Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, says that the state is continuing to review data about deaths related to coronavirus, but that there are a number of challenges involved when trying to parse out whether a person died with COVID-19 as a directly contributing factor, or whether they just died while sick with the disease.
According to Ezike, that challenge is especially prevalent in respiratory illnesses and cardiac illnesses.
“It’s very hard to separate the respiratory illness from some of these other manifestations that could also be linked to COVID, so there is a reason to put them together,” she said. “Even if someone had heart disease, global data has established that (COVID-19 can cause) more serious complications, and we’ve seen that for heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
The director also said that the coronavirus is associated with causing embolic phenomenon, or dangerous blood clots, and that those clots can lead to death by causing stroke or a heart attack, especially in vulnerable populations and those residents with comorbidities.
Those factors can cause more challenges for those trying to accurately account for the coronavirus death toll in Illinois, which currently stands at 4,379.
“Even if somebody was very elderly and they were maybe in hospice, we still can’t say that their COVID infection didn’t hasten the death, and so it’s relevant that COVID-19 maybe had a chance to accelerate that process,” she said.
Last week Ezike said that the state was carefully reviewing data about deaths associated with COVID-19, but that the number of cases removed from the death toll so far has been “less than a few percent” of the fatalities attributed to the virus.
“We are reporting those deaths that have laboratory confirmation, meaning that they have been tested and a laboratory test indicates that they were COVID-19 positive,” she said during a press conference.
Ezike said that the state is being careful to make sure to weed out deaths where the patient had COVID-19, but died in a manner completely separate from the virus, such as a gunshot wound or a motor vehicle crash.
“We will continue to work to provide, quickly and responsibly and accurately, what we are in fact seeing here in Illinois,” she said.