Health officials explain: What determines a COVID-19 death

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Posted at 5:39 PM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-10 23:11:06-04

With an increase in deaths attributed to COVID-19 locally and statewide some people are wondering what factors go into determining that a death is a COVID-19 death.

This comes as local health departments are measuring mortality to better understand the state of the pandemic.

"It's really important to know how bad the disease really is so that's why the numbers are really important to find out," said Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara County Health Officer.

Dr. Ansorg explains that dying with COVID-19 and dying of COVID-19 are not the same.

"You can die from a different condition and just by accident also have had a positive COVID test. It is pretty rare but it does happen," Dr. Ansorg said.

According to NBC affiliate KGW in Oregon, if you die in a car crash in that state and previously tested positive for COVID-19 that's automatically considered a COVID-19 death.

But here in California, that determination is more stringent.

"For instance, if somebody had a car accident because they fainted and they only fainted because they ran a fever of 105 because they had a horrible pneumonia because of COVID, then actually COVID was an underlying condition that caused their death even though they actually died from crashing the car," Dr. Ansorg explained.

Sgt. Tony Perry with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office Coroner Unit is also at the forefront of the death confirmation.

"The California Department of Public Health monitors all death certificates and requires agencies and the health department to process death certificates with at least two causes of death when it comes to COVID-19," Sgt. Perry said.

Just last week, SLO County Public Health officials revised the number of COVID-19 deaths after further investigation.

It was determined that COVID-19 was not an underlying cause of death in one specific case as originally thought, and the individual was already in the final stages of dying.

The health department added, "In deaths where it is unclear if COVID-19 may have contributed to that person's demise, those cases will not be listed as a COVID-19 death."

Colorado's State Health Department has revised its method of counting COVID-19 deaths. There are now two separate categories -- deaths due to COVID-19 and deaths among COVID-19.