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First Death Attributed to COVID-19 Reported in Scotland County

Major new testing efforts in the area bring total to six active cases among county’s population of roughly 5,000.

 Recent public testing for COVID-19 and the first death in Scotland County attributed to the disease have refocused community concerns on the pandemic.

On June 10th, the Scotland County Health Department issued a press release on Facebook announcing the county’s first COVID-19 related fatality.

The statement read “The Scotland County Health Department was informed of the first confirmed death of a Scotland County resident due to COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus. The individual was 70-80 years of age and case origin as community transmission. The individual did have underlying health conditions.”

The announcement left some in the community questioning why this was termed a COVID-19 death and not attributed to the underlying health conditions.

Scotland County Health Department Administrator Lynette Vassholz explained that even if an individual is terminally ill before they contract COVID-19, the virus can still ultimately be responsible for the death.

“Most healthy people that contract COVID-19 have the ability to fight it off,” she said. “In cases where there are underlying health factors, the body often is in a weakened state and is not strong enough to fight off the COVID-19 symptoms, which ultimately overtake the body and cause death.”

Scotland County Coroner, Dr. Jeff Davis, said in this case the death certificate’s declaration of COVID-19 was determined by the deceased’s attending physician at Boone Hospital Center in Columbia. Following consultation with the original health care provider as well as healthcare providers with Hospice of Northeast Missouri, who were treating the patient at the time of her death, Davis as coroner certified the finding.

“Typically, terminal illnesses are not the cause of death,” said Dr. Davis. “They often lead to weakened immune systems or failing body functions that prevent the body from fighting off infections or viruses, such as influenza, which ultimately cause death prematurely.”

Dr. Davis also addressed speculation related to testing and patients being allowed to return home without negative test results.

“Typically, the only reason someone with COVID-19 would be admitted to the hospital is if they required supplementary care, such as oxygen or a ventilator,” he said. “It is very common to discharge patients that have the disease, and because someone with it was discharged, definitely should not be interpreted as a negative test result.”

The public concern about the classification related to Scotland County’s first COVID-19 fatality, appeared to coincide with mounting apprehension that the disease was spreading in the community, despite the fact that recent data does not seem to support the idea there is a major new outbreak of the disease.

After four days of free rapid-response testing, the Scotland County Health Department reported just four positive results from 235 tests administered, or a 1.7% positive rate. The health officials also indicated that two of the four positive tests were from outside the county. The health department reported there are currently six active cases, which combined with the five “resolved” cases brings the total confirmed cases for Scotland County to 11 among the 2018 Census reported population of 4,966.

Regardless, the news of new confirmed cases, combined with the first COVID-19 related death,  seem to have focused public attention on quarantine guidelines and efforts to limit the spread of the disease.

Scotland County Prosecuting Attorney April Wilson addressed concerns related to enforcement of administrative orders and laws created to protect public safety.

“I want to reassure the public that law enforcement, the Scotland County Health Department and other medical professionals, are doing everything within the scope of their power to ensure the community’s safety,” said Wilson.

While some community members are voicing apprehension that not enough is being done to protect their health, others are showing concern that speculation and misinformation are leading many to overreact.

“Recently there have been a number of public statements circulating that contain allegations that the community is at great risk,” said Wilson. “That could result in panic, concern and fear in our community. The continued distribution of information that contains inaccuracies may add to the fear in our community.”

The Missouri National Guard will be returning to Memphis on June 20th to assist the Health Department in additional testing that will be offered from 1-4 p.m. Register online at the Missouri Division of Health and Senior Services or by calling 1-877-435-8411.