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Ventilator tubes are attached a COVID-19 patient in this Nov. 19, 2020 photo. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 605 deaths in weekly data released Friday.

Jae C. Hong

COVID-19 Is Killing More Illinois Nursing Home Residents Than Ever, According To State Data

COVID-19 case and death numbers in Illinois have been dropping for weeks following a fall surge, but nursing-home residents are contracting the illness and dying from it at their highest reported rates.

State public health regulators have recorded 605 deaths among residents of long-term care facilities, assisted-living centers and other congregate care sites over the past week, according to data posted Friday.

Those fatalities account for nearly two-thirds of the state’s 965 total coronavirus deaths reported over the past week. Friday’s nursing-home death tally also clobbers a record-setting 480 fatalities among residents reported for the week ending Dec. 4.

Infections among nursing-home residents are also soaring. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 5,063 new cases on Friday. That breaks the previous record, 4,489, reported for the week ending Dec. 11.

The recent surge lifts the COVID-19 death toll for nursing-home residents during the entire pandemic to 7,559. That’s 50.3% of total Illinois fatalities due to the coronavirus, according to a WBEZ analysis of IDPH data.

A planned COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Illinois nursing homes, meanwhile, is hitting snags. State Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike at a Wednesday press conference said the vaccinations won’t begin until Dec. 28, nearly two weeks after inoculations among hospital workers began.

Ezike made no promise that that date would hold up and said the federal government was trimming the state’s planned vaccine shipments for coming days.

“With these decreased allocations, it might slow the process with the skilled nursing facilities,” Ezike said at the press conference. “We have to wait for more information to see where that lands.”

Nursing homes also face the daunting challenge of getting written consent for vaccination of each resident, some incapable of making medical decisions on their own, requiring outreach to surrogates.

SEIU Healthcare, a union that represents about 12,000 Illinois nursing-home workers, says some are worried about getting vaccinated in light of mistreatment of Black people by the country’s medical establishment.

High COVID-19 numbers in nursing homes can be partly explained by infections in surrounding communities. Academic researchers have found a link between nursing-home cases and the virus’ nearby prevalence.

Another factor is nursing-home ownership. A WBEZ investigation published last month found that facilities that run for profit in Illinois had more infections and deaths per occupied bed than nonprofit sites.

The difference was most stark in the 20 counties hit hardest by the virus. In those counties, for-profit nursing homes had nearly double the death rates as nonprofit facilities.

The investigation also found that facilities with lower staffing coverage tended to have higher COVID-19 rates. The for-profit facilities tended to have lower federal ratings for staff-to-patient ratios leading up to the pandemic.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1. Contact him at

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