Fact-check: Are hospitals reporting all deaths as COVID-19 related?

No, they aren’t

Trust Index

In the last several weeks, many false or misleading theories have surfaced on social media about coronavirus, and the response to coronavirus.

We’re taking a look at some of these messages circulating the internet, to see if there’s any credible information available to support it -- or to debunk it. Here’s one we’ve seen popping up a lot.

Related: Did Michigan ban gardening? Debunking 4 coronavirus claims spread on social media

Hospitals are counting all deaths as COVID-19 related

This is false.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

According to FactCheck.org, many viral posts wrongly suggest that the COVID-19 death toll is exaggerated because “the state” has instructed that “anyone who didn’t die by a gun shot wound or car accident” be listed as a coronavirus victim.

Experts said there is no such default classification — and that the U.S. death count is probably underestimated.

FactCheck.org says there’s no evidence that any state has adopted a policy to classify all deaths, regardless of the individual circumstances, as being related to COVID-19.

Sally Aiken, the president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, called the allegation “ridiculous.”

“Death certificates are basically federal, and each state has a public health division that answers to the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] for death certification,” Aiken, the Spokane County, Washington, medical examiner, told us in an email. “For all practical purposes death certification is directed by the feds, via health departments.”

“Medical Examiners and Coroners certify hundreds to thousands of deaths each year, using investigation, autopsies, and medical tests as required, and do not choose a ‘default diagnosis’ such as COVID-19.”

Aiken added that CDC offers guidance to public health officials on the certification of COVID-19 deaths. The latest guidance was issued April 2.

“If COVID–19 played a role in the death, this condition should be specified on the death certificate. In many cases, it is likely that it will be the [underlying cause of death], as it can lead to various life-threatening conditions, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS),” the guidance says. “In these cases, COVID-19 should be reported on the lowest line used in Part I with the other conditions to which it gave rise listed on the lines above it.” (Read more here from FactCheck.org)

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YES: States, countries are revising death tolls

Some states and countries have added deaths as COVID-19 related after deciding the victim was “suspected” of having COVID-19. For instance, in New York City last week, officials reported 3,778 “probable” deaths, where doctors were certain enough of the cause of death to list it on the death certificate, and 6,589 confirmed by a lab test.

The change in the city's accounting of deaths came after officials acknowledged that statistics based only on laboratory-confirmed tests were failing to account for many people dying at home before they reached a hospital or even sought treatment.

“Behind every death is a friend, a family member, a loved one. We are focused on ensuring that every New Yorker who died because of COVID-19 gets counted," said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. "While these data reflect the tragic impact that the virus has had on our city, they will also help us to determine the scale and scope of the epidemic and guide us in our decisions.”

Read the CDC guidance on this below:

About the Author:

Ken Haddad has proudly been with WDIV/ClickOnDetroit since 2013. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters, and helps lead the WDIV Insider team. He's a big sports fan and is constantly sipping Lions Kool-Aid.