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New Policy to List COVID-19 Deaths on Our Websites

To this point, our health department has not posted the number of COVID-related deaths in Calvert County. This decision was not made in an attempt to hide information from the public. The concern was a potential show of disrespect to the families of the few who have died. Reducing the death of an individual to a statistic dehumanizes that loss.

When hundreds or thousands of people perish in a calamitous event, there is a degree of anonymity to a mortality count. When only two or three people have died, each of those numbers represents a specific individual.

However, as a result of a misleading state method of attributing deaths to each county, our health department has made the decision to post the current number of coronavirus deaths in Calvert County. The state COVID website now attributes 12 deaths to Calvert County. The actual number of deaths is 3.

The state assigns a death to a county based on the address listed on each death certificate. This is problematic because the address of “residence” is provided by family members and not based on the actual residence of the individual at the time they acquired the infection. Of the 9 deaths misattributed to Calvert County, it appears that all of these individuals were previous residents of Calvert, but had been living in nursing homes outside of the county at the time they became infected with COVID-19. These individuals had been living in out-of-county facilities for months to years before they died.

At least one other county, Queen Anne’s, has had a similar problem. Almost all of the deaths attributed to Queen Anne’s were also people who lived in that county at an earlier time, but had relocated to nursing homes in other counties well before they became infected and died. Discussions occurred between the Calvert and Queen Anne’s health departments and state officials to revise the method by which deaths are attributed to counties, but this has not resulted in policy changes.

The decision to post the number of deaths that have occurred in Calvert is also to reassure people that the nursing homes in our county have been doing a stellar job protecting their residents and employees. 48% of all COVID-related deaths in Maryland have occurred among nursing home residents (792 deaths). In total, 4,323 nursing home residents across Maryland have tested positive for the virus to date. In the four nursing homes in Calvert, there has been 1 diagnosed case (now recovered) and no deaths.

Our health department’s infectious disease nurses have worked closely with the administrative and nursing staffs of each of our nursing homes since early in the pandemic. Nursing home staff can call for advice any day of the week and anytime of day or night. Every nursing home has done a consistently terrific job of screening employees for signs of illness prior to every shift. Any employee displaying any potential evidence of COVID-19 are excluded from work and tested. Any resident displaying any potential symptoms are isolated from other residents and tested. Staff consistently uses appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Hand washing and other hygiene measures are emphasized.

How do we know this? Our nursing staff make periodic, unannounced visits to verify employee screening is occurring, proper sanitary procedures are in place, soap and hand sanitizer dispensers are stocked, PPE is being used, and social distancing occurs for both residents and staff. The health department will continue to work with our county’s nursing home professionals to safeguard both residents and staff.

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