Doctors discuss how physicians determine on your death certificate if you died of only COVID-19

Posted at 6:33 PM, Oct 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-02 21:33:33-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — New data released by the Kern County Public Health Department this week outlines just how many COVID-19 patients have died from underlying health factors.

On Friday 23ABC took a closer look at the data and spoke to a local doctor from Adventist Health Bakersfield who broke down why certain medical conditions pose a greater risk.

Based on this new data, people with hypertension and diabetes in Kern County have shown to be at a greater risk of dying of COVID-19, and Adventist Health Bakersfield's Dr. Johnathan Dario said this is consistent with what he is seeing in the hospital.

“People who typically have hypertension or diabetes typically they are on the obese end or overweight so when you do have something like this like the coronavirus which is a respiratory forward infection and then you do end up being sick because of it. It would be one of those factors that would be affecting the way you breathe and make it harder for you to open your airways more,” Dr. Dario said.

Dr. Dario said hypertension can cause organ damage, strokes, and more even without the presence of COVID-19 in the body. He also said diabetic patients under stress from the COVID-19 virus can be more at risk for blood clots that cause other complications.

"[They] can do worse when they have diabetes because when you are stressed and you are a diabetic your sugars typically go out of whack and you’re likely to develop something we call acidosis, which can also affect your breathing abilities."

Dr. Dario explained that complications that come with both hypertension and diabetes can make your fight with COVID-19 much longer, more strenuous and the odds of surviving are stacked against you.

The newly released data from Kern Public Health shows the majority of patients who died from COVID-19 had either hypertension or diabetic medical conditions and were 65 and over. The data also shows 12 people in Kern County have died of COVID-19 alone, without any underlying medical conditions.

However, Dr. Dario said it’s all up to the physician examining the deceased person to determine their primary cause of death and put it on the death certificate. He also said that the number 12 may not be entirely indicative of what's actually happening in our community.

“It’s hard to just use death certificate data or reported data as this is the only cause because they could still actually have underlying conditions those 12 or they could be completely healthy people but they just might not be reported in that portion of that certificate."

This is also because there are certain respiratory effects from COVID-19 that may lead to other health issues, according to Dr. Dario.

“It's not necessarily that maybe that physician doesn’t think it is a causative factor of their death, it’s just something that’s chronic for them.”

The Kern County Public Health Department told 23ABC News that they will not be updating the new section on the dashboard that includes the ages of those who have died from COVID-19 on a daily basis. Public Health officials said that this information takes time to gather and once they have all of the details they will update the dashboard accordingly.

23ABC News also reached out to the Kern County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop to see if he still believes that the county should be shut down, considering that we now know that only 12 people in the county have died of COVID-19 alone and he did not respond.