Coroners Face Questions, Uncertainties On Releasing Names Of COVID-19 Victims

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Health officials are navigating uncertain waters in this pandemic and many are faced with difficult decisions.

Coroners have important information about a person’s death and they’ve been getting a lot of requests from the public about people who died from COVID-19.

CN2’s Indira Eskieva spoke with the president of the South Carolina Coroner’s Association who also happens to be York County’s coroner on what they can and cannot release to the public.

Coroners are tasked with investigating a death, signing the death certificate – and notifying family. It’s a difficult job under the best of times made even more complicated by a pandemic.

“We do know that it can be contracted through the dead,” Sabrina Gast said. “So we do have to make sure that we’re protected when we do go out. We’re asking the same questions everybody else is.”

York County Coroner Sabrina Gast says there are other questions coroners face.

As the president of the South Carolina Coroner’s Association, she reached out to the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office asking how much information coroners can release about a person who died from COVID-19.

“And they were were pretty much on the fence. They said, ‘well, you can or you can’t.’
We’re in a time that we really haven’t been in before, so there’s really no case law to support the release or to defend not releasing,” Gast says. “So, it’s up to each individual coroner to decide how they’re going to do that.”

Because this pandemic is unlike anything we’ve recently experienced, the case law doesn’t say exactly how to proceed. That decision is in the hands of coroners.

Gast says moving forward, her office won’t release specific names unless people ask.

“But we will be releasing that we had a COVID-related death, just to keep the community up to speed on how many actual deaths we’ve had in our community,” Gast adds.

She says it’s her job to protect not just deceased but also their family. And by law, she won’t release a person’s full medical history, something she says some have asked her to do.

“My opinion is to protect that descendant to the best of my ability and their family,” Gast said. Gast really has to balance protecting the person who passed on, while also protecting the law.

Gast says there are also many people with pre-existing conditions who are afraid to seek medical helps because of the pandemic.

Unfortunately, she’s seen people die because this. Her message, to please seek medical attention if you need help.

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