How do San Bernardino, Riverside county coronavirus death tolls compare? – San Bernardino Sun

How do San Bernardino, Riverside county coronavirus death tolls compare? – San Bernardino Sun


Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, as neighboring Riverside and San Bernardino counties reported their increasing death tolls each day, Riverside County’s overall total was consistently higher.

Sometimes it was much higher, with the gap between the two widening to more than 1,000 deaths for over a month in winter.

The gap began to narrow this spring, and last weekend — for the first time since the pandemic began — San Bernardino County’s official death toll surpassed Riverside County’s.

However, looking at the numbers in a different way — based on when people died rather than when their deaths made it into the official statistics — shows that the two counties have actually had similar tolls all along. A San Bernardino County’s tally has been slightly higher since mid-December.

How big did the gap look — and what was it really?

On Feb. 2, Riverside County reported that 3,251 people had died from the virus so far, versus 1,917 in San Bernardino County. That’s a difference of more than 1,300 deaths — the widest gap between the two counties.

Now, public health officials are aware of many more deaths that had occurred by Feb. 2. The latest data shows that 3,970 Riverside County residents and 4,094 San Bernardino County residents had died from the coronavirus by that date.

That data also shows that, even at the peak of last summer’s surge when more Riverside County residents were dying and during the winter surge when more San Bernardino County deaths were seen, the difference between the cumulative tolls was never more than 250 deaths.

Why did it appear Riverside County had more deaths when the counties were essentially equal?

The difference stems from how long it took for coronavirus deaths to get confirmed and reported in each county.

When a person dies from the virus, a lot has to happen before that death becomes part of the statistics. The health care provider must fill out a death certificate. Depending on circumstances, the coroner’s office may have to process the death. Records then go to the county’s vital statistics department, which validates the information. All of that eventually gets sent to county health departments, which confirm that people tested positive for the coronavirus and that COVID-19 is truly what caused their death.

Sometimes that process goes quickly, but each step can take days — and during the winter surge, some steps were taking weeks or even months in San Bernardino County, officials said.

That meant that well after the winter surge began to ease, San Bernardino County was still reporting deaths from the peak period. About two-thirds of the 1,488 deaths that the county reported in March and April were of people who died in December and January, data show. And while death reports have plunged — 111 so far in June — still about 40% of them are of people who died in December and January.

Riverside County also got backlogged during the surge, said Wendy Heatherington, head of Riverside County’s public health epidemiology unit.

At the peak, vital records was registering 88 COVID-19 deaths per day, said Heatherington, who was responsible for validating those deaths before they got reported in the county’s coronavirus toll.

“There are only so many deaths we can confirm in a day,” she said.

The backup wasn’t as severe as in San Bernardino County.


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