At the epicenter of U.S. coronavirus cases, a massive surge of New Yorkers is dying at home. A discrepancy in the city’s reporting process suggests New York City is undercounting COVID-19 deaths.
The medical examiner’s office is not testing dead bodies for COVID-19, The Gothamist reported. Instead, they’re referring suspected cases to the city’s health department as “probable.” This means that the official death count in NYC is likely far lower than the real coronavirus death toll, according to public health officials.
The counting discrepancy means victims without access to testing are not being counted. There’s a good chance that undiagnosed coronavirus deaths are being treated as cardiac arrests and won’t be included in the official coronavirus death toll.
The New York Fire Department, which operates emergency medical services, confirmed a huge rise in cardiac arrest deaths at home before first responders can transport a person to the hospital.
Between March 20 and April 5, the fire department recorded almost 2,200 such home deaths — about 130 a day — versus 450 for the whole period in 2019, according to data it provided on Friday.
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That’s almost a 400 percent increase of cardiac arrest home deaths, according to the FDNY, NBC New York reported.
In just the first five days of April, more than 70 percent of cardiac arrest calls ended in a pronunciation of death every day. Some days, the numbers showed a tenfold increase from the previous year. “Everyone acknowledges there’s only one likely cause,” according to NBC.
“It’s just horrendous. The numbers speak for themselves. This used to be a very, very rare thing in New York City and suddenly it’s jumped up. The only thing that’s changed is COVID- 19,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters.
Now the city wants to change the way it’s counting the dead so that more people are included in the official COVID-19 total, even if they were not tested for the virus.
“After WNYC/Gothamist’s reporting, the city has reversed its position and will count probable COVID-19 deaths that occur at home,” The Gothamist reported.
Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and professor at Yale Medical School, said he is concerned that patients with cardiac conditions are not getting medical attention because they’re scared of being admitted to hospital and being infected with coronavirus.
“The extent of damage from the virus may be greater than we anticipated, and the indirect effects of the virus may be greater than we anticipated,” Krumholz said in a New York Times interview. “Meaning that the overall toll is much greater.”
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That means there are more deaths among people with heart attacks, strokes or other conditions who might have survived in normal circumstances.
In just the two weeks leading to April 10, almost 7,000 people died in NYC — more than three times the deaths normally expected this time of year.
More than 20 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 cases and more than a third of its deaths have been in NYC. As the crisis got worse, paramedics had new rules not to bring cardiac arrest patients to hospitals if they could not be revived in the field.
People have been asked to call 911 only for urgent emergencies such as cardiac arrest, heavy bleeding or inability to breathe.
Signs of a heart attack include shortness of breath, pressure, squeezing, and fullness or pain in the center of the chest that comes on quickly and won’t go away with rest, according to Michigan Health.