Cook County Reaches ‘Grim Milestone': More Deaths So Far In 2020 Than In All Of 2019

Jennifer Keiper
May 28, 2020 - 8:27 am

    CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Cook County has has reached a grim milestone.

    Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Wednesday that the county has seen more deaths in the first half of 2020 than it had in all of 2019.

    In a statement calling it a “grim milestone,” Preckwinkle said the Cook County medical examiner’s office has counted 6,600 deaths so far this year. In 2019, the office had a total of 6,274 deaths all year.

    Since first death from COVID-19 in Cook County on March 16, the office has counted 3,700 deaths from the disease.

    Preckwinkle praised the work of staff at the medical examiner’s office, who she said have been working 16-hour shifts while others work seven-day weeks.

    “I am so grateful to the personnel at the medical examiner’s office who have worked around the clock since March to keep up with a mounting caseload,” Preckwinkle said. “The men and women who are tasked with chronicling these deaths have one of the most difficult jobs during this pandemic.”

    Weeks ago, the medical examiner’s office opened a “surge center” warehouse in Chicago to expand morgue capacity in hospitals amid the surge in deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In the statement, Chief Medical Examiner Ponni Arunkumar said the rise in deaths wasn’t attributable solely to the pandemic, but also to a rising deaths from the opioid epidemic.

    WBBM Newsradio's Jennifer Keiper spoke with Arunkumar, who said "at the beginning of March, I could not imagine what the next few months could bring. Since then, the medical examiner's workload has tripled, and in some days quadrupled."

    Even before the pandemic began, the medical examiner’s office started to see a dramatic increase in caseload, according to the release. So far, the office counted 700 more deaths not related to COVID-19, than last year.

    The office has counted 503 deaths from overdoses so far this year, according to the release. That does not include the 567 cases that are currently pending. There were 689 opioid overdose deaths confirmed during the same period last year.

    Cook County Senior Medical Officer Dr. Kiran Joshi said as we move to Phase 3 of Restore Illinois, "most people with COVID-19 recover. Many never show any symptoms. Despite this, we must proceed cautiously. Please, remember the special lives we have already lost and let's work together to prevent the loss of even more lives."

    Phase 3 kicks in this weekend.