Kane County Board blocks coroner's ability to share COVID-19 death stats

Updated 5/19/2020 7:55 PM

Kane County's official newsletter no longer will include information from the coroner about COVID-19 deaths after county board members decided Tuesday the stats are too confusing.

The coroner's data includes non-county residents who die with COVID-19 in county hospitals, so the coroner's numbers did not match with those from the county health department, which only include deaths of county residents.


Last week, the county board tabled a resolution by Chairman Chris Lauzen to block the coroner from using the county newsletter. On Tuesday, Lauzen tweaked his resolution to inspire the board to remove the coroner's stats. After weeks of county residents expressing distrust of any government COVID-19 stats, a majority of board members agreed to stop publishing the coroner's figures.

The decision came despite a plea from Rick Nagel, the author of the county's newsletter, to leave the statistics in for the sake of transparency and access to public information. Nagel described Lauzen's resolution as "a referendum against Kane County Connects" and as a personal vendetta by Lauzen.

"If you stand by him, you are a white knight charging into battle with him," Nagel said. "If you disagree with him you are the black knight, which must be defeated at all costs. You can stand with Chris (Lauzen) or with the open and honest sharing of information."

Lauzen and Coroner Rob Russell have been political rivals for the duration of Lauzen's tenure. Board member John Hoscheit said he respects Russell, Lauzen and Nagel, but he became the main voice pushing the removal of the coroner's stats from the newsletter because he agrees COVID-19 death stats are inflated.

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He cited Colorado's recategorizing of COVID-19 cases into "deaths among people with COVID-19" and "people who died from COVID-19" as an example.

"It's been preached to us that we have to look at the data," Hoscheit said. "Well, the data regarding deaths has been wrong."

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike addressed a question Tuesday about the difference between people who die with COVID-19 versus people who die from COVID-19 in the official death stats. She said the stats are tied together because the virus has shown people with complications like heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and strokes can die faster if they have COVID-19. COVID-19 can also cause those conditions to develop.

"It's very hard to separate the respiratory illness (COVID-19) from some of these other manifestations that could also be linked to COVID," Ezike said. "So there is a reason to put them together. If somebody was very elderly and they were already in hospice, we still can't say that the COVID infection didn't hasten the death."

Russell said in an interview he's disappointed with the board's decision and his intent was never to confuse the public. All his numbers are accurate and what he is required to track by law. He also pointed out that if the goal is to open up the local economy as soon as possible, the county health department's COVID-19 stats are a week behind the numbers he compiles.

"We are current and up to date, because we take the calls and document each death," Russell said. "The coroner's office has no political or special agenda except reporting facts and comforting the families."

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