Over 161 COVID-19 patients died at home in Jan, Feb

Deaths of at least 161 COVID-19 patients in January and February were categorized as home deaths, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry includes COVID-19 deaths at medical facilities that occur shortly after hospitalization in its categorization of home deaths.

The number of such deaths significantly increased compared to during the fifth wave of the pandemic in August and September. It is believed that some of the patients had underlying health conditions and were unaware that they had contracted the virus.

The survey was completed by mid-March on 47 prefectures and 40 cities that independently compile tallies of COVID-19 deaths in areas under their jurisdiction.

The health ministry’s home-death categorization comprises (1) people who had tested positive but died before a public health center had been notified; (2) people who had been recuperating at home; (3) people who had been awaiting hospitalization; (4) people who were confirmed positive after dying at home; and (5) people who died in hospital and were confirmed positive while or after being transported to a medical facility.

The Yomiuri Shimbun surveyed prefectural and municipal governments on home deaths as defined by these five categories. Of the 87 local governments surveyed, 11 did not respond, citing such reasons as privacy protection.

According to the survey, 161 cases were categorized as home deaths in the latest wave of the pandemic compared to 128 in the fifth wave last year.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Deaths of people who were confirmed positive while or after being transported to a medical facility increased from six in the fifth wave to 50 in the latest wave.

During the fifth wave when the delta variant was prevalent, patients tended to show symptoms of pneumonia and few COVID-19 victims died unaware they had the disease.

However, the omicron variant — the dominant variant in the sixth wave — causes mild or no symptoms after infection in many cases. As a result, it is thought that many patients who died at home did not know they had the disease.

In Fukuoka Prefecture, 11 of the 21 fatalities categorized as home deaths in the latest wave involved people who tested positive shortly after hospitalization. Eight of the 11 patients were 70 or older, and some of them reportedly had chronic illnesses.

“There have been cases in which pre-existing illnesses worsened as a result of the infection,” said an official of the prefectural government’s COVID-19 task force. “As infections surged amid the sixth wave, some people might have avoided going to the hospital.”

On the other hand, deaths of patients recuperating at home after testing positive for the virus fell by four from the fifth wave, with 61 such cases in the latest wave.

The highest number of such deaths were logged in Tokyo, with 15 cases.

Unlike in the fifth wave, many patients in the latest wave did not develop pneumonia symptoms, and some elderly victims did not want to be hospitalized, citing such reasons as mild symptoms.

“Although the omicron variant is believed to cause mild symptoms in many cases, the condition of people with pre-existing heart or kidney diseases and elderly patients may worsen if they become infected. So caution is needed,” said Norio Omagari, director of the Disease Control and Prevention Center at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine. “Patients who want to recuperate at home should see a doctor without delay if they notice anything wrong.”