MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- With so much unknown about how the COVID-19 virus behaves inside the body, medical examiners are having to modify their protocols.
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"Most of the time, we don't even bring the bodies here if we can avoid it," said Dr. Russell Vega Chief Medical Examiner in District 12.
According to Dr. Vega, if a person had or is even suspected to have coronavirus, they won't conduct an autopsy at all. That patient usually bypasses the medical examiner's office and goes straight to the funeral home.
"We're more concerned with, at this point, minimizing the potential exposure of our staff and anyone who could be in contact with those bodies," Vega said.
Another thing medical examiners had to consider, was what to do if too many bodies came in at the same time.
In Manatee County, they have their new facility right near downtown. But a few doors down near the health department, they have their old facility, which is fully functional and has provided a good alternative.
However, it's up to the health department and medical officials to accurately report the number of people who fell victim to coronavirus, instead of going the autopsy route.
There is still so much unknown about the virus, including how long it lives in the body once someone has died.
"We know that you can recover the RNA from the virus for days after death, the same way you can get it from a living patient. But that doesn't tell us if you can get an infection from the virus," Vega explained.
Which is why the medical examiner's office changed how their everyday procedures are done.
If they receive a possible COVID-19 victim, they'll test them before doing anything else. Staff is also wearing N-95 masks.
Vega said most medical examiners' offices in the state are following the same guidelines because the risks outweigh the benefits of what could be learned about COVID-19.