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Death toll since Covid surge now up to 128 here

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ (Week of September 16, 2021)

Another 18 people have died of COVID-19 in Indian River County, according to the county health department’s latest tally, dated Sept. 11. Combined with the previous week’s reported 29 deaths, the total lost locally in the Delta surge rises to 128.

That is a horrifying number – 30 more fatalities than the number of people lost in the collapse of the condo tower in Surfside in June. Yet while what death toll reverberated around the world, an even greater loss of life over six weeks in a county of 160,000 did not warrant public mention by government officials at the state or local level.

While the CDC is now showing deaths on the “county view” page of its COVID data tracker, the figure does not correspond to the figure privately released by the local health department.

That death count – along with deaths in long-term care facilities, case counts and testing numbers – goes only to a select group of physicians, pharmacists and clinics, as well as the county’s two hospitals. A note on the report asks that the document not be forwarded.

Other news organizations across Florida continue to be stymied by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ refusal to allow the state health department to publicly break out on its own website by county the most dire consequence of the coronavirus – loss of life.

In addition, deaths are now logged by date of death, not the date the information is received by the state officials. That has created a delay in reporting that keeps communities from knowing the real-time effect the virus is having.

The most recent figures, for the week ending Sept. 11, included six additional deaths for the week ending Sept. 4, and four deaths from the week before that. That means of the 18 deaths reported last week, only eight occurred last week. But because of the reporting time lag, there were likely more deaths last week that have not yet been logged. Still, the totals are lower than they have been in recent weeks.

Positivity rates in the county have fallen off sharply, now down to around 17 percent, a figure that is still worrisome given that rates over 10 percent once caused considerable alarm. There were still 692 cases of COVID uncovered here last week, but that was down from 1,118 the previous week.

Another data dark zone is the number of COVID cases and deaths in individual long-term care facilities, where to date 35 percent of the state’s COVID fatal cases have occurred or originated. Until late May, the state published figures by facility, a report that allowed families to make informed decisions about their loved one’s care and safety. Vaccination rates in facilities are also hard to determine, available only on a complex spreadsheet on the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) website which is not designed for consumers.

Of the 18 deaths in Indian River County added to the record last week, three were people who lived or worked in a local nursing home or assisted living facility. That compares to 11 deaths in long-term care reported the previous week, a number that was more than twice the number of the week before that. In all, there have been 157 deaths connected to the county’s long-term care industry since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Long-term care residents are expected to be among the first in line to receive COVID vaccine booster shots as soon as they are authorized at the federal level.