COVID deaths spike after county update

Before Thursday, Chautauqua County’s Health Department had been under-reporting the number of deaths tied to COVID-19 through no fault of their own.

In its daily update Friday, the county noted that 75 people have died due to complications associated with the virus, adding 23 to the total. “Sadly, deaths from COVID-19 reported today are 23,” the department reported. “These county residents have died over the last few weeks in long term care facilities. COVID-19 cases in long term care facilities are monitored and managed by the New York State Department of Health. Deaths in long term care facilities and hospitals must be reported to the state, not to the county Health Department. Statistics and information is as updated and accurate as possible, based on the information available to us and provided to us.”

Both the OBSERVER and The Post-Journal have noted increasing deaths in nursing home facilities in recent weeks, specifically at the Chautauqua Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Dunkirk.

According to state Health Department information, 20 residents at Chautauqua Nursing & Rehab have died due to COVID-related complications in addition to four residents of Absolut Care of Westfield, three at Heritage Green in Greenhurst and one at Heritage Village in Gerry.

Overall, the county reported 80 new cases Friday, bringing the total number to 6,018. There are 475 active cases and 5,468 have recovered. Highest new cases include: 27 in Jamestown, 18 in Dunkirk, eight in Fredonia and six in Lakewood.

Thursday night, before the 23 nursing home deaths were announced, the county Board of Health held its monthly meeting. Christine Schuyler, public health director and commissioner of Social Services, told board members that the nursing home deaths weren’t part of the county’s daily update.

“We are not always notified of a death,” she said. “We know if someone is within that isolation period, we normally know. If someone is within a hospital, we usually can find that out or see it a few days later on a state report. People who die within nursing homes, we are not notified of. We don’t follow them. That’s the state Health Department that follows cases within our skilled nursing facilities, so we aren’t always notified of that.”

Schuyler declined to criticize local nursing homes for not informing the county. “Honestly, no one is required to notify us of these things. There’s not a law, there’s not a regulation. The state Health Department must be notified if there’s a death within a hospital or a nursing home or a long-term care facility. The local health department is not notified,” she said.

Schuyler said she wishes county health departments were informed of every COVID-related death. “I don’t think we always capture everything as much as I wish we could,” she said.

She added there are also times when county residents die out of state. “We don’t have any knowledge of that either,” she said.


During Thursday’s Board of Health meeting, Schuyler shared with members that the county had 64 new cases from the day before and one new death. “It’s amazing. I’ve come to the point where I was excited to see (only) 64 new cases,” she said. “Since the holiday season, the number of cases has just jumped up so high. It’s exactly what we thought and were afraid would happen with people gathering over the holiday season.”

She did express concern that the numbers could spike again if people get together to watch football games.

On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills will be playing in Kansas City, against the Chiefs, in the AFC championship football game. If the Bills win, they’re going to the Super Bowl, their first appearance since the 1993-94 season.

“I am hoping that given how well the Bills are playing, people will decide to watch their televisions in their living rooms and not have large gatherings, especially indoors, for football,” she said.


In Cattaraugus County, two additional COVID-related deaths were reported Friday. They include a 47-year-old man and 73-year-old man. “We extend our deepest condolences to their family and the entire Cattaraugus County community,” the county Health Department said.

To date, 70 people in Cattaraugus County have died due to COVID-related complications.

The health department also reported 44 new COVID cases. There have been 3,537 confirmed cases, of which 447 were considered active. There were also 43 people with the virus in the hospital, according to information released Friday evening.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 death toll in Warren County rose by five in Friday’s statistics. For two weeks, the number of new cases has been consistently well below the average during the late November and December surge, but the deaths keep rising.

The Department of Health’s numbers have surpassed those of Warren County Coroner Melissa Zydonik. However, unlike the reporting of COVID deaths – which is based on county of residence, the notification is provided to a coroner based on jurisdiction where the person died.

So, county residents who die in Erie hospitals, for instance, are reported to the Erie County coroner’s office, not to Zydonik.

On Friday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced totals of 1,921 cases along with 80 deaths. That reflects 15 new cases.

Of the total, 1,590 are confirmed and 331 are probable.

Although there were some high totals in the beginning of January, Warren County is on pace to be well below the number of new cases from December. There were 1,171 new cases last month. There have been 447 new cases so far in January with less than one third of the month remaining.

Eric Tichy and Brian Ferry contributed to this report.


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