To what extent did deaths increase during the COVID era?


When Walmart sold out of toilet paper

That's when the COVID-19 pandemic in Milledgeville first became crystalized, pretty fitting for a small town. That pic of empty shelves at Walmart began circulating around social media on March 9, 2020. 

Five days later, the governor called up the National Guard and declared a public health emergency. The Baldwin County School District cancelled in-person classes two days after that, and various businesses began temporarily closing their doors in quick succession.


• March 11: A professional basketball player in the United States tests positive for COVID-19, and sports leagues begin suspending play. For whatever reasons, this is a flash point in America. COVID-19 cannot be wished away or ignored any longer in the United States.

• March 12: A 67-year-old man in metro Atlanta becomes Georgia’s first COVID-19 fatality. Also on this day, Georgia College administrators make the decision to cancel classes and send students back home. Superior Court judges bolt from the courthouse and cancel court. Reality begins to set in for people in the retail and restaurant business, as well as anyone with a stock market portfolio.

• March 14: For the first time in Georgia history, Gov. Brian Kemp issues a “public health emergency” and calls up the National Guard. “This declaration will greatly assist health and emergency management officials across Georgia by deploying all available resources for the mitigation and treatment of COVID-19,” he says.

• Monday, March 16: The Baldwin County School District conducts its final on-campus school day. An inordinate number of students are absent, however, as many parents keep their children home as a precaution.

• March 17: Blackbird Coffee becomes the first downtown business to suspend operations and go home. Most restaurants around town begin switching to the carryout model, although some restaurant dining rooms remain open, business as usual.

• March 18: Middle Georgia’s first confirmed case is reported in Houston County. Also, two deaths are confirmed at Phoebe Putney Hospital in Albany, the first two in the state from outside of the Atlanta MSA.

• March 20: The first confirmed case in Baldwin County is announced by DPH. By this time, the man is resting at home and no longer symptomatic.

• March 21: The second confirmed case in Baldwin County is announced.

• March 22: The commission commission and City Council each issue Emergency Declarations. Social gatherings of more than 10 people, including church, are banned, while a 10 p.m. through 6 a.m. curfew is enacted.

• March 23: Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital garners statewide and national media attention. Doctors and nurses are ordered to work, even if they’ve tested positive. The hospital CEO begins pleading for more face masks and PPE.

• March 24: Cook Building administrators issue a memo after an employee brings in a face mask from home. States the memo: “Staff must not wear articles of clothing, including (PPE) that violate the (Staff Appearance and Dress Requirements Policy).” On that same day, Mark Delong works his last shift as a nurse at the Cook Building, and he tells several co-workers that he doesn’t feel well.

• March 25: The county commission and City Council tighten their respective Emergency Declarations, and all businesses in the city limits are required to close at 9 p.m. Also on this day, the first COVID-19 death in middle Georgia is recorded in Houston County. At this point, there are 27 total confirmed cases in the North Central Health District.

• March 28: Delong becomes the first death in Baldwin County attributed to COVID, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health's database. Not until the following day, however, does Delong posthumously test positive for COVID-19.

• March 29: Photos circulate on social media of a large gathering of lake-goers on Goat Island, as well as a large gathering of basketball players at Coopers Park. The reaction is mixed. Some people condemn the gatherings, while others take a “they’re just having fun” and “live and let live” stance.

• March 30: News of Delong’s passing begins to spread, and the DPH tallies the first “Death” in the Baldwin County column. Also on this day, Cook Building administrators release a memo, one that changes their stance on PPE. However, the administrators still do not acknowledge Delong’s death in the memo, and many employees still have way more questions than answers.

• March 31: Testing remains still incredibly sparse, and the total number of confirmed cases in Baldwin County sits at three. Statewide, a mere 16,000-something tests have been administered.

• April 1: Mark Delong is buried in a small ceremony. His widow, Jan, is disallowed from attending the funeral, after health officials concluded that she’d helped her husband get dressed on the morning of his death, and she therefore has “possible exposure. 

• April 2: Gov. Brian Kemp releases the details of his statewide “Shelter-in-Place order.” The governor’s mandate now makes the City Council and county commission’s Emergency Declarations null and void. Convenience stores and restaurants are no longer forced to close by 9 p.m.

• April 3: The number of confirmed cases in Baldwin County rises to 10.

• April 11: Bruce Davis, another Cook Building employee, becomes Baldwin County’s second COVID-19 fatality. Davis, 57, was heavily involved in the church and recently had become an ordained bishop. Later in the day, the DBHDD issues an updated press release, this timing stating that “12 patients and 24 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.” 

It was a whirlwind time around Milledgeville/Baldwin County, and it still seems like a blur. 

So, did the COVID era bring more death to Baldwin County and the rest of Georgia? The answer is yes, and its measurable. Different people have different opinions and theories about the COVID era. The point of this article isn't to offer any opinions about COVID or offer any COVID theories. Instead, it's about answering one question: To what extent did deaths increase during the COVID era? 

Below are the annual death rates for Baldwin County and the state of Georgia, as a whole, dating back to 2002. Death rate basically means "the number of deaths per 100,000 residents." Also, death rates are not about where somebody died but rather the county of residence on that person's death certificate:

• 2002: Baldwin 858.4 / Georgia 767.1

2003: Baldwin 904.6 / Georgia 769.3

2004: Baldwin 804.9 / Georgia 749.6

2005: Baldwin 833.6 / Georgia 731.4

2006: Baldwin 853.5 / Georgia 732.6

2007: Baldwin 807.0 / Georgia 724.6

2008: Baldwin 840.0 / Georgia 729.4

2009: Baldwin 892.0 / Georgia 719.1

2010: Baldwin 828.7 / Georgia 719.2

2011: Baldwin 851.0 / Georgia 721.1

2012: Baldwin 798.0 / Georgia 731.9

2013: Baldwin 838.4 / Georgia 752.0

2014: Baldwin 923.6 / Georgia 760.0

2015: Baldwin 934.9 / Georgia 782.2

2016: Baldwin 1,025.6 / Georgia 789.4

2017: Baldwin 1,111.2 / Georgia 797.0

2018: Baldwin 1,086.5 / Georgia 809.3

2019: Baldwin 1,044.8 / Georgia 806.6

2020: Baldwin 1,277.2 / Georgia 962.8

2021: Baldwin 1,459.5 / Georgia 1,040.3

2022: Baldwin 1,187.1 / Georgia 938.6

•••data courtesy of the Georgia Department of Public Health

The average annual death rate in Baldwin County during the five years leading up to COVID (2015-2019) was 1,043. Based on that five-year average, the death rate in Baldwin County in 2020 increased by 23 percent. In 2021, compared to that previous five-year average, the death rate in Baldwin County increased by 40 percent.

The two-year average death rate in 2020 and 2021 here in Baldwin County, which was basically "the COVID era," was 1,367, which represented a 31 percent increase over the previous five-year average. An increase of 31 percent, regardless someone's opinions of the COVID era, is a significant one.

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