COVID-19 Health Alert # 24: Death certificates must be signed within 48 hours for deaths caused by COVID-19

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DHS Health Alert Network

COVID-19 Health Alert # 24:

Death certificates must be signed within 48 hours for deaths caused by COVID-19

Bureau of Communicable Diseases, December 18, 2020


  • The high volume of deaths caused by COVID-19 is straining the resources necessary for the safe and respectful disposition of human remains. To preserve and strengthen these essential systems, physicians responsible for signing death certificates are now required to complete the signature within 48 hours for all cases when COVID-19 is the underlying cause of death.

Dear Colleagues,

As is evident all across Wisconsin, the number of deaths related to COVID-19 is straining the ability of the state’s healthcare system to facilitate the safe and respectful final disposition of human remains.

The need for cremation services in Wisconsin is critically high. Therefore, the DHS directive of December 3, 2020, identified essential changes to expedite the process and strengthen safe mortuary practices. It is imperative that physicians in Wisconsin hospitals and networks initiate the death care process by signing COVID-19 related death certificates within 48 hours, as outlined in the directive. Doing so reduces the current and growing burden experienced by hospitals and mortuary service providers and offers a measure of comfort for decedents’ families. The directive is contingent on Executive Order #95 issued on November 20, 2020, declaring a public health emergency.

In addition, the death certificate has critical administrative and epidemiological applications. It may be required to settle the decedents’ estates and obtain insurance or other pensions/benefits and is required prior to cremation services. For these reasons, it is crucial that death certificates be filled out completely, accurately and promptly.

Promptly signing certificates is another example of the extraordinary efforts made by Wisconsin’s dedicated hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the pandemic.

For more information, please contact Kevin Wernet with Wisconsin Emergency Management at


Ryan Westergaard, MD, PhD, MPH Chief Medical Officer and State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases Wisconsin Department of Health Services

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