Number of Deaths Reported To SDPD in March Reach Five-Year High

Medical Examiner's Office says deceased who had symptoms related to COVID-19 are getting tested

As hospital workers in San Diego county braced for a wave of coronavirus patients into local hospital beds, the San Diego Police Department was busy dispatching officers to check on a significantly higher number of reported deaths phoned into police dispatch.

NBC 7 Investigates found that March 2020 saw the highest number of reported deaths over the course of the past five years in the city of San Diego. In March, police officers took reports on 111 deaths, nearly double the amount investigated during the prior month, and more than the number of deaths in a single month that were investigated over the course of the past five years.

The cause of the deaths are not listed but the rise in deaths coincides occurred in the same month that county health officials say COVID-19 arrived in San Diego County..

A spokesperson for the San Diego county’s Health and Human Services Department says that the county has not received any indication that the increase in deaths is related to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Currently, according to the spokesperson, the county is only aware of two cases where a person died from the coronavirus at their homes. Neither of those occurred inside the city of San Diego.

In regards to how the county is tracking any cases where COVID-19 patients die at home, Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of epidemiology and immunization services for San Diego County, said the county is working with the medical examiner’s office to determine whether deaths outside of the hospital and those who did not get tested, would conduct post-mortem checks for coronavirus.

“Those cases take a little bit of time to investigate,” said Dr. McDonald..”(There are) many things that can cause deaths at home, and this is just one of them.”

Added Dr. McDonald, “We may learn that there are other conditions that are exacerbated by, or made worse by COVID-19, and it may at first appear that the death is associated with an underlying condition, but really could be caused by the coronavirus.” 

A spokesperson for the San Diego County Medical Examiner said investigators are now asking all reporting parties whether the decedent had displayed any symptoms of COVID-19. The medical examiner is then conducting tests on those who had symptoms as well as on those whose lungs show signs of the virus.  

“If during the course of an autopsy we find features of the lungs consistent with Covid or other pneumonia, even though there was no history, we will also do the testing,” said the spokesperson. “We typically receive results within the next day or so.”

As for whether some COVID-19 related deaths have gone undetected, the Medical Examiner’s office said it is possible.  

“Yes, it is possible that the Medical Examiner is not diagnosing some deaths where the decedent is COVID-positive. Situations where this could happen include that the individual had no known history of COVID symptoms, or that their physician attributed the Cause of Death to one of their other health problems.”

In regards to whether the Medical Examiner has seen an increase of in-home deaths, the spokesperson said those numbers show a slight decrease from February, when 344 people died in their homes, to March when 321 died.

But some hospice workers in San Diego County suspect that some patients who are under hospice care may have the virus and as of now there is no way of knowing.

“I have a patient whose caregiver, or husband is coughing, so we don’t know, does he have COVID or, you know the patient isn’t coughing, but the caregiver is and its a dry cough," said Myrna Rodillon, who works for the Hospice of San Diego.

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