As the state of Arkansas continues to manage the spread of COVID-19, there also seems to be a delay in the reports of related deaths to the Arkansas Department of Health from the county coroners.
Latest reports from coroners in Washington County and Benton County showed 58 and 36 deaths, respectively. However, the Arkansas Department of Health reports 39 deaths in Washington County and 28 deaths in Benton County online as of today (July 22).
When asked about the discrepancy between the reports at his daily press conference, Gov. Asa Hutchinson pointed out that there can be delays between when the death certificate is filled out, filed and put into the Department of Health system.
There have been 380 COVID-19 deaths reported in the state so far.
State officials noted late reports on COVID-19 deaths on July 17 when they reported 12 additional deaths with seven occurring within the past 72 hours. The remaining five deaths were delayed in being reported and ranged between June 24 and July 12.
They also mentioned six out of 11 of the reported deaths yesterday were late reports.
“There is clearly a lag, we are still experiencing it. I’m still getting calls from hospitals reporting that deaths have occurred more than 72 hours prior to the day they are calling me…We are behind, we know there is a discrepancy in there and I think the delay explains a lot of it,” acting Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said.
Although fax machines are primarily being used to communicate between the county coroners and Arkansas Department of Health, one reporter asked Romero about potentially using email instead.
“That will depend on the issue of HIPPA—maintaining the confidentiality and those issues. I will need to talk to staff to see if that can be done but certainly it is an option and we can look at [it],” he said.
Misty Orpin with ArkansasCOVID.com first reported the significant discrepancy between the coroner reports and Arkansas Department of Health on Twitter today. Orpin shared that John Delery, who serves as the department chairperson for the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, looked into the discrepancy specifically in Washington County.
According to the tweet, “John’s research showed that the deaths ADH did report came after a significant delay that has increased over time. The delay in death reporting is now up to 25 days.”