The Corner

Health Care

Is New York Undercounting Coronavirus Deaths?

Gwynne Hogan at Gothamist writes that a rash of in-home deaths in New York City suggests the city may be undercounting its COVID-related fatalities:

The FDNY says it responded to 2,192 cases of deaths at home between March 20th and April 5th, or about 130 a day, an almost 400 percent increase from the same time period last year. (In 2019, there were just 453 cardiac arrest calls where a patient died, according to the FDNY.)

That number has been steadily increasing since March 30th, with 241 New Yorkers dying at home Sunday — more than the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths that occurred citywide that day. On Monday night, the city reported 266 new deaths, suggesting the possibility of a 40% undercount of coronavirus-related deaths.

When someone dies at home, first responders are called to determine the cause of death and ensure that no foul play was involved before the funeral home receives the deceased. New York City public health spokesman Michael Lanza told Gothamist that the city’s health department does not “provide [COVID] testing in most of these natural at-home deaths,” which leaves open the possibility that some number of people — potentially a significant number — have died from the coronavirus but have not been counted in New York’s official mortality statistics.

More New Yorkers are staying home, which would seem an obvious culprit for at least some of the in-home fatality surge. Also, people with preexisting medical conditions might be less likely to seek inpatient care given the rash of COVID cases in city hospitals, which could explain part of the rise in domestic mortality. In any case, it’s possible — likely, in fact — that the city and the state of New York are undercounting coronavirus fatalities, which gives me pause about the apparent progress the state has made in cutting its mortality figures.

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