(The Center Square) – State officials have recorded 21,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Illinois since the outset of the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed 19,893 deaths through the end of February in Illinois where COVID-19 was listed among multiple causes. Of those deaths, about 1,830, or 9.2%, had COVID-19 listed as the sole cause of death.
That percentage is higher than it was in September 2020 when the rate was about 6%.
But a county coroner is calling for a full audit after reviewing some of the deaths in his county.
“My concern is, I’ve reviewed several cases, (of 100 cases) about ten of them here in Monroe County, that the state has deemed COVID-related deaths and none of them have had underlying conditions or contributing factors to COVID,” Monroe County Coroner Bob Hill said. “So my concern is no matter when the person was tested positive, the state is automatically giving them a death classification as related to COVID.”
He said one case in January was an accidental drug overdose, but the decedent had tested positive for COVID-19 in October.
“As soon as that death came across to the state they went ahead and classified and put a statistic as a COVID death,” Hill said.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said coroners with questions about death classification information should contact state officials.
“Once IDPH has a chance to further investigate the data, connect with local health departments about specific cases, review death records, and conduct other quality assurance measures, the data may change,” a department spokesperson said.
“A confirmed or probable COVID-19 case will be considered if: Death is within 30 days of symptom onset,” among other factors, the department said.
Hill said that has not been the case in Monroe County.
“We’re seeing people on the list that they’ve put as a COVID death that have tested positive 9 months ago that have since recovered that have died from other issues unrelated to COVID,” Hill said.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state has been in an emergency.
“All these numbers, look, we’ve been in an emergency, we’ve been in a pandemic,” Pritzker said Wednesday at a stop in Lincoln. “Everybody is trying to do the best they can. There’s no desire on anybody’s part to record more or less deaths, there’s just a need to record what’s being given to us as data from the counties.”
Hill called for an audit.
“Don’t automatically put a statistic out there of a (COVID) death when it hasn’t been confirmed what the cause is,” Hill said.
Pritzker said he expects some second-guessing of the state’s COVID-19 data.
“I’m sure over time as we get past this pandemic people are going to want to look back and see ‘well how were they recorded and did they do a good job in his county,’ for example,” Pritzker said.
Hill questioned if the motivation to rush reporting of COVID-19 deaths without a full audit was about money.
“The only assumption I can make is the hope the state is seeking some federal money coming down the system for all the numbers of deaths we’ve had due to COVID-19,” Hill said. “That’s the only thing that I can assume. Why else would you want to inflate numbers especially related to COVID.”