WEB EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with Sebastian County Coroner on COVID-19 death reporting

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Sebastian County Coroner explains the process reporting a COVID-19 death amid the pandemic.

SEBASTIAN COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Earlier this month, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Dept. of Health Secy. Dr. Jose Romero announced they will be reporting “probable deaths,” as part of the state’s COVID-19 data.

According to the Arkansas Dept. of Health website, a “probable death” is defined as someone who either had a positive antigen test for COVID-19 or had COVID-19 listed on the death certificate without lab evidence.

Kenny Hobbs is the Sebastian County Coroner.

“As of right now, if someone tests positive – even if they may not have symptoms, because they’re testing positive we have to put COVID-19 on the death certificate,” Hobbs said.

During the Q&A, Hobbs listed the most common underlying conditions found in victims as well as explains the difference between “cause of death” and “contributing cause” reported on death certificates and how the data affects the state’s COVID-19 death toll.

Hobbs also weighed in on probable deaths being reported. He said he hasn’t reported a probable death in Sebastian County.

“As a coroner in the field we don’t have any X-Ray machines, we don’t have anything that we can say yeah, sure enough they had lung problems,” Hobbs said. “We go into a house and we do the same thing as if you go into a nursing home or hospital, we ask the same questions: Has this person had any symptoms? Has this person had anything to indicate the possibility of COVID-19?”

Hobbs also shared personal experiences reporting COVID-19 deaths including one victim who’s health rapidly declined before their test results were available.

“He had a lot of underlying conditions,” Hobbs said. “On the other hand, his respiratory problems seem to come on pretty quickly so in a case like his, I would have to think there is a very good possibility COVID-19 did act on him and it may have actually been the one that caused him to have major problems.”

The victim’s results later came back as positive.

If you’d like to look into death reporting even further, the Centers for Disease Control has released its own guidance for reporting COVID-19 deaths to educate the public and be used as a resource for coroners.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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