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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Compared With Elsewhere, Mecklenburg COVID-19 Deaths Are Low

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Mecklenburg County has one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates among the 100 largest U.S. counties.

As of early December, Mecklenburg had about 40 deaths per 100,000 people over the course of the pandemic. That ranks as No. 78 of the biggest 100 counties, based on an analysis of population and data on COVID-19 deaths from the New York Times.

The counties with the highest death rates were hit hardest in the first phase of the pandemic, in places like New York, Michigan and New Jersey.

Queens County in New York City has had 339 deaths per 100,000 people – the highest rate of death in the nation among the largest counties.

Essex County in New Jersey had the next-highest death rate among counties outside of New York City, at 278.

But there are other areas hit by the virus later that have seen more deaths than Mecklenburg.

When looking at deaths per 100,000 people, Fulton County, Georgia, (Atlanta) has had 67 deaths; Bexar County, Texas (San Antonio) has had 75 deaths; Denver County, Colorado, has had 74 deaths.

Mecklenburg Deputy Health Director Raynard Washington said the county has been fortunate so far. He said the county has been able to keep its COVID-19 deaths relatively low by having what he said is a “laser focus” in an attempt to keep the virus out of nursing homes.

The county, however, has still had more than 30 outbreaks at different congregate living facilities. Half of its deaths are from nursing homes.

“Most jurisdictions that saw huge upswings in deaths (had outbreaks) in long-term care facilities,” Washington said. “A lot of the death was driven by quick spread by a very vulnerable population. We have been laser-focused on long-term facilities.”

He also said most of the county’s transmission is among young adults, who are at far less risk from the coronavirus than people over 65.

Washington, however, noted that cases and deaths in Mecklenburg are on the upswing, just as they are across the country.

North Carolina has also had a slow reopening compared with other states. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has never allowed bars to serve customers indoors.

The counties with lower death rates than Mecklenburg were generally out west.

Of the nation’s largest counties, San Francisco had the lowest rate per 100,000 people, at 18 deaths. San Francisco has had some of the most restrictive regulations in businesses since the pandemic began.

Wake County was also relatively low, at 27 deaths per 100,000 people.

In past years, Mecklenburg County has consistently had about 3,050 people die from all causes in a six-month period between March and August.

In 2020, that number increased to 3,657, according to a database from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. That’s more than the number of reported COVID-19 deaths during that period, which was 295.

Washington said he’s confident that the county’s official COVID death total is accurate, and that he hasn’t missed people who died from the coronavirus unbeknownst to doctors and health officials.

“We have a backstop in place to make sure any COVID deaths are caught before too much time passes,” he said. “We have a surveillance process that if a death certificate comes in with a possible mention of COVID, that gets forward to our communicable disease team for investigation.”

What’s unclear is what’s behind the other non-COVID-19 excess deaths.

Mecklenburg’s EMS service has said it has found more people dead on arrival when they have arrived on the scene after receiving 911 calls. It’s unclear whether more people are delaying preventative care because they are afraid of contracting the virus.

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