the country are begging for test kits for suspected coronavirus cases, CNN reports.
  • They feel the official death count is inaccurate, and that's troubling for federal and state agencies who use those statistics to make decisions on how to respond to the outbreak.
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Coroners across the US are struggling to acquire already limited test kits to correctly identity suspected coronavirus deaths, CNN reported.

They suspect that the death toll is much higher than what's officially being reported. More than a dozen coroners and medical examiners across nine states said they couldn't get necessary supplies to test bodies for coronavirus, according to CNN.


As of Tuesday, almost 13,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, but the New York Times reports that medical examiners among other healthcare professionals say the official count does not accurately capture the real number of COVID-19 related deaths in the country.

Coroners and medical examiners told CNN, their concern is that not all of the people who died because of COVID-19 are being counted. If so, the statistics federal and state governments use to see how the virus is spreading and how severe it is are skewed and unreliable.

According to the Times, accurate death counts help experts understand the outbreak as it's happening and also allows authorities to understand how deadly it can be and what measures to put in place or where to allocate resources.


Additionally, without knowing if someone died from the coronavirus or not, those who came in contact with the unconfirmed cases or their families won't know to isolate themselves to prevent the spread, CNN reported.

According to the Times, a funeral director in Virginia prepared three bodies that healthcare workers told her all tested for the coronavirus. However, only one of them had COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificates.

"The simplest answer is that CDC's National Center for Health Statistics reports the deaths that have COVID-19 listed on the death certificate," a CDC spokesperson said, according to CNN.


The issue is related to different states or even county's counting and reporting deaths differently, CNN reported.

Jill Romann, a coroner in Douglas County, Colorado, called hospitals in the middle of the night begging to get a few tests. Romann would call late to avoid management, but she was only able to get 13 before hospitals caught on to what she was doing, according to CNN.

She also reached out to the state health department and was told tests were being prioritized for those still alive due to shortages.


"If you die in my county, I will not know if you died of COVID-19. I will, however, be able to tell if you legally smoked pot," Romann told CNN.

The difference in reporting coronavirus-related deaths across the US along with limited test means that some states and counties "have improvised, obfuscated and, at times, backtracked in counting the dead," the Times reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance last week on certifying coronavirus deaths, instructing officials to report deaths of people who test positive or if they couldn't be tested, "the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty."


"We definitely think there are deaths that we have not accounted for," Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told the Times.

Experts told the Times that it's difficult to have a "real-time" report of coronavirus deaths and say it could take months or years to figure out the scope of how many people died from the outbreak. The federal government expects to have a final tally in 2021 when it publishes the leading causes of death in the country, but it's unlikely anything will be released sooner.

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