State officials adjust COVID-19 fatality numbers as they learn more about each death

ILLINOIS — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that 6 percent of the nation’s COVID-19 related deaths had COVID-19 listed as the only cause of death while the other 94 percent had an average of 2.6 conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said it adjusts COVID-19 death numbers as investigations continue.

On April 19, IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike explained what’s considered a COVID-19 death: If at the time of death, the person has a positive COVID-19 sample.

“It means, that if technically, even if you’ve died of a clear alternate cause but you had COVID at the same time, it’s still listed as a COVID death,” Ezike said. “Everyone who’s listed as a COVID death doesn’t mean that was the cause of death, but they had COVID at the time of their death.”

On Monday, IDPH said “deaths due to causes such as car crashes, homicide, suicide, etc. where the individual tested positive for COVID-19 are not included in the count.”

“In Illinois, deaths where COVID-19 is listed on the death certificate as either the underlying cause of death or a contributing cause of death are counted in the state total,” a spokesperson for the department said in an email. “It is difficult trying to report deaths in real-time. … With COVID-19, as IDPH investigates and learns more information about each death, the total number of deaths is adjusted.”

Sangamon County Public Health Director Gail O’Neill said in some cases there is a gray area.

“When a death happens right away, we’re notified,” O’Neill said. “Well, the death certificate may not be filled out for several days afterward and the coroner or myself do not see that until the doctors decide.”

O’Neill said she’s confident local death totals are accurate. She said many of the deaths are from long-term care facilities where residents have other comorbidities.

“You’re generally not very healthy when you’re in long-term care,” O’Neill said. “It’s just a hard thing to really get a handle on but ours are as close, we feel pretty confident that we’re giving a good picture in our community that we know what’s going on.”

More than half of the 8,026 deaths statewide, or 4,396 deaths, are connected with long-term care facilities. In Sangamon County, 28 of the 40 deaths are from nursing homes.

The number of daily COVID-19 deaths statewide has decreased since the May 13 peak of 191. The latest 24-hour report Monday had 7 COVID-19 deaths statewide.

President Donald Trump sparked controversy when he retweeted a story about the CDC data. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump wasn’t trying to downplay the virus’ impact, but was encouraged by the drop in fatality rates and other positive news.

“We’re encouraged that our therapeutics are working and saving lives thanks to the work of President Trump tearing down bureaucratic barriers,” she said.

Anti-viral drugs such as Remdesivir are working, said HSHS St. John’s Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gurpreet Mander. He said hospitals in Springfield have also been using plasma treatments on patients with success.

As for outpatients, “mainly fluids, supportive treatment, fever control and rest,” Mander said. “Those are the mainstays of treatment. There is no medication that is recommended for outpatient prescription at this point.”

Last week, the FDA announced emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma as a treatment. Mander urged people who’ve recovered from the virus to donate plasma that could have antibodies that could help those in the hospital.

The Center Square – Greg Bishop

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.

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