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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

VERIFY: Can health departments force the diagnosis in COVID-19 death reporting?

DeSoto County coroner Joshua Pounders is claiming the health department won't allow him to mark COVID-19 as a contributing factor.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — A Facebook post by a DeSoto County coroner is grabbing a lot of attention. He claims coroners are being told by the state health department to diagnose COVID-19 deaths in a way that stokes peoples fears.   

DeSoto County Coroner Joshua Pounders made a lengthy post where he stated COVID-19 death reporting, as mandated by the health department, leads to unnecessary fear.    

His claim was shared last week on Facebook. He says of the 144 deaths he certified in DeSoto County in July, 24 were reported as COVID-19 deaths. But he says the state health department forces him to include patients who tested positive for COVID-19, but were also in hospice care with a terminal diagnosis. 

Pounders told Local 24 News over the phone, “the department of health will not, has not as of yet, let us list COVID-19 as a contributing factor on a death certificate.”  

Our sources to verify Pounders claim? The Mississippi State Department of Health, two other Mississippi county coroners, and the CDC.

The health department told us, “it is ridiculous to suggest that the MSDH tells coroners what to do regarding their diagnosis of death." The coroners of Panola and Marshall counties agreed, saying if COVID-19 is only a contributing factor, that's how they report it. Also Bob Anderson with the Centers for Disease Control said the same thing.

“We’re not telling certifiers that they have to designate COVID-19 as the underlying cause or that they can’t report it as a contributing factor, they can do that,” said Anderson, the Chief of Mortality Statistics.

Anderson said even if the health department disagreed with a diagnosis, “The state or health department can’t come and just change the death certificate they would have to go back to the original certifier and convince that certifier that the certification was wrong.” 

So, we can verify DeSoto County Coroner Joshua Pounder's claim is false. No one is demanding he can't distinguish between when COVID-19 is a direct cause of death or a contributing factor.