Officials break down how COVID deaths are counted

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Most people dying from COVID-19 have underlying health conditions, and health officials are giving a better idea of how those COVID-related deaths are counted.

The director of UNM’s Center for Surgical Critical Care said the population percentage of COVID deaths has stayed consistent since the spring.

But, as officials have said, people with pre-existing health conditions are at a higher risk of death.

“When COVID deaths are labeled, they’re not labeled a COVID death just because you test positive,” Dr. Jon Marinaro stated. “You are dying of COVID of the disease, whether it’s affected your heart as it does, or it’s affected your lungs, or it’s affected your brain or other organ systems.”

Just last week, the state’s top doctor said that in 89% of nearly 800 deaths from the state’s data, COVID is the first diagnosis on the death certificate.

“When you do a death certificate, you put cause of death, and then you may put associated factors,” Marinaro added. “If the person had diabetes or if the person had heart disease as an underlying problem, then they would be COVID death, plus those other things.”

In other cases, diseases like Cardiovascular Disease, Alzheimer’s or Dementia, for example, were the primary causes of death. Coronavirus was listed as a contributing factor.

The Department of Health website states a COVID-related death takes into account a documented positive test, rapid test, or antigen test, and when a death certificate lists COVID as the cause or significant condition contributing to the death. New Mexico also only includes natural deaths in the state’s total numbers, and not injury deaths – like a car crash – among confirmed COVID deaths.

Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase at the governor’s latest press conference Thursday said the state relies on the diagnoses from physicians.

“Cases that go to the Office of the Medical Examiner, the state does not interpret this data in any way. We take this truth, what local physicians complete these death certificates – the doctors who are providing care for the patients at the time and other healthcare professionals – the diagnosis they give us,” Dr. Scrase explained. “These are diagnoses coming out of each NM community where each death occurs.”

Officials in the daily COVID case reports will sometimes point out a small fraction of the deaths come from people without an underlying health condition. The Human Services Department said that means there were no known underlying conditions prior to those deaths. Officials added that autopsies are not required to determine a COVID-19 death.

In a statement, OMI said the following: “The Office of the Medical Investigator handles every investigation on a case by case basis. Determinations of cause and manner of death are made based on the circumstances of that individual case and factors. Underlying health conditions and comorbidities that contributed to death are listed to present a full health picture of the decedent at time of death.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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