New York City officials will begin to count suspected COVID-19 deaths of people who die at home following a WNYC/Gothamist report revealing a staggering number of such deaths that were not included in the official tally.
In a statement, Stephanie Buhle, a spokeswoman for New York City’s Health Department, said the city would no longer report only those cases that were confirmed by a laboratory test.
“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) and the NYC Health Department are working together to include into their reports deaths that may be linked to COVID but not lab confirmed that occur at home,” she said.
She didn’t say when the city would begin reporting suspected deaths along with the overall count. But the new protocol is likely to add thousands to the toll.
The announcement comes as New York City saw the largest single day of deaths so far from the COVID-19 pandemic — 727 people passed away in a 24-hour period.
But even that number failed to include many of the cases in which first responders encountered someone who had already died at home or other non-hospital settings. That happened 280 times on Monday, according to data from the Fire Department.
While not all of those deaths are necessarily caused by COVID-19, it’s a staggering increase over the average 25 home deaths the city usually saw on any given day before the pandemic swept the five boroughs.
Over the last two weeks, FDNY officials said 2,192 New York City residents died in their homes, compared to 453 during the same time period last year. On Tuesday evening, the city reported 3,544 people have died of coronavirus, as confirmed by lab tests.
Earlier in the day, Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged that the vast majority of deaths taking place at home were likely also due to the virus, meaning the death toll could be as much as 70 percent higher than currently reported figures.
“We do want to know the truth about every death at home, but it’s safe to assume that the vast majority are coronavirus related,” he said. “That makes it even more sober, the sense of how many people we are losing.”
An FDNY paramedic who asked his name not be used because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters said he’s watched a dramatic shift over the past three weeks. First, he was called to attend to people with mild symptoms and anxiety about being sick; the second week, it was critically ill patients who were rushed to the hospital.
“This week it went from critical patients, to just cardiac arrests all over the place,” he said. “We get there and the family’s telling us, ‘We went to the hospital five days ago and they discharged us’ or ‘We stayed home. We called our doctor. We called 311, a tele-doc gave us a prescription for a Z-pack this morning.’ And now they’re dying.”
The paramedic called the situation demoralizing. He spoke to WNYC/Gothamist while waiting for police officers to respond to the scene of one home death in Brooklyn on Tuesday morning.
“What we’re seeing now is people literally dropping dead at home” he said. “Nothing we do helps.”