The location where a COVID-19 fatality is counted may not be where the death occurred, or even where the decedent lived, causing imbalance between the number of deaths counted at nursing homes and the reported total for the county, a St. Mary’s health official said this week.
Those numbers are all still on the rise in St. Mary’s, as data points to a death count as high as one in seven residents at a local veterans home.
While the county’s case numbers include everybody residing in the county, not every death attributed to COVID-19 that happens within the county is included in the county’s death count, although many of them do, according to health officer Dr. Meena Brewster, who said in a phone interview Tuesday morning that the reported jurisdiction of fatalities is up to a decedent’s family.
“When there is a fatality, it is up to the family,” she said, and the family can “identify a different place or a different state” for the death to be counted in.
However, when a nursing home resident dies of COVID-19, that death is counted within the nursing home’s total, while possibly not being counted in the county’s overall total, as is happening with some number of cases from Charlotte Hall Veterans Home.
While the county reported a total of 48 deaths in St. Mary’s as of Tuesday morning, although 53 people have died of COVID-19 at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, which is located in the county.
When asked Tuesday morning, the St. Mary’s health department did not respond to a question about how many deaths have actually occurred in the county.
The county’s case count, which stands at 608 cases, does include all 205 residential cases at the veterans home, meaning that one in three COVID-19 cases in St. Mary’s is a veterans home resident.
“When there are cases within the veterans home, those are counted as St. Mary’s cases, we think of them as residents of St. Mary’s County,” Brewster said.
Brewster said the identification process for deaths makes sure they do not get double-counted.
But the unclear data does suggest that the number of people who have died within the county’s geographical bounds of COVID-19 is much higher than the number reported daily.
In addition to the residential cases at the veterans home, one staff member had died of the virus out of 85 staff cases there.
It remains unclear exactly how many people live at the veterans home, but in late April, a state veterans administration spokesperson said the facility hosted approximately 375 veterans and spouses as well as over 400 employees, during its last “census.”
If those numbers are assumed to be correct, about one in seven people in the nursing home’s residential population has died of COVID-19, and more than half of the residents have tested positive.
Brewster said that the veterans home is wrapping up its fourth round of universal testing, which has been running “pretty much every week, every week and a half sometimes if there’s a delay,” Brewster said.
Outside of the veterans home, Discovery Commons at Wildewood has one staff case of COVID-19 and zero residential cases. Chesapeake Shores previously had a minor staff outbreak of six staff cases and two resident cases, with zero deaths, but those have passed a 14-day benchmark, removing them from the state health department’s data.
The state health department also recently began publicizing testing volume data, showing each county’s total test volume and population tested.
According to the data, 6.1% of St. Mary’s County’s population, or 6,861 individual people, have been tested as of Tuesday, an increase of about 1% since last week. About 3.47% of test results in the past two weeks have been positive.
And, 8,730 COVID-19 tests have been administered in the county, according to the data, but that number can include multiple tests given to a single person.
Visitation to some homes to be allowed
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced last Friday that nursing homes who pass a 14-day benchmark of no new COVID-19 cases will be authorized to allow outdoor, in-person visitation under strict guidelines.
Brewster said Chesapeake Shores is currently the only nursing home which has met the guidelines for outdoor visitation. That nursing home declined to answer questions regarding visitation, forwarding a reporter to a corporate individual who did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Under Hogan’s guidelines, it is strongly recommended that there is cap of two visitors for the outdoor visitations, and residents as well as visitors must wear face coverings. The nursing homes may not have an ongoing outbreak, defined as one or more active cases, and must pass 14 days without having new cases added, while also screening all residents daily.