Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw apologized to a Central zone family Thursday. (Advocate file photo/ Chris Schwartz/Alberta Government)

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw apologized to a Central zone family Thursday. (Advocate file photo/ Chris Schwartz/Alberta Government)

Hinshaw apologizes to family of deceased 14-year-old for linking death to COVID-19

It will change the way deaths of young people are reported in future

The family of a 14-year-old, whose death was erroneously linked to COVID-19 earlier this week, received an apology from Alberta’s chief medical officer Deena Hinshaw on Thursday.

“I’m sorry if the way I spoke about the death made things worse for you,” said Hinshaw during Thursday’s conference, addressing the family of the teenager from Central zone.

On Tuesday, the death of the 14-year-old was reported as resulting from COVID-19. But the subsequent and final cause-of-death report found that, in this case, the virus was neither a primary or secondary cause of the young person’s demise, Hinshaw said.

She explained that she makes daily reports that include all deaths that are initially attributed by doctors to have been due to COVID-19 implications as either a primary or secondary cause. Primary means COVID directly led to pneumonia, which caused the person’s death. Secondary means that COVID exacerbated the individual’s underlying health condition, which ultimately caused the death.

If a final forensic report comes back showing the death was, in fact, not linked to COVID as either a primary or secondary cause, then it’s subtracted from that day’s total death tally, she said.

Hinshaw said this more timely reporting method was preferred to delaying a death report until the final report comes back.

But this week’s situation with the 14-year-old’s death has made her change her approach to the way young people’s deaths will be reported in future in Alberta.

The chief medical officer said she will no longer include the deaths of those under the age of 18 in her COVID report until the final report confirms it is linked to the virus.

“My sympathies to everyone who has suffered a loss,” said Hinshaw. “As I have often said, every life matters and every death matters.”

She urged Albertans to get their annual flu shot. She noted last year’s uptake was the largest ever, and the 2020 flu season was non-existent.

Hinshaw noted regular influenza can be dangerous for the vulnerable population, and would cause more hospitalizations at an already very busy time for health facilities.

Annual flu shots are safe for anyone six months or older, as well as for everyone who has received a vaccine against COVID-19, she added.

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