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Coroner presents report to Wood County Commission

PARKERSBURG — Wood County saw decreases in some causes of deaths over the last year, even as the COVID-19 pandemic was happening.

Wood County Coroner Mike St. Clair appeared before the Wood County Commission on Thursday to give his annual report on deaths that occurred in Wood County in 2020 that his office had to be involved in.

Around 1,000 people died in Wood County over 2020 which consisted of around 281 contacts which required the coroner’s office to be involved.

“We aren’t involved in every death in Wood County,” St. Clair said of many natural deaths in the hospital or hospice patients or so on.

They did 132 consults related to people dying at home or in the emergency room at the hospital. The highest number of consults were in January 2020 (14), April 2020 (16) and December 2020 (19). The lowest numbers were May 2020 (6), September 2020 (7) and July 2020 (8).

Over the past year, they had two infant deaths by Sudden Unexplained Infant Deaths (in place of the former SIDS — Sudden Infant Death Syndrome designation).

There were 11 suicides in 2020 compared to 15 in 2019. There were five homicides in 2020 compared to seven in 2019. There were 31 drug related deaths in 2020 compared to 45 in 2019.

“Those numbers are down,” St. Clair said, adding he is still awaiting on seven death certificates that could impact that number.

He said there were no suicides by anyone under 18 years old.

One increase was in deaths from motor vehicle crashes which saw 14 deaths in 2020 compared to six in 2019.

There were 49 heart disease related deaths the coroner’s office was involved in with St. Clair saying there were more deaths related to heart disease in the county, many his office was not involved in. His office was involved with the 49 because those people did not have a physician of record to sign off on the paperwork.

They had 18 deaths listed in the “Other” category which involved people traveling through Wood County, staying at a hotel and they die of an ailment they have like cancer.

“It is a natural death but we have to issue a death certificate,” St. Clair said.

The coroner said drug deaths saw a rise in May 2020 around the time the first federal stimulus checks came out to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That is unfortunate,” St. Clair said.

There have been 11 deaths so far in 2021 after new stimulus payments went out.

“I have asked families if their sons or daughters received a stimulus check recently and I am told ‘yes,'” he said. “I don’t have enough to say that every one of those deaths was caused by them getting a check, but there is definitely a cause-and-effect.

“The government put those out for people to buy things to stimulate the economy, not to buy drugs, but that ended up happening.”

Other figures showed there were two deaths by drowning, three fire deaths, nine deaths from falls and one related to farm work.

Officials asked how COVID deaths are factored.

“COVID deaths are considered natural deaths,” St. Clair said, adding the coroner is not usually involved in natural deaths.

“I do not have an exact number of COVID deaths for the county,” he said.

“It has been a busy enough year,” St. Clair said. “I was pleased to see drug deaths were down, but we have already seen a slight increase already in 2021.”

Commission President Blair Couch said he would eventually like to see the numbers of death pre-COVID compared to post-COVID sometime in the future.

“Keep track of that,” he said. “COVID is a natural death like it is with the flu.

“We don’t have a lot of flu-related deaths in Wood County, but we do have them.”

In other business:

* The Wood County Commission unanimously approved a $600,000 grant application to the West Virginia Community Corrections Grant Program for next fiscal year.

Executive Director Hernando Escandon said they are continuing to offer substance abuse treatment services, in spite of restrictions put in because of the pandemic, through efforts like doing things remotely, having limited hours and so on.

“Our successful completion rate is typically around 60 percent,” he said. “We would like to get that higher (with 65 percent an immediate goal in the near future).”

Some people are taking advantage of the restrictions on them and the courts to be able not to participate in programs, Escandon said.

Many of the local drug addiction deals with methamphetamine, more so than opioids. Couch said many people still will abuse the most readily available drugs to them. Many crimes happen as people are trying to get money to buy drugs.

The application is due March 3.

* The commission opened bids for the cleanup of a property at 1003 North Power Ave.: Graham Demolition of Parkersburg for $2,250; Empire Builders of Parkersburg for $3,500; Little Man Excavating of Elizabeth for $1,600; MJE Contracting of Orlando, WV for $6,000; and JC Bosley of Parkersburg for $4,750. The bids will be turned over to Wood County Compliance Officer Sarah Robinson for review.

* Couch will be speaking to different media outlets on behalf of the National Association of Counties to discuss the need to include counties and cities in the next round of CARES Act funding.

Local governments see where the needs are and how to go about addressing them. Organizations like many Convention and Visitor Bureaus and many museums have not qualified for funding. Many small businesses did qualify for assistance, but many are still struggling.

“We don’t want to lose them,” Couch said.

West Virginia has received $2.25 billion and $200 million of that went to cities and counties. He credited West Virginia Governor Jim Justice with making sure local governments got that.

“We are doing our best,” Couch said but they are limited in some of what they can do. They will not be able to give local non-profit money just to keep the utilities on for six more months.

“That is the kind of assistance a lot of places need if they want to keep going,” he said.

* The commission appointed Susan Barber to the Fourth Circuit Public Defender Board.

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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