Senate Passes Ward Legislation Streamlining COVID-19 Death Reporting Rules

HARRISBURG – The Senate approved legislation today that will clarify COVID-19 death reporting rules statewide, said prime bill sponsor Sen. Judy Ward (R-30).

Senate Bill 327 clarifies that all deaths attributed to COVID-19 must be reported to the county coroner or medical examiner. The legislation also stipulates that Department of Health staff that manage the online death registration system should not be making determinations about which cases should be certified by a coroner.

Ward says these employees have no right to make such decisions and the extra time spent doing so leaves families and funeral directors waiting weeks to proceed with burials, open estates or file insurance claims.

“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed ambiguities in the PA County Code related to the reporting of deaths suspected of a disease constituting a health disaster or pandemic,” said Ward. “This bill will clarify the circumstances under which a death shall be referred to the county coroner for investigation, eliminating various interpretations that can cause confusion resulting in delays.”

Another provision of the bill gives coroners free electronic access to records compiled by the department for deaths suspected to have resulted from an infectious disease, which will help ensure a more accurate and transparent reporting process for COVID-19 fatalities.

The General Assembly approved an identical measure sponsored by Ward in 2020 that was later vetoed by the governor over concerns that it would delay timely reporting of deaths and jeopardize public health and safety.

“In fact, it would do the exact opposite of what the governor claims,” said Sen. Ward. “Instead of having multiple sets of conflicting numbers, the bill will provide a significant level of transparency and cooperation without placing any significant new burdens on any health care provider or any level of government.”

The legislation now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

CONTACT: Nathan Akers, 717-787-2421