COVID-19 deaths among Illinois nursing home residents are surging and near their highest level but, as the pandemic wears on, those cases are making up a smaller fraction of the state’s total coronavirus death count.
Over the past five weeks, nursing home residents have accounted for 42.8% of the total fatalities, according to a WBEZ analysis of state Department of Public Health data. That’s down from 66.4% during a five-week period ending June 19.
“I think that does suggest that nursing homes are doing something right,” said Ronald Hershow, who directs epidemiology and biostatistics in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health. “They have improved their approach to this health issue over time.”
Hershow also credited Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration: “The broad-scale rollout of periodic [COVID-19] testing in these facilities has been probably the top of the list of important interventions.”
The public health department reported 427 new fatalities among residents of congregate-care sites in a weekly posting Friday afternoon. As staggering as that number may be, it’s far fewer than the 652 deaths recorded last week among Illinoisans who do not live in those sites.
The virus has now killed 6,954 nursing home residents, according to the data posted Friday. That represents 49.5% of total COVID-19 deaths in the state, marking the first time since May that nursing home residents have accounted for less than half of total coronavirus fatalities.
Academic studies have found that a strong predictor of nursing home COVID-19 infections is prevalence of the virus in surrounding communities.
A WBEZ investigation published last month found that nursing homes that run for profit in the state had more infections and deaths per occupied bed than nonprofit facilities. 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.