Missouri county coroner says he is removing COVID-19 from death certificates if families ask

Brain Hayes (pictured), Macon County Coroner, admitted to the KC Star that he was removing COVID-19 from death certificates. The coroner, an elected Republican, was arrested for DWI in 2018. Pictured: Hayes’ mugshot from the arrest

A small Missouri county may be undercounting COVID-19 cases because the virus is being removed as cause of death from some death certificates. 

Brian Hayes, coroner of Macon County – which is home to 15,000 residents – told the Kansas City Star that he has excluded coronavirus at the request of family members.  

The Kansas City Star reports that up to a dozen potential COVID-19 deaths have been undercounted by Hayes and that the death toll of 19 could actually be 30 or higher.

While small, Macon County plays into a larger ongoing issue in the way Missouri records COVID-19 deaths, which includes not counting any cases missing a positive PCR test in official death counts. 

Hayes, a Republican who was elected to his position, told the Star that he would replace the deaths on some certificates with pneumonia or another symptom of the virus instead of COVID itself.

The action is not illegal unless in the case of a criminal investigation, though it is frowned upon. 

However, he only did it it he could saw another major factor as playing a role in the person’s cause of death. 

‘A lot of families were upset. They didn’t want COVID on the death certificates,’ Hayes said.

‘I won’t lie for them. It’s gotta be true, but I do what pleases the family.’   

Deaths in Missouri may be undercounted across the state.

In total, the state has recorded 10,000 COVID deaths, thought the figure is likely even higher. 

A person who tests positive for COVID-19 via a rapid  antigen test, and never takes a PCR test – which takes days for results tp be returned – before they die, is not counted as a COVID-19 death by official totals.

Antigen tests account for around 25 percent of COVID-19 tests administered in the state, according to official data. 

Missouri has been criticized for this decision, for which it is among only a handful of states to do so. 

Cases in Missouri are trending downwards again after a massive surge of cases in June and July

Cases in Missouri are trending downwards again after a massive surge of cases in June and July

In general, Missouri coroners have had trouble properly recording deaths, with an analysis finding that nearly half of deaths in the state were misreported in 2017

Hayes said that families who asked him often were traumatized by the virus, and did not want to see the word ‘COVID’ on a death certificate. 

This is not the first time the coroner has been involved in controversy.

In 2018, Hayes was charged with misdemeanor driving while intoxicated after crashing his car in downtown Macon. 

No one was injured in the crash.

The coroner’s reveal comes as Missouri is recovering from a massive COVID-19 surge over the past few months.

Cases spiked from around 300 new infections per day in early June to more than 2,600 cases per day in late July.

Things are trending in the right direction now, though, as the average new cases per day has fallen to around 2,300, and will likely fall more in the coming days.  

Macon County stayed in the single digit daily case average throughout the surge, and has remained at that level since March.

Deaths may be being undercounted throughout the country.

An analysis by the University of Washington from May predicted the true death total in the United States at the time could be as high as 900,000.

As of now, 614,000 COVID-19 deaths have been officially recorded out of over 35 millions cases – both the highest totals in the world.

Some predict the country’s crisis is likely to get worse, with Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, projecting cases could get reach high as 200,000 per day in the coming weeks before declining.

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