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I-TEAM: Where is COVID-19 hitting the hardest in Richmond County?

Published: Nov. 5, 2020 at 5:44 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The I-Team is investigating where COVID-19 is hitting the hardest here at home.

We combed through every Richmond County death record from January to November and found some local communities are seeing more pandemic deaths than others. But why?

Dacia Walker was writing her own story -- not knowing it was the last chapter. In July, she posted this on her Facebook:

“The doctors said if I had waited any longer I wouldn’t of made it,” Walker said. “My son had begged me all day to come, but I just didn’t listen.”

Anthony Hunt, her son and only child, replays that day over and over.

“We were rushing to the hospital,” Hunt said. “That’s the day. I’ll never forget it. But like two weeks prior the symptoms started.”

In her own words from her hospital bed, "I don’t even remember getting here. My oxygen level was all the way down to 60.″

“She tried to get up to go to the bathroom and she couldn’t make it she was so weak,” Hunt said. “She turned around and had to sit back on the edge of the bed. That’s when I took her. I said, ‘Come on, we are going to the hospital. I’m not taking no for an answer.’”

She died in the hospital 20 days later. At age 42, she was young to die of COVID -- an outlier in terms of her age. We found the youngest person we’ve lost in Richmond County was a 19-year-old with a disability.

The oldest was 106. But locally your risk goes way up in your 60s.

In Richmond County, we took at the local COVID deaths by age.
In Richmond County, we took at the local COVID deaths by age.(WRDW)

Statistics here at home that match up with the national picture.

  • Teens: 1
  • 20′s: 1
  • 30′s: 3
  • 40′s: 10
  • 50′s: 16
  • 60′s: 29
  • 70′s: 40
  • 80′s: 37
  • 90′s: 20
  • 100′s: 2

We broke down COVID deaths by zipcode and found the most are happening in 30906 -- or South Augusta with 48 total.

We combed through more than 1,700 death records and found multiple local hotspots with increased deaths and confirmed a lot of activity near where Dacia lived -- a South Augusta address.

We mapped out the number of local COVID deaths and found 48 deaths in the 30906 ZIP code alone.
We mapped out the number of local COVID deaths and found 48 deaths in the 30906 ZIP code alone.(WRDW)

“She really didn’t do anything,” Hunt said. “She was at the house 99 percent of the time, so she was doing everything she could to stay away from other people.”

To so many people, she was so much more than a statistic. Now Hunt thinks about the big moments she won’t be around to celebrate.

Death certificates in Richmond County do list underlying conditions that help health officials get a more complete picture of who is most at risk here in Augusta and nationally.

We confirmed through the records we examined that most of the COVID victims who died of severe complications did have underlying health conditions.

Dacia had diabetes and heart disease.

As research has shown, those chronic but somewhat manageable conditions can quickly turn deadly with a COVID diagnosis.

Those are facts that are still hard for Hunt to comprehend when the death behind the scientific statistics is his mother.

“My mom, that was my best friend. You know, I come home from work, ‘Hey, mom, how you doing?’ She was the person I could talk to when things got tough."

We also confirmed locally our covid deaths are disproportionately affecting our Black community.

54.2 percent of people who call Richmond County home are Black, but 63.6 percent of those who die of COVID-19 in Augusta are Black.

We found that is in line with national trends documented by the Centers for Disease Control.

Compared to white patients, the CDC says black patients are 2.1 times more likely to die of COVID. Hispanic patients are 1.1 times more likely. Black patients are also 4.7 times more likely to be hospitalized with severe COVID complications. Hispanic patients are 4.6 times more likely to be admitted for care than white patients.

Nationally, one school of thought is these minority populations are more likely to be essential workers and unable to work from home.

We found that was not the case with Dacia.

The bank worker was sent home with pay in March, and Hunt says her employer acknowledged her increased risk due to her pre-existing conditions.

In Augusta alone, 165 people have died in Augusta from COVID complications. It’s a pandemic hitting us all -- our friends, family, and our neighbors like Dacia.

So many people could be asymptomatic and could be spreading it.

“Some people think this is a joke. And some people take it for granted,” Hunt said.

OPEN RECORDS REQUEST E-MAIL

Hi Laura,

Attached, please find a response to your request below. Please be advised that death certificates involving COVID-19 are now up to 165 for Richmond County residents.

Regarding your questions on other sources, our DPH COVID-19 daily status page (https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report) has this on the data definitions section of the Guide: Understand the data (PDF):

3. “Deaths”: This number includes confirmed COVID-19 cases that were either reported to DPH as deceased by healthcare providers, medical examiners/coroners, or identified by death certificates with COVID-19 indicated as the cause of death. Deaths are reported by the date of death unless date of report is selected.

I am following up with our COVID-19 daily staff to confirm why there are discrepancies in the numbers. Our Office of Vital Records speculates the following:

  • Death certificates that have not yet been completed
  • The average time to complete a death certificate in Georgia is about 2-3 weeks, whereas the notification from the healthcare provide, medical examiner, or coroner might happen sooner.
  • Richmond County residents who died in another state
  • If a Richmond County resident died in South Carolina, for example, then that death certificate would be filed in South Carolina. The healthcare provider might have notified Georgia DPH of the death, but only South Carolina would have the death certificate

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