New York City Backdates Thousands of Presumed COVID-19 Deaths

April 15, 2020 Updated: April 15, 2020

New York City included thousands of deaths, some of which happened weeks ago, in its updated COVID-19 death count on Tuesday.

The newly counted deaths are presumed to be caused by COVID-19 because doctors were confident enough to list the disease or “an equivalent” on the patients’ death certificates despite the diagnosis not being confirmed by laboratory tests.

Officials added 3,778 “probable” deaths to the COVID-19 count (pdf), taking a number that would have been 6,589 to over 10,000.

The shift came after officials said there were hundreds of people dying at home every day in recent weeks.

Most of the newly counted deaths happened in emergency rooms or hospitals, while another 825 took place at home and 673 transpired at nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or hospices.

“We thought it was very important to portray this larger reality as more and more information was coming in,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

“We want to make sure that every New Yorker is counted that has been taken from this vicious virus,” added Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a food shelf organized by the Campaign Against Hunger in Brooklyn, New York, on April 14, 2020. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)

New York state officials reported 671 new deaths on April 14, taking the statewide count to 10,834. New York City’s revised death toll is now near that total.

New York City’s Health Department said it will now count any fatalities deemed as likely being caused by COVID-19 as a death caused by the new disease, which is caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus. A “probable” virus death is defined by the department as a victim “who had no known positive laboratory test for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) but the death certificate lists as a cause of death ‘COVID-19’ or an equivalent.”

SARS-CoV-2 is the technical name for the CCP virus.

“As new information becomes available, some deaths previously classified as probable may be reclassified as laboratory-confirmed,” according to the department.

The deaths were backdated to March 11, the date of the first confirmed death from the CCP virus in the city, officials said.

“While these data reflect the tragic impact that the virus has had on our city, they will also help us to determine the scale and scope of the epidemic and guide us in our decisions,” Barbot said in a statement.

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Medical workers assist patients outside a special CCP virus intake area at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York City, on April 14, 2020. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Before the revised death toll, daily deaths appeared to have started dropping in the city in recent days, mirroring a trend across the state.

Another 8,184 deaths took place in the city between March 11 and April 13 that aren’t linked to COVID-19. The numbers are only current through April 13 because of a lag in reporting due to the pandemic.

Most of the deaths in the city confirmed as being caused by the new disease were among those 75 or older. The vast majority of victims across all age groups had underlying conditions, including diabetes, lung disease, cancer, heart disease, asthma, or kidney disease.

The CCP virus causes symptoms similar to the flu. Many patients get better through rest and symptom treatment at home but some require hospital care, which can include assistance breathing. Some patients die after spending weeks on ventilators.

There is no vaccine or known treatment for the virus, though some existing and experimental drugs, like remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine, have shown effectiveness in treating hospitalized patients and are being studied in clinical trials.

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