With Illinois logging yet another daily record in new COVID-19 cases, a state-run veterans’ home southwest of Chicago is dealing with a fatal outbreak that has killed six residents so far and sickened dozens more.
On Tuesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported the deaths of three residents of the LaSalle Veterans’ Home in the past 24 hours. All told, six residents of the facility have died from the coronavirus in the past week.
That disclosure shed new detail on an outbreak that appears far from being contained and that one leading Democratic lawmaker called “simply unacceptable.”
State officials confirmed 68 residents have tested positive for the virus while another 70 staff members have been sickened since the start of the pandemic. The state facility sits about 95 miles southwest of Chicago and is equipped to house 184 veterans.
The numbers mark potentially the most serious public health crisis at a state-run veterans’ home since 14 deaths were tied to a series of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks at a veterans’ home in downstate Quincy between 2015 and 2017, an issue the governor used to criticize his predecessor, former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“This is an extraordinarily difficult and troubling situation,” Pritzker said Tuesday at his daily briefing on the state’s coronavirus response.
“Our veterans affairs department has really done an outstanding job of keeping the veterans in our veterans’ home safe,” he said. “They really have. And so this is a blow to all of us. It’s something that they’ve been working against the entire time.”
The disclosure of the COVID-19 outbreak in LaSalle came as Illinois logged the largest volume of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. All told, the state reported 12,623 new cases Tuesday along with 79 additional deaths.
As of Monday, Illinois reported more new cases in the prior seven days than any other state in the country, with more than 64,000, according to data compiled by the Centers For Disease Control & Prevention.
State Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike could not provide data on the number of LaSalle residents or staff who are hospitalized because of the coronavirus or who may be on ventilators. But a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Veteran’s Affairs department confirmed three residents are currently hospitalized.
“The numbers have been changing unfortunately as the outbreak has grown,” Ezike said. “But it’s a significant outbreak despite all of our best efforts and the aggressive testing and screening of staff and routine screening of staff and residents. We are deploying all of our available resources to support that, to quell that as quickly as possible.
“But there [is] unfortunately going to be significant morbidity, and we will be hoping for the best for all of the individuals at that facility,” she said.
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called the situation at LaSalle “simply unacceptable” and urged Pritzker’s administration to determine how the fatal outbreak occurred at the facility.
“It is sad when anyone dies of COVID, but it is especially worrisome when the state of Illinois is responsible for the care of our veterans in the homes,” said Kifowit, who has announced a bid to unseat Democrat Michael Madigan as Illinois House speaker.
“It is very troubling the recent information released that has shown three veteran deaths and numerous infections of our veterans and the staff that work there,” she continued. “It is simply unacceptable, and I encourage the governor to evaluate how this happened and put into place protocols to ensure our veterans’ safety.”
The state continues to be near the top of the country in the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19, second only to Texas in the past seven days as of Monday, with 463 deaths, according to tracking by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since March, 10,289 Illinoisans have died from COVID-19.
Per capita, Illinois ranks 14th in the country in deaths over the past seven days, according to federal data.
Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.