Illinois COVID-19 deaths climb in September, driven by downstate cases

Illinois is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 deaths compared to the tolls in summer months, driven by cases downstate.

With 655 COVID-19 deaths, September saw a 23% increase compared to August, when 532 people died from COVID-19, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported.

In July, 574 people died from the virus. September is one day shorter than each of the previous months.

The deaths in September are fewer by far than what the state experienced in April, May and June, when 2,256, 3,034 and 1,545 deaths were recorded, respectively.

IDPH officials downplayed the increase in September, saying that compared to the first three full months of the pandemic, the state's mortality rate from the virus "remains flat since July."

The state averaged 22 deaths a day from the virus in September, compared to 17 in August and 19 in July, according to IDPH figures.

"What you saw this summer was the younger group carrying most of the case volume, and while they're not likely to die from it, they can easily spread it," said Dr. Emily Landon, head of the University of Chicago's infectious disease prevention and control program. "I don't think the disease is getting deadlier; it's the riskiness of the people getting sick."

Landon suggested high-risk individuals aren't being as careful as they once were, referring to it as "COVID fatigue."

Illinois ended the month with 35 coronavirus deaths on Sept. 30, the highest single-day total since Sept. 1, when 39 were reported.

Thursday started a new month of the pandemic and with it, IDPH reported 25 more deaths and 2,166 new cases.

That brings the state's death toll from COVID-19 to 8,696 and the number of infections to 295,440 since the pandemic began. The state's seven-day average rate of positive test results is at 3.5%.

September's increase is driven by downstate cases, as deaths are trending down in every suburban county except Will.

Chicago has seen one of the steepest declines in fatalities over the three-month period. September saw 81 Chicago residents die from the disease, down from 93 in August and 175 in July.

Epidemiologists consider death to be a "lagging indicator" during the pandemic because it can take weeks for a severely ill patient to die from the virus.

In the state's seven-county Metro East region adjacent to St. Louis, cases began to spike in late July. The region was put under a state-mandated mitigation plan in mid-August when the daily average rate of positive test results exceeded 8%, then climbed above 10% in early September.

In Madison County, directly across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis, 43 COVID-19 deaths were reported by IDPH in September, up from 26 in August and three in July.

"That's the pattern I would expect to see for a lot of reasons, because it takes a while to die from COVID," Landon said. "If you're seeing a higher mortality rate, it's because higher-risk individuals are getting COVID. It's incredibly unlikely that the younger population would have their own epidemic and not eventually spread it to older people."

Directly to the south in St. Clair County, there were 22 COVID-19 deaths in September compared to 14 the month before. Four other counties in the region had more COVID-19 deaths reported in September than in the previous two months.

The area remains under heightened restrictions for businesses and public gatherings.

Williamson County is also experiencing a significant increase in deaths from COVID-19.

The county, part of the Marion-Carbondale metropolitan statistical area, saw 36 people die from the virus in September. In August, eight people succumbed to COVID-19 infections, and just one person from the county died in July, according to IDPH figures.

Meanwhile, in Chicago and the suburban collar counties, the trend is different, according to IDPH fatality figures.

Suburban Cook County reported 79 deaths in September, compared to 84 in August and 132 in July.

There were 21 deaths in Lake County last month, down from 27 in August and 22 in July. McHenry County had three deaths in September, two in August and 16 in July. The combined infection rate in those two counties was at its highest point - 7% - in early September.

Kane County reported 13 deaths in September, 16 in August and 29 in July. DuPage County saw 29 people die in September, compared to 24 in August and 38 in July.

The combined average infection rate in the region with Kane and DuPage counties had steadily increased from 4.3% in mid-June until topping out at 6.2% at the end of August. It is currently 5.5%.

Will County was the only suburban county to see deaths increase over the past three months. The county recorded 22 deaths in September, 21 in August and 19 in July.

Will and Kankakee counties were placed under the same mitigation plan as the Metro East region in mid-August for nearly a month when the average infection rate exceeded 8% and peaked at 8.8% at the end of August.

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