Illinois stops providing historical data on COVID-19 in nursing homes, instead disclosing current outbreaks only
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Illinois stops providing historical data on COVID-19 in nursing homes, instead disclosing current outbreaks only

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The state has stopped providing total numbers of novel coronavirus cases and deaths linked to long-term care facilities in Illinois, instead disclosing information only on homes with newer outbreaks.

The Illinois Department of Public Health changed its reporting criteria Friday to highlight nursing homes and other facilities that have had at least one new coronavirus case in the last 28 days. Information about homes that struggled with an outbreak earlier in the pandemic but haven’t had recent new cases no longer is being published.

For example, the Tribune reported May 15 that, for the first time, a nursing home outside the Chicago area had reported at least 20 deaths. That was Villa East in Sangamon County, which had 21 workers and residents die of the coronavirus.

But because Villa East had no new cases recently, it was excluded from this week’s reporting and those 21 deaths have disappeared from the public-facing data. The only downstate nursing home listed with 20 deaths now is Edwardsville Care Center in Madison County near St. Louis. It had one new COVID-19 case since the last public data release on May 15.

“Our priority is to focus on those facilities currently experiencing an outbreak, and also to provide to the public the current status of COVID-19 in Illinois,” department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold wrote in an email to reporters.

It’s at least the second significant change to the way the health department makes COVID-19 data related to long-term care facilities available to the public. Last Friday, the department stopped publicly reporting probable cases of COVID-19 tied to the facilities and counted only cases that had been confirmed in labs.

The latest change makes it impossible for the public to know how many people in the facilities have been infected -- and have died -- over time.

Thirty fewer homes were included in this week’s data than last week’s, indicating that some facilities have been successful in stopping the spread of the virus for a month. There are 438 facilities with current outbreaks, according to the department’s data.

The revised data indicates there have been 13,067 confirmed cases and 2,152 deaths among facilities that have had a confirmed new COVID-19 case in the last 28 days. Long-term care facilities include nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and larger residential settings for adults with developmental disabilities.

AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo said the state’s change in reporting means that people researching long-term care facilities won’t have the information they need to make a decision.

The change “is troubling to AARP Illinois because it keeps viewers from seeing historical data on people who have contracted the virus. This information is crucial, especially for those who are in the already difficult position of seeking a facility they can trust,” Gallo said.

Arnold said on Thursday in answer to questions from the Tribune and ProPublica Illinois that there have been 7,291 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,034 deaths among residents of long-term care facilities. The weekly counts include both residents and workers.

The newest figures show some homes continue to struggle. There are 28 facilities across Illinois that have more than 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 286 with active outbreaks where someone has died.

About two dozen facilities are experiencing larger-scale outbreaks in which at least 4 of 10 sickened residents died. For example, at Norridge Gardens in Cook County, 53 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 27 of them have died, according to the state data.

The previous shift in the data reporting, which limited the counts to lab-confirmed cases, meant the number of cases reported on May 15 actually dropped from the previous week.

Responding to emailed questions, Arnold wrote: “We began reporting this way because testing was scarce and we needed to get an idea of the size and scope of the outbreak. Since laboratory testing is more readily available, we have switched to laboratory confirmed cases only."

It’s a more accurate way to view the size of an outbreak, she said.

The data changes, which may obscure the scale of the problem in Illinois’ long-term care facilities, come as the federal government announced it was sending nearly $279 million to Illinois providers to help combat COVID-19.

Eligible skilled nursing providers will receive a fixed distribution of $50,000, plus a distribution of $2,500 per bed, to counter the economic effects of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

PHOTOS: Social distancing and face masks in the Illinois Capitol

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