Medical examiner says office identified many COVID-19 deaths
Dr. James Gill, the state’s chief medical examiner, told Connecticut legislators Tuesday that his investigators have “identified many deaths” that should have been certified as COVID-19-related but were not, including nursing home and assisted living residents who died during the pandemic.
Gill said many of the cases were discovered during investigations of remains about to be cremated, a procedure the office often conducts to make sure a homicide has not occurred.
“During that cremation review process, we’ve identified many deaths that were COVID deaths that were not certified as COVID deaths,” Gill told members of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. “We went to funeral homes and swabbed people at funeral homes and identified COVID deaths through that mechanism.”
Gill said his office would take such steps when “respiratory failure” was listed as the cause of death.
“Well, is that caused by COVID-19, lung cancer, a drug overdose? We need to know what caused it, so we do further investigation,” Gill wrote in an email to The Associated Press following the committee’s hearing. “If we find out that the person lived in a nursing home and was not tested for COVID-19, we would go and do the testing.”
Gill said a clinician at the nursing home would certify the nursing home deaths.
While he doesn’t have an exact figure as to how many COVID-19 deaths have required further investigation, Gill said the number that his office has uncovered is a “very small part” of the more than 7,500 COVID-associated deaths in Connecticut. But Gill said it’s still important to properly identify whether someone died from COVID.
“Not only do we want to make sure that the death certificate is accurate but there are families, first responders, health aides, etc. who need to know if they may have been exposed to COVID,” he said. “So there is a larger public health issue at stake.”
Gill and his office recently presented details of their efforts to identify unrecognized COVID-19 deaths to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences at the group’s annual meeting. According to their study of 175 postmortem nasal swabs taken at funeral homes in Connecticut between March and October 2020, 110 had “target sequences” unique to the disease caused by the coronavirus. Of those 110 deaths, 47 were initially certified as non-COVID-19-related and 34 were initially certified as “suspected,” “exposure to,” “possible” or “rule out” COVID-19.
The issue of investigating COVID-19 deaths came up when Gill was discussing the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s budget challenges with state lawmakers. The agency has experienced a large increase in workload due to the pandemic, overdoses and homicides.
In other coronavirus-related news:
NEW CONNECTICUT RESIDENTS
Thousands of new residents have come to Connecticut during the coronavirus pandemic with workers in New York, Boston and elsewhere look to relocate as they work from home, the state’s economic development officials said.
More than 16,500 new residents moved into the state in 2020. That compares to a loss of 7,520 residents from Connecticut in 2019, the state Department of Economic and Community Development announced at a news conference Tuesday.
“People are rediscovering the Connecticut lifestyle a little bit and knowing what it means to have a little bit of extra space, maybe a little bit of a backyard,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “If you think this may not be the last time we ever have to quarantine, Connecticut’s not a bad place to be.”
Carol Christiansen, the president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors, said Connecticut home prices have risen by about 20% over the past year, with fewer houses on the market than people looking to buy.
The median sale price for Connecticut single-family home in 2020 was an all-time high $300,000, a 15.4% increase from 2019, according to a report earlier this month from The Warren Group, which tracks real estate data across the country.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said there is a concern in the cities that the migration from offices to at-home work could have a negative impact on downtowns.
But as companies reassess the need to be located in places like New York City, they may be attracted to the relatively low cost of acquiring office space in Hartford and other Connecticut municipalities, he said.
“One of the things that you can find here in Hartford and in other Connecticut cities and around Connecticut is a place where you can have an amazing quality of life and also a lower cost of doing business, with access to the world’s best talent at your doorstep,” he said.
Glendowlyn Thames, the deputy commissioner of the DECD, said the state also saw a 9% increase in new business startups last year.
Lamont said he believes it will be those smaller businesses that end up taking the space in Connecticut’s office towers.