Dallas County Medical Examiner's office increases worker protection amid coronavirus pandemic

The Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office has implemented special procedures because of the coronavirus.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jeffrey Barnard said he changed how the Southwest Institute of Forensic Science operates because he has to protect the people who work for him from a virus there is no immunity, medicine or vaccine against.

“The institute has a crime lab and it has the medical examiner’s office and both of them are impacted,” Barnard said.

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Most notably, when bodies are received from homes or other counties there are new procedures.

“We'll swab those then keep the bodies in the cooler ‘til the next day when we get a result and then we make a decision,” Barnard said. “If they have strong suggestive symptoms and the test is positive we're ruling those cases COVID-19 related deaths and not doing an autopsy.”

Investigators from the M.E.'s office are still going out to scenes like homicides, suicides and accidents. But field examiners are not, for now, showing up for death-at-home calls.

“We will send the transport crew who are in full PPE to pick up the body and then bring it on back,” Barnard said, adding that they’re basically treating every case as a potentially infectious one.

“It’s the unknown that drives everybody crazy and probably rightfully should,” Barnard said.

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