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Trumbull County's COVID-19 death toll is surging — and no one knows why

In the past six weeks, Mahoning County reported 24 COVID-19 deaths. In the same time frame, Trumbull County reported 143.
COVID-19 Deaths in Mahoning and Trumbull counties
COVID-19 deaths in Mahoning and Trumbull counties between Nov. 1, 2020 and Jan. 13, 2021

YOUNGSTOWN — Since Dec. 1, Mahoning County has reported 24 new COVID-19 deaths.

In the same time frame — only six weeks — Trumbull County reported about six times as many new COVID-19 deaths: 143. 

On Dec. 1, Mahoning County reported a COVID-19 death toll of 302. On the same day, Trumbull reported 152 COVID-19 deaths. 

Mahoning County's 326 COVID-19 deaths — as of Jan. 13 — is 8th-highest of Ohio's 88 counties; With 295 COVID-19 deaths, Trumbull is 9th-highest and, at this pace, it could overtake the Mahoning County death toll. 

That comes despite a sizeable difference in total coronavirus cases. As of Wednesday, Mahoning County has seen 16,299 confirmed or suspected cases; that number is just 11,998 in Trumbull County.

Looking at the available data, it's not clear who is dying at such high rates — or why. 

According to the Ohio Department of Health, as of Jan. 13, 149 of Trumbull County’s 295 COVID-19 deaths were from long-term care facilities; that’s just about half, which is lower than nearby counties. In Mahoning County, the rate is 64 percent. In Columbiana, the rate is 55 percent.

About 8 percent of Trumbull County residents who died of COVID-19 are Black, which almost exactly matches the size of the Black population in the county. 

When asked about the curious spike, Trumbull County Combined Health District Nursing Director Sandra Swann said, "I don't know what to tell you."

She suggested the rapid increase could be attributed to Trumbull County's older population. 

About 22 percent of Trumbull County's population is 65 years or older, less than 1 percent higher than Mahoning County. 

Swann also noted that COVID-19 deaths aren't necessarily reported when they occur. 

"The number of deaths we report every day isn't the day that they die. It's how many new deaths are popping up in the reportings. And, again, we're waiting on death certificates to come through sometimes," she said. 

Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa didn't have answers for the spike but acknowledged the numbers look unusual. 

"I don't have any conclusive evidence as to why it's breaking in Trumbull and not Mahoning," he said. "I know it sort of ebbs and flows from time to time, but maybe not to that drastic discrepancy."

Trumbull County Health Commissioner Frank Migliozzi did not respond to a request for comment. After launching an online dashboard earlier this year, the district stopped providing daily email updates regarding new cases and deaths.

As of Wednesday, the ZIP code data dashboard had not been updated for 10 days. 

Steward Health, which operates Trumbull Regional Medical Center, did not respond to a request for comment.