CHICAGO — A record number of Illinois nursing home residents with COVID-19 died in the past week, as people in long-term care try to hold out until they can get vaccinated against the virus.
An unprecedented 605 resident deaths were attributed to COVID-19 in the past seven days, state figures showed Friday — far more than the previous high of 480 two weeks ago.
The number of recorded new infections in the state’s long-term care facilities also set a record with 5,063 new cases, surpassing the previous high of 4,536 from two weeks earlier.
This second surge of the virus again exceeds the worst trends of the first wave of cases and deaths in the spring. The toll fell markedly in the summer but has risen again since November, following increases seen in the broader population.
One encouraging sign is that the numbers of cases and deaths statewide have dropped slightly in recent weeks. Researchers have reported that nursing home deaths generally follow the trends in the wider community, as workers contract the virus and bring it into the homes.
The Health Care Council of Illinois, which represents long-term care facilities, issued a statement looking forward to a “turning point” when vaccinations are scheduled to begin in nursing homes Dec. 28.
“Until then and even after that much-anticipated day, nursing homes will continue to implore their neighbors to practice infection control measures in the community because our medically fragile seniors are so susceptible to this horrible disease,” director Pat Comstock said. “Nursing home staff will continue to do all they can to protect their residents, as they have throughout the pandemic, but we cannot do it alone.”
Officials at AARP remained outraged about the renewed deaths of elderly nursing home residents, who typically die without the company of family or friends because of a state ban on visitors.
“No state is doing a good enough job to protect residents and staff of nursing homes, and the number of tragic deaths in Illinois demonstrates this,” Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois state director, said in a recent statement.
Gallo urged state and federal officials to act immediately to save lives, saying that long-term care officials should be better prepared by now after nine months of the pandemic.
“Nursing homes must also be completely open and transparent with family members and caregivers and should be going out of their way to keep them informed and connect them to their loved ones,” Gallo said. “Those connections with family are lifelines to resident well-being.”
The latest increases came as the state on Friday reported 181 new deaths involving COVID-19 and 7,377 new cases statewide, while the percentage of coronavirus tests with positive results dropped to 8%, the lowest since October.
Asked previously what the state could do to stop the onslaught in long-term care, Gov. J.B. Pritzker cited the visitor ban, infection control and more testing. For their part, nursing home officials repeatedly have asked for more government help with financial aid, protective equipment and testing.
Nursing home advocates say the deaths are the latest symptom of a systemic problem, with many nursing homes suffering from poor infection control and understaffing, particularly in Illinois.