Report shows first potential virus death in Hartwell

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Hart County may have seen its first COVID-19 related death, a state agency reports, as the county added nearly 100 confirmed cases in the past two weeks.

The Department of Community Health reports one resident at Hart Care Center died due to the novel coronavirus, and at least 33 other residents at the facility have contracted the disease, while zero have reportedly recovered as of Tuesday. Seventeen staff members have also reportedly tested positive.

However, the Department of Public Health’s daily status report does not show any deaths from the virus in Hart County.

District 2 public health spokesperson Dave Palmer said there are a couple of reasons this could be.

He said there is a lag time in death reporting from coroners/medical examiners, hospitals, and death certificates to the DPH. Nursing homes have to report daily to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, so they would know about a death before DPH would, Palmer said.

Another reason for the conflicting report could be that some people use their home address, as opposed to the facility’s address that they are in, especially if they are there for a shorter period of time such as recovery from an illness or for rehabilitation, Palmer said, causing the death to be listed in their home county.

Hart County has seen an increase of 96 cases in the past two weeks as of Tuesday, a DPH report shows. Since the DPH began tracking cases, Hart County has seen 219 confirmed cases and 33 hospitalizations.

At Whitworth Women’s Facility, there have been 13 staff members test positive and eight who have recovered, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections report. There have been 16 offenders test positive and five who have recovered, the report shows. 

According to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, 69 of 70 critical care hospital beds in a 12-county region in the Athens area were full as of Wednesday. 

Hart County Administrator and Emergency Management Director Terrell Partain has expressed some frustration and uncertainty about the reporting by state agencies. He said he is focusing more on the number of active cases and has told EMTs and paramedics to operate as if everyone they encounter may have the virus out of an abundance of caution. Partain said there are currently 39 active cases in Hart County as of Wednesday morning.

He said earlier in the week he was working to determine whether or not there had been a possible second death of a Hart County resident, but had not confirmed anything Wednesday morning.

Statewide, more than 175,000 people have contracted the virus, 17,544 have been hospitalized, 3,236 have been admitted to ICUs and 3,563 have died from COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

The ongoing pandemic continues to thwart annual events in Hartwell. The Pilot Club’s Depot Day 2020 is now canceled out of concern for public safety, to prevent exposure and to slow the spread of COVID-19.