Unlike in the spring, when the coronavirus killed thousands of residents in nursing homes, a much broader cross-section of the population in Connecticut is dying from COVID-19, a Courant review of death certificates from October shows.
Coronavirus claimed 35-year-old Pedro Alfaro Vargas, a stone mason from Norwalk, the youngest to die. A 66-year-old former tailor from West Hartford, a 60-year-old former emergency management director in Lisbon and a 43-year-old mother of three from Hartford were among those who died as the state’s death toll from COVID-19 began to climb once more.
The deaths were not confined to the elderly. While 115 deaths were among people 70 and older, there were 15 deaths of people between 60 and 69, eight of people in their 50s and one each in their 40s and 30s, state records show. As of Friday, 4,737 people had died in Connecticut during the pandemic.
The Courant reviewed 140 deaths in October that were confirmed by the Chief State’s Medical Examiner’s Office to have died of COVID-19 to better understand the reality behind the daily numbers released every day. For the last several weeks, the number of hospitalizations and deaths has continued to climb as the second wave of coronavirus slams Connecticut.
The pattern of deaths reflects, in many ways, profound differences in behavior and restrictions between the spring and the fall. During the first wave, schools were closed, many business were shuttered and Connecticut was in virtual lockdown. Now, even as the virus surges, schools and colleges are in session, businesses and restaurants are open and there is far more day-to-day movement.
The range of deaths across the state displays how widespread the virus has become.
“The virus is a bit more spread out because people are trying to get back to a more normal life, ignoring norms around masks and social distancing especially when it comes to indoor gatherings,” said said Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer. “It is not so much the super spreader events in Connecticut that I am worried about. It’s the multiple gatherings or get-together dinner parties in evenings, times when folks are likely to be indoors now and not outdoors.”
Who’s getting sick?
The deaths mirror how the virus is now spreading throughout Connecticut. Younger, more mobile people are getting infected, and while they aren’t dying at alarming rates, they are infecting other elderly people in the community. Many of them are ending up in the hospital.
“Four to five weeks ago we started seeing changes in the community. The younger population was getting infected, by that I mean 20-29-year-olds and 30-39-year-olds that had very high positivity rate compared to 60-69 range,” Kumar said. “The younger population, who get infected because of social gatherings or mask fatigue or disregard for wearing a mask or social distancing, were able to congregate and are mobile, and it has led to more community spread, and now we are seeing more hospitalizations.”
The current pattern marks a departure. In April and May, when the virus was at its peak, nearly 75 percent of the state’s deaths were concentrated in long-term care facilities. More than 2,500 nursing home residents have died during the pandemic.
Dr. David Banach, an epidemiologist at UConn Health, says while many of the deaths are still among the elderly, they aren’t all from congregated settings.
“There’s more community elderly people coming in now,” Banach said. “It’s the same demographic – it’s just they aren’t all from nursing homes.”
Of the 140 deaths in October, 38 were in nursing homes — or about 27 percent of the total, though preliminary results from early November indicate that number may be on the increase. Between Nov. 4 and Nov. 10, half of the 62 COVID-19 related deaths were in nursing homes.
Many of the October nursing home deaths were in the Avon Health Center in Avon, Harrington Court in Colchester and the Fairview Rehabilitation Center in Groton. That number may be slightly higher because some nursing home residents could have been transferred to a hospital where they then died.
The shifting demographics are also resulting in more hospital admissions among younger people. Some — particularly those who are obese or suffer from other co-morbidities — are ending up in the hospital far more than in the spring.
“We are seeing more younger people getting admitted to the hospital now, and that’s much different than the spring, when we had very few people under 65 in the hospital,” Kumar said.
For example, Kumar said Friday that one hospital in the Hartford HealthCare system had COVID-19 patients ranging in age from 32 to 89; a total of nine patients currently hospitalized were between the ages of 30 and 50.
Where are they dying?
Where people are dying also mirrors changing patterns in how the virus is spreading compared to the spring. The deaths are more spread out across the entire state — as opposed to being concentrated in Fairfield, Hartford and New Haven counties.
In eastern Connecticut, Norwich, New London and Willimantic became hot spots in October after having been spared the virus for the most part in the spring. For the month, 28 people died in New London County with 10 of them in Norwich. All but one those deaths were at William Backus Hospital, which had its own outbreak among staff.
The only person in those communities who didn’t die in the hospital was 66-year-old Ella Schute, who died in her Taftville condominium. Her son Edward Schute Jr. said he “didn’t know how she got the virus, but she did and she died” before saying he didn’t want to talk about it any further.
The Courant reached out to several families of those who died in October and received similar responses. Many people were reluctant to talk about how their relatives caught the virus, with many saying that they didn’t want people to know their relative had died of COVID-19.
The suburban town with the most deaths was Avon, which recorded 16 COVID-19 deaths in October, according to the data.
Most of those occurred at the Avon Health Center, which had a major outbreak; several deaths were also recorded at a nearby assisted living facility. Officials believe that employees, who were asymptomatic and worked at both facilities, spread the virus.
Overall Hartford had the most deaths with 30, all of whom were hospital deaths, records show. The youngest was a 43-year-old mother of three; there were four people in their 50s.
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