Coroners worry Covid-19 test shortages could lead to uncounted deaths
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Covid-19 test shortages lead to uncounted deaths

By Fabrice Pierre-Toussaint

Staff Writer for Telegraph Local | See my LinkedIn

Jill Romann, a coroner in Douglas County, Colorado, was so desperate for coronavirus tests that she began calling hospitals in the middle of the night just to avoid management, begging whoever was on duty for one or two test kits. Her overall collection reached just about 13 before the hospitals caught on and her shut down.

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According to, she asked the state health department for help getting the tests needed to determine whether deaths were linked to the virus. Yet, she said the agency told her it was not providing them to coroners because it was prioritizing the tests for the living. She has not been able to get the supplies she needs from private labs either. 

“If you die in my county, I will not know if you died of Covid-19,” Romann said. “I will, however, be able to tell if you legally smoked pot.”

Other death investigators besides her were also aggravated and concerned about Covid-19 deaths being missed. A coroner in Wyoming, the only state that still has not reported any deaths due to the virus, said he seriously doubts its official death count, and has told CNN he has not been able to test a number of suspected cases. And an Ohio coroner said she believes at least four deaths in her county have already been left uncounted. 

As the country battles a rapidly growing number of Covid-19 infections, 13 coroners and medical examiners in nine states have told CNN that they are struggling to acquire the supplies needed to test bodies arriving at their facilities for the disease. 

Growing worries over the Covid-19 death toll not being complete because of lack of testing for the living, demonstrates how coroners and medical examiners are unable to test the dead. They said they are concerned that deaths are being significantly undercounted and that as a result, the statistics used by the federal and state governments to chart the virus’s spread and severity are far from reliable. Contacts of the deceased may not get the warnings they need to help keep the disease from spreading. Families may be left not knowing what killed their loved ones.

Total death counts from CDC, stood at around 9,000 on Monday. When pressed on what deaths it is tracking, the agency told CNN that it is looking at both laboratory-confirmed cases and those without laboratory confirmation. Usually, CNN relies on John Hopkins University’s separate count of Covid-19 deaths, which is updated regularly. 

States vary on how they are currently reporting deaths to the federal government. Some state departments of health told CNN they are reporting only cases confirmed by a positive test, for example, while another said it is also reporting certain unconfirmed cases in which symptoms pointed to coronavirus. 

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“It is very concerning that this data set will not be included in the overall numbers,” said Romann, who said she will soon run out of testing swabs. “We want real facts of this disease.”

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