Coroners Can Shed Light on Pandemic’s True Spread

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With Postmortem Testing, ‘Last Responders’ Shed Light On Pandemic’s Spread

By Michelle Andrews/NPR

As the coronavirus pandemic has unfolded, all eyes have been on the medical workers and public health disease detectives fighting on the front lines ― and sometimes giving their lives — to bring the coronavirus under control.

But as efforts to test for the coronavirus and trace cases continues, medical examiners and coroners play a vital — if often unsung ― role. These “last responders” are typically called on to investigate and determine the causes of deaths that are unexpected or unnatural, including deaths that occur at home.

In the early days of the outbreak, a scarcity of tests often hampered their efforts. Now, as that equipment gradually becomes more widely available, these professionals may be able to fill in answers about how people died and if those deaths were related to the coronavirus. And these confirmed cases can also help investigators trace contacts who may also be infected.

Those changes won’t happen at once or uniformly across the country, experts predict. In addition, an increase in postmortem testing is likely to put coroners and medical examiners in the middle of a debate heating up about the true number of COVID-19 casualties.

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