Data from the death certificates of 58 Vermonters who died from COVID-19 reveal that victims had an average age of 77 and were burdened by multiple medical conditions ranging from diabetes and heart disease to obesity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control policy on filling out death certificates, other conditions is a term that encompasses “all diseases or conditions contributing to death that were not reported in the chain of events in Part I and that did not result in the underlying cause of death.”
Of 58 Vermonters who have died from coronavirus, 55 had a range of other medical diagnoses: 13 had diabetes, 14 had hypertension, 13 had dementia, eight suffered from obesity, six had heart failure, and five had Alzheimer’s, among other ailments.
Just three Vermonters passed away from COVID-19 without any other conditions listed, according to Health Department data, and 31 of the deaths occurred in nursing homes.
The state statistics mirror national data from a CDC report in September that said just 6 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been deaths from the virus alone. As of early September, just 9,000 Americans have died solely from COVID-19, while the rest have had an average of 2.6 comorbidities — other illnesses impacting the patient.
According to the CDC, death certificates are to include information on the final, acute cause of death, known as “Cause A.” Other causes that helped lead to death are categorized as causes B, C, and D.
In 22 of the deaths, laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 is listed as “cause A.” Another 20 victims have laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 listed in causes B, C, and D. There are another two “presumed” cases and another one that lists COVID-19 without mention of any lab test.
Outside of COVID-19 itself, common contributing causes of death include pneumonia, which contributed to 13 deaths, and “acute respiratory problems,” listed for 20 deaths. These conditions frequently result from COVID-19.
However, about two dozen causes arose from different issues. For example, one 91-year-old patient died of a “complete heart block” (Cause A) caused by a “pacemaker malfunction” (cause B). The patient was listed because lab results also included a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. The individual also had Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, and “paroxysmal atrial fibrillation,” listed under other conditions.
In seven others cases, the virus isn’t listed as any cause, or contributing cause, of death. Instead, it is listed under “other conditions.”
One 78-year-old had chronic lung disease (cause C) which caused “Bilateral Pneumonia” (cause B), which then caused “Acute respiratory Failure with Hypoxia” (cause A). The patient also had a “suspected COVID-19 infection” and was included in the COVID-19 death tally.
Nationally, many individuals who test positive for COVID-19 do not have any symptoms. A New York Times investigation on data collected from three states found that up to 90 percent of people who test positive for COVID-19 don’t have enough of the virus in them to show symptoms or spread the disease.
The Philidelphia Inquirer, in March, noted that the death counts from one place to another can be very different based on the varying criteria for counting a COVID-19 death.
“Asked why Italy had a high rate of deaths due to the coronavirus, government officials there said it was because they were using a broader definition for such deaths than other countries, counting any victims who had tested positive even if other illnesses were at fault,” the report states.