(The Center Square) – An independent analysis of the state’s COVID-19 data found a significant difference in the numbers of COVID-19-related deaths in the Chicago area compared with the rest of the state.

The analysis also showed more deaths in nursing homes than elsewhere.

Public finance watchdogs at Wirepoints analyzed the state’s data and found that much of the state has been largely spared COVID-19 deaths. They report data as of May 1 showed the concentration of deaths, more than 2,200 lives lost, were in Cook County and the collar counties.

“More than half of the state’s counties have zero deaths,” the report stated. “Fifty-eight of the state’s 102 counties had zero deaths as of May 1, 2020. Another 16 counties had just one death each.”

Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski said it’s no wonder as the rest of the state is more rural than the Chicago area. And while he said every death was tragic, he also said the data was illuminating, and it’s not just urban versus rural.

“You’ve got places like Jackson, Macon, Monroe, Jasper [counties], a hundred percent of their deaths are coming from nursing homes,” Dabrowski said. “They're not having deaths in the general population.”

Other counties where 100 percent of the COVID-related deaths were in long-term care facilities as of May 1 include Clinton and Peoria. More than two-thirds of COVID-19-related deaths in Madison, Jefferson, Sangamon, Rock Island, and Tazwell counties were in nursing homes. More than a third of COVID-19-related deaths in St. Clair, Kankakee, Winnebago and Boone counties were in nursing homes, according to Wirepoints’ analysis.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said last week he was concerned about the toll COVID-19 has had on the elderly in senior living centers across the state.

“This virus is so dangerous for elderly people and particularly those in congregate settings,” Pritzker said. “So, I’m deeply concerned about it.”

Steve Rauschenberger with the Technology and Manufacturing Association said with the state being the biggest customer and regulator of long-term care facilities, it needs to focus on those hotspots, not keeping other businesses shut down.

“Perhaps the [Illinois Department of Public Health] ought to focus on where we have the greatest risk instead of trying to tell restaurants and retail stores and manufacturers and construction companies how to operate,” Rauschenberger said.

Segments of the state’s economy have been shut down by the governor since March 21 in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.

Dabrowski said the data show nursing homes have been hardest hit and should prompt the state to come up with better strategies to target the mitigation of vulnerable populations. Officials can’t ignore what’s happening with the economy, he added.

“There will be many, many deaths as a result of poverty, a lack of jobs, opioid abuse, suicide, he can’t ignore that side,” Dabrowski said. “We have to look at this whole question on the health side, and on the economy side. It’s a tough task but he’s got to do both.”

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.