CHICAGO – A record number of nursing home residents in Illinois died with the Covid-19 virus in the past week, as people under long-term care try to hold out until they can get vaccinated against the virus.
State figures on Friday showed that an unprecedented 605 population deaths were attributed to COVID-19 in the past seven days – much more than the previous high of 480 two weeks ago.
The number of new infections recorded in long-term care facilities in the state also recorded a record high with 5,063 new cases, surpassing the previous record of 4,536 cases two weeks ago.
This second spike in the virus once again exceeds the worst trends of the first wave of cases and deaths in the spring. The death toll decreased significantly in the summer but increased again since November, after marked increases in the wider population.
One encouraging sign is that the number of cases and deaths statewide has decreased slightly in recent weeks. The researchers report that deaths in nursing homes generally follow trends in the wider community, as workers contract the virus and bring it home.
The Illinois Healthcare Board, which represents long-term care facilities, released a statement looking forward to a “turning point” when vaccinations are scheduled to begin in nursing homes on December 28.
“Until then and even after that long-awaited day, nursing homes will continue to appeal to their neighbors to practice infection control measures in the community because elderly people with medical fragility are very susceptible to this terrible disease,” said Director Pat Comstock. “The nursing home staff will continue to do everything they can to protect their residents, as they have done throughout the pandemic, but we cannot do it alone.”
League officials have been outraged by renewed deaths among elderly residents of nursing homes, who often die without the company of family or friends due to the state’s ban on visitors.
“No state is doing a good enough job to protect residents and nursing home staff, and the number of tragic deaths in Illinois shows this,” said Bob Gallo, Illinois state director, in a recent statement.
Gallo urged state and federal officials to act immediately to save lives, saying long-term care officials should be better prepared now nine months into the pandemic.
“Nursing homes should also be completely open and transparent with family members and caregivers and they should do their utmost to keep them informed and connect with loved ones,” Gallo said. “These ties with the family are the lifeblood of the residents’ well-being.”
The latest increases came as the state on Friday reported 181 new COVID-19-related deaths and 7,377 new cases statewide, while the percentage of coronavirus tests with positive results fell to 8%, the lowest level since October.
Asked earlier what the state could do to stop the attack on long-term care, Governor J.B. Pritzker indicated a visitor ban, infection control and more testing. For their part, nursing home officials have repeatedly requested more government assistance with financial aid, protective equipment and tests.
Nursing home advocates say deaths are the latest symptom of a systemic problem, with many nursing homes with poor infection control and staff shortages, particularly in Illinois.