Bill to improve COVID-19 reporting heads to governor’s desk

HARRISBURG –A measure that would improve reporting of COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania is on the Governor’s desk to be signed into law, according to Senator Judy Ward (R-30).

Senate Bill 1164, sponsored by Ward, would ensure county coroners are notified of all suspected deaths in their jurisdiction caused by this virus and other contagious diseases that constitute a health emergency.

“I introduced this bill because the coroner’s in my legislative district reached out to me over concern of discrepancies in numbers of COVID deaths reported by the Department of Health (DOH) and deaths they as coroners were aware of in their county,” Ward said in a letter to Wolf.

State law requires county coroners to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding any death – including those due to contagious disease – except in cases of death by natural causes. However, many coroners are not being notified of suspected COVID-19 deaths in hospitals, nursing homes and other care facilities because the Department of Health is interpreting the law differently.

“It was surprising to them when they saw these deaths reported in their county when they had not been aware of these deaths. I found this very concerning as did they, because we cannot have two different sets of numbers of deaths,” Ward wrote to Wolf. “These kind of reporting discrepancies throw a wrench into every community’s efforts to plan for this emergency or future ones.”

Ward said coroners have also experienced problems with accessing information on reported deaths ofCOVID-19 or death certificates from DOH in connection with their official duties unless they paid a fee or get a subpoena.

“Coroners should be able to access the final death certificate for all persons who die in the county,” she said.

Ward’s bill would improve transparency and eliminate inconsistencies in how COVID-19 deaths are being reported.

“We need to make sure we have an accurate count of cases and deaths to support every community’s efforts to plan for emergencies. Any discrepancies could have a serious impact on first responders and negatively impact the public’s confidence in public health officials,” Ward said. “All COVID-19 deaths should be reported to the coroners and medical examiners not only to ensure accurate reporting of the deaths, but also for the safety and wellbeing of our communities.”