By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s justifications for maintaining one of the strictest reopening schedules in the country are falling by the wayside. Even his own science and data are working against him.
The data is overwhelming. Daily hospitalizations and deaths are dropping significantly. Hospitals are more than prepared for any new surge. The majority of COVID-related deaths are concentrated in a known, limited segment of the population. Illinoisans under the age of 30 have been spared by the virus. And the general population has been largely unaffected.
Illinois’ reopening plan has been pegged as the most strict in the nation and it’s continuing to destroy lives and livelihoods. Here are five of Pritzker’s own data points that show why he can reopen Illinois in a much more aggressive fashion.
1. Hospitalizations are down by half, deaths by 40 percent since their peaks
Data from the IDPH shows the COVID-19 situation in Illinois has been steadily improving. Downward-trending daily hospitalizations and deaths serve as convincing evidence for expediting the reopening of the state.
Hospitalizations are down to 2,365, less than half the peak of 5,036 on April 28. The actual peak of the virus was even earlier. Hospitalization lags infection by about 13 days, according to the CDC. This means the virus actually peaked sometime in mid-April.
COVID-related deaths, a lagging indicator, have also been trending downwards. At its peak, the seven-day average for deaths was 117 on May 15. The most recent seven-day running average was 68 deaths, over 40 percent lower.
Both of these peaks occurred before Phase 2 even began, which was on May 1. There’s been no visible surge in hospitalizations or deaths since then. Illinois moved to Phase 3 only 12 days ago, so the impact of any further reopening remains unknown due to the lag effect of the virus.
2. Illinois hospitals are fully prepared for a potential surge
Being unprepared for a surge in serious cases may have been a legitimate concern at the beginning of the crisis, but it no longer holds true today. Illinois now has more than enough hospital resources to tackle a spike, as evidenced in the following graphics. In fact, Illinois always had a surplus of resources, even during the peak of the virus.
About 14,000 hospital beds are unused today, or about 39 percent of the state’s total supply. Illinois never saw an occupancy of more than 70 percent of its beds since the government began reporting hospitalization data on April 3.
More than 43 percent of intensive care unit (ICU) beds are also unused, totaling almost 1,700 beds. Illinois’ occupancy of ICU beds never exceeded 78 percent of its total, even during the peak.
And around 77 percent, or 4,500, of Illinois’ ventilators are currently unused. Illinois never used more than 46 percent of its ventilators since the beginning of April.
The combination of declining hospitalizations and abundant hospital resources should be comforting to Illinoisans preparing for the state’s reopening. It also eliminates one of Pritzker’s major excuses for stunting the reopening of Illinois’ economy.
3. More than half the state’s deaths come from retirement homes, facilities the state regulates.
Pritzker’s health officials knew from the beginning of the crisis that residents in Long Term Care (LTC) facilities, like nursing homes, were the most vulnerable. Much could have been done to prevent those losses at the onset, but wasn’t. Focusing on protecting residents in LTCs will be a far more effective way for Pritzker to mitigate fatalities than continuing to restrict the actions of the general public.
Long-term care residents make up just 1 percent of the state’s population, but they’ve contributed to 53 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. That’s 3,083 of the state’s 5,792 deaths as of June 5th. Fix the LTC problem and the number of new Illinois deaths will continue to collapse.
4. Illinoisans now know who’s most at risk, and they can take the proper precautions.
After three months of constant crisis, Illinoisans most at risk of dying from COVID-19 – those with pre-existing conditions – are now more aware of that risk. They’re far more likely to take precautions to protect themselves. And those at less risk know to be more cautious around that vulnerable population.
Illinois doesn’t currently share its comorbidity data with the general public. Instead, Illinoisans depend on national and international data, which consistently shows that those with hypertension, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are overwhelmingly the targets of COVID-19.
Wirepoints has provided the only comorbidity numbers available in Illinois. We ran our own calculations using the Cook County Medical Examiner death database and found that 91 percent of the county’s COVID-19 deaths had a comorbidity as a secondary cause of death. Those findings are consistent with those found across the nation and the world.
It’s irresponsible for Gov. Pritzker to continue to withhold comorbidity data from the public. There are still some people who may not understand their risk, which is why continued education and data are essential.
5. Illinois’ school and university-aged population have been largely spared
Illinois’ school- and university-aged population have seen few COVID-19 deaths, yet they’ll have been kept out of school for six months by the time September rolls around. Given what we know about COVID-19 and youth, there’s no reason to stop them from going back to school.
Only four Illinoisans under the age of 20 have died from COVID-19. At least two of them had pre-existing conditions. And just 21 youths aged 20 to 29 were victims of the virus. Sixteen of those had pre-existing conditions.
While losing anyone to COVID-19 is a tragedy, fatalities under age 30 have been so rare that they shouldn’t be a reason for keeping Illinois’ nearly three million K-12 and college students from progressing with life.
Illinois is ready to reopen
Gov. Pritzker’s own data are working against him and his overly-restrictive plan.
And it’s not just the data in Illinois. The CDC also says that under their “best estimate,” the infection’s fatality rate is just 0.4 percent. That’s far lower than the “crude” fatality rate implied by IDPH’s numbers.
Doctors are also far smarter about and more prepared for the virus than they were two months ago. As the Wall Street Journal recently highlighted, hospitals are better at managing COVID-19 patients and have come up with increasingly more effective drug and medicine combinations to treat the virus.
Then there’s the crisis the shutdown is creating on the other side of the ledger. Over 1.2 million Illinoisans have filed for unemployment. Up to a third of all restaurants in Illinois may never reopen.
Nationally, over half of all small businesses are expecting to shut their doors permanently. The consequences of the lockdown and the prolonged reopening are resulting in increased deaths from bad health, poverty, opioid abuse, suicide, domestic violence and depression.
Add this all up and it’s clear Pritzker needs to relax Illinois’ existing rules and expedite Illinois’ reopening.
Read more about COVID-19 and the impact on Illinois:
- COVID-19 Peaked In April in Illinois Just When Pritzker Changed ‘Science and Data’ To Say Otherwise
- No cuts, record spending, and hoping for a bailout. Eight things you need to know about Illinois’ 2021 budget.
- Illinois government jobs protected, private sector jobs decimated during COVID-19 shutdown
- COVID-19 spreads to half of all Chicagoland retirement homes. How did this happen?
- Big raises for Chicago Teachers Union, AFSCME shows where federal aid will end up
- Trading at junk levels: Illinois borrowing costs 5 times higher than AAA-rated states
- Pritzker’s overly-restrictive shutdown rules make Illinois a national outlier