Coroner: Details on Moffat County’s young COVID-19 death reveal rapid descent |

Coroner: Details on Moffat County’s young COVID-19 death reveal rapid descent

All three recent patients to die from the virus were not vaccinated

Moderna COVID-19 vials seen inside the storage container at Moffat County Public Health, located on Pershing Street.
Craig Press file

After a six-month reprieve, Moffat County has been hit again by several tragic deaths tied to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Three residents of the county died of the virus in June, none more startling than the death of a patient in his or her 20s — the first known COVID-19 death of someone so young in the county since the pandemic began.

According to Moffat County coroner Jesse Arthurs, the recent, younger patient died at home after being diagnosed with COVID-19 at a medical center in town before being sent home to recover.

“This particular patient did not get better,” Arthurs said. “I believe some people don’t realize how sick they really are.”

More than 50% of the deaths from COVID-19 in Colorado have been patients older than 80 years old. Fewer than 25% of those who died from the virus are younger than 70, and just 1.04% of all deaths in Colorado from COVID-19 were younger than 30.

An autopsy report prepared by Dr. Dean Havlik, a pathologist in Grand Junction with whom Arthurs works, revealed the 24-year-old did suffer from a comorbidity, obesity, which may have played a part in the sudden death.

“When (the patient) was last known alive (the patient) felt ill with a cough,” the autopsy report reads. “Three days before (the patient’s) death (the patient) was seen in a local medical clinic with complaints of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, chills and fever.”

Arthurs said — and the autopsy confirmed — the virus caused blood clots in the patient’s lungs, which accelerated the seriousness of the disease. The autopsy also noted blood clots in the abdomen and legs.

“The anatomy of the lungs become highly compromised,” Arthurs said. “They’re not able to breathe.”

Arthurs said that, while the Delta variant’s growing prevalence may have changed how the virus spreads, it hasn’t changed how the virus kills patients.

“We’re looking for the same signs we have the entire pandemic,” he said, describing how an autopsy determines if a patient with COVID-19 died because of the virus or simply with the virus present.

“Two of the last three deaths we reported were autopsied,” Arthurs said. “I work with (Havlik), and he performed the autopsy and determined these patients had died of COVID-19 respiratory infection.”

Arthurs said that, despite rumors to the contrary, there is not only no inflation of cause-of-death numbers but no incentive to do so.

“The numbers have never been inflated,” he said. “We always research the medical records, consult with physicians, and I often consult with my pathologist on whether this death was attributed to COVID-19. If an autopsy is necessary, we order one. Those results usually take a few weeks before we’re able to release the information that a patient died of COVID-19.”

Arthurs added that the three deaths were patients who were unvaccinated.

Furthermore, he said, as someone who is professionally associated with the recently deceased, this pandemic has been stunning even for him.

“I’ve been a mortician 17 years — that’s my other job — and in 17 years, I’ve never taken care of this many patients who died of, let’s say, the flu,” Arthurs said. “It’s a misconception in this community thinking this is the flu. That is not the case.”

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