Illinois coronavirus nursing home deaths continue to climb, but new CDC data may be off

CHICAGO (WLS) -- COVID-19 continues to march through Illinois long term care facilities at a devastating rate, climbing each week.

New state health data analyzed by the I-Team shows those numbers from the state's hardest hit sector account for at least 55 percent of Illinois' total coronavirus fatalities.

And for the first time federal health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released their own COVID-19 data focusing on nursing homes.

The initial CDC report had 1,000 more coronavirus deaths at Illinois nursing homes than the state health department had counted, raising questions about whether federal authorities have put out bad data.

Tamara Konetzka, a Health Economist with the University of Chicago, has researched nursing homes for more 25 years. She said it's good the federal government if finally gathering this data, even though it has a long way to go.

"There are some problems with the data," Konetzka said. "There are a number of facilities that haven't yet reported. So it's not complete. There are certainly reliability problems with the data and there are inaccuracies."

While the new federal database is operational, the officials behind it have admitted they wanted to get the information out quickly and that there are errors.

For data experts, words such as "problems, incomplete data, reliability issues and inaccuracies" are not welcome descriptions.

For example, in Illinois nursing homes at the end of May, state health officials were reporting 2,747 COVID-19 deaths. The federal database had the number at 4,071.

"I don't see it as, there's no sort of scandal in there, per se," said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady when asked about the discrepancies.

Arwady said the data being gather locally by health officials in Chicago and Illinois is the most accurate.

"Where I see differences in data, there is almost never a reason behind that except that the system itself was not set up to capture the data well, so I think across the whole country, across all public health, we're working to build better data systems. That is true in Chicago, as it is at the state and nationally," she said.

Now more than 100,000 nursing home residents and their loved ones are left to wonder who and what to believe.

"Family members should, if they see alarming numbers in the nursing home that they're interested in or in which they have a loved one, they should first talk to that facility and find out if those numbers are real," said Konetzka.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health told the I-Team the federal numbers were preliminary and that early data may be inaccurate.
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