Wilbarger County does not have a county health department, which in larger Texas counties compiles mortality statistics. At the request of local officials and with the assistance of Wilbarger County Clerk Jana Kennon’s office, the Vernon Record surveyed the causes of death for every county resident during the pandemic years to determine Covid’s impact. Every death represents a significant loss to a family, and out of respect to each individual, no personal data was reviewed.
Increased death rate
Social media commentators have questioned whether the effect of Covid-19 was overblown, and if the death rate nationally was over-inflated. While nationally this has stirred debate, the raw numbers show there is no debate, and that the virus had a significant impact on Wilbarger County and continues to do so.
Wilbarger County averaged 126 resident deaths per year during the five-year period of 2015 to 2019 – with a high of 137 deaths recorded in 2018, and a low of 120 deaths in 2016.
Covid-19’s first official death was registered in the records of the County Clerk’s office in October 2020, Kennon said. However, it is likely Covid was having a fatal impact before it was officially recognized. The number of deaths in Wilbarger County for 2020 was 163 – a 23 percent increase over the previous five-year average.
The number of deaths in the county jumped again the following year. Increasing to 173 in 2021 – a 27 percent increase over the 5-year average.
The first six months of 2022 continued to show the marked increase in deaths in the county with 78 as of the end of June, and 19 were listed as Covid related. If that rate continues, the county will again be above average for deaths for 2022.
Covid not always noted
Covid was first listed a as cause of death in Wilbarger County during the first week of October 2020, and it was noted as the cause of death in four more instances at the end of that month. Another 13 Covid deaths were recorded in November, and 15 more deaths came by the illness in December. A total of 33 deaths out of 163 total in 2020 were reported as Covid-related.
The number of Covid-related deaths recorded on certificates in 2021 was 25. That made it the second leading cause of death in the county, ranking behind heart attacks, with 30, as the leading cause of death in 2021, and ahead of cancer-related deaths at 24, and 17 pneumonia deaths in 2021.
However, the number of official Covid deaths noted on certificates doesn’t account for the near 50-death increase each year. It is likely the virus played a factor in other deaths as well, local health experts speculated.