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The uncertain consequences of coronavirus deaths being undercounted for lack of testing

Attorney Scott Pilutik wrestles with the news of the day, from a lawyerly perspective…

[Regarding this story: Staggering Surge Of NYers Dying In Their Homes Suggests City Is Undercounting Coronavirus Fatalities]

I’ve seen numerous TV interviews with hospital personnel saying that they’re not even bothering to administer tests if the symptoms are obvious enough, and just treating patients on the assumption that they have coronavirus. People are also being told to not show up to the hospital unless and until the symptoms are severe enough to warrant hospitalization. This approach, necessitated by exigency, is almost certainly leading to an undercount of diagnosed coronavirus cases and therefore deaths.

Being properly diagnosed will probably matter greatly, though it’s not immediately clear how just yet. But it’s easy enough to imagine insurance companies or the government denying coverage for coronavirus-related treatment that wasn’t diagnosed as such on the basis that it wasn’t diagnosed as such, or denying death benefits for that same failure to diagnose.


This could matter quite a bit if you’re uninsured, since the administration has promised to effectively act as a “single payer” (ha) for uninsured coronavirus patients treated in hospitals. Does the designation hinge on the diagnosis? Or will the federal government deem the hospital’s determination absent a diagnosis sufficient? They’ll save money if it’s the former, and therein lies the tension yet to be visited.

And cause of death can matter a great deal too in the context of death benefits, though it’s not worth speculating outward here just yet.

Regarding the situation here in New York, I’m seeing and hearing a lot of ambulances, even in this neighborhood, where many people fled to their summer homes weeks ago and most everyone else can work from home. These numbers comport with what I’m seeing.

New York City is presently averaging 200 at-home deaths a day, up from 20 normally. And the overwhelmed medical examiner isn’t determining that those deaths coronavirus-related, they’re labeling them “probable.” But in all likelihood there are presently 180 people dying each day from what is almost certainly coronavirus. That’s 30 percent higher than our present confirmed daily figure on approx 600. Extrapolate that and NYC’s present death toll of 3202 goes to 4162.

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