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Utah medical examiner addresses delayed COVID-19 death numbers

Posted at 9:38 PM, Oct 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-02 23:40:02-04

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — On Friday, Utah recorded its single highest daily increase in reported COVID-19 deaths, but the number doesn’t tell the whole story.

Of the 15 new deaths reported, two occurred in August, two occurred in July, and 11 happened within the last 10 days (eight of those within the last three days).

“Most people don’t die, thankfully, but those that do, there's generally a lag time of 2-6 weeks or more sometimes before they succumb to the illness, so all of those things kind of play into ... this big number today," Utah's chief medical examiner Dr. Erik Christensen told FOX 13.

The largest daily death count related to COVID-19 still remains at nine on July 23 when the state was seeing a large increase in daily mortality.

“That tapered off a lot through August… But I do have concern that we could get back to those numbers,” Christensen said. “Deaths that are reported all along have been somewhat of a lagging indicator of what's going on.”

Based off of increased cases, Utah could be looking at a spike in deaths on the horizon.

The medical examiner's office has a lot of work to do right now with all of these cases, especially the approximately 8 percent that they have to do a full autopsy and determine a cause of death.

“Trying to sort out which of all the factors potentially could have killed them did in fact kill them, and really it's a question of not 'Why did they die?' but 'Why did they die today?'” Christensen said. “We have 10 medical examiners in the office… We have seven full-time investigators… They are spending a lot of time these days looking at records and history and trying to track down what happened to these folks.”

Christensen says he has never seen anything like this before, and that now more than ever, Utahns should be wearing masks.