SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - Nearly 80,000 thousand Americans died from COVID-19. At least 3,000 of those deaths are from Illinois, but it is believed that the number is skewed.
On April 19, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, with the Illinois Department of Public Health, answered a question about COVID-19 related deaths with underlying health conditions.
"Technically, if you died of a clear alternate cause, but you had COVID-19 at the same time - it's still listed as a COVD death," Dr. Ezike answered. "Everyone who's listed as a COVID death doesn't mean that was the cause of death, but they had COVID at the time."
Dr. Ezike's response was speculated as if the number of people who died from COVID-19 are exaggerated. Soon after, there was a notion that hospitals could get more money if it had more positive cases of the virus. On April 27, Governor JB Pritzker addressed it the rumor and said he's 'not heard of it'.
"It may be something to do with the CARES Act, but that's not something that we're doing," said Pritzker.
Dr. Ezike's answer also became a talking point for politicians and county board members to reopen the state.
On May 1, WAND News reached out to Ray Koonce, a member of the Christian County board. He recently sued the Governor over the extended stay-at-home order. When asked if he believes Dr. Ezike, he frankly responded "No I do not."
Representative Darren Bailey also sued the Governor. He told WAND News the governor is not being factual.
"You could be driving home and be in an auto accident and die from that," Bailey said. "And if you had COVID-19 in your system, that death gets labeled as COVID."
In Central Illinois, Macon and Sangamon County have more than a dozen confirmed COVID-19 related deaths. Jim Allmon, the Sangamon County Coroner who signs death certificates, keeps track of the data. In the state of Illinois, there are two types of death certificates.
"First there is the coroner's medical examiner's certificate that the coroner or medical examiner fill out." Allmon said. "The other type of death certificate is the medical death certificate that a physician fills out."
Allmon said COVID-19 related deaths are placed on a medical death certificate and 'the manner of death is natural.' The coroner said an example would be if a person died from pneumonia, but they tested positive for the novel coronavirus. COVID-19 would be the contributing factor to a person's passing.
"If COVID-19 does not contribute to someone's death, I don't think it should be placed on a death certificate."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an example of how most death certificates would be filled out. Allmon said this is a common practice without COVID-19.
"If someone passes away from a medical condition, by having a physician take care of them and the manner of death is natural. Then that death will be placed on a medical death certificate."
The CDC provided guidelines on how to record COVID-19 deaths. One method of verifying is to report the person's conditions that led up to their demise. Any information including: medical history and lab results would be used to report the cause of death. Dr. Ezike said described the case definition as very simplistic.
"It means at the time of death, it was a COVID positive diagnosis," she added.
Frankly, drying from a car crash with COVID-19 is not a COVID related death; nor should it be labeled as one. Allmon told WAND News the idea of padded death numbers is a misunderstanding.
"The coroner's offices that I've spoken to and the Coroner's office of Sangamon County will not put COVID-19 as a contributing factor on somebody's death certificate if it did not contribute to their death."
The Illinois Department of Public Health sent WAND News a statement about COVID-19 related deaths.
"The number of COVID-19 deaths IDPH reports represents individuals with laboratory confirmed COVID-19 at the time of death. IDPH also tracks those where the cause of death on the death certificate is listed as COVID-19. However, we are currently only reporting laboratory-confirmed cases. If the death of someone who has laboratory confirmed COVID-19 is completely unrelated – e.g. car crash, fire, homicide, that death is not included in the case count. We do not have a breakdown of that number."