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York County Coroner explains criteria to report a COVID-19 related death

After hearing about people's skepticism on COVID-19 death reporting, the York County coroner explains how it all works.

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — People in our state continue to die from complications related to COVID-19.

Though some Pennsylvanians don't believe those deaths are being reported correctly.

How are COVID-19 deaths reported?

For months, York County Coroner Pamela Gay has been hearing the same thing, people saying "there's no way that many people died from COVID-19, the numbers have to be greatly exaggerated."

So she posted an explanation of how it all works on her Facebook page.

"I feel that there's actually an undercount," said Gay.

The York County Coroner says the last few months have been challenging.

Although she says there is more consistency between her COVID-19 death reporting and the state's numbers.

Gay said, "Now we have a better understanding of our real-time, actual, death count because they're reported to us hopefully by most everybody.”

Even so, she says still some people are skeptical.

"I've actually had people say, oh yeah they had a traffic crash and they die from that and you're listing it as COVID positive death. That's not what happens. We study, we train, we learn how to write these death certs."

While the coroner says, yes, a lot of people who have died from COVID-19 had underlying conditions, she also says the virus is still the reason they died when they did.

"If COVID enters the picture and they were kind of doing ok and not real, real sick, being maintained on their meds for their other conditions. If COVID- enters the picture and then COVID is going to be a cause of death, that's what we do for all of these types of deaths," she said.

A person doesn't even have to test positive for COVID-19 at the time of their death.

"We will have people that will be COVID negative when they die. They've been tested over and over again, but they were once COVID positive, developed all kinds of organ failure as a result of it, it is going to be a COVID related death."

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Social media has fueled claims that hospitals are labeling deaths as COVID-19 so that they can get more money from the government.

Are hospitals making money off of COVID-19 related deaths?

Our Verify team looked into those claims and found them to be false.

According to the CARES ACT, Medicare payments to hospitals have increased by 20% for cases involving COVID-19, but no extra money for a COVID-19 death.

So, we can verify that the government will pay more to hospitals caring for patients with COVID-19, but not because someone dies from the virus.

Facebook has even flagged the post warning users that it contains partly false information.

The York County Coroner says she can't speak for hospitals, however, she has not faced any pressure from the state, county, or hospitals to report that a cause of death is COVID-19.

"Is it being done somewhere else? It certainly could be. I'm not so naive to know that maybe there could be things like that going on, but definitely I'm not feeling that in our particular area here," said Gay.

While no one can predict when this global pandemic will end, the coroner says we could be seeing COVID-19 deaths for years to come.

"People have long term complications from COVID, We're learning more and more about that. So we may actually see COVID-related deaths years down the line when we learn more about how this works."