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KDHE: Medical certifier relied on symptoms in classifying early COVID-related death

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)(Jae C. Hong | AP)
Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 2:27 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A local medical certifier amended a death certificate months later in classifying the death as related to COVID-19, a Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment spokesperson clarified Wednesday.

As 13 NEWS reported Tuesday, newly-updated health statistics put the Jan. 9, 2020 death of a person in Kansas as COVID-19-related. That would make it the first documented COVID-19 death in the U.S., happening a month earlier than previously believed. It is also two months earlier than what had been the first report COVID-related death in Kansas.

KDHE cited state law in initially declining to release any information about the person, including age, gender, or county of residence. Wednesday, KDHE spokesperson Matt Lara referred 13 NEWS to the Leavenworth Co. Health Dept. for further questions about the case.

Lara also said the local medical certifier amended the death certificate months after the death. He said the decision stemmed from the person’s symptoms being similar to other COVID-19 death symptoms.

“It is unclear—and seems unlikely given the early date of this death—that a COVID-19 test was administered to confirm the virus as the cause of death,” he told 13 NEWS.

13 NEWS has reached out to the Leavenworth Co. Health Dept. and Leavenworth Co. Medical Examiner’s Office to determine when the death classification changed. Lara said KDHE did not have that information.

In a statement Tuesday night, Lara said the certifier “did list COVID-19 as a cause or contributing cause of death on a January 2020 death certificate.” However, he did not respond to a request for clarification if the death certificate always stated that, or had been changed.

KDHE’s Tuesday statement also said the new death does not change their understanding of when confirmed COVID-19 was present in Kansas. Lara stood by that assertion Wednesday.

“KDHE does not make any determinations on cause or contributing factors to an individual’s death, and we don’t have the information to make that determination. However, the determination made in this case isn’t just an outlier, it conflicts with all of the data we have on COVID cases in Kansas and the region at the time of the individual’s death,” he said.

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