WGN Investigates ‘excess death’ in Illinois during coronavirus pandemic

WGN Investigates
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CHICAGO — WGN Investigates has reported on the accuracy of the state’s COVID-19 death count, but now new numbers show several thousand non-coronavirus deaths in recent months.

From January 1 through May 15, there were 6,230 additional deaths in Illinois than the average during the same time period over the last two years. Just over 4,000 of those were labeled coronavirus related.

That means there were more than 2,100 additional deaths not connected to COVID-19.

“The other part of these excess deaths that gives me a lot of concern are delayed or deferred care,” Dr. Sadiya Khan, Northwestern Medicine, told WGN last week. “We’ve seen a decline, anecdotally, of people presenting to the hospital for symptoms of chest pain, heart attack and stroke.”            

The Illinois Department of Public Health tells WGN:

“The data does show there are ‘excess deaths’ and potential reasons could be deaths that were exacerbated by COVID-19 such as heart disease or other chronic diseases. Although less likely, there could be more COVID-19 deaths than are being reported.”

Health officials told us it will take months, maybe years, of research to determine what precisely happened and why.

“This is kind of like the fog of war,” said Dr. Emily Landon, University of Chicago Medicine. “It’s really hard to tell what’s happening in the middle of a pandemic.”

As the City of Chicago moves to the next stage of re-opening Wednesday, a renewed warning from the city’s health director.

“Deaths are on the decline; but we’ve already had more than 2,000 Chicago residents die and that number will continue to climb,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health.

She also revealed new information on “who” is dying from COVID-19 complications.

“92% of deaths have been with people who have underlying conditions, led-off by hypertension, diabetes and lung disease,” Arwady said.

One-third of the state’s “excess deaths” as they’re known have not been classified as coronavirus-related. 

The state health department says it will likely be studying the effects of the virus — and the lockdown — for years to come. Specifically, medical researchers want to know whether it created a “secondary health crisis” as people were reluctant to seek treatment for other health problems.

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