Officials, however, deny that these home deaths were due to lack of hospital beds.

A group of workers wearing PPE prepare to bury the body of a COVID-19 victim in Bengaluru Image for representation/PTI
Coronavirus Coronavirus Saturday, July 18, 2020 - 18:21

On July 1, a 16-day-old baby girl suffering from a fever, cough and breathlessness died due to COVID-19 in Bengaluru. But unlike thousands who had access to medical care at a health facility, the baby girl died of Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) at her residence in Bengaluru. Listed as patient 11884, the 16-day-old baby’s death was officially recorded in Karnataka’s COVID-19 bulletin on July 12.  

The baby girl is just one of many home deaths to have been recorded recently. TNM analysed the state bulletins from July 10 to July 17 and found that 53 persons have died at their homes in Karnataka recently due to COVID-19. Out of this, at least 42 of these home deaths took place in Bengaluru between June 24 and July 15 - a period of three weeks. That’s over 10% of the 405 deaths in total that Bengaluru has recorded this past week. 

An age-wise analysis of these home deaths shows that 17 persons were senior citizens above the age of 60. While 12 people between the age of 50 and 60 died at their homes in Bengaluru, six belonged to the 40-50 age bracket. Four persons between the age of 30-40 died due to COVID-19 at home, while two others were in their 20s. The 16-day-old baby girl is the youngest home death to have been recorded so far. 

A majority of the COVID-19 patients were suffering from SARI, six others had Influenza-like Illness (ILI). One victim – a 62-year-old man – who had hypertension and ischemic heart disease, was asymptomatic when he died at home on June 28. The source of infection of another COVID-19 victim is yet to be traced. 

Dr Ramesh Krishna K, Medical Superintendent at Victoria Hospital, said the stigma attached to COVID-19 patients plays a huge factor in testing and accessing medical care. “There is a stigma of being coronavirus positive. There is a delay in getting tested, by this time the symptoms become more. And when they get tested, there is also a delay in getting the reports. Till then, they are still at home. And finally they go to hospital after a positive test, there is an issue of getting beds immediately. All these factors add up, I think.”  

He pointed out that the elderly and patients who have comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiac disease are most vulnerable to COVID-19. “These patients deteriorate suddenly. Nowadays, even youngsters without comorbidities are dying. They are asymptomatic initially. That’s why we tell them to monitor their oxygen saturation.”

He added, “If people have any symptoms, they should consult a doctor immediately and start treatment immediately rather than wait at home.” 

With multiple accounts emerging in recent weeks of COVID-19 patients being turned away by hospitals in Bengaluru, the question is, could these 42 deaths have been prevented if they had received timely medical care? Were these all a case of lack of medical care?     

Speaking to TNM, the then Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Commissioner Anil Kumar, who was transferred out on Saturday, denied that the home deaths were on account of lack of medical care. “This is not a question of people struggling to get hospital beds. They might have SARI or any other comorbidity but they are counted as COVID-19 patients after their death.” 

The IAS officer explained that many home deaths were included in the COVID-19 bulletins as some of the victims had tested positive after their demise. "It could be that they died and the samples returned positive. Any death which occurs is tested for coronavirus and many cases we found they have tested positive," he said.

While Bengaluru has recorded 582 deaths as of July 17, nearly 70% of these fatalities were reported in the last week alone. Explaining the sharp rise in Bengaluru’s deaths, Anil Kumar said, “The number of deaths has increased along with the number of cases. It is consequent but what is found in the analysis is that most deaths are persons with comorbidities and age is a factor.”

Bengaluru has reported a total of 27,496 cases of COVID-19 as of July 17. Out of this, 20,623 patients are presently under treatment. 

(With inputs from Prajwal Bhat)