By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
A look at Illinois’ deadliest day since the start of the second COVID wave suggests state officials should re-dedicate their efforts and resources to protecting the elderly and infirm, and not the general public. A deeper dive into retirement home deaths, comorbidities and fatality rates makes the case for that change even more convincing.
On Nov. 17, Illinois officials reported 168 deaths due to COVID. Ninety-three percent of the victims were older than 60 and the average age of all fatalities that day was about 80. Sadly, the number of those over the age of 80 totaled 94.
In contrast, just three COVID victims that day were under the age of 50.
Illinois’ policy of general lockdowns and school closures is clearly upside down compared to who is actually at risk.
Failing to protect retirement homes
It’s clear that the state’s mitigation efforts have failed to protect Illinois’ elderly. That fact becomes even more obvious when nursing and retirement home data is examined.
COVID-19 deaths tied to the narrow demographic of retirement home residents continue to dominate the state’s mortality records. Even during “good” weeks, retirement home deaths still account for about a third of all state COVID deaths. But half is still a common occurrence. Of the 425 COVID deaths that occurred during the week of Nov. 13, 56 percent, or 238, were linked to retirement homes.
Illinois is now nine months into the pandemic. Those results are inexcusable.
In all, 51 percent of all Illinois deaths since the start of the pandemic have been tied to Long Term Care Facilities (LTCs). That’s a total of nearly 5,800 deaths. And outside of Cook and the collar counties, LTC deaths make up about 60 percent of total COVID-19 fatalities.
Even in counties with serious outbreaks, the impact of COVID deaths has often been largely confined to retirement homes. Downstate counties like Madison, Peoria and St. Clair have had two-thirds or more of their deaths occur in LTCs.
Illinois’ attempt to protect Long-Term Care facilities has been botched from the beginning. Wirepoints’ documented the state’s failures in COVID-19 spreads to half of all Chicagoland retirement homes. How did this happen? and Questions and problems grow over Illinois’ handling of retirement homes.
The Tribune covered the state’s failures in its in-depth report: Illinois nursing home complaints not investigated for more than 3 months amid pandemic that killed thousands of residents.
Despite the state’s claims to the contrary, the numbers show there has been little improvement.
The problem of comorbidities
Another reason for the state to hyper-focus on the elderly and the infirm: the high correlation between COVID fatalities and comorbidities. The CDC says 94 percent of all COVID deaths nationally had pre-existing conditions., including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc. Each death has had an average of 2.6 underlying causes.
Unfortunately, state officials continue to keep Illinoisans in the dark about COVID and comorbidities. It’s a major failure. Every Illinoisan should have access to that information so that they can make their own calculations about how to maneuver around the virus.
The only comorbidity data available in Illinois is in the Cook County Medical Examiner’s database of deaths. The data is not published, so Wirepoints periodically scrapes the county data and we post it on our daily COVID page. If it wasn’t for that file, Illinoisans would have nothing from its government on the impact of pre-existing conditions on COVID-19.
Cook County’s data shows 91 percent of primary COVID deaths had some form of preexisting condition. For victims 80 and above, comorbidities were almost universal.
However, the data also shows comorbidities were a significant factor for those middle-aged Illinoisans who succumbed to COVID. At least three-quarters of all deaths for ages 20-59 in Cook County had underlying causes.
The state should do all it can to help the most infirm Illinoisans assess their level of risk from COVID. It can start by actually publishing statewide data on comorbidities.
The elderly’s Case Fatality Rate
Illinois officials must focus far more on the elderly simply because the virus is much more deadly for them.
Take the two extremes in age brackets. For those ages 80 and higher, the crude case fatality rate (deaths divided by cases) in Illinois is at nearly 20 percent. Of the 27,717 reported cases since the inception of the virus, 5,422 have fallen victim to COVID. Contrast that to those under the age of 20, whose crude case fatality rate is at just 0.009%. Of the nearly 93,000 cases of COVID for those under 20, there have been a total of just 8 deaths.
The case fatality rates for all age brackets are shown below. With nine months of COVID data behind us, there’s just no comparison in the risk shared between younger and older Illinoisans.
The strategy of shutting much of the state down – from lockdowns to school closings – has done far more harm than good, in part because it’s taken health officials’ eyes off of the elderly and the infirm.
Instead of defending lockdowns, the state should finally change course and invest in more protection of Illinois’ vulnerable demographics.
Read more about Illinois and the COVID crisis:
- Support for school reopenings grows across the political spectrum
- Every Illinois school parent, teacher should know these COVID-19 facts
- “Illinois’ collapsing COVID fatality rates show we can have our schools reopen safely and responsibly.”
- Illinois’ COVID fatality rate plummets: Cases skyrocket, deaths down since last peak