Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Biggest Source Of Coronavirus Infections In Illinois Are Federal, State And County Prisons And Jails

investigatemidwest  | Newly obtained confidential statewide data shows that coronavirus outbreaks in workplaces, schools and prisons are driving Illinois’ rising cases — and many of these outbreaks have never been made public. 

Illinois surpassed 300,000 confirmed cases this past weekend and recorded its highest daily death count since late June on Friday

The internal data — prepared by the state health department and covering four different days between July and September — was obtained by the Documenting COVID-19 project at Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting as part of an open-records request. It gives detailed information and case counts for nearly 2,600 separate outbreaks across Illinois. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health, citing a state communicable diseases law, does not release details about where many outbreaks have occurred, limiting its disclosures to long-term care and assisted living facilities. Separately, the Illinois Department of Corrections and some counties regularly release numbers of infected inmates and prison staff. 

Public health officials issued a “warning list” last week for 28 Illinois counties at risk for coronavirus surges and blamed, in part, businesses who were "blatantly disregarding mitigation measures, people not social distancing, gathering in large groups and not using face coverings."

“Even though they are close to it, sometimes the infected don’t know that there’s a serious outbreak where they work. It’s a problem,” said Dr. Michael D. Cailas, an associate professor of occupational and environmental health sciences at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, who reviewed the confidential state data for this story. Cailas, who has mapped Chicagoland mortality data, added that many of the workplace outbreaks in Illinois are simply “not publicly known.”

In refusing to release the locations of outbreaks, the Illinois Department of Public Health said that it is bound by state and federal laws that are designed to protect the identity of those infected.

“Another consideration is the fact that people may not have become infected at the business location,” said department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.

As part of its contract tracing efforts, the health department is compiling data on the types of facilities and locations where outbreaks are occurring and is “working to make this information available.” (The Documenting COVID-19 project and the Midwest Center have made the data available in a searchable format below.)

The data shows:

  • The single biggest source of coronavirus infections in Illinois are federal, state and county prisons and jails. The Cook County Jail, once considered the worst outbreak in the U.S., listed 1,074 positive cases as of Sept. 30, the largest count of any single outbreak. (The Cook County figure is now up to 1,118, according to the jail’s website, including the deaths of seven inmates and four staffers.)

    But significant outbreaks at other Illinois prisons, including Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, near Chicago; East Moline Correctional Center in Rock Island; and Robinson Correctional in Crawford, brings the prison total as of Sept. 30 to at least 3,500 cases across 36 different facilities. That’s nearly double the almost 1,800 prison figure for Illinois reported by the Marshall Project and The Associated Press.

    In response to questions, the Illinois Department of Corrections said its response to the coronavirus “continues to be deliberate and aggressive,” noting that, in mid-March, it suspended visitation and placed all of its facilities in quarantine to stem the virus’s spread. 

    Aside from personal protective equipment and cleaning, all state prison staff are screened and temperature checked; inmates are regularly reviewed for early release; and the department appointed a statewide infection coordinator to handle the response.