State figures for COVID-19 deaths in Letcher County appear to be grossly underreported, based on numbers from a national COVID tracking project, medical personnel, family members of persons who have died of the virus, mortuary sources, and the state’s own numbers as reported over the past two weeks.
The Kentucky COVID-19 page lists Letcher with only four deaths from the virus since March 2020, however the “Long Term Care and Other Congregate Facilities Update” on the same page on Dec. 29 listed six deaths of residents at Letcher Manor Nursing Home alone. This Tuesday’s figures show only 20 cases ever at the nursing home and zero deaths. Two weeks ago, there had been 72 cases and one death at the nursing home, according to the same report.
The Centers for Medicare Services show 20 confirmed cases in the nursing home during the last week of December alone. The COVID Tracking Report prepared by The Atlantic magazine and last updated five days ago using the same state data from all 50 states shows seven patient deaths from COVID-19 at Letcher Manor, with 100 positive cases.
Between 16 and 20 people have died countywide since March, other sources say, with more than a dozen in the past two weeks. Family members have confirmed some of those deaths.
A spokeswoman from Gov. Andy Beshear’s office last week referred questions to the Kentucky River District Health Department.
Scott Lockard, director of the Kentucky River District Health Department, acknowledged that the numbers are not correct, and said the state Department of Public Health should be reconciling the numbers soon. He said the district lost its regional epidemiologist, a state position, and that has caused a reporting issue.
“That’s a state position, and they will have it replaced hopefully by the end of February, first of March,” Lockard said.
Lockard said he had not had a chance to look at those figures this week because of focusing on vaccinations.
“The deaths are in the double digits in the nursing home for sure,” he said.
He said epidemiologist had kept track of those numbers and reconciled then with state figures, and his department doesn’t have to ability to absorb that extra work.
“I lost a 60-hour-per-week employee, and I think that’s just indicative of the burnout right now,” he said.
Meanwhile, the health department is focusing on vaccinations.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare and Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation have been vaccinating employees for the past week, and first responders are receiving the vaccine now. Nursing home patients and staff have been vaccinated under a separate contract.
As of Tuesday, numbers of COVID-19 cases provided by the state are as follows (note that the death figures for other counties may be inaccurate as well): Letcher – Total 1,148 (up 33 from last week, 8 new, 4 dead, 79.5 incident rate); Knott – Total 770 (2 new cases, 14 deaths, 45.3 incident rate); Leslie – Total 513 (14 new, 1 dead, 65.1 incident rate); Owsley – Total 321 (0 new, 10 dead, 61.5 incident rate); Perry – Total 1,641 (9 new, 17 dead, 61.0 incident rate); Wolfe – Total 315 (2 new, 3 dead, 24.0 incident rate); Harlan – Total 1,692 (2 new, 25 deaths, 103.3 incident rate); Pike – Total 3,189 (24 new, 33 dead, 83.2 incident rate); Wise County, Va. – Total 2,182 (116 hospitalized, 60 dead); Norton, Va. – Total 180 (10 hospitalized, 1 dead).