The death of Maurice Berger, 62, was confirmed by an administrator at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where he taught.
Berger died in Craryville four days ago, UMBC Director of Arts and Culture Thomas Moore said.
He died from complications from COVID-19, according to Moore.
Berger, who also lived in New York City, is the first known death suspected to be from COVID-19 in Columbia County.
The Columbia County Department of Health (DOH), which has been releasing daily briefings on its website including the number of confirmed cases in the county, has not mentioned the death. There was also no mention of the death in two press releases issued by the county Board of Supervisors issued since Sunday.
A spokeswoman for the county Department of Health said Thursday they were aware of the death, but it was impossible to confirm it was from COVID-19, as the person was not tested.
“At the time of the (Monday Board of Supervisors) press release, there was a death, but the person was never hospitalized and never tested, so we don’t know if it was suspected or not,” said DOH Spokeswoman Patricia Abitabile, responding to a question if there had been any suspected COVID-19 deaths in the county. “We don’t know what they expired from, because there was never a test for that person.”
New York is struggling to fight the coronavirus with a critically limited number of test kits for COVID-19. Counties in the Hudson Valley have turned away people with symptoms and who have arrived from international travel.
Buzzfeed News released a report Wednesday saying COVID-19’s death toll in the U.S. was being under-counted in part because of lack of tests, and the full extent of mortality might be greatly underestimated.
In the Monday press release, the day after Berger died, the Columbia County Board of Supervisors stated there had not been any hospitalizations from the disease thus far.
Abitabile now says this was inaccurate. Another person in the county was hospitalized Monday with COVID-19 and remained in hospital as of Thursday afternoon. DOH Director Jack Mabb did not know of the hospitalization at the time of the press release, Abitabile said.
Berger was the chief curator and research professor at UMBC’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture.
Berger’s work focused on race and gender in the United States and won him international recognition. His writings appeared in Artforum, National Geographic, The Village Voice, Brooklyn Rail, Wired, and the Los Angeles Times, according to the university.
“Maurice was a beloved member of the UMBC community, one of our most admired and productive scholars,” UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski said in a statement. “For many of us, he was even more than that. He was a special colleague and friend…The UMBC community so admired him because we shared the same values. He believed in the dignity of humankind and the power of art and history to open our eyes.”
There were 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county as of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, according the DOH’s daily release.