The first person in Muscogee County to die after testing positive for COVID-19 passed away on March 29.
The 85-year-old man showed up on the Georgia Department of Public Health’s official count Monday night. Eight days later.
Why was there a lag time of more than a week for the man’s death to be recorded in what has become the official Georgia count during the coronavirus pandemic?
That is a question that News 3 has been asking.
The man died at 4:13 p.m. on Sunday, March 29. He was in the Intensive Care Unit at the Piedmont Columbus Regional Midtown campus.
Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan was informed of the death by the hospital. He notified members of the media. The man’s COVID-19 related death was widely reported.
For more than a week, the state count listed no deaths in Muscogee County. That changed with Monday night’s update.
News 3 asked a Piedmont spokesperson these questions.
— When did Piedmont Columbus Regional report the man’s death to DPH? Day and time if possible.
— Was there ever any follow up with DPH after the man did not show up on the official Muscogee County count?
— If so, when and in what form?
Piedmont Columbus Regional declined comment through a spokesperson. Since early on in the COVID-19 crisis, Piedmont has declined to release numbers of patients and deaths related to the virus.
Similar questions were asked of the Department of Public Health, both on the state level and at the West Central Georgia Health District:
— When did Piedmont Columbus Regional report the man’s death to DPH? Day and time, if possible.
— Was there ever any follow up with DPH after the man did not show up on the official Muscogee County count? If so, when and in what form?
— The West Central Georgia Health District knew of the man’s death through local reporting of the coroner’s confirmation. Did West Central try and to confirm and get the man on the official state list?
— Is an eight-day lag in information normal?
West Central spokesperson Pam Kirkland referred News 3 to Piedmont for questions about specific patients.
“Many of your questions relate to the process of testing, getting results and then them being posted to the State Website,” the email response from Kirkland read.
She then explained the testing process.
“Here’s an overview of the process which may help,” she wrote. “A person goes to a provider to get a “test” or in our language a “collection of specimen” for COVID 19. The specimen is sent to a lab who then processes it and notifies the provider of the results. The results are uploaded into SendSS (State Electronic Notifiable Disease Surveillance System) This can done by the provider, the lab or in some cases our own epidemiologist. Once the result is in SendSS the State Office reviews the information and places it on the State website.”
Kirkland said this was a challenging time.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have results as quickly as we’d like,” she wrote. “But hopefully, the process will improve as faster testing becomes available.”
Bryan, the Muscogee County coroner who reported the death to the public after the hospital reported it to him, has been looking daily for the information to make the state count.
“I am a numbers guy,” he said. “I follow the numbers. We control homicide, suicide, accidental death and so forth. When it was first reported to me, by the Piedmont ICU unit, I immediately put it out to the news media. That’s what I do.”
Bryan shakes his head at the lag.
“For it to go eight days in Muscogee County for the death I reported to the media not to be recognized, it’s beyond my belief why it took so long,” he said.
The two local hospitals — Piedmont Columbus Regional and Emory St. Francis Healthcare — are not releasing information about COVID-19 patients or deaths.