Kern Public Health works with county counsel, statistician on releasing detailed data regarding COVID-19 deaths

August 20, 2020 /

After repeated requests for more detailed data regarding Kern’s COVID-19 deaths, the Kern County Public Health Department said Thursday is working with county counsel and a statistician to find ways to release additional data.

Media outlets have repeatedly asked local health officials to release data regarding pre-existing conditions and demographic data, such as age, ethnicity and zip code; however, health officials said they were unable to release this information due to medical privacy rights.

Since last Wednesday, Kern Public Health officials have announced 46 COVID-19 related deaths, bringing Kern’s total number of COVID-19 deaths to 229. Because the number of COVID-19 deaths continues to rise, health officials said there is a lower chance of being able to identify people who have died of COVID-19.

“Now we have more than 200 deaths, so that number has increased,” said Matt Constantine, the Director of Kern Public Health. “The more individuals within a pool, the less likely you are to be able to identify that individual and infringe on their medical privacy rights.”

Constantine said the Department is looking into potentially releasing more specific COVID-19 death data in a less frequent basis as a way to protect privacy rights. The frequency could be as long as once a month.

The statistician will look at the likelihood of being able to identify personal information regarding COVID-19 deaths, according to Constantine.

“That lessens the risk,” Constantine said Thursday. “We are hoping (the statistician) also agrees.”

The only COVID-19 death data local health officials have released thus far is the number of patients in skilled nursing facilities who have died of COVID-19. As of Thursday, 53 deaths of the 229 were residents in skilled nursing facilities.

Kern Public Health is looking at Fresno County as an example, according to Constantine. Fresno County Public Health breaks down COVID-19 death data by age, known co-morbidities, race/ethnicity, and sex.

As of Thursday, there were 212 COVID-19 deaths in Fresno County. The majority of the residents fell in the 75 and over age range, with 101 deaths. Three of the most common co-mobidities in Fresno County’s COVID-19 deaths include Diabetes, Hypertension, and Cardiovascular Disease. The majority (60 percent) of Fresno County’s deaths have been identified as Hispanic, with a total of 127 deaths, and 78 percent of these residents had a known co-morbidity.

Featured photo is from Fresno County Public Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez is the program associate for South Kern Sol. She can be reached at elizabeth@southkernsol.org.