The state is reporting what Wharton County health officials, elected leaders, and even residents have known all along – there is more than one person who has died from COVID-19 throughout Wharton County.
During a regular Wharton County Commissioners Court meeting on Monday, July 27, the Office of Emergency Management and Judge Phillip Spenrath learned the state reported 14 deaths in WC.
This information was coming from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) website, the very entity that the same day reported to Spenrath and the OEM’s Andy Kirkland (coordinator) and Debbie Cenko (deputy coordinator) that it still has one coronavirus death, which was an El Campo woman.
Spenrath said there has been discussions between the three about the continued lapse in reporting the victims who had passed away from COVID-19, but this new information took on a different meaning.
“At this very moment, our office has not received one confirmation email listing addresses (of victim deaths)” said Spenrath, who appeared flustered with making the announcement.
He described the discrepancy as “sad” and “shocking” that DSHS was reporting this many deaths, and not providing that information to WC.
“It’s not surprising. I would have thought the count was seven or eight,” Spenrath said. “We’ve all heard seven to eight deaths in the county. We’ve all seen it on social media, we know someone who has died of COVID-19 and it was listed as a possible reason for the death. Many of these deaths have been openly shared three to four weeks.”
He said once DSHS begins to share its deaths with the county’s OEM and the information is passed on, it’s going to be unsettling for many in WC.
“There’s going to be a serious community shock when one day the state releases seven or eight deaths all of a sudden,” Spenrath said.
The OEM reported there were now 504 confirmed, 233 recovered, 270 active, and one death.
According to the DSHS website, it reported 17 deaths in Wharton County on July 27 at 4:35 p.m.
That information was available seven hours after WC held its commissioners meeting at 9:30 a.m., the normal time meetings begin.
Spenrath said there were 14 deaths being reported on the DSHS in the morning, but by the late afternoon, DSHS had three additional deaths listed.
What are probable positive cases?
The OEM said anti-body testing will now count against WC.
As of Friday, July 24, state health officials began including “probable positives” to WC’s COVID-19 report.
Spenrath explained the definition, according to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe it as.
“A probable case is defined when a person meeting clinical criteria and epidemiologic evidence with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID-19; A person meeting presumptive laboratory evidence and either clinical criteria or epidemiologic evidence; A person meeting vital records criteria with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID-19,” he said.
Spenrath also said most of WCs probable cases are going to be categorized like this because health officials tested for the anti-bodies.
When WC reported six new positive cases in its Monday report, four of those were listed as probable. The other two were confirmed by taking the test.
“I’m not sure how this is going to affect our numbers; the last part of ‘meeting vital records criteria,’ I am not sure what that means,” Kirkland said.
He said there are many questions being pointed in the direction of DSHS by WC regarding this matter.
“Hopefully, we will get some of these answered,” Kirkland said. “It could be that we’re getting a large increase in what we’ll be calling actives.”
Kirkland described this as DSHS “changing the scorecard in mid game.”
Spenrath said for some time it appeared like a person didn’t have to be tested to be recovered, but now one doesn’t have to be tested to be positive anymore.
Added Kirkland: “We are a long way from what started out in order to be considered recovered that you had to have two tests that were negative. The rules have changed quite a bit, and we’re just trying to report the rules the best that we can.”