KSL Investigates: Are COVID-19 Deaths In Utah Inflated?

Nov 27, 2020, 10:07 PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Authorities with the Utah Department of Health on Friday reported an additional 15 of the state’s residents have died as a result of COVID-19, which brings Utah’s total virus death toll to 849.

Rumors persist that these numbers are inflated, or that anyone who dies and is positive for COVID-19 at the time of their death has COVID-19 listed as their cause of death, regardless of the circumstances of the death.

A Complex Investigative Process

Becky Ward is a health educator in the Department of Health’s Bureau of Epidemiology. The Utah Department of Health also oversees the state’s medical examiner.

“COVID deaths are reported and investigated just like any other death in Utah,” said Ward.

Becky Ward, health educator in the Department of Health’s Bureau of Epidemiology. (KSL-TV)

So far in 2020, 18,823 people have died in Utah. This is from any cause, including cardiac arrest, accidents and cancer. COVID-19 makes up 4.4% of that total to date.

Ward said there is a detailed process for determining the cause of death for any death in Utah, and that process has not changed during the pandemic.

“About 15-18% of all deaths go through the medical examiner,” said Ward. “It’s not unusual, it’s not atypical, but we want to make sure [COVID] deaths are verified and certified as a cause of death.”

Ward went on to say every deceased person whose body goes to the medical examiner receives a COVID-19 test. However, if the autopsy does not reveal that COVID-19 was the cause of death, it is not listed as such.

“It will not just automatically be listed as the cause of death,” she continued.

For bodies that do not go to the medical examiner, the attending medical professional will determine the cause of death.

Ward said causes can be further investigated by the medical examiner.

There have been a few cases that were originally listed as a COVID-19 death, but were ruled not to be COVID-caused after further investigation.

“That death would be removed from our case counts,” said Ward. “It’s a very strenuous process that these deaths go through before they’re reported to our dashboard.”

‘COVID Is Not A Money Maker’

One KSL viewer asked, “Do hospitals get paid more from Medicare and other insurance carriers if the deaths are coded as COVID-19?”

The CARES Act authorized hospitals to receive an additional 20% payment on top of Medicare rates for treating COVID-19 – for the care of a COVID-19 patient and the use of ventilators.

Since then, the rumor that hospitals were simply labeling non-COVID patients as having COVID-19 in order to get that additional 20% payment has widely circulated.

Overall, most hospitals are experiencing massive budget shortfalls. The American Hospital Association released a report in June estimating hospitals will lose $323 billion in 2020 because of the coronavirus.

In that same month, Intermountain Healthcare announced that after enduring three months of the pandemic, it had lost $435 million in revenue.

This revenue loss in hospitals has been attributed to limits on elective procedures, fewer people coming to emergency departments for treatments and more bed space and care needed for severely ill COVID-19 patients.

Despite those losses, both University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare said in a joint statement that, “COVID is not a moneymaker.”

The spokesperson told the KSL Investigators:

“Our hospitals work closely with local and state health departments who follow strict criteria to determine the cause of death in collaboration with the Office of the Medical Examiner.

All hospitals across the state are seeing large increases in patients with the virus. Our caregivers are working hard to manage this significant increase in patient volume. They’re working through some very difficult and challenging circumstances. They’ve been doing this for many months and are exhausted. They’re also frustrated by any suggestion that the pandemic is a hoax or that the impact of this public health crisis is not real in any way.

We get paid whatever insurance pays, however COVID-19 has impacted a disproportionate number of people in at-risk communities. As a safety net hospital, we continue to take care of these patients, regardless of their ability to pay. We are caring for these patients in greater numbers than ever before.”

According to federal law, every hospital is required to display prices charged for procedures and equipment in a chargemaster, available for the public to see.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

COVID Misconceptions

Brittany Glas & Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV

Are Fetal Cell Lines Used In The COVID-19 Vaccine? KSL Investigates

In an ongoing series on COVID-19 misconceptions, the KSL Investigators separate fact from fiction. What’s in the vaccines? Brittany Glas digs into the ethical background of these drugs.
2 years ago
A close-up of a syringe containing a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine as it is given to a patient a...
Brittany Glas, KSL TV

Experts Say Fast-Tracking Vaccine Doesn’t Mean It’s Less Safe

Health officials said local hospitals have been preparing for months to administer a COVID-19 vaccine. While some said this the hope they've been waiting for, others are hesitant. 
2 years ago
FILE (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)...
Jared Turner, Brittany Glas & Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV

KSL Investigates 3 COVID-19 Myths & Misconceptions

It's been a year since the novel coronavirus first started making global news, and nine months since much of the country went into lockdowns, quarantines and isolation. It's no secret a lot of ideas and misconceptions are out there. The KSL Investigators have looked into some of the more prevalent ones. 
2 years ago
FILE (Moderna)...
Brittany Glas & Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV

KSL Investigates: Does A Rushed Vaccine Make It Less Safe?

Many have expressed worry that a COVID-19 vaccine may not be safe since it was developed much faster than other vaccines. KSL Investigator Brittany Glas breaks down the rush and how it might compare to previous vaccines.
2 years ago
FILE (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)...
Brittany Glas & Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV

KSL Investigates: No, Flu Is Not Worse Than COVID-19

With lots of information about COVID-19 floating around social media, the KSL Investigators look to separate the facts from COVID misconceptions, including the question, “Is the flu really worse than COVID-19?"
2 years ago

Sponsored Articles

tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
cyber security through multi factor authentication setup...
Les Olson IT

How multi factor authentication setup helps companies stay safe

Multi factor authentication (MFA) setup is an important security measure that every company should implement for their workers. It’s also wise to install it for your personal and home accounts.
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
Address Bar of internet browser shows internet access...

Utah voters 50+ support increased access to Internet

The AARP surveyed Utah voters aged 50 plus about internet access and if they support the expansion of broadband, especially in rural areas currently lacking it.
KSL Investigates: Are COVID-19 Deaths In Utah Inflated?