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Many who die with coronavirus not given autopsies

COVID-19 changes how medical examiners determine cause of death

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – COVID-19 has changed the way we live. It has also forced those on the frontline to use more caution around those who have died.

If a person is believed to have died from COVID-19, medical examiners do not perform a full autopsy due to the risk involved. Instead, the medical records are reviewed and an external review of the body may be conducted to rule out other causes of death.

This procedure is recommended for all examiners in the country because COVID-19 could spread even death since no studies have been conducted to see how long it remains in the body after someone dies.

“At that point, it’s just external -- mainly due to the fact that the Occupational Safety Health Administration issued some guidelines regarding these types of deaths,” District 4 Chief Medical Examiner Robert Pietak said.

OSHA’s website gives clear recommendations on handling the dead. Autopsies are considered very high risk. They recommend that full examination not be performed on these individuals.

If it is determined at the hospital that the person died from COVID-19, the body will go directly to the funeral home and not the medical examiner’s office.

The District 4 ME’s Office said it has reviewed these COVID-19 deaths this year:

MonthDeaths
February0
March16
April39
May31
June21

According to the Florida Department of Health, there have been 162 COVID-19 deaths in Duval County and dozens more in our surrounding counties this year. Based on the CDC guidelines, many of those have not become medical examiner cases.

Dr. Pietak said coronavirus has not caused any capacity issues at his office. If the autopsy is necessary for deaths such a homicide, they conduct those in a separate autopsy room.

“In the case where it is definitely a COVID case and we need to do an autopsy, that will get will get transferred into our special isolation room where we have additional equipment such as purifying helmets which provide air through special filters,” Pietak said. “We will go ahead and put on those and perform the case.”

If a family member wants a full autopsy and the person died of COVID19, it is not recommended.


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