New York Will Test the Dead More Often for Coronavirus and Flu

New regulations require a ramp-up in testing for patients with symptoms, as well as people who weren’t tested before they died.

By Katherine J. Wu

Cough, fever, chills — with fall fast on the way, symptoms alone won’t be useful in distinguishing Covid-19 from similar-looking cases of the flu. That means routinely testing for both viruses will be crucial — even, perhaps, after some patients have already died.

That will at least be true in New York, where officials recently announced a ramp-up in post-mortem testing for the coronavirus as well as the flu. Deaths linked to respiratory illnesses that weren’t confirmed before a person died are to be followed up with tests for both viruses within 48 hours, according to the new regulation.

“These regulations will ensure we have the most accurate death data possible as we continue to manage Covid-19 while preparing for flu season,” Dr. Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, said in a statement last week.

Deceased hospital patients and nursing home residents, as well as bodies in the care of funeral directors or medical examiners, will be among those targeted for follow-up testing. If experts at a local facility can’t perform the test themselves, they can ask the state to run the test for them at its public health lab.

Although the results of these tests will be too late to change the course of treatment for the deceased, they can still help health officials track the prevalence of both types of infections, as well as indicate whether to warn close contacts of the deceased that they may need to quarantine.

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