A protester holds up a sign during the Reopen America rally on April 18, 2020, at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas. (AFP / Mark Felix)

Hoax message from 'Dallas nurse' circulates online about COVID-19 death tolls in Texas

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Multiple posts on Facebook shared hundreds of times purport to show a message from an intensive care unit nurse in the US city of Dallas about the novel coronavirus. The purported message states that the nurse has observed COVID-19 patients who died of other causes were included in the city’s COVID-19 death tolls. The claim is misleading; Dallas health authorities said only deaths directly caused by COVID-19 have been counted in their COVID-19 statistics.

The purported message has been shared more than 1,000 times after it was published in this Facebook post on May 4, 2020.

The text post states: “ICU nurse in Dallas, TX: My hospital has not seen many deaths, but one of the first COVID deaths reported was someone who one day collapsed and later died from a heart attack. Tests confirmed both he and his wife were COVID positive with no symptoms, but it was labeled as a COVID death. We’ll see next year that deaths from heart attacks and cancer will appear to skyrocket next year since anyone that is testing positive for COVID and dies, that is the cause of death, not their heart failure or cancer.”

A screenshot taken on May 15, 2020, of the misleading post by Bethany Cherisse

Dallas is a city in the US state of Texas. The post does not specify which Dallas hospital is allegedly involved. It also fails to provide any evidence for the claim, or who sent the purported message. 

An identical message was also shared on Facebook here and here.

The claim is misleading. 

In an email to AFP on May 14, a Dallas County Health and Human Services spokesperson clarified that a death would only be included in the city's coronavirus death counts when COVID-19 is the direct cause of death. 

“All death certificates must be signed by a physician (including medical examiner) certifying the cause of death. Any death with COVID-19 listed as the cause would be included in our counts in Dallas County,” the spokesperson said.

The US National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has issued guidance on certifying COVID-19 deaths, which states the disease should be listed on the death certificate if it plays a role in the death.

“When a death is due to COVID–19, it is likely the [underlying cause of death] and thus, it should be reported on the lowest line used in Part I of the death certificate. Ideally, testing for COVID–19 should be conducted, but it is acceptable to report COVID–19 on a death certificate without this confirmation if the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty,” read the guidelines. 

Part one of the cause-of-death section on a NCHS death certificate requires information about the chain of events leading to a person’s death, as per instructions listed here.

As of May 14, 2020, there have been 159 COVID-19 deaths among Dallas County’s residents alongside 6,837 other confirmed cases.