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Pinellas medical examiner: Don’t write off people with chronic health conditions

Margie Manning



Covid 19

Having Covid-19 is like swimming in deep water, according to the Pinellas-Pasco County medical examiner.

People who are young and healthy will probably be fine. But as people age and acquire health-related issues, the chances of drowning increases, Dr. Jon Thogmartin  told the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners Thursday.

“You can’t write off people with chronic health conditions,” Thogmartin said.

Thogmartin addressed commissioners just before the board extended a state of local emergency through Sept. 11. Extending the state of local emergency keeps in force a countywide ordinance requiring face coverings and social distancing indoors.

Thogmartin and Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health-Pinellas County, discussed a weekend report that some interpreted as indicating the national death rate from Covid-19 was lower than had been reported. That report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Covid-19 was listed as the sole cause of death on about 6 percent of the death certificates of the 161,300 people reported to have died from the virus as of Aug. 22, while the other 94 percent of death certificates included other causes alongside Covid-19.

Thogmartin said those national numbers are in line with what he sees in Pinellas County, where as many as 20 percent of residents have five or more chronic health conditions that are a contributor to Covid-19 deaths.

In comparing contraction of the virus to swimming in deep water, he said people who are 25 years old and good swimmers likely will be fine.

“But let’s say you are in poor physical condition or heavy. Or let’s make you 40 years old and you’ve got smoking in in your history for 20 years. Let’s make you 60 years old and you’ve got atrial fibrillation, hypertension and you had a stent,” Thogmartin said. “The water gets more and more dangerous as we add age and co-morbidities … and if you put a 99-year-old in water above their heads and  told them to swim, they probably wouldn’t make it.”

Choe said there was a misunderstanding about the CDC information.

“You could use the same logic for cancer or AIDS deaths. You don’t die of AIDS itself, you die of an opportunistic infection. For cancer you die of respiratory failure or overwhelming sepsis because you were compromised,” Choe said. “People with chronic conditions are unfortunately at high risk for a number of infections.”

As at past meetings, several members of the public called in to the online meeting to ask commissioners to lift the mask mandate, saying the numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths were declining.

“We saw better numbers in May before the spike that consumed us all summer,” said County Administrator Barry Burton. With 70,000 students and teachers returning to school, it will take time to see the impact of that, he said.

“This is a minimum step we can do that helps prevent the spread in the community,” Burton said.

As of Thursday, there have been 20,177 total cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Pinellas County, an increase of 97 cases from Wednesday. Four additional deaths were reported Thursday, for a total of 669 deaths in Pinellas.

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