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New data shows far reach of COVID-19 in Illinois nursing homes

Amid revelations of alarming and deadly COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes, the Pritzker administration on Sunday released for the first time details of the number of cases and deaths tied to each long-term care facility in Illinois.

The data highlights the extent of the pandemic’s reach inside the state’s nursing homes, showing at least 186 long-term care facilities in 22 counties reporting at least one case. In all, at least 1,860 cases can be tied to nursing homes, with 286 deaths. That’s nearly a Chicago News fourth of all coronavirus deaths reported in Illinois.

The data — which can be searched here — provides the first comprehensive account of the largest outbreaks recorded so far among residents and staff: 81 confirmed cases at Will County’s Symphony of Joliet and Carol Stream’s Covenant Living at Windsor Park, with 54 cases at Willowbrook’s Chateau Center Nursing & Rehabilitation.

Those three also have the most deaths associated with the virus. The state has recorded 21, 11 and 10 deaths at each facility, respectively, although those tallies may not be up to date.

Nationwide, a New York Times report last week documented at least 6,900 COVID-19 deaths tied to nursing homes, about a fifth of all deaths. That same trend appears to be happening in Illinois, with about 23% of coronavirus deaths tied to nursing homes.

In releasing the latest data, Illinois officials said they planned to boost testing and shore up staffing at nursing homes, while also defending their initial efforts to try to stem the virus.

“We have a toll here that is higher than I think anybody anticipated or guessed, even with all the lockdown procedures that we do,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Saturday.

The nursing home data will be released once a week, according to the state. Because of how reports filter from local to state health officials, what’s released may not be the most up to date. And there can be wide variations. For example, the state reports one case and two deaths at Cicero’s City View Multi Care Center. But the town of Cicero website reports 12 residents and 26 staffers testing positive, with six residents dying.

In many ways, the data reflect what has trickled out about outbreaks in several homes. Beyond the Symphony at Joliet, there has been news coverage of outbreaks at Windsor Park and Chateau Center Nursing & Rehabilitation — the latter a stark example of how the virus could decimate a facility.

Chateau didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. In the most recent update posted on its website more than two weeks ago, it said: “As we reported in our last update, life here at our home is slowly returning to ‘normal,’ although there is probably a ‘new normal’ but things are moving and getting better each day.”

The data also reveal the depth of the problem: 61 facilities recording at least 10 cases. While most are in the Chicago metropolitan area, at least 10 others made the list. They include two facilities outside St. Louis: Memorial Care Center in St. Clair County, with 54 cases, and Garden Place Independent & Assisted Living, with 49 cases.

Also hit hard has been Manor Court of Carbondale, with the most deaths — four — outside metro Chicago.

Closer to Chicago, the data shows 15 facilities have had at least five or more deaths. At least 20 facilities in the metropolitan area had 20 or more cases. And that is likely an undercount of the true number of cases.

The state had told nursing homes they didn’t need to test anyone else once someone has tested positive at a facility. There are other ways residents and staff can — and have — gotten tested, explaining the multiple cases reported at so many facilities.

Symphony of Joliet, for example, attributes its high number of deaths and cases to the fact its residents have been widely tested.

The company called on state and federal authorities to increase access to personal protective equipment and “aggressively increase testing capabilities,” spokeswoman Natalie Bauer Luce said in an email. “That’s why Symphony believes it is so important to get more testing across the board — so there is a full accounting of the spread.”

A consortium of Illinois industry trade groups said in a statement that it supported the release of the data and agreed that more testing is needed to know the true scope of the problem.

“Expanding rapid coronavirus testing will help us control the spread among our medically fragile residents and protect the healthcare professionals on the front line Press Release Distribution Service In Chicago who are working around the clock to care for them,” said Dr. Rajeev Kumar, medical director for two west suburban homes and board member of AMDA, the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

On Sunday, the head of the Illinois Department of Public Health said it will now do just that.

Referring to “heightened attempts” to contain the spread in nursing homes, Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the state will be sending more test supplies to the facilities to catch infections earlier and curb the spread, including “aggressive testing of staff.”

Her agency later told the Tribune it will prioritize testing residents and staff in homes without any known cases to more quickly isolate those found with the virus. For homes already with known cases, the agency will test staff to see who can continue to care for residents, while treating symptomatic residents as if they have the virus, even if not tested yet.

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