Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm responded Thursday to concerns about the accuracy of the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.
State Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska), a practicing physician, expressed concern in an interview this week about a CDC guidance that gives doctors the authority to include “suspected or likely” cases of COVID-19 on death certificates, The Minnesota Sun reported.
Jensen said the guidance implies that it would be appropriate to diagnose COVID-19 on a death certificate if a patient exhibited symptoms but never actually tested positive.
He then appeared on Fox News Wednesday night and said the CDC guidance runs counter to a physician’s duty to focus on “precision and specificity” in reporting causes of death.
During a Thursday press briefing, Commissioner Malcolm took a few minutes to respond to the “confusion” and “misinformation” surrounding the matter.
“When deaths are registered as suspected or probable COVID-19, we don’t just leave it at that. The MDH Office of Vital Records staff follows up on these death records. Staff contact the medical certifiers to ask them if testing came back to confirm COVID-19. When it has, the medical certifier updates the cause of death statement that they previously registered or provided. There might be records that stay as suspected or probable if the cause of death statement was written but testing was never ordered or the record doesn’t get updated by the health care provider,” she said.
In the latter cases, Malcolm said the fatalities are not counted as COVID-19 deaths and noted that the only people who can make changes to a death certificate are the medical certifiers.
“It’s important to note that all of these processes are similar to those that have been used in other disaster responses over the years, including hurricanes and other outbreaks,” said Malcolm. “There’s absolutely no policy or political motivation to increase the number of deaths that are reported.”
As of Friday afternoon, Minnesota had 1,336 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 57 deaths.
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