At least 400 people have died from coronavirus in Wisconsin. Here’s what trends are emerging. – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Posted: May 12, 2020 at 9:44 am

Caring for Someone with COVID-19 at Home Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

There is no "average victim" of COVID-19 in Wisconsin; each person has a uniquestory.

But ifthere weresuch a theoretical fatality, it would be a man, about75 years old. He would almost certainly have an underlying health illness like diabetes orhigh blood pressure.

There is a good chance he lived in a nursing homeorassisted living facility.

If he were among the small number under 50 to die from COVID, he was likely obese.

And if he lived in Milwaukee, hewould more likely be black, and probably white if he lived elsewhere in Wisconsin.

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As the state passes 400 coronavirus deaths, apicture is emergingfrom state data and a spreadsheet created by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to track all deaths in Wisconsin.

The strongest theme in the data: Nearly every COVID-19 victim hadat least one serious underlying health condition, sometimes several, according to the Journal Sentinel analysis of death data, largely from Milwaukee County. The four people in the data with noconditions were 64 and older.

Theconditions found in Wisconsin deaths, which numbered 400on Sunday evening, matchrisk factorsfor complications and death from COVID-19 reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These conditionsare important to help understand who is most vulnerable to the disease and how to take protective measures, accordingto Dr. Patrick Remington, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But Remington cautioned against "othering" people, thinking that COVID-19 is a problem affecting someone else.

"Remember, most Americans have comorbidities," said Remington,a former CDC epidemiologist and now the director of thePreventive Medicine Residency Program at Madison. "I wouldn'twant anyone to think this is another persons disease."

Dr. Patrick Remington is an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin--Madison.(Photo: Handout photo)

Nearly two months since the first death in Wisconsin, many of the trends that emerged early on with COVID-19 deaths in Wisconsin have continued:

As he considers the loss from COVID-19, Remington said he has looked at "years lost," even given the older age of victims. He noted that someone who reaches age 70 in the U.S. is expected to live to 85.

With underlying conditions, those15 years mightbe cut in half, but that time lostis an important way to measure the human cost of the pandemic, he said.

"Clearly, some of those who died were at the end of their lives. Others were not," he said."There are youngerpeople with hypertension, and we dont expect those people to die at 50 or 60. They may have lost 10 to 20 years."

Even with the growing toll, there havebeen reports indicatingthat not everyone dying from COVID-19 is ending up in official counts.

Remington said it makes sense that deaths would be undercounted early on in apandemic, and he expects the count will likely be more accurateas data emerge for periods later in April.

At the same time, doctors and pathologists need to examine each case closely. An average of 140 to 150 people die each day around this time of year in Wisconsin, Remington said, and it will be important to determine just which deathsare caused by COVID-19.

"We are going to see people die with (COVID-19)and not from it, and we need excellent diagnostics by doctors, medical examiners and coroners to teaseout the cause of death: Did COVIDlead to that chain of events resulting in death or COVID may have contributed but was not the cause. There is judgment there," he said.

In Milwaukee County, the medical examiner reports seven cases of people who died and had COVID-19, but the cause of death was not from the virus. The causes included death from falls, heart disease and stroke, records show.

Researchers will be studying if the COVID pandemic may be "pulling deaths from the future," hastening the deaths of people who were nearing death, though that will be not evident for several months, Remington said.

That was the case when Milwaukee's water supply was contaminated with cryptosporidium in 1993, he said.Sixty-nine people died, mostly those with compromised immune systems and the elderly. Remington noted there was a dip in deaths later that same year.

There is an indication that may be happening to some degree in Milwaukee County during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between March 1 and April 29,deaths classified as "natural" were down by 30% in Milwaukee County compared to the same time in 2019, according to the medical examiner'soffice.

It's too early to say if COVID deaths are pulling in deaths from the future, but that figure will be watched.

Remington said COVID has highlighted issues including health disparities in the country and the prevalence of underlying conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

"This disease brought to the surface the epidemic of chronic disease and conditions," he said. "Who thought a virus would be so provocative in identifying underlying chronic illnesses?"

Contact John Diedrich at (414) 224-2408 or Followhim on Twitter at @john_diedrich,Instagram at @john_diedrich, LinkedInorFacebook.

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At least 400 people have died from coronavirus in Wisconsin. Here's what trends are emerging. - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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