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Lowcountry doctor explains when COVID-19 is listed as a cause of death

Updated: Jul. 22, 2020 at 3:34 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Social media posts have been circulating throughout the pandemic questioning how accurate death counts are when it comes to COVID-19.

Dr. Robert Oliverio, vice president and chief medical officer at Roper St. Francis Healthcare, said they are not labeling COVID deaths arbitrarily. There are specific guidelines from DHEC and the CDC.

"Part of our work is to describe what happens when folks come into the hospital, describe it accurately, and then report it to state or federal agencies," he said.

Social media rumors suggest death numbers are inflated, claiming that even car accidents are being counted as COVID-19 deaths.

"If you pass away from a stomach ulcer, and COVID-19 had nothing to do with it, we wouldn't count that as a COVID-19 death," said Dr. Oliverio.

For providers, it's all about determining the "precipitating factor."

And whether COVID-19 caused a patient's health to worsen to the point of death.

“It’s really, what precipitated the cause of death? Is it respiratory failure because of COVID-19? If that’s the case, then we call it COVID 19. There may be underlying diseases, but if the precipitating factor is an infection with COVID-19 then even though they have all these other issues, that’s what caused their death.”

Blaming an increase in case numbers or deaths of this disease on reporting "misses the bigger issue" he said, which is that "cases are increasing."

He said earlier this year 5-7% of tests were coming back positive.

“Now, not changing any of the reasons why people come into testing centers to get tested, we’re seeing 20-25% of people who get tested coming back positive,” he said. “Cases are increasing.”

And he says that’s why it makes sense that we see the number of hospitalizations and risk of death increasing, too.

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