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County coroner in Missouri says he omits Covid-19 from some death certificates

The coroner, Brian Hayes, said he has excluded the virus from some certificates at the request of upset family members.
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A gurney sits in a hallway at Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, Mo., on Tuesday.Angus Mordant / Bloomberg via Getty Images

A coroner in Macon County, Missouri, said he has omitted Covid-19 from death certificates — a move that has contributed to a lower number of reported coronavirus fatalities in the small northern region.

The coroner, Brian Hayes, told the Brown Institute in a story reported for the Kansas City Star that he has excluded the virus from some certificates at the request of upset family members. Not being able to see loved ones in their final moments due to restrictions coupled with the reminder of how they died stamped on the death certificate was too much to bear for some people.

“A lot of families were upset," he said. "They didn’t want Covid on the death certificates. I won’t lie for them, it’s gotta be true, but I do what pleases the family.”

Hayes said he would comply only in instances when he could justify putting another major factor as the cause of death. According to the Star, he's excluded Covid-19 from at least a half-dozen death certificates.

The county health department's website lists a total of 19 deaths from the coronavirus. The Star reported the number would be upward of 30 if the omitted death certificates were included in the coronavirus fatalities.

A woman who answered the phone at the coroner's office said Hayes was not available for comment. The county health department did not immediately respond.

In May, a study from the University of Washington stated there was a significant undercount of Covid-19 deaths in the United States. The report estimated that the number of coronavirus fatalities in the country was about 57 percent higher than official figures.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a May appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the data from the study may have been a bit higher than what he expected but he had "no doubt" the country has been undercounting.

"What that tells us is something that we've known," he said. "You know, we're living through a historic pandemic, the likes of which we haven't seen in over a hundred years."