Coronavirus has struck Illinois nursing homes and long-term care facilities hard, accounting for almost half of the statewide deaths from the virus.


Illinois Department of Public Health early last week reported 2,400 COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities. By the start of this week, Illinois had suffered more than 4,800 coronavirus deaths. Facilities in 36 counties had reported a total of 13,099 COVID-19 cases, accounting for more than one out of seven cases confirmed in the state. All but five of those counties have recorded deaths in their nursing homes as of last week.


COVID-19 cases have been reported in 465 Illinois long-term care sites, based on IDPH figures. More than half of those sites are located in Cook County, where more than 7,000 cases have been reported at facilities within that county that encompasses Chicago.


But outbreaks in elderly care sites have occurred across the state not just in the Chicago area. Jasper County faced more than 40 cases involving Newton Care Center residents and employees when a resident was infected through contact with a person not showing COVID-19 symptoms of the disease. It took several days before the virus spread in the Care Center. Seven elderly residents died, but there have been reports of full recoveries in the facility.


An example of how quickly the virus can spread in a nursing home recently occurred in Coles County in May. More than 80 positive COVID-19 tests were confirmed in a matter of days for that county due to the outbreak in the Charleston Rehab and Health Care facility. Several residents there have died.


The care centers with infections have been placed on lockdown and that is a challenge for the residents and their loved ones as well as employees and their families. Many communities, large and small, have expressed their support for all involved in this crisis.


The elderly are at great risk from a COVID-19 infection because many nursing home residents suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or respiratory problems. So the spread of the infection can be devastating in nursing homes.


The first instance of multiple COVID-19 infections in this country occurred in a long-term care center in the state of Washington in February. That was also the state with the first death from the virus. COVID-19 outbreaks in facilities for the elderly have occurred across the country in the last three months.


Coronvirus has also struck down elderly patients across the globe. A research paper in the Journal of American Medicine in April reported a 20.2 percent case fatality rate for those over 80 in Italy and a 14.8 percent case fatality rate in the same group in China.


IDPH has instructed care centers to restrict visits, cancel group activities, close dining rooms and screen residents and staff for fevers and respiratory diseases. Staff wear face masks, gown, gloves and eye protection when entering residents’ rooms in infected facilities


This adds to health concerns for residents trying to cope with the disease. They have limited contact with loved ones and that can lead to confusion and depression. The protective covering for the staff also can add to anxiety for patients – a smiling face can brighten the outlook for a nursing home resident.


Fortunately, nurses and other staff are working to reduce the stress from the quarantine. Cards, communications or just a visit through a window from family members can mean so much to someone trying to recover from COVID-19.


This pandemic is a reminder that all life is precious, even people nearing the twilight of their lives.