Rock Island County coroner explains what classifies a COVID-19 death

Photo: Nucleus Medical Media / YouTube
Photo: Nucleus Medical Media / YouTube(KWQC)
Published: May. 20, 2020 at 7:01 PM CDT
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There has been a lot of speculation about the statistics of COVID-19 deaths.

Many wonder what specifically proves a death was caused by the virus, especially when there were underlying health conditions.

TV6 spoke to Rock Island County Coroner Brian Gustafson to help clear some of the confusion.

Gustafson said every person who has died from COVID-19 in Rock Island County has been tested for the virus, whether that’s after or before they passed away.

However, that’s not always the case around the country.

As the United States inches towards 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, many wonder if that number is accurate.

“I think at this point of the pandemic people are starting to get antsy,” Gustafson said.

He said people are starting to question how serious the virus is because they notice many who die from COVID-19 had underlying health conditions.

“The mere fact that they acquired the coronavirus is quite simply the straw that broke the camel's back,” Gustafson said. It pushed them over the edge.”

“I make certain that it makes the death certificate because it's contributory. It’s not the primary reason that the individual died, but had they not acquired the coronavirus they quite probably would still be with us.”

Most COVID-19 deaths in Rock Island County had underlying health conditions to begin with.

Pre-existing conditions can also mask the fact that someone has COVID-19.

“I think throughout the state and the country it’s natural for cases to fall throughout the cracks because they have so many other diagnoses,” Gustafson said.

The virus can also take the lives of those who are healthy.

“Our first one and our last one -- a 34-year-old and a 67-year-old -- had no pre-existing conditions.”

“They would’ve had to present with symptoms or presented with no other symptoms -- no cardiac, no lung issues, no temperature no anything,” he said. “I would have to have no reason why that person died and then I would automatically test them.”

Some people may not display COVID-19 symptoms and for others it might mean their life.

That’s why Gustafson said it’s important to continue social distancing and wearing masks.

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