‘We are behind.’ Dept. of Health death total inaccurate due to reporting lag


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) gave his daily COVID-19 briefing in Washington County on Wednesday, a place among the hardest-hit areas in the state dealing with the pandemic. Along with Benton County, the Dept. of Health confirmed 67 people had died from coronavirus complications in Northwest Arkansas, but local coroners said their numbers are much higher.

Roger Morris, Washington County’s coroner, sent a list of deceased people who lived in Washington County whose bodies tested positive for COVID-19, and the number was 57, as of Wednesday. He said Benton County was up to 67. The ADH reports 39 deaths in Washington County and 28 in Benton County.

“Whenever the coroner or death certificate is filled out, it has to be filed,” Hutchinson said when asked about this discrepancy. “It has to be put in the Dept. of Health system. Sometimes there’s a delay in that.”

Dr. Jose Romero, the Dept. of Health’s Secretary, said the lag is something the ADH is working through. He said it stems from the way in which deaths are reported and the speed in which the information is received.

“There’s clearly still a lag we’re experiencing,” Romero said. “I’m still getting calls from hospitals reporting deaths that have occurred more than 72 hours prior to calling me, so there is no seamless transition for getting all this information to us.”

Romero confirmed the ADH is significantly behind in its reported deaths.

“We are behind,” Romero said. “We know that there’s a discrepancy there, and I think that delay explains a lot of it.”

Documents are faxed back and forth from coroners’ offices and the Dept. of Health, meaning they are often delayed, Morris said. He asked about the possibility of email communication but was rejected on the basis of HIPAA regulations. Romero said he’ll look into whether this could be implemented.

“I would need to talk with my staff to see if that can be done, but certainly that’s an option,” Romero said. “We can look at that.”

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