SCRANTON, Pa. — Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed a bill that would have required county coroners to investigate COVID-19 deaths. Though it would make for quite a bit of work for the coroners, many of them supported the bill which passed with bipartisan support.
Lackawanna County Coroner Tim Rowland is one of many county coroners across the state who have called for a change in state law, which would require doctors to report COVID-19 deaths to the coroners and then require the county coroners to investigate and keep track of data regarding those deaths.
In the governor’s veto announcement, he wrote that the current reporting system works faster without including county coroners. That’s something he and the coroners completely disagree on.
We reached out to the governor’s office for comment, but we have not heard back.
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Pennsylvania’s county coroners have been at odds with Gov. Wolf and the Department of Health on how COVID-19 deaths should be reported.
The coroners gathered support from Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg to change state law and require coroners to document and investigate each COVID-19 death.
The governor vetoed the bill last week. In a statement, Gov. Wolf wrote that doctors should report those deaths electronically and directly to the Department of Health.
But Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling says that system puts the public health at risk.
“Those systems lag, as we’ve seen early on in this pandemic,” Kiessling said. “It can be days to weeks before those deaths are reported and show up in the electronic systems. And that’s a problem when someone’s had a contact, and we’ve not been notified and made sure that testing is done.”
Some coroners have been maintaining death data anyway, even though they weren’t required to.
Lackawanna County Coroner Tim Rowland says his data is often more accurate than the state’s.
“I’m not sure if the governor and the Department of Health are trying to control the data, manipulate the data. God only knows,” Rowland said. “I think the governor did a great job in protecting Pennsylvania, you know, as far as the mask-wearing, social distancing, and regulating bars, restaurants. I think they did a good job, and I think the results show it. But I think the governor, unfortunately, and the Department of Health, in this matter, are out of touch with reality.”