Local health experts rebut claims governments are inflating COVID-19 death numbers

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A new report from the Centers for Disease Control is leaving social media buzzing. That report says 94% of those who have died from COVID-19 also had other medical problems, also known as comorbidities.

Accounts are being flagged for the possible spread of misinformation and the state of Tennessee is denying claims that deaths are being over-reported.

“The data is simply saying what we know. It’s not saying that anything we said has not been true,” said Jamie Swift, Ballad Health’s Chief Infection Prevention Officer. “COVID has caused respiratory failure, heart failure, cardiac arrest and so all of those things get listed.”

That new data is causing some confusion for some on how COVID-19 is reported on a death certificate.

“When you’re filling out a death certificate, when you’re trying to determine what’s the underlying cause of death, you have to ask yourself would this person have died at the time they did were it not for this disease?” said the Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Tennessee, Adele Lewis MD during a webinar back in July.

The Tennessee Department of Health was breaking down the state’s data and reports.

“If the COVID accelerated their demise, that should be coded as a COVID death,” Lewis said.

On Monday, the state sent back a statement saying:

In regard to how deaths are classified, it is determined by the physician who fills out the death certificate. If COVID-19 is in the proper part of the death certificate, it counts as COVID-19 being the underlying cause of death. If it is listed as a contributory cause of death, the case will have the COVID-19 code indicated, but not as the underlying cause of death, and we would not report that case in our public tallies.

We continue to review all death certificates listing COVID-19 or its equivalent, regardless of whether the certifying physician lists COVID-19 as the underlying cause of death or as a contributory cause of death, and all death certificates for people with known positive tests (by PCR) for the novel coronavirus to minimize either over-reporting or under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths in Tennessee.

TN Dept. of Health Spokesperson

However, it’s not uncommon for multiple causes or codes to be listed on a death certificate.

“Trying to separate codes out, whether it was a COVID code only or had additional codes with it is not really the appropriate frame of reference looking at this,” said Dr. Nathan Hale, an associate professor in the Department of Health Services Management and Policy. “[The data] is not really detailed enough for us to really understand the true impact and influence COVID is having on deaths that we’re seeing in the region and state, across the country.”

Hale and Swift both say its important to understand that the virus is speeding up and causing an excess in deaths.

“Most of the people who have asthma or diabetes or whatever, high blood pressure- they’re not expected to die next week and so we know because they get Covid… that’s what’s causing the death,” Swift said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss