Virus Outbreak Arizona

Marcy Flanagan, executive director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, talks about the ordering of storage containers with refrigeration units to handle the possible future surge in coronavirus cases, during a news conference Thursday, July 16, 2020, in Phoenix. The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office, which has already gotten four large portable storage coolers to handle future surges of coronavirus cases, has ordered another 10 coolers, which are expected to arrive by the end of next week.

(The Center Square) – An infected person who dies of a gunshot wound or a car accident will not count as a COVID-19 death in Maricopa County.

At a news conference Wednesday, county public health officials took a moment to discuss recent questions about how they and hospitals report deaths seemingly from the coronavirus.

“Death certificates can be an imperfect record because they are signed quickly under state law, and a health care provider may not have all of the information about why a patient has died,” said County Executive Director of Public Health, Marcy Flanagan. “A health care provider may go back and update the death certificate when they obtain additional information. For COVID-19 death surveillance, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health uses death certificate and laboratory test information to estimate the number of COVID-19 associated deaths in the county.”

While Arizona law says a doctor whose patient dies in their care has 72 hours to sign a death certificate, funeral home directors say they’re seeing doctors go weeks before signing death certificates, sometimes only after being pressured into it by the director.

The clarification comes days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new data showing 94 percent of reported coronavirus-related deaths had at least one other underlying health condition. 

Flanagan gave the example of a person who died of a heart or lung condition who received a positive COVID-19 test within 60 days of their death. The death toll would later include that person.

“As of Aug. 25, there were 2,804 deaths where COVID-19 was present. Seven, or .02 [percent] of those deaths had resulted from injury or poisoning without COVID-19 being listed on the death certificate.” 

Flanagan said those are events like car accidents or gunshot wounds, even drug overdoses. She said those deaths are reviewed and removed from the count of COVID-19 related deaths. It’s common, she said, for outbreak death counts to be revisited long after the incident.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois and Arizona government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Central Illinois and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.