Johnson County medical examiner explains COVID death count revisions

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OLATHE, Kan. — Some have been suspicious about the number of reported deaths tied to the coronavirus in Johnson County, as official numbers in recent weeks have been revised, removing some deaths from the COVID-19 death count.

Johnson County’s chief medical examiner said anything that plays a role in a person’s death should be listed on the death certificate.

In one case Dr. Diane Peterson cited, a woman who had COVID-19 for about a week died a short time later after developing a blood clot in her lung.

Peterson said the blood clot killed her, so that was changed to be her cause of death, with COVID-19 listed as a contributing factor.

The health department said it’s all about making sure records are as accurate as possible.

“There are people who have died due to COVID and their family members maybe don’t believe that it was due to COVID,” explained Elizabeth Holzschuh, the county’s epidemiology director. “Whether it’s about some beliefs about COVID not being a thing, whatever it might be. And those death certificates do reflect that it was COVID-19, because again that’s independent of family members’ wishes. And based on science and information available at the time of death.”

A false statement spread on social media often claims that if someone dies in a traffic crash, COVID-19 will be listed on their death certificate.

Peterson said in Johnson County there have been no traffic crashes where COVID-19 has been listed on the victims’ death certificates.

Back on Christmas Day, Peterson said Johnson County had 10 to 12 deaths linked to the pandemic.

The situation has changed dramatically since then, and the county hopes it will stay that way.

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