City now has the highest deaths in Lake County
By Erick Johnson
After weeks of relatively low numbers, the COVID-19 death toll in recent days tripled to 49, after city and health officials re-examined how they count cases and fatalities from the disease.
With the latest death toll, Gary now has the highest number of COVID-19 fatalities than any city in Lake County as questions remain about the city’s past counting and reporting practices in providing vital information to the public.
In addition to the increased number of deaths, the number of COVID-19 cases has risen to 672 on June 2 from 644 on May 29. The increase comes as the city reopens with lighter restrictions that allow church services to resume and restaurants and non-essential business to operate at 25 percent of their legal capacity.
“We have begun welcoming department heads, managers and some staff members back to work in the City of Gary,” said Mayor Jerome Prince. “The majority of our associates will return to work next week, and many of them likely will see changes in the schedules they worked before we closed down City operations. Our department heads will make those scheduling and other work-related decisions.”
According to the city’s reports, the number of COVID-19 deaths stood at 16 from May 7 to May 22. On May 26, Mayor Jerome Prince in his daily update reported that “a small team of health department officials and data analysts closely examined our reporting methodology for reporting the number of COVID-19 positive test results and COVID-19 related deaths in Gary.”
Prince also said, “We are modifying our methods for counting and reporting COVID-19 cases in Gary.”
Prince did not state specifically what went wrong or the mistakes that were made while counting the number of deaths and cases in Gary, but no updated coronavirus reports were provided on May 26 after the city re-examined the data that Memorial Day weekend. In his May 26 report, Prince said the city will resume reporting specific COVID-19 updates when he is “satisfied” in providing the most up-to-date information possible.
On May 27, the city resumed its daily reports and reported that 47 residents in Gary died from COVID-19 deaths, five days after reporting that 16 residents had died from the disease.
No report was given the next day on May 28. On May 29, the death toll had climbed to 48 before it reached 49 on June 2. For 15 days in May, the death toll had stood at 16.
Gary, along with East Chicago has its own health department. Both cities separately report their COVID-19 deaths and cases, unlike other cities in Lake County.
In his daily COVID-19 update on May 29, Prince said, “we have been committed to releasing the most accurate information possible. Determining the number of new COVID-19 positive test results is relatively straightforward, but determining how many deaths were caused by the COVID-19 virus is much more challenging. We act out of an abundance of caution and sensitivity whenever we share that information. We have modified our accounting methods for new COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 related deaths.”
Overall, 200 people have died of COVID-19 in Lake County as of June 2, according the county’s COVID-19 dashboard. Some 3,689 Lake County have tested positive for COVID-19 and 24,362 have been tested as of June 2 statewide; 2,022 residents have died from COVID-19 35,237 tested positive for the virus and 271,919 have been tested.
While Gary has the most COVID-19 deaths in Lake County, Hammond has the most COVID-19 cases with 694, as of June 2. According to the U.S. Census, more than 21 percent of Hammond’s residents are Black. COVID-19 disproportionally affects Blacks and Latinos.
Crown Point has the second highest COVID-19 deaths with 36 and Dyer has the third highest with 27.
In East Chicago, where 36 percent of its 27,817 residents are Black, 11 people have died from the disease and 388 were infected with the virus.