COVID in Clinton County: Death certificates give glimpse into pandemic's local impact

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Nov. 2—CLINTON — Clinton County death certificates show that the average age of people who died with COVID in Clinton County in 2020 was higher than the average age of all people who died.

The average age of the 95 people who died with COVID in Clinton County in 2020 was 81, while the average age of 2020 non-COVID deaths was 75.

Death certificates filed in Clinton County also indicate the death count in Clinton County was 25% higher in the last four months of 2020 than in the same four months of 2019. COVID was listed as a cause of death on 72, or 27.8%, of the 259 death certificates recorded in Clinton County from September through December of 2020.

The number of COVID deaths fell dramatically in 2021, with 29 COVID deaths recorded in the county from January 2021 through the first three weeks of October, said Clinton County Community Health Manager Michele Cullen.

Cullen credits vaccination of the elderly for the low death numbers.

"We do have the vaccine, so with the vaccine, with decreasing the symptoms and decreasing the hospitalizations, ... have helped us in decreasing those deaths," Cullen said.

More than 80% of Clinton County residents age 65 and older have been vaccinated, Cullen said. "And when I count that, I count it as those people who have started, those people who have completed the two doses and the one dose," she said.

Illinois' Director of Public Health Dr. Ngozi Ezike explained during an April 2020 press conference with Gov. J.B. Pritzker what officials mean when they talk about COVID deaths. "I just want to be clear in terms of the definition of people dying of COVID," Ezike said.

"So, the case definition is very simplistic. It means at the time of death it was a COVID-positive diagnosis. So that means that if you were in hospice and had already been given, you know, a few weeks to live and then you also were found to have COVID, that would be counted as a COVID death," Ezike said.

"It means that if, technically, if, even if you died of a clear alternate cause, but you had COVID at the same time, it's still listed as a COVID death. So everyone who's listed as a COVID death, doesn't mean that that was the cause of the death but they had COVID at the time of death," Ezike said.

In a May 2021 interview with CNN, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky gave the same definition. While explaining COVID deaths of vaccinated people, Walensky said,"Not all of those 223 cases who had COVID actually died of COVID. They may have had mild disease but died, for example, of a heart attack."

Hospitals and medical examiners report deaths to state officials, Cullen said. They consider underlying and contributing causes, she said. If a person was diagnosed with COVID within a couple of weeks of death, COVID will probably be listed higher than other comorbidities, she said.

For awhile, officials had a discrepancy in death numbers because anyone with a COVID diagnosis was entered as a COVID death, Cullen said. But now, people who test negative aren't listed as COVID deaths.

And because COVID numbers reported by the state come from reports by hospitals and medical examiners, numbers from different sources don't match exactly, Cullen said. Cullen reports the data she receives from the State of Iowa.

Clinton County death records include out-of-county residents who died in Clinton County as well as residents who died at out-of-county hospitals.

Here is a month-by-month breakdown of COVID activity in Clinton County throughout the pandemic:

January 2020

In January 2020, before COVID-19 was found in Clinton County, 53 people died, according to county death records. The average age of the decedents was 89. Only 12 were under the age of 70. Nineteen were nursing home residents, and two were in hospice.

A Camanche resident died Jan. 17, 2020 at the University of Iowa Hospitals of respiratory failure due to pulmonary coronavirus infection, but the virus was not reported as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

February 2020

In February of 2020, 39 deaths were recorded in Clinton County. The average age was 76.1. The youngest was 39, an undetermined cause of death. The oldest was 100.

March 2020

Clinton County announced in a press release dated March 26, 2020 that the Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed a case of coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, in Clinton County. The patient was between the ages of 41 and 60 and was self-isolating at home.

A total of 47 deaths was recorded in March 2020.

April 2020

The first COVID-19 death recorded on a death certificate in Clinton County was April 19, an 87-year-old Illinois resident. A second Illinois resident died of COVID-19 in Clinton County on April 23. She was 93.

The first Clinton County resident who died in the county and had a COVID-19 mention on the death certificate was a 69-year-old who died of sepsis caused by infections of the urinary tract "in the setting of COVID-19."

May 2020

In May, two death certificates from Clinton County mention COVID-19. Both were Fulton, Illinois residents. One was 81, and the other was 101.

June and July 2020

Of the 53 death certificates filed in Clinton County in June of 2020, none mentioned COVID. COVID was listed on four death certificates out of 44 recorded in July of 2020. The COVID patients were 65, 85, 85 and 89.

August 2020

The number of deaths in Clinton County rose to 62 in August. Fifteen, or 24.19% mentioned COVID-19 as the cause or contributing factor. The average age of all who died in August was 79.8; the average age of the people who died with COVID was 86.2. Of those who died with COVID, the youngest was 65.

September 2020

In September of 2020, Clinton County recorded 60 deaths, an increase of 11% from September 2019, when 54 people died in the county.

COVID was listed as a factor in eight, or 13.33%, of the 2020 deaths. Seven were between 75 and 93. The youngest was 47, the youngest COVID death in Clinton County in 2020.

Of the 13 nursing home deaths, two recorded COVID on the death certificate.

Fifteen people died in hospice, none with COVID, according to death records.

In comparison, the average age of decedents in September 2019 was 77. Nineteen died in nursing homes.

October 2020

October deaths increased by 12.5% from 2019 to 2020. In October of 2019, 56 deaths were recorded. The average age of death was 75.8. In October 2020, 63 people, of an average age of 74.6, died.

The average age of the 14 decedents with COVID was 79.1. The oldest COVID death was 93; the youngest was 56.

Eighteen residents died in nursing homes in 2020, an increase from 14 in 2019.

November 2020

November deaths increased by 45.8% from 2019 to 2020. Forty-eight people between the ages of 51 and 97 died in Clinton County in 2019, and 70, between 0 and 102, died in November 2020.

COVID was listed on the death certificate of 25, or 35.71%, of November 2020 death certificates. Those who died with COVID were between the ages of 58 and 96.

December 2020

December of 2020 produced 34.69% more deaths than December 2019. The total number of deaths jumped from 49 in December 2019 to 66 in December of 2020. COVID contributed to 37.88% of December 2020 deaths, according to county death records.

The average age of the 25 people who died of COVID in December of 2020 was 76.44.

2021

Twelve Clinton County residents died with COVID in January of 2021, according to Cullen, but monthly totals have been in the single digits since then.

In February of 2021, the county had five COVID deaths; in March, only one. Three people died with COVID in April, one in May, none in June or July, one in August and five in September.

As of October 25, only one Clinton County resident had died of COVID in October, Michele Cullen said.

A total of 29 people have died with COVID in Clinton County in 2021, 25 of them over the age of 61, The other four were between 41 and 60 years of age, Cullen said.