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Majority of COVID-19 deaths in Georgia still occur among elderly and people with underlying conditions

Analysis of GADPH's data shows the average age of COVID-19 fatalities is 73-years-old, with 75 percent of people who die from the virus being 65-years-old or older

ATLANTA — At least twice per day, the Georgia Department of Public Health updates its report published online with the latest numbers for confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

As the numbers for both confirmed cases and deaths continue to increase, 11Alive keeps receiving e-mails, Facebook messages, and other notes from people wanting more context around the latest numbers.

A viewer by the name of John Branyan sent the 11Alive newsroom an e-mail after watching one of our newscasts. The e-mail read in part, "Saying deaths and reported cases went up 20-plus percent last week is meaningless." 

He continued writing, "It would be good to show that around 90 percent of deaths are over 65," and "Nearly all under 65 had underlying conditions."

Branyan's points are valid, so we analyzed the latest numbers from GADPH and found the vast majority of fatal COVID-19 cases involve older Georgians. 

RELATED: Experts worry about safety of elderly after governor's order limiting nursing home neglect lawsuits

The data showed, as of May 1 at 10:25 a.m., the average age of Georgians who died from COVID-19 is 73 years old.

75 percent of fatal cases involve someone 65 years or older. 

The youngest death was a 22-year-old woman with an underlying condition.

The oldest person to die from COVID-19 in Georgia was a 106-year-old Mitchell County resident. The state's reporting shows it is unknown if he had any other conditions. 

11Alive has reported previously on the number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia's long-term care facilities and senior homes.

As Governor Brian Kemp on Thursday allowed Georgia's shelter in place order to expire, he said, "To protect vulnerable populations, I will sign an order today requiring medically fragile and elderly Georgians to continue to shelter in place through June 12, 2020."  

To answer questions of why the elderly community has been impacted the hardest, we talked with Northside Cherokee Hospital's Dr. Nokuthula Msimanga, who specializes in geriatric medicine. 

"Older patients sometimes don't present the way we expect, or what we find other COVID-19 patients might present," she said.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released a list of common symptoms. The list included fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Recently the CDC added chills, muscle pain, headache, and loss of taste and smell to the list. 

Credit: WXIA

Msimanga said COVID-19 cases involving elderly patients are complicated, as they may not show any of the above symptoms. 

"We might normally see what is called apathy, basically disinterest or not being engaged," she described. "We might see them increase in confusion, we may see weakness, we may see them stop eating or not eating as much."

Msimanga mentioned those symptoms could lead to dizzy spells, falls, or syncope where a person faints or becomes unconscious. 

"So now the doctors in the emergency room are having to work them up, to see what caused this syncope. The presentation can be very, very different, because of the multiple underlying illnesses. It is possible you can have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), hypertension, heart disease in one patient," she said.

The data for COVID-19 cases resulting in death collected by GADPH show 63 percent of patients 65 years and older had an underlying condition. The state's data says its unknown if 33 percent of the patients had an underlying condition, and 3.5 percent didn't. 

Credit: WXIA

For people younger than 65 years old, the numbers are similar. 60 percent had an underlying condition, 7 percent didn't and it is unknown for 32 percent of cases. 

While the state's numbers lack information on underlying conditions for many COVID-19 related deaths in Georgia, some of the top conditions listed are cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease. 

"That puts them at risk for decline," Msimanga said. "Not only in the organ of the lungs, but also other organs as well, because all of them work in tandem together to fight infection. Because they already have organ disease or organ damage, now having the disease process increases your risk of decline from other illnesses in other organs as well." 

As the elderly community is being impacted the hardest in Georgia, Msimanga said there are several preventative steps that can be taken.

"Physical distancing is number one and that includes being very intentional about our day-to-day tasks," she said. "Going to the grocery, instead of taking multiple trips back-and-forth, hopefully, we can do this trip once a week. When we do get groceries, continue to physical distance, at least 6 feet away. Medications, instead of going back and forth, to and from the pharmacy, calling the physician or doing mail order so that medications are dropped."

Families are also encouraged to make sure elderly relatives are taken care of from a distance.

Credit: WXIA

"It is very, very difficult because we want the support systems there so that the elderly don't get exposed," Msimanga said. "But to the same point, we want to make sure that they continue to not feel so isolated, so make sure we are as involved, continue communication with mom to make sure she is doing okay, video calls or chats, making sure she continues her routine so that she is emotionally well."

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information.


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