Revelations About Excess Deaths in Santa Clara County Spark Calls for Greater Transparency

Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese spent the better part of this past week poring over death records with a highlighter in hand, trying to identify people who may have unknowingly died from Covid-19 in the first few months of the year.

His research was prompted by revelations that deaths recorded by the county Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office rose by 20 percent in March compared to the same month a year prior. That includes a 17 percent increase in the number of people who died at home.

The so-called excess deaths in this county reflect a global trend.

This past week, the New York Times reported that about 20 to 30 percent more people have died in the first months of the year compared to the same time in 2019.

Though the county listed Covid-19 as the official cause of death for 32 people in March, officials say many more cases of the novel coronavirus probably went undetected because of a lack of testing. The statistics signal that the disease was likely spreading through the community much earlier than originally thought.

Until last week, the first Covid-19 death in the U.S. was believed to have happened on Feb. 29 in Kirkland, Washington, and the first in Santa Clara County on March 6.

Now, officials say the nation’s first Covid-19 death took place several weeks earlier, on Feb. 6, when 57-year-old San Jose resident Patricia Dowd died in her home from a ruptured heart caused by the disease.

County officials learned about Dowd’s diagnosis posthumously, after sending tissue samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing. A second South Bay resident died from Covid-19 on Feb. 17 and a third on March 6.

“These three individuals died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the CDC,” health officials told reporters in a statement about the findings. “Testing criteria set by the CDC at the time restricted testing to only individuals with a known travel history and who sought medical care for specific symptoms. As the Medical Examiner-Coroner continues to carefully investigate deaths throughout the county, we anticipate additional deaths from COVID-19 will be identified.”

Cortese, who was waiting for the county’s early 2020 death stats when the Mercury News published the data in a report last week, sharply criticized Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Michelle Jorden for not disclosing the information sooner.

“I’m disappointed the coroner did not notify the Board of Supervisors of this upward trend of deaths of 20 to 25 percent, which could translate to more than 300 additional deaths in Santa Clara County compared to the same period in 2019—much of which appear may be from the infectious disease,” he said in a written statement.

Cortese is now calling on Dr. Jorden and the county’s Public Health Department to create a data dashboard that reports death stats at least twice a month.

“You see 69-year-old woman dies from respiratory complications and it doesn’t say Covid,” he told San Jose Inside. “Somebody dies from extraordinary blood clotting in their upper body, but they don’t attribute it to Covid. I’m not asking for perfection here, but they should be looking at those [deaths].”

Cortese said he’d also like the county to start reporting case numbers by census tract.

Earlier this month, health officials began reporting the number of cases in each city in the county, but he says that’s not enough if they’re asking residents to physically distance themselves to avoid contracting the virus.

“I’ve just been kind of on a general transparency crusade,” he said, “because I know the public health officials aren’t accustomed to being held to the same level of transparency.”

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

9 Comments

  1. And Dave Cortese is qualified to review death certificates based on his vast experience and training doing what?

  2. A healthy heart does not rupture due to a virus that attacks the lungs. Ms. Dowd May have tested positive for COVID, but COVID alone didn’t make her heart burst. She had a weak heart.
    Reports from doctors around the country are coming out saying they are being pressured to list COVID as a cause of death when the patients have serious underlying conditions that are the actual primary cause of death. The politicians are doing everything they can to keep the unnecessary hysteria alive as they continue to shred the Constitution and presided over the death of the entire economy. It is not safer to walk into a Costco or Target or Home Depot than it is to walk into a small neighborhood business. But those small neighborhood businesses are shut down while the big box stores that can hold hundreds of people remain open. Grocery stores in the Bay Area at least have a seniors only hour. Wrong move. That herds all the most vulnerable people into the store at the same time, which will increase the spread of COVID. We can’t get our hair cut, but we can go into a record store. The world is packed with bacteria and viruses we come into contact with every day. For most of us, our individual immune systems are the best defense against them all. CDC statistics as recent as yesterday confirm that the difference in percentage of deaths fromCOVID versus deaths from seasonal flu is statistically insignificant. The data is clear that you are no more likely to die from COVID than you are from seasonal flu. 97% of the COVID deaths are people who have underlying serious medical conditions. Recent numbers have compared Norway, which has shelter in place, with Sweden, which does not. Once again, the difference in death rates is statistically insignificant. Wake up America! We’re being conned by the politicians, and the mainstream press is their accomplice.

  3. I recently stopped by an older adult woman’s home in San José. She has the virus. When She started feeling sick, she begged the clinic on Tully to test her for the virus. One of her relatives had died from it and other people she knows had it too. They denied the testing. After sometime, they agree to test only to send her home to treat herself from a positive diagnosis. She was not given specific information on how to care for the virus. While there are many beds, supposedly, there for these sick people. This woman treated herself with lemon juice and other cheap remedies. She survived the virus by herself fainting alone at her home. She is a Latina woman. She survived but her daughter in-law died from the virus. DAVE Cortese should be looking into this lack of access some COVID-19 patients have faced here in Santa Clara County. Could this just be one of the different factors contributing to unreported deaths. Low SES have not equal access to health services. The systemic corruption and discrimination in Santa Clara County is as dangerous as the COVID-19. This woman has something her daughter in-law did not have, FAITH! She believes God saved her and the generosity of people she knows that have stopped by to drop food and even Tylenol.She started feeling sick since March 9.

    • The relevant question is “What are the actual number of deaths CAUSED by coronavirus separate from deaths caused by “co-mobidities”?

      The current method of counting coronavirus deaths (“coronavirus is known or suspected”) is completely fraudulent.

      It is NOT SCIENCE BASED and therefore NOT DATA DRIVEN, two favorite terms of the fake news community.

      If actual, real coronavirus deaths were properly tabulated, the numbers would be much too low to justify the existence of the massive fear industry.

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