Dr. Lee Norman talks death certificate importance

Published: Sep. 30, 2020 at 2:12 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Dr. Lee Norman is hoping to assuage the worries of Kansans by explaining how death certificates play their part in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says Kansas is still among the highest in the nation for new cases of COVID-19, percent positives and deaths due to the virus. He said Kansas is in the red zone for new cases with an average of 165 cases per 100,000 residents, which is the highest in the nation. He said Kansas is in the orange zone for both percent positives and deaths.

He said, “The same physicians that are taking care of you when you’re alive, are the same ones that are certifying death and the cause of death when you die and I think if you trust a physician to take care of you when you’re alive, you should trust the physicians fill out the paperwork right.”

According to Dr. Norman, the death certificates of a patient are the most telling piece of information in the battle against COVID-19. He said when the KDHE receives a death certificate from local physicians, those whose causes of death are determined to be due to COVID-19 are put into EpiTrax which tracks the number of cases of the virus in Kansas.

Dr. Norman said he wants to assure Kansans that death certificates are not filled out by the KDHE, in fact, death certificates are filled out by physicians. He said a medical certifier, which could be a physician or a coroner, confirms the death and fills out the certificate.

“In the mind of a physician, saying they have COPD and hypertension. Stable as a rock, haven’t had any problem with that, they get a new acute infection, COPD, and then they die of a respiratory failure -- that’s COVID-19 death,” he said. “So, there can be a little bit of subjectivity to it but really, it’s typically not very hard.”

According to Dr. Norman, the death certificate lists immediate causes of death, conditions to the cause of death and the underlying cause of death. He said the underlying cause of death is what initiated the chain of events to the person’s death.

Dr. Norman said for a patient with pneumonia, the cause of death would be classified as adenocarcinoma. He said for a patient with COVID-19, the cause is usually listed as acute respiratory acidosis or failure.

According to the KDHE Secretary, the cause of death is the only factor that goes into determining whether or not a person has died of COVID-19 on his end and is entered in EpiTrax.

“Were they not to have had COVID-19, they would have not died of that other immediate cause of death. That’s really the justification for it," he said.

For more information on COVID-19 in Kansas, click here.

Sep. 30, 2:12 p.m.

Dr. Lee Norman to hold COVID-19 news conference

Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is expected to update Kansas on the state of its COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says Dr. Lee Norman will be holding a news conference at 4 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss COVID-19 in Kansas.

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