On Sunday, January 31, 2020, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office published a press release announcing the death of 52-year-old Ransome Anderson, a Covelo man who had been incarcerated at the Mendocino County Jail since January 2019. The press release indicated Anderson was “transferred to the hospital on January 11, 2021, after being evaluated by jail medical staff for breathing issues related to COVID-19” where it was discovered he suffered from a “pre-existing medical condition that was likely terminal.”
The same day, Mendocino County Public Health announced on their daily COVID-19 Dashboard update that a 38th county resident’s death was attributed to COVID-19.
As confirmed by Ashley Toxqui, the Public Information Officer for Mendocino County Public Health, the death referred to that Sunday was that of Ransome Anderson, meaning the county attributes his death to COVID-19.
Anderson’s incarceration at the Mendocino County Jail intersected with a COVID-19 outbreak among both inmates and staff. Though the MCSO press release did not explicitly state that Ransome caught the virus while incarcerated, he has been there since the beginning of 2019 meaning he had to become infected while within the jail.
Being that medical staff at the local hospital found Anderson was sick with a terminal illness, the question of whether he died from COVID-19 or the terminal conditions arises. A comment fromA comment from Mendocino County’s former Public Health Officer Dr. Noemi Doohan a July press conference addresses the relationship between respiratory issues and COVID-19:addresses the relationship between respiratory issues and COVID-19: if a previously healthy person dies from respiratory problems after having COVID-19, there can be an assumption that it’s a death related to COVID-19 Though Anderson was not a “previously healthy person,” Mendocino County Public Health believes COVID-19 negatively affected his on-going medical condition.
Anderson’s passing evokes a question that has dogged COVID reporting: how does public health differentiate between death “from” and death “with” COVID-19?