By: Ted Dabrowski
How many Illinoisans with pre-existing conditions – like diabetes, hypertension, obesity or cardiac arrest – have died as a result of being infected with COVID-19? Or, the opposite. How many people with pre-existing conditions got the virus and survived? Or, how many young residents, with no pre-existing conditions, have succumbed to COVID-19?
The answers to those questions and many more should be readily available to all Illinoisans, especially as the economy begins to gradually open up and people make new decisions about what lifestyle risks to take. Illinoisans have a right to this information and the state should make such science and data public. But it doesn’t.
A comorbidity report – which highlights which deaths were accompanied by a pre-existing condition – is one of the key pieces of data still missing from Illinois’ daily COVID-19 update. That should change immediately.
Whether or not somebody has an underlying chronic condition seems to be the single biggest determinant of whether that person will be hospitalized or die from COVID-19. That’s according to the CDC, which says 90 percent of all virus hospitalizations had pre-existing conditions. Other state and local data put the percentage of deaths accompanied by pre-existing conditions even higher. So you’d think with more than 3,200 deaths in Illinois, the state’s Department of Public Health would publish the information on how many of those deaths had underlying causes. But it doesn’t.
We do know that the virus hits the elderly the hardest and that there’s a high correlation between age and pre-existing conditions. That’s intuitively obvious. But by not providing the data directly to the public, Illinois officials leave many, many questions unanswered.
Start with Illinois’ most vulnerable demographic – those over 60. Over 86 percent of Illinois’ 3,241 deaths were in the over-60 age group.
How many of those deaths were accompanied by pre-existing conditions?* And how many weren’t? What are the chances that somebody elderly with pre-existing conditions dies when they are infected? How many elderly with pre-existing conditions got the virus and survived? With no data we have no answers.
We also know that blacks have been particularly hard hit by the disease. Blacks make up about a third of all COVID-19 deaths in Illinois, though they are just 15 percent of the state population. Same critical questions. Are these deaths mostly due to underlying causes? Are most healthy blacks with no pre-existing conditions less vulnerable? Who, exactly, is dying? Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois’ health officials should provide that information to people who otherwise are left to wonder and fear.
And let’s ask those same questions about the state’s younger deaths. About 180 Illinoisans under the age of 50 have died of COVID-19, including just 15 Illinoisans aged 20 to 29. Underlying causes? Healthy? Knowing that makes a big difference, especially since the under-50 population makes up an overwhelming amount of the workforce. Who’s most at risk and who isn’t? Much of that could be potentially answered by a comorbidity report.
Think we don’t have such data?
States and cities around the country report comorbidity data frequently, some daily, as part of their efforts to educate the public and be transparent about the disease. A good example of that reporting comes from New York. Its daily data page reports that of the state’s 21,045 deaths as of May 6, almost 90 percent had at least one comorbidity. Note the detail it provides, though it could provide much more, particularly by race.
Louisiana also publishes weekly comorbidity data on its public health website. Recent data from the Louisiana Department of Health “shows that only three percent of people who have died in Louisiana had no underlying health conditions.”
We only get a hint of what’s going on in Illinois from one Chicago number. The city reports that 94 percent of Chicagoans who died from COVID-19 suffered a comorbidity. In all, of the 1,160 COVID-19 deaths in Chicago with a known medical history, 1,090 had underlying conditions.
Chicago’s report is limited in that it doesn’t break down the underlying conditions. But it’s still better than what we’re getting from the state.
It’s a big failure for Gov. Pritzker to not publish the science and data he says he’s using to make health and economic decisions. Without that information, residents continue to be in a fog about what’s really going and just how much risk they individually face.
*(An unrelated but equally important question is, how many people died from a pre-existing condition but were tagged as a COVID-19 death because they had the virus, too. But that’s the subject for a different piece.)
Read more about COVID-19 and the impact on Illinois:
- Illinois’ COVID-19 crisis: Daily data update
- Pritzker’s top-down reopen strategy will fail large parts of IL: He should expect pushback
- Governor Pritzker’s Plan to Reopen Illinois Makes No Sense
- Open Illinois’ economy: Recessions and depressions kill
- COVID-19: Seven facts that tell us Illinoisans can and must get back to work
- Reopen the Economy While Protecting Those Truly at Risk or Face Another Great Depression