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Coronavirus Update: Santa Clara County Supervisor Says Coroner Has Been Undercounting Virus Deaths

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese says the coroner's office new the number of deaths in the county was trending up in March, but didn't say anything.

He believes if the supervisors would have known, it could have changed the way the county responded to the pandemic.

"It would have sent a stronger message to the public just how serious this is," Cortese said.

Cortese claims the medical examiner's office knew the number deaths in the county were up almost 25 percent this March versus March of last year, but never made the information public.

Currently, Santa Clara County is the hardest hit of all regions in the San Francisco Bay Area. There have been 1,962 confirmed coronavirus cases during the outbreak. There have been 94 deaths in the county and currently there were 191 couunty residents hospitalized with 72 of those being in the ICU.

"We should be aware and we should be given this information real time, not 5 or 6 or 7 weeks after they see a trend," the supervisor said.

"That's not necessarily a trend. That's just an observation," Santa Clara County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith said.

According to Smith, less than half of the increase in deaths were actually due to COVID-19, and releasing the data could have given the public the wrong impression.

"The coroner's office has a responsibility to make sure that what they're reporting is accurate and has substantial science behind it," says Dr. Smith.

"If you've got the information, you've got to share it. This is a matter of major public concern. Whether or not those were directly related to the pandemic, we can keep working that out," Cortese countered.

The back and forth comes on the same day the County's Public Health officer Dr. Sara Cody and Gov. Gavin Newsom praised the coroner's office for finding the February COVID deaths.

The people who died had flu-like symptoms, but didn't have the flu. The medical examiner's office kept investigating and eventually sent samples to the CDC for testing.

"I just want to take a moment and really highlight and applaud the work of the medical examiner," Cody said.

"We are very pleased with the work that was done in Santa Clara County to make public that information," said Newsom.

After the Santa Clara County discovery made public today, Newsom has now asked every coroner's office in the state to go through death records going dating back to December of last year and test any cases they think could be connected to COVID 19.

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