WEST CHESTER — Seventeen days after reporting the initial presumed case of coronavirus infection in Chester County, officials on Monday announced that the first COVID-19-related death had occurred in the county.
The 89-year-old man, who resided in Willistown, died on Sunday. He had been hospitalized and had a number of underlying conditions. His death was confirmed by the county commissioners and county Coroner Dr. Christina VandePol in a press release. No other details were given.
Responding to the death, commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline said in a joint statement that they “were heartbroken to learn of this first death in Chester County, and on behalf of the whole community, we offer our deepest condolences to loved ones of this individual.
“We cannot emphasize enough the need at this time for everyone to follow the stay-at-home order, to focus on the things that are only absolutely essential, and heed the hygiene steps recommended, so that we can work together to call a halt to this dreadful virus,” the trio said.
Echoing the commissioners, VandePol said, “I am saddened to report this first coronavirus death for Chester County. Our office has reached out to all hospitals in the county, working with them to ensure all guidelines regarding COVID-19 are met.”
News of the unidentified man's death came after the county Health Department reported that there were an additional nine positive cases of COVID-19 in the county on Sunday, bringing the total of cases 146, with the first recorded in the county on March 13.
While continuing to rise in numbers, the growth as of Sunday in confirmed cases slowed the significant rate increase shown late last week, when the number of confirmed coronavirus cases more than tripled in size from the week prior.
Still, the newest number represents an increase of 93.1 percent in the week between March 22 and March 29.
The largest number of confirmed cases comes in the county’s eastern half, where the population is the greatest and the municipalities are the most densely populated. Leading the county’s municipalities with confirmed cases was Tredyffrin, its most populous township, with 12, followed by neighboring Easttown, with 11; East Whiteland, Uwchlan, and West Chester, with nine each; East Goshen and Upper Uwchlan with 6 each; and West Goshen, West Whiteland and Willistown with five each.
Those municipalities that have not recorded any coronavirus cases are mostly in the northwest and southern ends of the county where the demographics are more rural and the population much less densely packed.
Those infected by the disease are mostly in the 20 to 39 age bracket. Those accounted for 66 of the county’s 146 cases. Residents ages 60 to over 80, on the other hand, showed only 26. Male victims slightly outweighed female victims. State officials have said they do not believe the virus numbers will spike until late April.
In Delaware County, the number of new confirmed cases was 300, while in Montgomery County it was 540. Philadelphia showed as many as 1,007 cases. In the three other suburban counties outside of Chester — Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery — there have been 12 deaths this month.
Meanwhile in Harrisburg, the state Department of Health on Monday confirmed that there are 693 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 4,087 in 59 counties. The department also reported 11 new deaths among positive cases, bringing the statewide total to 49.
“The continued rise in cases combined with our increasing deaths from COVID-19 reflects the seriousness of this situation,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “We need everyone to listen to the orders in place and to stay calm, stay home and stay safe. We know that these prolonged mitigation effects have been difficult for everyone, but it is essential that everyone follows these orders and does not go out unless they absolutely must.”
In Washington, Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said he and other members of the White House coronavirus task force “argued strongly” with President Trump to extend nationwide social distancing guidelines to the end of April.
“We felt that if we prematurely pulled back, we would only form an acceleration or a rebound of something which would have put you behind where you were before,” Fauci said on CNN Monday morning. “And that’s the reason why we argued strongly with the president, that he not withdraw those guidelines after 15 days, but that he extend them. And he did listen.”
Fauci said he and Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, showed Trump models that showed even if he extended the deadline, 100,000 more Americans could die from COVID-19.
“If you look at seasonal flu, we had a bad season in 2017-18. We lost over 60,000 ... This is clearly worse than that," Fauci said. “I don’t want to see it. I want to avoid it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw 100,000 deaths.”
There continues to be information published about ways that those confronted with the virus can try to stop it from infecting them, without the use of untested or risky drugs.
One such set of suggestions states that Chinese autopsies found that the virus is characterized by thick mucus obstructing respiratory pathways that solidifies and blocks airways and lungs. Thus, in order to apply medicine and for treatment to work, you need to open the airways. That can take several days, hence why those with underlying respiratory medical conditions and elders are at high risk of complications.
Recommendations to safeguard oneself include drinking lots of hot liquids such as coffee, tea, soups and warm water, every 20 minutes or so, thus keeping the mouth moist and washing away any of the virus that has entered your mouth and pushes it into the stomach where the gastric juices will neutralize it before it can get to the lungs.
Gargling with an antiseptic in warm water such as salt, vinegar or lemon juice every day if possible was also suggested, as was taking a shower immediately when coming from outside and shampoo your hair to rid the skin and hair of any virus.
This is in addition to the standard suggestions of washing one’s hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, keeping a safe distance from others when outside the home, and coughing into one’s elbow or shoulder.
The Associate Press contributed to this story.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.