Graham Hetrick

1271 South 28th Street
Harrisburg, PA  17111
Phone: (717) 564-4567
Fax: 717-558-1135

The Coroner’s Office and COVID-1

     The Coroner’s Office is a team of medicolegal death investigators. We investigate the cause and manner of death, and certify every homicide, suicide and accidental death in Dauphin County, as well as certifying many natural deaths.

     My thirty-year career became the television forensic show called The Coroner: I Speak for the Dead, which now can be seen on Amazon Prime. Medical legal death investigation is considered one of the first parts of an investigation of a crime scene. Just like police, emergency medical services and fire protection services, my office is a first responder. We are what is termed “Essential Personnel.”

      During this COVID-19 pandemic we remain an essential part of keeping society functioning while others are at home to avoid spreading the disease. There are many essential personnel such as medical, transportation and infrastructure personnel that must continue to work as we resolve this crisis. The question for me over the last couple of weeks has been, and is, how to perform the necessary investigations and still protect myself and staff from exposure in the process. I sincerely appreciate the dedication and courage of my office.
To us, every call for a death requires close contact with the deceased. We must enter a home where there is the possibility that multiple witnesses or family members could be contaminated. The scene is our first point of exposure, but not our last. The body is then transported to the Dauphin County Forensic Center where there is another external examination, and many times a full autopsy. At this point we are exposed not just to the external body but also to the interior of the deceased’s body. Even in an operating room setting this virus is very hard to kill because it can last for days on hard surfaces, such as stainless steel and plastic. It doesn’t take much to miss a spot on a floor or surgical table and have viable virus remaining on equipment.

     My first task was to create a protocol of asking questions of police, family and witnesses before we ever arrive at the scene. We need to know if anyone at the scene was known to be positive for the virus. We need to know if the deceased had traveled out of the country in the last 30 days. It is also important to know if the deceased had any symptoms such as:

  • Trouble breathing or heaviness in the chest area
  • Flushing of cheeks or bluish lips
  • Extreme tiredness and muscle aches
  • Fever
     Once at the scene we gown-up, much like we do in the surgical room. It looks a bit intimidating to family members and the public, but it is necessary to protect the deputies and also their families.

I have instituted a new protocol in which each suspected case is tested for the virus and the body refrigerated until the test results are known. After we know if the individual was or was not a carrier, then we can decide how to move forward. 

    If the tests are positive for COVID-19, then autopsy protocol is tightened, and, at the completion of the operation, the operating room and all vehicles and equipment are sterilized with steam at 320 degrees Fahrenheit. Even the administrative offices will be steam-cleaned after a positive test on a body entering the lab.

     The other effort I am doing for myself and my deputies is to express the importance of keeping our immune systems in good condition. The COVID-19 virus affects mostly the respiratory system. Viruses love sugar, so I recommend staying away from a high carbohydrate, high sugar diet. I would also supplement with vitamin D3 and high doses of vitamin C. I have also instituted a rigorous deep breathing session each morning before stepping out into the public. This conditions our lungs and makes the body less acidic (on the pH scale).

     I know we are going through difficult times, but I often think of a bible verse in 2 Timothy: 1.7 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

     Let us all take this time to think of what a gift life is and how a healthy mind and body are the most important gifts we have.

Blessings and be safe,
Coroner Hetrick

The Coroner is elected to a four-year term to investigate sudden, unexplained deaths, accidental deaths, homicides, suicides and other deaths of questionable circumstances. 

The Coroner plays a crucial role in gathering forensic evidence for the criminal justice system in Dauphin County.
Mission Statement
The main function of the Coroner's office is to determine the cause and manner of death in cases where the death is determined to fall under Coroner jurisdiction. The coroner's office investigators and staff treat each death with respect, dignity and kindness.
An investigator is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to evaluate cases and provide information.
While the death of a loved one is a difficult and emotional time, the Coroner's office strives to assist family members with any concerns or questions and to aid in the grieving process in a professional and courteous manner.
Description and Purpose of the Coroner's Office
The Coroner is an elected position, voted into office by the citizens of Dauphin County.
It is the duty of the Dauphin County Coroner's Office to conduct a comprehensive investigation of all unattended deaths in the county.
The Coroner staff recognize the tragedy surrounding an untimely death. Throughout an investigation, efforts are made to supply assistance to the grieving family.
The investigator's responsibilities include responding to scenes and performing death investigations. This includes taking jurisdiction of the decedent's person, collecting of physical evidence, interviewing witnesses and family members, establishing the legal next of kin, making death notifications, securing personal property, confirming positive identification, and report writing.

**For questions please use the Contact Us link to contact the Coroner's office.**