Coronavirus is suspected in the deaths of six more people in Minnesota whose deaths have not been added to the official state totals.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) confirmed to Bring Me The News that since the COVID-19 outbreak started, its Office of Vital Records has received six cases where coronavirus is "suspected" or "probable" in a person's death.
Medical certifiers who fill out death certificates – such as doctors, registered nurses, physicians assistants, medical examiners, and coroners – have been advised as of last week by the federal CDC that they can list COVID-19 as a "probable" or "possible" cause of a patient's death "if the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty."
This is a common practice in the event of major disasters, such as hurricanes, and comes amid a wider shortage of testing kits that means some coronavirus deaths may go unconfirmed.
However, these cases are not added to the official Minnesota tally, which currently stands at 57 deaths, all of which were in patients with confirmed cases (ie. a positive test) of COVID-19 and whose deaths had been attributed to the virus.
As for the six "suspected" or "probable" deaths caused by COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health Office of Vital Records is in the process of following up with the medical certifiers.
MDH staff will check to see whether the deceased patient had received a test for COVID-19 – for example one for which the results are still pending. The health department will work with medical certifiers to update the records if there was a positive test and coronavirus was confirmed as causing their death.
Deaths in which COVID-19 remain suspected because a test hasn't been carried out are classified differently, and while it can inform data about the wider spread of the disease and its impact, they are not added to Minnesota's death count.
That means the requirements for a confirmed COVID-19 death in Minnesota are stricter than they are for influenza.
The MDH Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division told BMTN that the weekly death figures reported during the influenza season in Minnesota will include flu deaths even when the patients haven't been tested.
The flu deaths include cases where a medical certifier has listed "Influenza" as a cause of death "with or without flu testing," as well as deaths associated with an "influenza-like illness outbreak" in a long-term care facility, again with or without flu testing.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said on Thursday that there were also potential COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota that happened before testing was available in the state.
But while these patients had symptoms similar to the coronavirus, "an infection was never confirmed and the person who died may already be buried or cremated and not available for further testing."
Again, these cases are not added to the official death count.