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CityWatch: NYC trying to account for New Yorkers who may have died from undiagnosed coronavirus

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The number of New Yorkers dying at home has surged, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday, but unless they have received a positive diagnosis, their numbers are not yet being included in the official COVID-19 tally, even though it is believed that the virus may be responsible for the vast majority of their deaths.

“There’s no question in my mind, the driver of this huge uptick in deaths at home is COVID-19,” de Blasio said. “Some people are dying directly of it and some people are dying indirectly of it, but it is the tragic X factor here.”

Currently every person with a lab-confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis is counted in the number of fatalities whether they died at home or in a hospital, according to a statement from the city health department.

Meanwhile, the number of city residents dying at home each day has now reached 200, according to Gothamist, compared with a total of 20 to 25 each day before the pandemic. An untold number of them are not confirmed coronavirus cases, the publication said. 

The Office of Chief Medical Examiner could not provide data on the number of daily at-home deaths.

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The city said that it is now working to include into their reports at-home deaths that may be linked to COVID-19 but were not lab-confirmed.

COVID-19 fatalities might not be classified as such for a couple of reasons, according to Dr. Robyn Gershon, a professor of epidemiology at NYU School of Global Public Health.

A death “might be deemed as coronary or pneumonia, when, in fact, it may have been caused by this virus—all of the clinical presentations of this disease are still not that well delineated,” Gershon said in an email statement. “These cases would not even be autopsied,” and therefore not tested for COVID-19. 

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“Another way we can get underreporting is because the state does not have enough tests to give to their medical examiners for the remains that they do get, so they cannot test the decedent for COVID,” she said.

If someone dies from an unknown cause, then the medical examiner has to do an autopsy to ascertain the cause of death, and at that time they can take a sample to test for COVID-19, Gershon said.

In New York City, 87,725 people have tested positive for coronavirus and 4,778 of those have died as a result, according to the city’s department of health.

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“We are first and foremost focused on ensuring that every New Yorker who dies because of COVID-19 gets counted,” said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Thursday in the mayor’s news conference. “I think that as a city, it is part of the healing process to be able to grieve and mourn for all of those that have passed because of COVID-19. And to date, we have only been reporting on people who have had the test.”

An exact date for the inclusion of the data was not given.

“It may take months and maybe years before the true estimates of fatalities are reached,” Gershon said. “But that happens with every epidemic, and this is a pandemic, so the world-wide counts may be inaccurate. But at this point, it is too difficult to know exactly or to even estimate how many deaths are—and were—going under reported.”