One in 3 death certificates were wrong before coronavirus. It’s about to get even worse.
CLOSEAs the U.S. struggles to track coronavirus fatalities amid spotty testing, delayed lab results and inconsistent reporting standards, a more insidious problem could thwart its quest for an accurate death toll.Up to 1 in 3 death certificates nationwide were already wrong before COVID-19, said Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics in an interview with the USA TODAY Network.“I’m always worried about getting good data. I think this sort of thing can be an issue even in a pandemic,” Anderson said.Experts say the inaccuracies are part and parcel of a patchwork, state-by-state system of medical examiners, coroners and doctors who have disparate medical backgrounds, and in some cases none at all. And the problem is about to get worse. The pandemic will undoubtedly inundate already overworked and sometimes untrained officials who fill out the forms. Accurate death certificates are paramount for local health officials who are trying to determine where to focus resources to fight the spread of the coronavirus, said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of the public health department in Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston. “That death represents an ecosystem of people,” Shah said.Inaccurate death reporting is a longstanding problem noted by