BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Santa Clara County has the highest Covid-related death rate per capita in the nine-county Bay Area despite some of the toughest restrictions, data from the state shows.
Meanwhile, San Mateo County has the second-lowest rate of Covid-related deaths.
A total of 1,901 of Santa Clara County residents have died due to the virus, according to state Department of Public Health records, or 96.6 per 100,000.
Santa Clara County was the first county to initiate a lockdown and impose tough restrictions during the pandemic.
At one point, the county advised workplaces to have employees eat in their cars instead of the lunchroom.
Santa Clara County health officials were also quick to fine businesses for not following the county’s rules. The Mercury News reported in April that businesses in Santa Clara County were 13 times more likely to get slapped with a fine than any other Bay Area county.
And the amount of fines was 50 times more than the next highest county, San Mateo. Santa Clara County, however, was also one of the first places where Covid cases occurred, with the county’s first case being reported on Jan. 31, 2020 and first death occurring on Feb. 6.
The county discovered the Feb. 6 death in April, which made that woman the first Covid-related death in the country.
According to the same state data, Santa Clara County was the first county in the Bay Area to report a Covid-related death by about a month. Santa Clara County counts its first Covid death as occurring on Feb. 6.
The second county in the Bay Area to report a Covid-related death to the county was San Mateo on March 14, followed by San Francisco on March 17. San Mateo County had the second lowest per capita death rate among the nine counties, suggesting that early cases might not be a factor in morbidity.
Health department’s response
The Post wanted to interview somebody in the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health about the death count, but the tax-funded agency refused an interview, even over the phone. Instead the department responded to the Post’s questions via an unsigned email.
Dr. Sara Cody, the head of the department, has previously declined to be interviewed by Post reporters during the pandemic.
In an unsigned response, her department said it’s “unlikely that there is any single factor that accounts for the differences” between the counties.
“While it is unclear if the data represent a true difference in the deaths in Bay Area counties, factors that we know can influence the spread of infections and the resulting impacts include: Differences in demographics, socioeconomic conditions, and living situations; variations in the amount or size of healthcare sites such as nursing homes or other care facilities; and differences between counties regarding how Covid-related deaths are counted,” the county said.
In Santa Clara County, 64% of the people who died of Covid also had another health condition that may have been worsened by Covid, or helped contribute to the person’s death. According to the CDC, these conditions, referred to as “comorbidities” by officials, can include diabetes, various mental health issues, obesity and cancer.
However, comorbidities are not unique to Santa Clara County, so that doesn’t explain why the county’s numbers are higher.
The state department of public health also said that aside from other health factors, issues such as air pollution and age can factor into whether someone dies of Covid or not.
Based on county data, 69.7% of Covid-related deaths in the county have been of residents 70 and older. Again, age isn’t a factor that is unique to Santa Clara County.
Officials in the email to the Post also said “the health of people in Santa Clara County has been our top priority, and as the pandemic has evolved, the county has taken consistent actions to reduce the number of people who have gotten sick and to prevent Covid deaths.”
In fact, case rates and death rates are lower in the Bay Area, including in Santa Clara County, than they are in the rest of the state. The state’s death rate is 180 per 100,000. Sacramento County, which has a population of 1.5 million, has 145.9 deaths per 100,000. Los Angeles County has had 259.4 deaths per 100,000 and Santa Barbara County has had 117 deaths per 100,000.