Live Mic: What COVID death certificate really means; Utah doc explains

Sep 4, 2020, 5:24 PM

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The CDC in Atlanta. Photo: Shutterstock via CNN

SALT LAKE CITY — Corticosteroids — synthetic drugs used to treat different diseases like asthma or skin conditions — are proving to ease the suffering of severely sick COVID-19 patients, a new analysis finds. 

The analysis investigated seven trials of corticosteroids, finding when patients on ventilators were treated with steroids, they had a 30% chance of dying. This is compared to a 38% chance among patients who didn’t take steroids.

For patients treated without ventilators, the benefit was greater: Patients given steroids had a 23% chance of dying, compared with a 42% chance for people in a control group.

A Utah perspective

Dr. Marion Bishop, an ER doctor practicing in Logan and Brigham City, joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic Friday to discuss what administering corticosteroids means for coronavirus patients.

Bishop said corticosteroids are used to reduce inflammation, such as respiratory illnesses.

“With these severely ill COVID-19 patients, what exactly is inflamed that the steroids help reverse?” Lee asked.

“So what happens when someone get sick with an infection, is that you have a trauma that’s suffered by the infection itself — by the virus or the bacteria,” Bishop said. “In this case, you contract COVID-19 and it infects the lungs and heart and all kinds of places we’re learning about. But after that, the infection takes hold and causes a lot of inflammation.

“In the same way you can trip and fall and sprain your ankle, and a few minutes later, it’s grossly swollen. Most of that is from the inflammation that happens after the trauma.

“With COVID-19, we’ve been curious about that inflammatory process that happens in the lungs after the initial infection and will these steroids help it. These studies are saying, ‘Yeah, it will,'” Bishop said.

Masks really work

Lee noted a recent decline in Utah in COVID-19 hospitalizations. (The number of patients  hospitalized Friday in Utah for confirmed COVID-19 was 121.) He asked Bishop if she had observed the same in the hospitals where she works.

“A little bit. We were seeing more and more sick people coming out of the spring and into the summer through June and the start of July. And then some mask-wearing mandates were put in place,” Bishop said. “Plus, people got more comfortable wearing them and thinking it was a good idea. We’ve seen fewer cases in the hospital. The fewer patients that we see, the fewer that go on to need ICU care.” 

Lag time of virus cases

Bishop said people who were exposed to coronavirus on Memorial Day ended up in hospital and in the ICU at the first of June. 

“I think probably part of what you’re observing in those lower numbers in hospitals goes back to where we were a month ago and where we were a month behind that with the push to start mask wearing so the kids could go back to school,” she said. “Let’s make a few sacrifices for our kids.”

Bishop added that one month later, mask wearing resulted in a decline of hospitalizations in COVID-19 patients.

Death certificate

Bishop also explained the underlying conditions behind a coronavirus death certificate.

After President Donald Trump retweeted an article that inaccurately suggested the real number of COVID-19 deaths is 9,000, Dr. Anthony Fauci responded:

“It’s not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s 180,000-plus deaths,” Fauci told Good Morning America.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is being twisted by conspiracy theorists to imply the COVID-19 death toll is not as serious as is reported, health experts say.

Bishop said 95-100% of the death certificates that she’s filled out lists more than one cause of death, and that’s because the certificate is designed to tell a story. For example, a heart attack death may be caused by clogged arteries, which is caused by high cholesterol and exacerbated by high-blood pressure. 

“So you’re trying to tell a story of how all these different underlying illnesses led to the person finally dying of the one thing,” Bishop said. 

She said people who have these underlying conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, experience a more difficult time fighting off and recovering from COVID-19.  

“They’re more susceptible to it, and it beats them up a lot more,” Bishop said.

She also added the COVID-19 causes other medical complications such as pneumonia and heart and respiratory failure. 

“A COVID death certificate may say something like this: death caused by respiratory failure, caused by pneumonia, caused by pulmonary-inflammatory issues, caused by COVID,” she said. 


Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

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Live Mic: What COVID death certificate really means; Utah doc explains