COVID-19 deaths are down, but Illinois’ death rate is still higher than it was pre-pandemic

Newly released mortality data shows Illinois residents still dying at a rate well above pre-pandemic levels.

The most recent figures released last week by the Illinois Department of Public Health show 122,977 residents died in 2022. That’s 17,512 more deaths than what the state was averaging in the 10 years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, a 16.6% increase.

The state’s overall population declined 2% from 2010 to 2022, according to U.S. Census Bureau tracking.

Though COVID-19 deaths are on the decline, the effects from infections may be spurring the spike in other causes of deaths, medical experts and public health officials warn.

COVID-19 accounted directly for 7,149 Illinois residents dying in 2022, the state’s fourth leading cause of death, IDPH figures show. It was the third leading cause of death for the two years prior.

Health officials note heart disease and stroke deaths remain elevated as well, while deaths from cancer and chronic respiratory ailments have dipped.

“We knew people were very much not getting the same access to care that they were used to during the pandemic,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said. “They missed a lot of appointments and preventive screenings, but we also know there’s an increased risk of heart attack and stroke after a COVID infection.”

Heart disease remains the state’s leading cause of death, but it killed 4.9% more Illinois residents between 2020 and 2022 than it did in the three years leading up to the pandemic, IDPH records show. Stroke deaths are up 11.8% during the same time period.

Illinois causes of death 2017-2022
Heart disease 26,791 26,282 27,466 25,655 25,747 25,393
Cancer 23,622 23,613 24,020 23,875 23,877 24,147
Accidents 7,482 7,616 7,159 6,086 6,013 6,017
COVID-19 7,149 11,297 15,715 000
Stroke 6,622 6,768 6,762 6,144 5,853 6,021
Chronic respiratory disease 5,324 4,927 5,432 5,532 5,639 5,734
Alzheimer's disease 4,238 4,028 4,639 3,949 4,029 4,021
Diabetes 3,526 3,388 3,487 2,822 2,879 2,927
Kidney disease 2,879 2,648 2,651 2,548 2,644 2,566
Flu & pneumonia 1,969 1,679 2,430 2,106 2,562 2,402
Total deaths 122,977 125,102 132,701 108,937 110,012 109,726
Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

An October 2023 report by the National Institutes of Health indicates research has shown a likely link between COVID-19 infections and greater risk for heart attack or stroke.

“The findings suggest that (COVID-19) may increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke by infecting artery wall tissue,” the report stated. “This provokes inflammation in atherosclerotic plaques, which could lead to heart attack or stroke.”

People may survive a COVID-19 infection, but not survive the effects of the infection.

“We have to consider that COVID is going to have an ongoing culling effect on the population, and not just the old,” said Dr. Emily Landon, head of the University of Chicago's infectious disease prevention and control program. “It definitely results in increased risk of other conditions that cause death.”

As for cancer and chronic respiratory disease deaths declining, that’s a population that is most at risk from the worst outcomes of a COVID-19 infection. Individuals with those ailments likely make up the majority of those who succumbed to COVID-19, medical experts said. That was especially true in 2022 when vaccines and antiviral medications were more accessible to the general population.

“The bottom line is we’re just not as healthy as we were before COVID for whatever reason,” Landon said. “Our life span has decreased.”

In 2022, life expectancy for the average American climbed to 77.5 years. But that’s still more than a year below pre-pandemic levels, according to research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Accidental deaths also remained above pre-pandemic levels in 2022 and were the third-leading cause of death in Illinois that year, records show.

Between 2020 and 2022, accidental deaths were 22.9% higher than in the three years prior. These include drug overdoses and motor vehicle crashes.

“A lot of these continued excess mortalities are for younger adults, and that can have just huge distorting effects in many ways on the country,” said Mary Pat Campbell, an insurance industry actuary who has written extensively about the pandemic-related mortality trends. “With people under the age of 50 that are getting hit, these death rates may be much lower, but the percentage impact is so much higher. It could have some effect on economic stability.”

Homicides declined year over year as well, but remain above pre-pandemic levels. IDPH reported 1,312 Illinois residents were murdered in 2022. While that’s down from the previous two years, it’s significantly higher than any year from 2010 to 2019.

Most alarmingly, the data shows more female residents were murdered in 2022 than in any year since at least 2010. From 2010 to 2019, the state averaged 139 female murder victims a year. The 241 female homicide victims in 2022 represents a 73.3% increase from that pre-pandemic 10-year average.

“Evidence shows that domestic violence help calls have been increasing in many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic,” a 2021 report published by Science Direct titled “The effect of COVID-19 on female homicides” stated. “Gender-based violence is a global phenomenon threatening women irrespective of race, nationality, education or socioeconomic status.”

IDPH figures also show a skyrocketing number of injury-related deaths among Illinois residents 65 and older. The number of injury-related deaths among that population has nearly doubled since 2010 from 1,574 to 2,958 in 2022.

Vohra is worried that has to do with a breakdown in the social safety net, particularly during the pandemic.

“The community structures that often support our aging population are not what they used to be,” he said. “During the pandemic, there was almost no access to community and personal social networks.”

Among the other top 10 leading causes of deaths for Illinois residents, Alzheimer’s disease deaths have remained relatively stable through the pandemic, with a slight bump in 2022, records show. Deaths attributed to diabetes were up 20.5% between 2020 and 2022 when compared to the three previous years. Flu and pneumonia deaths are down 14% during that time frame as well, which is largely attributed to fewer gatherings during the pandemic.

The 2023 mortality data isn’t expected until January 2025.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.