Michigan funeral directors and physicians will be required to report suspected COVID-19 deaths more quickly to the state under an emergency order issued Saturday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

The order requires a physician to notify a funeral director “promptly” of a suspected COVID-19 death.

Funeral directors then are required to initiate and forward a death record to the attending physician within 24 hours and file the death record with the local registrar within 48 hours. Physicians in turn must try to certify any death records of a suspected COVID-19 patient within 24 hours.

The order shortens by two days the time frame in which funeral directors usually are required to certify and file death records, according to the department. The state usually requires those records be complete within 72 hours.

“To inform sound decision-making and protect Michiganders, public health officials need accurate information about COVID-19 deaths as quickly as possible,” Gordon said in a statement Saturday. “I appreciate the work of our funeral home directors and physicians right now, and I am grateful to partner with them in taking quick action during this pandemic.”

The order came the same day the state reported Michigan’s death toll had reached 540 and that 14,225 people had confirmed cases of the virus.

The state publicly reports COVID-19 cases and deaths each afternoon with reported cases from the prior day, but a lag in notifications may mean those numbers aren’t complete, said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the department.

“It’s possible there are deaths that haven’t been reported due to the 72-hour requirement,” Wheaton said.

The emergency order requires the funeral director to conduct the process through the state’s electronic death records system and strongly recommends physicians do the same to fulfill their role in the process.

“Use of traditional mail introduces additional delays,” the order said. “Some funeral directors obtain physician signatures in person, resulting in avoidable instances of close personal contact that could spread COVID-19. Finally, use of fax machines to submit death records to local registrars places a significant burden on those offices during a time when many employees are working from home.”

The rule is the second COVID-19-related order from the Department of Health and Human Services that sets additional requirements on hospitals and others dealing with the fallout of the virus. 

On March 23, Gordon ordered facilities to prioritize COVID-19 testing and report results within four hours of completing a test. The order also required health facilities to contact their local health officer within two hours of a COVID-19 related death. 

The order asked hospitals to report to the state daily updates on their bed capacity, patient census, staffing shortage, and ventilator availability.

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