The day after Illinois logged the highest single-day fatality number since the coronavirus pandemic began, Whiteside County on Thursday marked its own sobering milestone in casualties related to the virus.
Among the 99 counties in Illinois to report a virus-caused death, Whiteside County now ranks 17th in the number of deaths due to COVID-19.
So far, 92 people have died in the 5 months spanning Dec. 3 and April 2, when the first death due to the virus was reported.
Of those, 61, or 66% of the county’s total deaths due to COVID-19, have come since Nov. 1, a staggering takeaway from the last month, which itself was the worst-yet for the number of new virus cases reported.
“We’ve seen a considerable increase in cases, with November being the month with the highest number of new cases,” said Cory Law, a spokesperson for the Whiteside County Health Department. “Our whole community overall has seen a pretty substantial increase in cases.”
Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 1, Whiteside County logged 1,009 new cases of the coronavirus.
But in the 30 days separating Nov. 1 and Dec. 1, Whiteside County logged 2,004 cases of the coronavirus, nearly double the number of new cases recorded in October.
Since March 17, when the first case was reported in Whiteside County, a total of 4,068 confirmed cases have been logged.
That total places the county 24th in the state in the number of confirmed cases.
While solemn on their own, Whiteside County’s statistics are especially notable compared to the other three counties that make up the Sauk Valley.
Carroll County, which has reported 27 fatalities and 1,109 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, ranks 47th in total deaths and 64th in total cases.
Ogle County, which has reported 43 fatalities and 3,038 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, ranks 33rd in total deaths and 28th in total cases.
Lee County, which has reported 21 fatalities and 1,984 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, ranks 60th in total deaths and 44th in total cases.
In total, the Sauk Valley accounts for 183 deaths, or 1.42%, of the total 12,830 deaths in Illinois due to the virus, and for 10,199 cases, or 1.34% of the total 759,562 cases reported in Illinois since March.
While the recent explosion in new cases in Whiteside County can be attributed to “multiple factors,” Law said the surge in the number of deaths is likely related to outbreaks of the virus within nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
“As community cases have increased, we’ve seen an increase in cases at congregate care facilities,” Law said.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 420 virus cases and 56 deaths due to the virus are associated with long-term care facilities in Whiteside County.
Sauk Valley Media previously reported that most of those fatalities and new cases have been recorded in the previous month, and that compared to Carroll, Ogle and Lee counties, Whiteside County ranks first in both categories.
“The increase of cases in the community means workers are at a higher risk, and are therefore at a higher risk of bringing it into the facility,” Law said. “Once you have the virus in a congregate care setting — any congregate care setting — it’s difficult to control.”
Law further said residents at nursing homes and long-term care facilities are more susceptible to contracting the virus because they likely have immune systems weakened by sustained comorbidities, or when more than one disease is present in a patient at a single time.
But Law could not explain why deaths at local facilities, like Resthave Care & Rehabilitation, which has seen 12 residents die from the virus since Oct. 30, continue to rise.
There is “not necessarily one thing we can point to,” Law said. “If you look at the ages of those victims, they’re consistently in the range of 60 to 80, to 90-years-old.”
“We know that the chances of someone dying just increase as they get older,” Law said. “But when you have that surge [of virus cases] among high risk individuals, their chances of dying — which are already high — get much higher.”
That explanation was largely echoed by Cathy Ferguson-Allen, Administrator of the Lee County Health Department, who said the elderly continue to be at a heightened risk of catching and dying from the virus, especially if they live in a congregate environment.
“By virtue of being older, you are put in that higher risk category and are more susceptible to get really sick,” Ferguson-Allen said. “By virtue of being in a nursing home, you probably have other health conditions going on and because of them, are more likely to not recover.”
And in the case of long-term care residents who died from the virus, Ferguson-Allen said she wouldn’t blame the care administered by staff at the facility.
“At any congregate care living facility, whether it’s a nursing home or a prison, just by being in those close quarters, [the virus] spreads like wildfire and impacts hardest the weakest and most vulnerable people,” Ferguson-Allen said.
That has also been the case at the Dixon Correctional Center, which has seen an explosion in the number of active and confirmed cases among staff and inmates.
As of Thursday, the DCC is reporting a combined 134 active cases among staff and inmates. The facility has logged 660 confirmed virus cases since the spring.
Sauk Valley Media previously reported that the first inmate died from the virus last month.
Ferguson-Allen said that so long as cases continue to spread among congregate care facilities and in the community, Lee County will likely continue to see more deaths.
“Unfortunately, we are probably trending toward more cases,” Ferguson-Allen said. “With that, we certainly anticipate more deaths.”