Breckenridge Texan

Local officials investigating COVID-19 deaths reported for Stephens County

Local officials investigating COVID-19 deaths reported for Stephens County
July 29
13:37 2020

Local officials are investigating the situation that led to two coronavirus-related deaths being attributed to Stephens County. A change by the State of Texas on how deaths caused by the coronavirus are reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services has led to some confusion about the reported deaths.

Stephens County Judge Michael Roach said county officials were unaware of any COVID-19 related deaths in Stephens County and began looking into the matter after a citizen brought it to their attention. He said the citizen wanted to know if they knew the TDSHS dashboard was showing two COVID-19 related deaths in Stephens County.

“I said ‘No, absolutely not. We’ve kept up with that and we don’t know of any at all,’” Roach said.

As Roach started looking into the reported deaths, he said, he received a couple more inquiries from citizens wanting to know what is going on.  He said some people in the county are suspicious of the government reporting on the numbers anyway, and others feel they are trying to report numbers that are not there just to drive up the number of reported deaths.

“We’ve tried to do our best to have confidence in our local numbers, that they are correct, and then when something like that happens, it’s like, ‘OK what’s Stephens County doing? There are people dying and you’re trying to avoid reporting it,’” he said.

Looking for answers at the DSHS

On Tuesday, Roach contacted the Texas DSHS about the situation. He said Dr. Joel Massey of Arlington, regional medical director for the Texas DSHS, told him that starting Monday, July 27, the state started importing data from the DSHS Vital Statistics. He said if there were any death certificates that show  COVID-19 as a cause of death, the DSHS gets that information and reports it.

“And that’s what happened,” Roach said. “There are two death certificates that have COVID-19 as the cause, and they are residents of Stephens County.”

He said in one case, the husband of the deceased still lives in Stephens County and the wife died at a nursing home in Graham.

“I guess she tested positive and then later passed away,” Roach said.

Roach said his understanding is that she had comorbidity health issues. Also, he said he understands that she had been in another facility in Abilene prior to being  moved to Graham and had not been in Stephens County for a while.

“She wasn’t diagnosed (here); she wasn’t tested (here); she wasn’t treated (here); also she didn’t die here, and we knew nothing about it,” Roach said.

Roach said he suspects the situation with the second reported death for Stephens County will probably be a similar situation. However, he said getting the information has not been as easy. He said he’s trying to contact the state and get the information.

Roach said he believes the woman who died in Graham was taken to the Metroplex to a crematory before being returned to Stephens County.

According to a July 27 story in the Texas Tribune, the formal tally of COVID-19 fatalities grew by more than 600 on Monday after state health officials changed their method of reporting.

The Tribune also reported that the revised count indicates that more than 12% of the state’s death tally was unreported by state health officials before Monday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is now counting deaths marked on death certificates as caused by COVID-19. Previously, the state relied on local and regional public health departments to verify and report deaths, the Tribune reported.

Story by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

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