By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

Wirepoints recently analyzed data from Cook County’s Medical Examiner and found that 92 percent of Cook County COVID-19 victims had pre-existing conditions. Those that died had comorbidities including diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease.

Many Americans have pre-existing conditions. Data from the CDC says that 45 percent of people have hypertension. Another 43 percent are obese. And another 10 percent have diabetes. 

(Read part 1 of Wirepoints’ look at pre-existing conditions: Wirepoints analysis reveals 92 percent of Cook County COVID-19 victims had pre-existing conditions)

However, that doesn’t mean that all Americans with one or more pre-existing conditions are at serious risk of death from COVID-19. Illinois’ fatality data shows that the virus has had a limited impact on younger demographics.

Below we focus on the impact of COVID-19 on the under-50 population for three key reasons. First, it’s important to determine whether it’s safe, in general, for the younger crowd to get back to school and college. Second, it’s vital to determine if it’s safe for workers to get back to their jobs – the under-50 demographic makes up nearly 70 percent of Illinois’ workforce. And third, it’s at age 50 where case-fatality numbers become more significant, in relative terms.

The limited impact on under-50s

If all Illinoisans with pre-existing conditions were at a similar risk of dying from COVID-19, then we’d expect to see a more even share of deaths across every age group. That’s not the case. The number of deaths in younger brackets are far outnumbered by those in older brackets. The number of deaths for those under 50 total just 200. In contrast, the virus has claimed 3,592 lives for those over 50.

The known-case fatality rates in Illinois (number of COVID-19 deaths divided by known cases) tell a similar story. The fatality rates go down dramatically as age decreases.

In particular, for those younger than 50, the average fatality rate is just 0.4%. (We know the real case-fatality number will be much, much lower once testing reveals the true number of cases). If pre-existing conditions were a major factor across all age groups, the fatality rates would be much higher in the younger age groups. But they aren’t.

The data is even more clear when looking across the entire population. About 65% of Illinois’ population is younger than 50, yet they make up just 5% of all COVID-19 deaths. In contrast, those over age 50 make up just 35% of the population, but 95% of all deaths. The data shows that pre-existing conditions aren’t impacting younger brackets like they are the 50-plus age group.

However, comorbidities are a key risk factor when combined with age and location (long-term care facilities). The elderly with pre-existing conditions and living in retirement homes are most at risk from COVID-19, according to the data.

Illinois needs far stricter controls, testing and PPE for nursing homes. We need to reverse Pritzker’s refusal to employ antibody tests to try to identify workers who could more safely care for those who are at risk. Far more attention needs to go there and toward protecting the elderly in general. We must be certain they can stay at home by assuring delivery of necessities. Essential workers and younger people need to understand the importance of staying away from those at risk. Extended families need to be educated on how to physically distance within the same home, and perhaps offered assistance if they are in smaller homes where that is not possible.

Going forward

Reopening Illinois is important to limit the total deaths from this crisis: those stemming from COVID-19 as well as those from despair – residents who die from increased rates of poverty, suicide, domestic violence and drug abuse. In the longer run, depressions kill millions, and we do face a grave risk of a depression. Poorer economies have lower average lifespans because less money is available for health care, traffic safety, medical research, environmental advances, food safety and myriad other things that make life not only better but safer.

We can reopen Illinois by targeting our resources on those truly at risk to not only saves lives now, but in the long run.

(Read part 1 of Wirepoints’ look at pre-existing conditions: Wirepoints analysis reveals 92 percent of Cook County COVID-19 victims had pre-existing conditions)

Read more about COVID-19 and the impact on Illinois:

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Doly Garcia
5 months ago

The reasoning in this article is sound, and it looks like a good strategy. There is one important catch, though: the policy suggested is exactly what Sweden tried to implement. And Sweden seemed initially successful, and then, like in other countries, the virus got into nursing homes and now they are having high death tolls in nursing homes. So there is some important ingredient missing somewhere. Not saying that lockdown is a better policy (clearly it isn’t sustainable in the long run), but something else needs to be added. There are many advocates of contact tracing, but it isn’t clear… Read more »

Mark Felt
5 months ago

Perhaps obesity and hypertension explain why Governor Pritzker is vacationing in Florida. With more people and more elderly, Florida has a lower death rate than Illinois. Then again maybe the Governor is down in Florida studying how to do it right.

debtsor
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Felt

Ah, the indignation of a billionaire when questioned on why his orders apply to everyone except his own family….This was a national news story because it’s so egregious.

