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Deaths in 2020 top previous two years in Rowan County

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The total number of deaths reported in Rowan County this year surpasses the total number of deaths reported in 2018 and 2019.

Rowan County Public Health Director Nina Oliver said COVID-19 is a contributing factor for the rise.

In 2018, a total of 1,663 Rowan Countians died, according to the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics. By contrast, in 2019, a total of 1,478 Rowan Countians died, Oliver said. This year, county health officials report a total of 1,731 deaths.

Oliver said COVID-19 is a contributing factor to the rise in deaths this year.

Of the 1,731 deaths reported this year, the Rowan County Health Department says 141 are from cancer, 91 are from heart disease and 168 are from the flu and/or pneumonia. COVID-19 deaths are now up to 154 after the county reported an additional two on Wednesday. It’s unknown if some of those flu/pneumonia deaths are from COVID-19 since health experts now know COVID-19 was present before initially realized. But the number is a sharp increase from the 2018 data, when there were 48 flu/pneumonia deaths.

Oliver added that there isn’t a way to fully determine if some of those flu/pneumonia deaths were really from COVID-19, but many doctors reported seeing sick patients with flu-like symptoms in January and February despite testing negative for influenza.

Still, overdoses and deaths from diabetes also contribute to the rise in deaths this year.

“There are still other issues in the county that do contribute to (the rise in deaths) also,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of folks that have chronic diseases.”

The number of cancer deaths actually appears to have decreased significantly, with 315 in 2018, the latest year available online through the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics, and 141 deaths in 2020.

While the exact reason for the disparity is not clear, Oliver said organizations like Healthy Rowan and the county health department have been working to decline the number of cigarette smokers in the county, an activity that is among the leading causes of cancer, while also working to educate the community about how to implement healthier lifestyles. But while seeing the number of cancer deaths decrease significantly over the last two years is “excellent,” she said, the work of public health officials and experts hasn’t impacted that decrease because the effects of those efforts won’t be seen for several more years.

On the COVID-19 front, county health officials on Wednesday reported two more COVID-19 deaths from community members not associated with a local congregate care facility, bringing the total to 154 deaths reported since the pandemic came to the county in March, with 64 of those occurring outside of congregate care facilities. The average age of those deaths remains at 80.

County health officials also reported 115 additional cases on Wednesday after two consecutive days of double-digit increases. The record high was reached last week, with 136 reported in one day. In total, 7,249 people have tested positive since March, and 1,832, or 25.3%, of those are currently active. A total of 5,263 people have recovered.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 among Rowan County residents remains at 18.

While those aged 18-35 comprise the plurality of all positive cases, the average age of those testing positive is 43.9.

Rowan County ranks 17th in the state for most reported cases and is currently sixth in the state for most reported deaths.

Of all Rowan zip codes, the most cases in Rowan County have been reported in 28147‚ an area that also ranks second in the state for most reported deaths — 62. Ahead of it is zip code 27804, located in Nash County, with 63 deaths.

Zip code 28147 also is the location of several congregate care facilities that have reported outbreaks, including the county’s deadliest outbreak, the Citadel, which reports 21 deaths since March. Other facilities in that area that have reported outbreaks include the Laurels, Elmcroft, Liberty Commons and Piedmont Correctional Institute. Including the Citadel, that amounts to 45 deaths from those facilities.

Elmcroft and Liberty Commons do not currently have outbreaks, according to state and county data.

In Rowan County, Hispanic residents have been disproportionately impacted with cases overall, as they comprise 19.27% of all cases despite making up only 9% of the overall population in the county.

Across the state, 5,273 new cases were reported on Wednesday, totaling 451,874 cases since March after completing 6.11 million tests. That amounts to a daily positivity rate of 12.5%, and an overall rate of 7.4%. Health experts recommend that rate not exceed 5%.

A total of 2,811 North Carolinians are currently being hospitalized for the virus, while 5,979 have died.

The CDC reported 201,776 additional cases on Wednesday, totaling 16.52 million cases across the U.S since January. And after reporting an additional 2,960 deaths, the virus has now claimed 302,992 American lives. North Carolina currently ranks 33rd in the nation for its average daily cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days — 58.6. It ranks 39th for most reported deaths per 100,000 residents since January.

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