MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A limited amount of resources and a lack of testing has led to an undercounting of the number of people with the coronavirus who have died, according to Montgomery County Coroner Dr. John Jernigan.
“Please believe the numbers, in fact, it’s worse than the numbers,” Jernigan said.
As of Saturday, 92 people in Montgomery County have died from COVID-19, but Jernigan says “the numbers are probably worse than what we see.”
“There are some people dying faster than we have the ability to test,” he said.
Without unlimited testing available, some families are burying their loved ones without knowing if their cause of death was COVID-19 related or not.
Jernigan said one family requested that he come to a funeral home to test their loved one for the coronavirus to see if that aided in their death.
“I had no test or resources available to do that,” Jernigan said. “So the family was left not knowing if this person died of COVID-19 or whether they just had a heart attack.”
A similar situation happened with another person in the county.
“I had one man to die about a week ago and I ordered a test, but he had a cardiac arrest, probably had a blood clot in his lungs before we could get the test done,” Jernigan said.
“As the coroner, if I had limited tests available, we would try and save the living rather than get numbers for statistics,” Jernigan said.
Access to unlimited amounts of testing would allow them to confirm that the number of deaths being reported was accurate, but those resources are not available.
“I’ve had people that have died, and I am curious as to what they died from, but we don’t have the resources to unlimited autopsies just for my curiosity,” Jernigan said. “If someone dies of natural causes and they die in their sleep, we do not have the resources to look at 100 percent of deaths and tell exactly what they died of.”
Jernigan said until there is 100 percent testing of people for the virus, he doesn’t think the number of COVID-19 related deaths will be accurate.
He also said this pandemic is not over yet, and that people need to continue to take this seriously.
“In my practice, I had a father to die about three weeks ago from COVID-19 and I just learned that his daughter within this past week just died from COVID-19,” Jernigan said. “Two in one family. This is real.”
The virus, he said, is attacking the young and the old. It’s important that people avoid large gatherings and wear a mask.
“Look at this as protecting your elders. Do this for the love of your grandmother. Do this for the love of your sick brother who might have asthma. Do this for the love of your mother or your dad or your grandad,” Jernigan said.
“Wait until the numbers go down, then get back to normal,” Jernigan said. “Or, wait until we have a vaccine, then get back to normal. Or wait until we have 100 percent testing and we know who’s positive and who’s not positive. But until we get to that point, please, please take this pandemic very, very seriously.”