Two months after the county saw its first confirmed cases of COVID-19, the county has now seen its first deaths.
It was reported by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) that two inmates from SCI Huntingdon have died as a result of COVID-19.
Also, as of Monday, there are 45 staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 and a total of 154 inmates who have tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Data also shows that 19 staff members have recovered and 50 inmates have recovered from the virus as of Monday.
The total number of cases in the county, according to the state Department of Health, is 214 as of Monday.
Paul Sharum, Huntingdon County Coroner, said he was notified by the Blair County Coroner Monday of both deaths, as both inmates died while receiving care at UPMC Altoona.
“It’s my understanding they will be classified as COVID-19 deaths,” he said. “I don’t know the specific time they died, but one died Monday and one died Sunday.”
DOC spokesperson Maria Finn said that one of the inmates was a 73-year-old male and the other was likely a 57-year-old male.
However, she was unable to say if they had any pre-existing conditions prior to being treated for COVID-19.
Sharum said further investigation needs to be conducted to see if there were any underlying health problems with any of the inmates.
He also stated that county coroners need to be notified if a county resident is treated at a facility and succumbs to the disease in another county.
It is unknown when the new DOC cases will be reflected in the county’s numbers from the DOH, as it typically takes days for the DOH to update all of the cases from the DOC as well as other outside agencies.
Nate Wardle, DOH spokesperson, previously told The Daily News why this is the case.
“The issue may involve the data being reported to the department,” he said. “Just because corrections announces new cases that day, it may not mean that the data is reported to the department that day, and there could be a bit of a lag. We are seeing that with other entities that report to the department.”
However, the DOC is required to report any changes in numbers within 24 hours of being notified about any positive cases.
Though the deaths currently do not reflect the deaths according to the state Department of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine made an announcement Monday afternoon during a press briefing that deaths will now be attributed to the person’s county of residence, not where they passed away.
According to Levine, this is keeping with guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for reporting deaths.
The state is now using the Electronic Death Reporting System to get as much real-time information regarding deaths attributed to COVID-19 in addition to people who have tested positive for the disease.
This means that death counts for other counties have changed and why the death count for Huntingdon County doesn’t reflect the deaths of those inmates.
County coroners also report deaths differently because of a different set of regulations.
Other inmates who have tested positive are being treated in the institution’s gymnasium that has been converted into an infirmary and are provided IV and oxygen therapy based on an individual inmate’s needs.
The most critical cases are being managed at area hospitals.
All visitation at SCIs across the state was suspended effective March 13, and inmates were quarantined March 29, which means they are fed in their cells.
Employees, food services, medical staff and clergy who are contracted employees of SCIs across the state are screened before they enter the facility, and all employees are required to wear masks, and inmates are required to wear masks when outside of their cells.
Finn previously told The Daily News inmates are treated as potential “sources” for COVID-19, and separate quarantine measures have been taken for those who show symptoms, but may not be confirmed positive.
“All inmates are treated as potential sources, meaning people who are infected even if they are unaware of it,” she said. “All inmates must wear face masks when out of their cell. All inmate movement has been severely curtailed, and all symptomatic inmate patients are isolated, as well as their contacts, including those in nearby housing, are separately quarantined.”