Suburbs' share of state's COVID-19 deaths is shrinking as downstate bears the brunt
People living in the suburbs make up 44% of the state's population, but in August they accounted for just 26% of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois.
That's the suburbs' smallest portion of COVID-19 deaths for any month since the pandemic began, according to a Daily Herald analysis of Illinois Department of Public Health records.
It illustrates a shifting pattern in which an outsized proportion of deaths now occur among people living outside the Chicago metropolitan area. That contrasts with the pandemic's early months in 2020, when most COVID-19 cases, and most deaths, were in the urban area.
Deaths rose 130% in August, to 506 in the state. In July, 220 people died of COVID-19, fewer than in any month since the pandemic began. Health officials blame the increase in deaths on the surge of cases caused by the delta variant.
They say it's no coincidence that residents of the suburbs are seeing less drastic consequences from the delta surge. The suburban portion of Cook County, as well as DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, have higher COVID-19 vaccination rates than most other counties in Illinois, according to IDPH.
"We know that mortality is higher among those 65 and older, and we also know DuPage County and many suburban counties have some of the highest vaccination rates among that age group," said Dr. Jonathan Pinsky, medical director of infection control and prevention at Edward Hospital in Naperville. "So it's no surprise we're seeing fewer hospitalized patients and fewer deaths in our COVID admissions."
Since the onset of the pandemic, suburban residents have accounted for more than 40% of COVID-19 deaths. Chicago, home to 21% of the state's population, has experienced 23.5% of COVID-19 deaths.
People living in 96 counties outside the Chicago metropolitan area make up 34.5% of the population and have experienced 36% of deaths.
But that share is increasing.
More than half the state's COVID-19 deaths in both July and August were from the 96 downstate counties, where less than 40% of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19. That compares to 53% that are vaccinated in the state as a whole.
"The risk is much, much higher among those who are unvaccinated," said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner. "At this time people who are unvaccinated are approximately 15 times more likely to die in Chicago than those who are fully vaccinated."
IDPH officials also are reporting a shortage of intensive care beds at many downstate hospitals. On Wednesday, IDPH reported 2,242 COVID-19 patients are being treated in hospitals throughout Illinois, 512 of whom are in intensive care.
IDPH officials also reported 26 more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, as well as 5,178 new cases of the respiratory disease.
It's the first time Illinois has recorded more than 5,000 new cases in a single day since late January. But the new cases were diagnosed from more tests -- 95,966 -- which is why the state's seven-day case positivity rate remained at 5.1%. The case positivity rate is calculated as the percentage of new cases derived from a batch of tests, and a seven-day average is used to account for any anomalies in the daily reporting of those figures.
The state's death toll from COVID-19 is now at 23,979, while 1,528,120 Illinois residents have now been infected.
Meanwhile, IDPH officials also reported 29,356 more COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the state, bringing the total number administered since December to almost 14 million.