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Coronavirus Has Likely Killed Hundreds More Illinoisans Than Have Been Counted, Report Finds

"There's no doubt that we're gonna need to go back through the records," Gov. Pritzker said at a Wednesday press conference.

The COVID-19 Testing Center at Innovative Express Care in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Monday, April 27, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Coronavirus has likely killed hundreds more people in Illinois than has been counted by the state, a new analysis found.

There could be 700 people who died of coronavirus but haven’t been counted in Illinois, according to a new report from The New York Times. Gov. JB Pritzker said the state will have to go back to the beginning of the crisis to research and count people who likely died of COVID-19 but haven’t been included in the state’s count of victims.

Other states have already issued revised tolls that count people who likely died of coronavirus, pushing up their death count by thousands.

“There’s no doubt that we’re gonna need to go back through the records,” Pritzker said at a Wednesday press conference. “That’s gonna probably happen in months hence. … We’re probably gonna have to go back [to see] how many of these probably, based upon all the symptoms, were COVID-19.”

The New York Times’ report analyzed data from across the states and found Illinois saw 1,400 people more than normal die March 8-April 11. During that time, 682 people died of coronavirus, according to the state.

That means there were still about 700 deaths more than normal. Because there’s no other significant explanation for such a spike, many of those deaths could likely be attributed to COVID-19 but the people weren’t included in a count by the state.

Pritzker said Illinois has possibly undercounted the toll here because some deaths occurred before officials even knew the virus was in the state and killing people.

“I think everybody’s realizing, indeed, … people had COVID-19 long before everybody thought,” Pritzker said. “It’s probably true here in Illinois that people had coronavirus long before. … Nobody was even talking about, nobody had a name for this thing. People were dying and they might have put on their death certificate” that they died of pneumonia or another respiratory illness.

The Times’ analysis stopped at April 11 — meaning, since then, it’s possible there have been even more people who have died from COVID-19 but have not been counted by the state.

As of Wednesday, 2,215 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois, according to the state’s count.

Earlier this month, Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, largely dismissed concerns about the state undercounting COVID-19 victims.

“I think it’s logical to assume the number of people who have passed away is higher. I don’t know whether I would say much higher,” Pritzker said at an April 15 press conference.

At the same press conference, Ezike said the state was likely highly underestimating the number of cases of coronavirus here because testing has been so limited — but she said the state’s death toll was likely close to accurate.

“For sure … the denominator in terms of the total number of people who have cases is grossly underestimated,” she said. “On the death number, I think that one is probably closer to accurate because once you’re in the hospital that’s definitely a population that would get tested. That was one of our prioritized groups.

“More likely the death numbers are close to actual. Of course, some could have been missed if there was no suspicions at all … .”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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