The number of cases and deaths in each Colorado county determine business restrictions, mask mandates, and school closings. But Colorado has several glaring COVID-19 reporting issues. During the week of December 1st, 9News reported that four Colorado inmates died “of COVID-19.”
“The inmates who died this week, according to the DOC are:
- A 62-year-old man who was at the Fremont Correctional Facility
- A 64-year-old who was at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility
- A 66-year-old who was at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility
- A 74-year-old who was at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility.”
But according to KKTV, the 64 year-old inmate at Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility did not have any symptoms of COVID-19 at the time of death. Media sources made no mention of whether or not the other three inmates who died while experiencing “symptoms of COVID-19” tested positive for COVID-19.
“A 64-year old inmate passed away at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility on Nov. 30. The inmate was not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms at the time of death. An autopsy will be performed and the coroner will determine cause of death.”
Media releases regarding COVID-19 deaths as they come straight from the Colorado Department of Corrections website do not specify whether or not the inmates who “experienced symptoms of COVID-19” before death ever tested positive. All media releases specify that the decedent’s cause of death will be determined by respective coroners during autopsies.
Why is there a discrepancy in whether or not the 64 year-old inmate at Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Fremont, Colorado died from COVID-19 or something else? And what about the other twenty-four inmates who died “of or with COVID-19?”
We reached out to the Fremont County Coroner’s office and spoke to Randy Keller, Coroner, who was just as concerned as anyone about the entire COVID-19 death reporting system in Colorado, not just within the prison system.
Coroner Keller’s records do not show a 64 year-old imprisoned patient who died in Fremont County that week, but he did have the other three incarcerated patients’ deaths on record. Of those three prisoners, one had COVID-19 listed on line one of the death record, meaning the other two patients’ chief diagnoses that week were not COVID-19.
As Keller explained, coroners have no say in whether or not deaths in which a positive COVID-19 diagnosis is indicated are categorized as COVID-19 deaths or not.
Keller’s insights are on par with Grand County’s coroner, Brenda Bock, who questioned in December why gunshot wounds were listed as COVID-19 deaths. Grand County COVID-19 deaths were found to be overblown by forty percent in December, thanks to Bock. The state of Colorado admitted that for rapid data tracking, any patient who dies and tests positive for COVID-19 within thirty days of death is considered a COVID-19 death. That’s true whether or not COVID-19 was a precipitating, contributing, or totally irrelevant factor.
Keller expressed dismay at the disorganized manner in which the entire COVID-19 reporting system misreports data, and it’s possible that sometimes deaths with COVID-19 go unnoticed, especially for prisoners. But overall, the COVID-19 death numbers seem to be much more skewed in favor of COVID-19 deaths.
While the state claims twenty-five prisoner deaths related to COVID-19 to date, Keller cautions that prisoners rarely undergo autopsies. There’s no reason to spend the extra time and money on an autopsy, but patients may be COVID-tested post-mortem. Like the rest of the population, if the prisoner tested positive for COVID-19 within thirty days of death or after death, the decedent is considered a COVID-19 death.
The rationale of the CDC, as Keller explained, is that COVID-19 could be considered a precipitating event for death in patients with serious underlying conditions. Keller uses the examples of cancer or atherosclerotic heart disease. A patient with terminal cancer would eventually die, but COVID-19 is likely to “speed up” his death, so to speak. It’s a very unscientific process, and it’s being used to determine public policy, including lockdowns, and to justify early release of prisoners.
The CDC specifies on its website COVID-19 death reporting mechanisms for medical examiners, physicians, and coroners. Medical professionals are instructed to list COVID-19 as an underlying or intermediate cause. If patients haven’t been tested, medical professionals call cases “presumed.” It doesn’t really matter if COVID-19 is checked as an underlying or intermediate cause, however. If the COVID-19 box is checked, the patient is considered a COVID-19 death.
Keller also cautioned on December 9th that COVID-19 deaths are murky; patients transferred between hospitals are often counted as deaths in incorrect counties, and physicians in other counties may sign death certificates for Fremont County patients of whom Keller is totally unaware.
Keller said it would be really difficult to determine causes of death for the twenty-five prisoners who died of COVID-19 related illness in Colorado prisons and jails because, again, prisoners are not normally autopsied. Often times, Keller never sees the patients.
For now, Governor Polis should refrain from making COVID-19 inmate releases at the request of the Denver Broncos. Twenty-five inmate deaths seems to be a stretch, as do lockdowns based on 5,354 Colorado “deaths” and 369,000 “cases.” Our science is probably just as good, if not better, than that of the Broncos.