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Area coroners reflect on COVID's impact

A virus protein.
Most people who die of COVID are under a doctor's care and those cases are not investigated by coroners.

As the COVID pandemic heads into a third year, area coroners say the virus has influenced death rates in the region.

Effingham county coroner Kim Rhodes said some families have expressed concern over COVID being listed on death certificates.

"I've had people [say], I don't want COVID anywhere on the death certificate, and the other one said now that they're getting some reimbursement for COVID related death, then they want it on there," Rhodes said. "My policy at the coroner's office here is, if they've had COVID, and they've been tested for COVID and they have a positive result for COVID, it will go in underlying conditions on a death certificate."

Rhodes said her office tracks every death that happens in Effingham county and has seen an increase in deaths, with 33 COVID deaths in fiscal year 2020 and 75 in 2021.

But Jefferson county coroner Roger Hayse said the pandemic hasn't changed his daily work much, because coroners don't investigate deaths where the person was being cared for by a doctor. He said most of the people who die of COVID have their death certificate signed by their physician, not the coroner's office.

"Most of the cases that I am aware of have happened either in a hospital setting because the patient's been there with COVID pneumonia for more than the time period that makes it a coroner's case, so the doctor signs off on it," Hayes said. "[Or} some of the cases early on died at the nursing home facilities, and again they was being treated by a doctor so the doctor signed off on those death certificates."

The cause of death and contributing factors listed on a death certificate are based on the person's medical history.

Steph Whiteside is a Digital Media News Specialist with WSIU radio in Carbondale, Ill. She previously worked as a general reporter at AJ+ and Current TV.
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