Every day, news broadcasts in Illinois and around the country report new COVID-19 cases and deaths. These broadcasts play out like a horror movie, with progressively worse outcomes each day and new records being set.
At some point, most people become insensitive to all the bad numbers reported, except those like health care workers in the trenches treating COVID-19 patients, or morticians managing COVID-19 deaths. They need no news reports to tell them the state of COVID-19.
What do these numbers mean? How is Illinois managing COVID-19 compared to other states? Let’s take a look at what is happening in Illinois and give people the opportunity to decide for themselves.
Last week, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1 million confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic, or one in every 12 state residents, and over 17,000 deaths, or one in every 700 state residents. Given that many asymptomatic cases never get confirmed, it is conceivable that the number of Illinoisans who have been infected are double this number.
Relative to other states, since the beginning of the pandemic, Illinois ranks fifth in number of confirmed cases and sixth in number of deaths, while ranking sixth in population.
In general, confirmed cases and deaths move in line with population, making Illinois’ numbers unremarkably typical.
Per-capita measures can be deceiving. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Illinois ranks 14th in confirmed cases per capita and 10th in deaths per capita. This is where population dilutes the data analytics.
For example, California ranks first in population but 31st in confirmed cases per capita and 39th in deaths per capita. Conversely, North Dakota ranks 46th in population, 42nd in confirmed cases and 41st in deaths, yet first in confirmed cases per capita and fifth in deaths per capita.
The most informative way to look at cases and deaths is locally, such as by county or even community, since the spread of the virus occurs person to person.
Diving deeper into Illinois, Cook County (including the city of Chicago) has had over 400,000 confirmed cases and 8,000 deaths. If Will, Lake, DuPage and Kane County are added into the mix, that makes over 600,000 confirmed cases and 11,000 deaths.
This total number of confirmed cases for these five counties is comparable to countries like Canada and Chile, and the number of deaths is comparable to countries like The Netherlands and Pakistan.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District reports around 15,000 confirmed cases and just under 100 deaths. Champaign County confirmed cases are consistent with the state confirmed cases rate, but the death rate is two-thirds lower, largely due to infections in younger persons associated with the university.
In comparison, Peoria and Sangamon counties each have around twice as many deaths as Champaign County, with a comparable number of confirmed cases, while Macon County has 60 percent more deaths, but 40 percent fewer confirmed cases.
Even removing the slightly less than 5,000 University of Illinois confirmed cases, Champaign County’s risk profile remains favorable.
The lesson learned from these comparisons is that COVID-19 is hitting the state of Illinois hard and that mitigation strategies are either ineffective, not being practiced to the degree necessary or are effective and improving circumstances compared to what they would be without such strategies. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine which of these explanations is correct.
Widespread distribution and immunization of the COVID-19 vaccines will bend these case and death curves down. The key is not just getting vaccines into the state but getting them into people’s arms so that their benefit can be realized.
Once the first wave of vaccines is administered to health care workers and those living in long-term care facilities, the big push will be to get the rest of the population immunized. At 75,000 doses administered per day (seven days per week) statewide, or 1,000 doses per day (seven days per week) in Champaign County, everyone can be vaccinated with the two-dose regiment by fall 2021.
The biggest unknown is each person’s willingness to be immunized. If an insufficient fraction of the population in any part of the state opts not to be immunized, herd immunity will not be achieved, and the virus will continue to spread.
Herd immunity is a national, state and local phenomenon, and a town or community like Champaign can achieve it after a sufficient fraction of its residents are immunized. What this fraction is remains unknown, with 70 to 90 percent the likely value.
The takeaway from this data analysis is that Illinois is knee deep in COVID-19, like every other state in the country. Widespread, rapid immunization is the first step to digging us out. Until then, keep your face covering on and stay distanced from each other so as to not spread the virus.