According to a BuzzFeed News report that relies on comments from medical professionals dealing directly with the coronavirus pandemic, people within the medical industry think more individuals are dying from the virus than the official numbers are stating. It's important to note that the report is heavy on anecdotal evidence, highlighting what those on the frontlines of the epidemic are going through as hospitals/medical centers deal with the massive influx of sick people.
At last check, the U.S. had 75,000+ confirmed cases and more than 1,080 deaths. The report claims medical professionals believe the numbers to be much higher based on their personal experiences. One of the main themes, which BuzzFeed concedes, is that some of the differences in numbers could come down to reporting lags, but medical professionals believe the biggest reason is that people aren't getting tested before and after their deaths.
U.S. data for the virus is currently being collected by state and county authorities. That data is then sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An unnamed doctor who works in multiple emergency rooms in a hard-hit California county told BuzzFeed that he knows for a fact that some of their numbers are off.
"Those medical records aren't being audited by anyone at the state and local level currently and some people aren’t even testing those people who are dead,” the doctor claimed. “We just don't know. The numbers are grossly underreported. I know for a fact that we’ve had three deaths in one county where only one is listed on the website."
A California Department of Health spokesperson said that all local health jurisdictions must report any positive case to the state. That spokesperson went on to say that if somebody dies from COVID-19, then those health jurisdictions must be notified immediately.
Citing comments from "doctors and nurses who work in several hospitals around the country," BuzzFeed contends that the official count for deaths related to the disease could be low for a trio of reasons. One, a lack of testing means that not everyone who dies from the disease was diagnosed. Two, already overburdened hospitals may be late reporting their numbers to authorities. And three, some hospitals claim their totals aren't being properly shown in county/state counts.
BuzzFeed does not seem to imply that the intent is intentionally malicious. They stress that it's clear that several states are taking the threat seriously, as evidenced by the giving of 'stay-at-home' orders (which are at least partially motivated by not knowing how many sick people are really out there).
Echoing the sentiments from that unnamed California ER doctor mentioned above, a "department head at a small hospital in Mississippi" also claims their numbers weren't properly represented in totals for the county.
"We have confirmed at least five cases in our hospital, but official state reporting only lists one case in our entire county,” that person said.
Spanning the country more, a Texas nurse attributes this difference in numbers due to how long it can take for test results to get back. That nurse says results are slow enough that patients have either been sent home or have died before results get back.
BuzzFeed was given an email by the Texas Department of Health that says the process was updated on Tuesday to expedite how quickly they'd update their online state case count.
Moving northeast, a nurse at a large teaching hospital in New Jersey echoed frustration over the numbers lag.
“From the beginning when it was easier to track, we'd had confirmed cases in our ER and on my unit all while the news and dot gov websites continued to claim our county and affiliated hospital counties were still at zero cases,” she said. “I have still not seen any reports on COVID patients of ours who died this week."
In defense of the official numbers (or, at least, the lag) Robert Jensen, who's the CEO of a private company that focuses on disaster responses with high death counts, says that the difference between official numbers and what medical pros are seeing isn't uncommon.
“Right now, everyone is just doing it ad hoc. I don't think the documents have even caught up because I think those things take weeks, and I don’t think they’ll catch up for some time,” Jensen said. He adds that getting the numbers right will be important when a vaccine comes out because it's necessary to get those supplies to communities that are affected the most.
You can read the entire report over at BuzzFeed News.