KIRAN: Why the discrepancy between LDH, parish coroners on number of coronavirus deaths?

Updated: Apr. 3, 2020 at 5:53 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Accurate and up-to-date numbers are how state and local leaders know the true sense of what coronavirus looks like in our communities, and even how to respond to it. But what caught the eye of the 9News Investigators is why there appears to be a discrepancy between what the state is reporting compared to the parish coroners when it comes to COVID-19 deaths.

“We have a total of seven confirmed positives, and we suspect the possibility of a couple of more,” said West Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office Chief Investigator Yancy Guerin.

It’s something the 9News Investigators have been tracking daily: the number of people who are dying due to the coronavirus and underlying conditions in the local parishes. The numbers released by the Louisiana Deptartment of Health (LDH) are significantly lower than what the parish coroners are reporting, specifically for East and West Baton Rouge parishes. In fact, in the case of West Baton Rouge Parish, LDH has been reporting one COVID-19 death for nearly two weeks, that is until Friday, April 3. Guerin, however, says it was a total of three last weekend, six on April 2, and now it’s up to seven. The state still shows three.

There have been some discrepancies between LDH's numbers and those of parish coroners when it...
There have been some discrepancies between LDH's numbers and those of parish coroners when it comes to COVID-19 deaths.(WAFB)

“Actually, you brought that to my attention and I did not know that prior to you mentioning it,” said Guerin.

“Their numbers are always going to be slightly behind coroners’ numbers because ours are happening instantaneously on the front end and they are collecting it on the back end,” said East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark.

The state is collecting that information through a system called the Louisiana Electronic Event Registration System (LEERS).

ONE-STOP-SHOP: Everything you need to know related to Baton Rouge area impact of COVID-19

“Through the LEERS system, that’s our online system for people to put in vital information like a death or a birth, we have a section now where it specifically allows coroners to denote that the death is COVID related. That information comes into us. We share that with our epidemiology team tracking the cases of deaths that you see on our dashboard,” said LDH’s Dr. Alex Billioux.

But the 9News Investigators learned some coroners wait until they have a death certificate to mark it into that system.

After someone dies, their family goes to a funeral home. That’s where a death certificate comes from. That information is then put into LEERS.

But due to the coronavirus, many funerals are on hold, meaning no death certificates.

“That is the process in place, but I know it is a COVID death as soon as I have processed it,” said Dr. Clark.

That explains the discrepancy.

“Our lag should be, from the point that information hits the system, about maybe 24 hours at most before we report it. But what I do find concerning is that there are cases where we do have more than a 24-hour period,” said Dr. Billioux.

West Baton Rouge Parish is an example of where there’s a more than 24-hour lag; the numbers haven’t matched up for nearly two weeks. But that could also come down to where coroners are reporting their results. WBR reports it to their local office of homeland security and emergency preparedness.

“We immediately report that information to the state registrar, who is the office of vital statistics, and so the state finds out immediately,” said Dr. Clark.

KIRAN: Were you really ever given any clear guidance as to who all it needs to be reported to?

GUERIN: It could have been something I overlooked in an email. It might be my fault. I’m not going to deny it.

Since the 9News Investigators started digging into this, we learned that LEERS representatives have now told coroners they do not need to wait for a death certificate before they mark a COVID-related death. They added they’re trying to get the word out to all coroners. That should hopefully cut down on the discrepancies. Meanwhile, the LDH secretary added they would be contacting East and West Baton Rouge parishes as soon as possible to make sure their numbers are reported accurately.

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