La Plata County has recorded 10 deaths associated with COVID-19, but it may take some time before health officials distinguish between those who died from the virus and those who died of other causes, but had the illness at the time of death.
Since May, Colorado has provided two death statistics involving the novel coronavirus outbreak: deaths among people who had COVID-19 at the time of death and deaths directly caused by COVID-19.
San Juan Basin Public Health, however, reports only “deaths among” cases, and leaves it up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to officially determine whether a person’s death is a direct result of COVID-19.
The CDC, however, doesn’t make those distinctions public until a county reaches 10 deaths as a way to protect the health information of people, especially in small communities.
It is unclear when the CDC will make those determinations for La Plata County. A request for comment Friday afternoon was not immediately returned.
Claire Ninde, spokeswoman for SJBPH, said Friday only the CDC can make those determinations.
“Local public health agencies do not determine causes of death,” she said. “It may take the CDC some time to classify all 10 of La Plata County’s deaths to date.”
SJBPH will not change the way it reports deaths, Ninde said, “because we will not receive notification from CDC as to which deaths fall into either of the two categories.”
Ninde said CDC’s provisional death data is located on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s data page, which can be found at https://covid19.colorado.gov/data.
SJBPH declined to provide the age range and genders of the 10 people who died.
“In our small community, it can be easy to identify specific people who have died based on age range and gender,” Ninde said. “As such, SJBPH reports fatalities using broader categories and, where relevant, the location of death.”
All 10 deaths in La Plata County were adults, some of them older in age, Ninde said. Most had underlying medical conditions, as most American adults do.
According to the CDC, about 60% of American adults have a chronic medical condition that increases the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 and about 40% have more than one of these conditions, Ninde said.
Five of the deaths happened at Mercy Regional Medical Center, Ninde said. The others occurred at residences or were outbreak related. It has been reported that three people have died in the Four Corners Health Care Center outbreak.
It was previously reported that one person who died was identified by his family as a 69-year-old man.
SJBPH releases as much information as possible about cases without compromising privacy, but it is a balancing act, Ninde said.
“We know that the community is extremely interested in causes of death, and we also know that the families and loved ones of those who have passed away usually strongly desire privacy as they grieve,” Ninde said.