On March 17, 2020, Kern County reported its first confirmed case of coronavirus.
Exactly one year later, the county surpassed 1,000 deaths from the virus and has tallied more than 105,000 cases.
The Kern County Public Health Services Department on Wednesday reported 17 new deaths, which pushed the confirmed death toll to 1,010, a number that has risen steeply in recent weeks as deaths from the winter surge are confirmed and added to the official tally. More than 200 deaths have been reported in both December and January. Christmastime proved to be a particularly fatal period for the virus, with a single-day high of 17 deaths on Dec. 30, topping 16 a week earlier on Dec. 22.
The newly-reported deaths announced Wednesday happened over a three-month period from Dec. 2 to March 2. Public health officials said the delay between when someone dies and when their death is officially tallied can take weeks due to procedures to verify the death.
Considering the scale of loss, Wasco Mayor Alex Garcia recently said he thinks a COVID-19 memorial to honor the lives lost is needed.
“I want to know how many we’ve lost in Wasco … and memorialize it, and remember those losses and the impact it’s had on the community,” Garcia said.
Garcia said a local elementary school principal mentioned to him that some students had lost their parents to the virus. He said it made him realize how many lives have been permanently altered by the pandemic.
"That impact spreads to the community, the neighborhood, their friends," Garcia said. "It sends ripples far and wide through our community that people don’t think about it."
According to the latest statistics on local deaths, most COVID-19 deaths — 444 out of 658 deaths reported as of Feb. 2 — were among people 65 and over. Hispanics, who account for about 55 percent of the county's population, made up 60 percent of deaths. And all but 17 of the 658 people who died had underlying health conditions, with the most common being high blood pressure and diabetes.
At more than 1,000 deaths in a one-year span, COVID-19 could rank as a leading cause of death in the county. State data shows that out of Kern's 6,000 deaths on average each year, cancer has been the number one killer, claiming about 1,500 lives a year. Heart disease is the second-leading cause with slightly more than 900 deaths attributed to it annually.
About 100 people die from flu or pneumonia in a year, according to the data.