Coronavirus logo

Kern County Public Health on Friday provided its first update in four months about county residents who have died from COVID-19, and while the data holds no major surprises it does show that men and people over age 65 have borne the brunt of the virus locally.

The county first released detailed demographic data — which includes deaths by age group, underlying medical conditions, gender, race and ethnicities — on Oct. 1 for the 371 deaths countywide at the time. Since then there has been almost 300 more deaths.

Public Health officials said they were unable to release additional data before Friday because it would risk identifying the deceased.

The newly released data shows that of the 658 people who have died, 444 were age 65 or older, 145 were between the ages of 50 to 64, and 69 were between 18 and 49 years old. (Cases have followed an inverse pattern with the vast majority of cases among 18- to 49-year olds and the fewest among those 65 and over.)

There have been no deaths in children under the age of 18, Public Health spokeswoman Michelle Corson said in a news release Friday morning. However, there have been more than 11,500 cases in that age group countywide.

Compared with statewide numbers, the percentage of total deaths in Kern that were among people 65 and over is lower than the percentage statewide but deaths among the other two age groups are slightly higher in Kern. In particular, the percentage of deaths that were in the 18- to 54-year-old age group in Kern is 40 percent higher than the statewide percentage of deaths in that age group.

All but 17 of those who died in Kern had at least one underlying medical condition, the county data shows. The most common condition was hypertension, which was present in 244, or 37 percent, of the people who died, followed by diabetes, which 214 individuals had prior to contracting the virus. Other conditions included cardiovascular disease, being a former or current smoker, obesity, kidney disease, liver disease, cancer, stroke, asthma and lung disease.

The racial and ethnic breakdown of the deaths aligns closely with the breakdown among Kern's population as a whole, though deaths among Hispanics and African Americans are slightly over-represented compared to their share of the population while deaths among whites are under-represented. Hispanics, who account for 55 percent of Kern County's population, comprise 60 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in Kern. By contrast, whites make up 33 percent of the county population but just 29 percent of the county's COVID-19 deaths.

Hemmal Kothary, a physician and chief medical officer for Dignity Health's three local hospital, said the new information is in line with what is already known about COVID-19: It tends to be most fatal in older people and in those with underlying conditions. 

"A lot of people who have high blood pressure have diabetes as well, and they tend to be overweight," Kothary said. Those conditions are also disproportionately prevalent in African-American and Hispanic populations, he said.

One of the glaring disparities in deaths is that for every two women who have died in Kern from COVID-19, three men have died. That's a total of 134 more men than women who have died from the virus, even though cases of COVID-19 in the county are evenly split between the two groups. The higher rate of death among men is also seen statewide at the same percentage. Nationally, almost 30,000 more men than women have died from the virus, the latest COVID-19 statistics show.

The gender difference among deaths has a couple of explanations, said Glenn Goldis, a physician and chief medical officer at Kern Medical. 

Men can have a genetic defect that makes them more susceptible to blood clots when they have COVID-19, Goldis said, and their immune system weakens at a faster rate than in women once they are in their 60s. 

While many other counties in the state have been releasing regular updates on the demographic information, Kern County has not. The county has taken a conservative approach to releasing data, citing privacy concerns of the individuals who have died. The county even went so far as to hire an Ottawa-based health privacy consultant to provide guidance on when and how the county can release its data on deaths. The consultant was paid $6,000, according to a copy of the report, which was obtained by The Californian through a public records request.

The full dataset can be viewed online at https://kernpublichealth.com/covid-19_dashboard/.