ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The COVID-19 congregate settings and nursing homes report the Arkansas Department of Health has changed its format since early August — often omitting where deaths have happened.
What initially was a go-to report that listed facilities, positive and recovered residents/inmates, deaths, has become a bit more challenging to keep track of cumulative data because of an ever-changing template.
Prior to August 6 the ADH always included the locations of the nursing homes and prisons where deaths happened.
ADH Public Information Director Gavin Lesnick wrote on August 7 and August 12:
“The nursing home and congregate settings report will no longer list recoveries. The new report separates facilities that have active cases versus those that do not in separate tables.” KNWA/FOX24 asked ADH, “why was the column for expired HCW/Staff, expired residents, and expired inmates removed?” On August 12, Lesnick wrote an email, “this is all the information we are able to release right now, but we are working on an updated version and will share that as soon as it’s available.”ADH PID Gavin Lesnick
On August 17, there was an updated version of the report — it had less cumulative information. However, the nursing homes and congregate settings were in alphabetical order and included the location of the cities and counties. The dates of the most recent positives were also added.
The August 21 report lists nursing home deaths, 226, above the prison data, but nursing home location data are missing. On the same day, the prison data shows a total of 38 “expired inmates,” but the report lists 26 deaths. That’s because the Cummins Unit (11 deaths) and Randall L. Williams (1 death) are no longer on the report.
On August 16, cumulative deaths went down by one due to a false-positive and were adjusted from the state’s total. Instead of 600 deaths, there were 599, according to ADH.
The state’s cumulative COVID-19 cases dropped from 52,392 to 51,992. The ADH said they removed cases they found to be out-of-state residents or duplicates, causing the totals to appear skewed in the daily update.
Tracking COVID-19 cases from a coroner’s point of view
ADH DIRECTIVE TO CORONERS FOR REPORTING COVID-19 CASES
BENTON COUNTY COVID-19 CASES
In Northwest Arkansas, Benton County is tops in the state for cumulative COVID-19 cases with 5,113 (4,881 recoveries) and 45 deaths, according to ADH. Only Washington County has more cases at 6,631 (6,397 recoveries) and 55 deaths, per ADH. Benton County Coroner Daniel Oxford keeps tally of COVID-19 deaths by city and county of residence, sex, race, ethnicity, date of death, and age. His report shows a total of 85 deaths in Benton County. Also, Oxford counts deaths in Benton if the person died there, but the person may have lived in another county.
CLEBURNE COUNTY COVID-19 CASES
Cleburne County Coroner Waren Olmstead remembers the county was the state’s first hot-spot when the pandemic started. “We had five residents die from COVID-19 related illness,” said Olmstead, “but they died in another county because our area was not equipped to care for them [as in hospitals].” The initial deaths were related to a church gathering and it’s suspected the preacher who came in from out-of-state is the person who infected others, according to Olmstead. As of this year, there have been roughly 170 deaths in Cleburne and three to four were thought to be COVID-19 related. “Those tests on the deceased came back negative,” said Olmstead. The county currently has about 30-plus active cases. There have been no COVID-19 deaths reported at the county’s two nursing homes. There is one infected resident and employee, according to ADH’s report from August 20. Olmstead said he stays informed about the pandemic through the ADH and a weekly teleconference call with coroners across the state. “We discuss new developments and policy changes,” said Olmstead.
SEBASTIAN COUNTY COVID-19 CASES
There have been more than 1,153 deaths in Sebastian County in 2020. “This is about 60 to 70 more deaths compared to last year,” said Coroner Kenneth Hobbs. In eight days, July 19- 27, there were 60 deaths overall (not all COVID-19), according to Hobbs. The ADH reports 30 COVID-19 related deaths in Sebastian County, but Hobbs’s numbers are different. “As of July 26 there have been 18 COVID-19 reported deaths,” he said. He mentions the ADH directive in terms of citing the cause of death as, “[they died] because of COVID, or with COVID,” said Hobbs. If anything, Hobbs wishes for extra office help in getting the “paperwork” completed. The county has had 2,722 COVID-19 cumulative cases and 2,371 recoveries, according to ADH. It has often been in the state’s top counties for “20 or more new cases.”
YELL COUNTY COVID-19 CASES
Usually, when Yell County residents die, the death is recorded in another county because they’re transported to a major hospital. Coroner Donna Wells said she has done about four autopsies and they were all nursing home residents. The ADH reports 1,113 cumulative cases and 21 deaths in Yell County. One death, Friday, August 14, was the wife of Yell County Judge Mark Thone, Terry Thone. The Dardanelle resident was 57 and had recently retired from teaching. Twelve of the deaths happened at Mitchell’s Nursing Home, in Danville, 11 residents, and a long-time employee Lois Frieda Bean. On June 19, a Dardanelle resident, 73 years old, died. She worked a few days a week at Dardanelle Nursing Center.