Stanley Eastman
5 months ago

Thanks for your good work here. Can you attempt to do something similar to show data like this for hospitalizations. It is clear that young, healthy people are at very low risk of dying. But how about becoming severely ill to the point of needing hospitalization?

Yoz
5 months ago

IDPH’s lack of public transparency makes that difficult if not impossible to determine for Illinois. However, CDC surveys show that the demographic risk for young, healthy people is much lower than for those over fifty. Those under 18-years-old represent 1.3% of hospitalizations, people 18 to 49-years-old represent 9.7% of hospitalizations, people 50 to 64-years-old represent 29.2% of hospitalizations, and people over 65-years-old represent 59.9.% of hospitalizations. So about nine out of ten hospitalizations involve someone over fifty years old.

https://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/COVIDNet/COVID19_3.html

debtsor
5 months ago
Reply to  Yoz

That’s still a 1 in 10 chance of becoming hospitalized for workers in their prime years of 18-49. I don’t want to be hospitalized if I catch this red death. Assuming that those 1 in 10 are unhealthy to begin with. Its this kind of figure that say that the state should reopen, with precautions, and by god, if you’re obese, or immunocompromised, or in some other risk category, stay home. If you can’t afford to stay home, go on social security disability until the pandemic is over. That’s a safety net for the most vulnerable. I mean, there will… Read more »

Yoz
5 months ago
Reply to  debtsor

“That’s still a 1 in 10 chance of becoming hospitalized for workers in their prime years of 18-49.”

While the fact that one out of ten hospitalizations involve people 18 to 49-years-old demonstrates the lower risk for that age group, the actual risk of being hospitalized for that age group is going to be much lower, due to differences in size between groups and other factors.

Also, another CDC reference:
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6915e3.htm

Yoz
5 months ago
Reply to  Yoz

Also, risk of hospitalization depends upon infection and risk of infection depends on susceptibility to infection and risk of exposure (which are pretty much never 100%, but well below that, for the population as a whole).

WW
5 months ago

If you listened to the Pritzker press conf yesterday, Dr. Ezike admitted that the daily death count is not vetted appropriately, essentially saying that if you died of another very obvious cause (homicide, car accident, heart attack) and had a positive Covid-19 test, that death is attributed to Covid-19. Very loose answer around how and when they clean it up “on the back end”…around the 54 min mark. Where are the voices of our world renowned data scientists here in Chicago saying, you can’t keep going forward like this..?

Yoz
5 months ago

“We need to reverse Pritzker’s refusal to employ antibody tests to try to identify workers who could more safely care for those who are at risk.” First, I would say that Pritzker needs to do serological studies that are necessary to properly managing COVID-19. His refusal to do so is not based on data and science and it prevents us from understanding the potential immunity that exists among those groups most susceptible to exposure. Second, while there is merit in the idea of using antibody tests to select healthcare works with antibodies for certain jobs, it also carries risks of… Read more »

Mick the Tick
5 months ago

I know it’s an uncomfortable concept, but sometimes we are forced to put a value on a human life. We make things worse for ourselves when we shy away from these topics.

I am 62. I am somewhat overweight but otherwise healthy. My life still has value but I’m willing to risk it so others can live their normal lives. Another word for that is freedom. It’s not Pritzker’s job to keep me alive at the expense of others. That’s too high a price.

debtsor
5 months ago
Reply to  Mick the Tick

It’s also your job to start taking jobs around the block every single day. Or reduce your caloric intake significantly. Because if you get sick, you take a substantial risk of becoming hospitalized, and taking a bed away from someone who is more needy, and can’t get out and job. There has never been a better time in life than now for our overweight population to get in shape. it’s literally life or death now.