Illinois COVID death toll nears 37,000, three years into pandemic

Mountainous bar charts of daily case counts may illustrate how quickly COVID-19 swept through Illinois in 2020. But they cannot capture the isolation felt by people in Chicago and beyond who have been told to stay home at the start of the pandemic.

Hospital admissions figures reflect waves of patients who have crowded into coronavirus wards with severe illness. But they reveal nothing about the burnout of healthcare workers who have transitioned to new careers.

And while the statewide death toll of at least 36,494 provides a devastating indication of what the virus has wrested from over the past three years, that number does not approach the full extent of the grief that is emerges from every loss.

Statistics do not tell the full story of the pandemic. But experts say the data they have collected provides vital insights into how the outbreak has hit different communities – and what everyone should be thinking about as we learn to live with the virus permanently. .

“Last winter shows that we may be getting to a point where we can go a year without overwhelming the health care system,” said Dr. Arti Barnes, chief medical officer for the Illinois Department of Public Health. “This is one of the first optimistic signs that we’re reaching a point where we’re starting to heal.”

The scars remain vivid.

More than 4 million COVID infections have been confirmed in the state since the start of 2020. The true number is likely at least several times higher, experts say, as millions of cases have gone undiagnosed and the official figure does not include home testing. .

More than 20,000 people a day were testing positive, on average, at the height of the omicron variant surge in late 2021, according to state figures.

Hospitals across the state were treating more than 7,000 coronavirus patients a night during the omicron crisis, an even greater burden than the first two waves that overwhelmed the healthcare system in 2020.

“At worst, it was like a mass, everyday disaster,” said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, chief operating officer for the Cook County Public Health Department.

The number of daily deaths reached a vicious peak in December 2020, just before the rollout of the first vaccines. During the period from December 5 to 11, 2020, the state averaged more than 150 deaths per day.

By comparison, the state is averaging about 1,300 confirmed cases per day over the past week, with fewer than 900 COVID hospitalizations and about nine daily deaths.

This improvement — along with the fact that the biggest surge in omicron cases has not resulted in more deaths than in the fall of 2020 — speaks to the effectiveness of vaccination, experts say.

“Overall, we find that those who are vaccinated are proportionally less likely to end up in hospital,” Barnes said. “And, if they do, they’re more likely to be discharged from the hospital.”

Each successive wave added a death toll that is now approaching 37,000, roughly equivalent to wiping out Calumet City’s population.

The Chicago area accounts for nearly half of that toll, with about 8,000 in the city and more than 7,500 in suburban Cook County.

It appears that the deaths have affected different racial groups almost in line with the demographics of the state: white residents make up about 64% of COVID deaths, black residents make up about 18%, and Hispanic residents about 14%.

But the disparities were much greater in the early stages of the pandemic. From March to December 2020, the COVID death rate for Hispanic residents was 2.5 times higher than for white residents, while black lives were claimed at twice the rate, according to figures from the ‘State.

The Chicago area accounts for nearly half of that toll, with about 8,000 in the city and more than 7,500 in suburban Cook County.

Trends have changed in the first months of 2023, however, with white residents dying at a rate almost twice as high as the Hispanic community and slightly higher than black residents.

Disparities remain acute on the South Side and West Side and in the southern and southwest suburbs of Cook County, where vaccinations have lagged, Hasbrouck said.

“The numbers tell you it’s a simple ‘before and after,'” he said. “There have been many preventable deaths since we introduced vaccines. We need more people to get up to speed with vaccines to keep reducing the carnage. »


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