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Why Did the New York City Medical Examiner Process 11,000 Deaths in Three Days?
And where is the Medical Examiner's report about what happened?
The New York City Office of the Medical Examiner (OCME) processed over 11,000 deaths in three days straight during the city’s spring 2020 mass casualty event — and hasn’t issued a report that explains why or how that magnitude of processing occurred.
According to data I obtained via public records request, OCME processed 11,049 deaths between April 28-30th, including 6,533 in a single day.1
The spike in deaths processed by OCME is largely congruent with the spike shown by the total number of deaths among city residents in March, April, and May 2020. Yet the data fails to resolve serious doubts about the purported speed and magnitude the 11-week event.
Via email, a OCME records officer said the data they provided to me was “retrieved from OCME’s computerized database that logs mortality data falling within the agency’s jurisdiction and being reported to the agency” [emphasis added]. The wording is curious, given it is deaths — not mortality data — that are matters of jurisdiction.2
Under New York State law, the medical examiner has jurisdiction over deaths that occur (or are suspected to occur) in certain circumstances, such as suicide, accident, homicides, overdoses, sudden death, deaths of prisoners, and certain kinds of deaths in hospitals.
For more information about “the 11,000”, I sent a follow-up FOIL, requesting date of occurrence, place/setting of occurrence, causes, and age groups for those deaths per se.
Responsive records show the bulk of the deaths processed April 28-30 occurred in the first half of April, with some stretching back to February.
Nearly all of the 11K were from hospitals and occurred among decedents over age 65. While the age profile is expected, the medical examiner processing that number of hospital deaths at all - let alone in a fell swoop - is not.
It’s possible that all hospital deaths were uploaded at once, at the end of the six-week “surge” and before a deadline of some kind, with different hospital systems being uploaded into the system on each of the three days.3
That doesn’t address why the deaths — or “mortality data,” as the records officer put it — went through the OCME at all. But a OCME pandemic influenza surge plan published in 2006 might.
On page 3, the document states that, during a public health emergency, the NYC Commissioner of Health can “legally expand the OCME’s authority to include management of all naturally occurring deaths during a PI [pneumonia/influenza] event.”
I’ve been unable to find an order for the expansion of OCME’s authority. (Readers can show me what I missed.) I do see that, on April 10, 2020, then-Commissioner of Health Oxiris Barbot ordered most deaths to be reported and filed electronically, under the auspices of health & safety.4
The pandemic influenza surge plan also mentions the potential “vaccine failure”:
“Once pandemic is established in NYC, the DOHMH may request that the OCME investigate unusual PI-related deaths, such as suspected cases of vaccine failure.” (p. 22)
In spring 2020, “suspected cases of vaccine failure” wouldn’t have involved the COVID shot, but could have involved the seasonal flu shot. Did OCME investigate such potential deaths that occurred in the 2019-2020 flu season? Or were such investigations and tracking circumventing or avoided because the “spreading” agent was said to be a coronavirus?
Unfortunately, OCME denied my request for selected causes of death, saying their agency did not determine cause of death for more than 10,500 of the deaths. (I asked for the number of deaths among the 11K that attributed COVID-19, a non-COVID respiratory disease, a circulatory disease as underlying cause, respectively.)5
Considering most of the cases processed in those three days were from hospitals, this likely means cause of death was determined by doctors. Presumably, those were cases from hospitals in New York City proper. However, since I did not limit my follow-up request to the five boroughs — only to what the NYC OCME reported processing on each of the three days — I can’t be sure.
We know from federal sources and the city’s 2020 vital statistics report that most of the staggering increase in hospital deaths during the spring event attributed COVID-19 as underlying cause. So OCME telling me that accessing that data for the 11K-death dump would require “unreasonable effort” is ridiculous. If an agency processed deaths its system, surely the underlying of death is basic, top-line information (or should be).
The Right to Know
OCME staff have not returned my voice message and email requests to speak with someone about the sudden processing of 11,000 deaths.
As far as I can tell, the NYC Office of the Medical Examiner has not issued factual, detailed report (or any report) on what occurred during the biggest death event the city has ever experienced. I’ve also been unable to locate a precise narrative (or any narrative) of the OCME’s “specialized mass fatality management team” activities during March - May 2020.
New Yorkers have the right to know how the taxpayer-funded Office of the Medical Examiner handled every death that fell under and/or was placed into its jurisdiction in 2020.
Americans also have the right to know, as New York City was used to stage the specter of a sudden-spreading deadly coronavirus and shut down society.
In a FOIL request sent to OCME on May 31, 2023, I asked for the number of deaths processed each day by OCME, from 1/1/2019 - 12/31/2022.
Elsewhere, I have hypothesized that New York City’s spring 2020 all-cause death curve could include deaths that happened elsewhere (e.g., non-NYC counties, other states within the same HHS region). If the medical examiner’s office is thinking in terms of data within its purview, not deaths, it may lend credence to such a scenario.
I don’t yet have day or setting of death occurrence for the rest of the deaths OCME processed in 2020, so I can’t say how many hospital deaths before and after the last days in April went through OCME’s system.
It’s not hard to imagine a future correction to the NYC death toll blames cites errors with electronic reporting or implementation of new systems.
The denial said, “Please be advised that OCME is unable to provide the responsive record as the record sought is not maintained in the manner that would allow the agency to extract or retrieve from OCME’s existing computer storage system with reasonable effort. Our diligent search reveals that out of the total 11,049 deaths, 10,500+ are accounted for the decedents whose cause of death are not determined by the medical examiner. Therefore, it will require manual search of each of those deaths in order to identify and compile the responsive record. NY Public Officers Law §89(3)(a) provides, in pertinent part, ‘…when an agency has the ability to retrieve or extract a record or data maintained in a computer storage system with reasonable effort, it shall be required to do so…’ As so, the record sought is unavailable since the agency is not required to use unreasonable effort to compile the record when it is not extractable electronically from our existing database. Further, ICD code is not utilized by OCME medical examiner for the cause of death. Rather, it’s assigned by the Bureau of Vital Statistics from New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (“DOHMH”)and commonly used by the hospital. Therefore, the dataset of death that attributed such code is unavailable from OCME. PLEASE take note that DOHMH is responsible for the official publication of all vital statistics, including mortality data, across the NYC. Please visit DOHMH’s website for more mortality record.