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Illinois’ COVID-19 death toll is probably significantly higher than what’s being reported

Monday, Apr 27, 2020 - Posted by Rich Miller

* From the Financial Times

The death toll from coronavirus may be almost 60 per cent higher than reported in official counts, according to an FT analysis of overall fatalities during the pandemic in 14 countries.

Mortality statistics show 122,000 deaths in excess of normal levels across these locations, considerably higher than the 77,000 official Covid-19 deaths reported for the same places and time periods.

If the same level of under-reporting observed in these countries was happening worldwide, the global Covid-19 death toll would rise from the current official total of 201,000 to as high as 318,000.

To calculate excess deaths, the FT has compared deaths from all causes in the weeks of a location’s outbreak in March and April 2020 to the average for the same period between 2015 and 2019. The total of 122,000 amounts to a 50 per cent rise in overall mortality relative to the historical average for the locations studied.

I asked the governor’s office if they could put something like this together on a county-by-county basis for Illinois. That could take awhile. I’ve looked around myself, but all I came up with so far is a recent and limited study of a handful of states, including Illinois. Any help y’all could give would be greatly appreciated.

* From that study

Many states experienced a notable increase in the proportion of total deaths due to P&I [pneumonia and influenza] starting in mid-March through March 28 compared to what would be expected based on the time of year and influenza activity. Expressed as the relative increase above the baseline, these increases were particularly notable in New Jersey, Washington, New York, Illinois, and Georgia. […]

Excess P&I mortality has been used as a method for tracking influenza mortality for more than a century. Here we used a similar strategy to capture COVID-19 deaths that had not been attributed specifically to the pandemic coronavirus. […]

To get a complete picture of the burden of the burden of deaths due to COVID-19, it will be necessary to evaluate spikes in all-cause mortality, as we have done for New York and New Jersey here. However, it is difficult to do such analyses reliably in real time with provisional death statistics because the data are incomplete for recent weeks, and the delays in reporting can only be determined retrospectively. Our analyses here suggest that excess P&I deaths represent a fraction of all of the deaths related to COVID-19 (25-50% based on preliminary data), so the P&I excess mortality estimates we present here represent a lower bound of the burden.

From February 9 through March 28, they found 185 unexpected “excess” pneumonia and influenza deaths in Illinois. During that same time period, Illinois reported 47 COVID-19 deaths.

Testing has expanded considerably since then, of course, but we still need some updated numbers to see where we are.

And remember, this possible undercount for Illinois could only be a quarter to a half of all excess deaths because the researchers didn’t look at other factors.

…Adding… More

In the early weeks of the coronavirus epidemic, the United States recorded an estimated 15,400 excess deaths, nearly two times as many as were publicly attributed to covid-19 at the time, according to an analysis of federal data conducted for The Washington Post by a research team led by the Yale School of Public Health.

The excess deaths - the number beyond what would normally be expected for that time of year - occurred during March and through April 4, a time when 8,128 coronavirus deaths were reported.

The excess deaths are not necessarily attributable directly to covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. They could include people who died because of the epidemic but not from the disease, such as those who were afraid to seek medical treatment for unrelated illnesses, as well as some number of deaths that are part of the ordinary variation in the death rate. The count is also affected by increases or decreases in other categories of deaths, such as suicides, homicides and motor vehicle accidents.

But in any pandemic, higher-than-normal mortality is a starting point for scientists seeking to understand the full impact of the disease.


  1. - Soccermom - Monday, Apr 27, 20 @ 11:42 am:

    I’m not sure these deaths are limited to pneu/flu. Some very troubling articles about cardiovascular impacts as well.

  2. - @misterjayem - Monday, Apr 27, 20 @ 11:43 am:

    Turns out COVID-19 may be much more than a respiratory illness — it may also be causing additional strokes and heart attacks.

    – MrJM

  3. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 27, 20 @ 11:46 am:

    ===it may also be causing additional===

    Very true. And it’s why we really need the full picture, not just statewide, but county by county.

  4. - Keyrock - Monday, Apr 27, 20 @ 12:16 pm:

    Here’s a similar article from the Washington Post website:

  5. - Groundhog Day - Monday, Apr 27, 20 @ 12:42 pm:

    Yes, the cardiac cause of death with COVID-19 has been known at least since the late Feb publishing of info from China. It is probably best to look at all the “extra” deaths, as that analysis in the Financial Times does with various cities and countries. It would be thought that all the extra deaths happened because of COVID, even if you died of something else, but didn’t go to the hospital because you were afraid to go.

  6. - Huh? - Monday, Apr 27, 20 @ 12:46 pm:

    When autopsies in Washington state put the earliest date for a coronavirus death into the first week in February, yes, the death are being under counted.

  7. - Captain Obvious - Monday, Apr 27, 20 @ 12:56 pm:

    Could be less than reported unless it is true that every death thus far recorded followed a positive covid test. If not then some deaths attributed to covid may have been due to other causes while the reverse may also be true. Are all Illinois deaths associated with a positive test?

  8. - phenom_Anon - Monday, Apr 27, 20 @ 2:23 pm:

    =If not then some deaths attributed to covid may have been due to other causes while the reverse may also be true.=

    At one of the Governor’s daily briefings, it was specifically stated by the IDPH director that “even if you died of a clear alternate cause, but you had COVID at the same time, it’s still listed as a COVID death.” So I think you are correct.

  9. - Arock - Monday, Apr 27, 20 @ 2:37 pm:

    Test those closest to them for antibodies and that would give you somewhat a better indication of the possibility of them having had contracted the virus.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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