Coronavirus deaths more than double at Illinois nursing homes, data shows

But the figures published by the state Friday appear to be a lagging indicator of what is actually happening on the ground — meaning the actual toll could be higher.

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Symphony South Shore senior home, 2425 E. 71st St., announced that it tested all of its residents in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19.

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The state’s count of coronavirus cases and deaths in long-term care facilities has more than doubled, according to numbers published Friday after a major nursing-home operator’s CEO warned they would reflect a “surge in new cases and more heartbreaking deaths.”

But the numbers, published weekly, appear to be a lagging indicator of what is actually happening around the state — meaning the actual count could be higher. For example, one South Side nursing home has publicized far higher numbers than reported by the state Friday. A spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the numbers released earlier by the individual nursing homes are reliable.

The new numbers reflect 4,298 coronavirus cases and 625 deaths in nursing homes across the state, according to a count by the Chicago Sun-Times. Pritzker’s office first released nursing home numbers last week, which showed 1,860 residents and staff members had tested positive. Of those, 286 had died.

“It should not come as a surprise to anyone,” Citadel Healthcare CEO Jonathan Aaron said during an online press conference Friday. “Because the state expanded testing this week, and some operators also partnered with hospitals to test every resident and every employee.”

Aaron warned the state’s new numbers would reflect a surge. But he also called the state’s data “a limited snapshot.”

“This virus moves silently and more quickly than we can, making data outdated even at the time of posting,” said Aaron, whose organization is also a member of the Health Care Council of Illinois.

The state says it is gathering data on long-term care facilities on a rolling basis from two national databases, with a slight lag in the numbers that hit its website. Aaron also acknowledged “reasonable delays in reporting,” given the rapid spread of the virus. But he said Citadel Healthcare is following the state’s reporting requirements. 

Symphony Care Network spokeswoman Natalie Bauer Luce said earlier this week that 111 residents at Symphony South Shore had contracted the coronavirus, and 10 residents there had died from the disease. But the state’s numbers released Friday only show that the facility had 35 coronavirus cases and two deaths.

Luce said earlier this week that long-term care facilities are required to notify the state and local health departments upon the diagnosis of a resident or staff member. Aaron said Citadel reports every case within 12 hours. 

The numbers released Friday would indicate more than a third of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois are tied to senior facilities, up from a quarter of all deaths last week. Though Aaron said the state’s testing at nursing homes is “deeply appreciated,” he called it belated and “off to a slow start.”

“We urge the state to shift to rapid-response, mobile laboratories operated by the National Guard,” Aaron said, adding, “our residents deserve coordinated widespread testing.”

Pritzker at his daily briefing Friday said testing residents and staff at nursing homes is a top priority for the state.

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