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Illinois Is Not Inflating Coronavirus Deaths. In Fact, They’re Likely Higher Than Reported, Officials Say

The state only attributes deaths to coronavirus with a lab assessment. The data reported by the state comes from hospitals and other agencies.

Alivio Medical Center's Pilsen drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in the Lower West Side neighborhood in action on Saturday, May 9, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — For weeks, conspiracy theorists have accused public health and government officials of misleading the public by attributing too many deaths to coronavirus.

But Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Tuesday such claims could not be further from the truth. In fact, the number of deaths in the state is likely higher than what’s been reported, she said.

An analysis from The New York Times estimated coronavirus has likely killed hundreds more Illinoisans than what’s been counted so far.

The state only attributes deaths to coronavirus with a laboratory assessment, Ezike said, and the data reported by the state comes from hospitals and other agencies.

Ezike said the state is now looking back at deaths in early March or late February to see if someone died from the virus before officials realized it had hit the state.

But the state’s death toll does not include people who had coronavirus but obviously died from something else, Ezike said.

“As we learn more about the disease, there may have been less typical presentations of COVID-19 that were not appropriately attributed to COVID because there wasn’t a test done because the suspicion was not there,” Ezike said. “There [are] also some additional deaths [of people] who happened to be COVID-positive but the COVID infection had nothing to do with the death.”

For example, a death might be reported to the state and the death certificate might mention coronavirus — but when officials do a further review and see the person died from a shooting or car crash, they exclude that person from the state’s COVID-19 death toll, Ezike said.

But if someone had another illness, like heart disease, and they suffered a stroke while battling coronavirus, it is not as easy to separate that and conclude COVID did not play a role in exacerbating an existing illness, Ezike said. That person would not be removed from the count.

Illinois saw its highest one-day total of new confirmed coronavirus cases Monday into Tuesday, as well as its highest number of tests, officials said.

A total of 4,114 new cases were identified, Ezike said.

In addition, Illinois suffered another grim 24-hour stretch as 144 more people died from COVID-19. There have now been 3,601 deaths in Illinois.

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