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Local COVID-19 Data Can Be Confusing

There are many sources of information on COVID-19 infection rates, but the data can be confusing.

For example, the Lake County Health Department reports that there are presently 30-34 reported cases of COVID-19 in the Village of Lake Bluff, up from 5 cases on March 25 when the county started releasing numbers of cases by community.

The Illinois Department of Public Health, meanwhile, on April 19 released a state-wide report on COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities, indicating there are a combined 18 reported COVID-19 cases at two facilities that use the 60044 ZIP Code.

But those facilities are not actually within the boundary of the Village of Lake Bluff -- the Claridge, which reported 12 cases and 2 deaths, is in unincorporated Lake County, and The Sheridan, which reported 6 reported cases, is in the Village of Green Oaks.

Are the COVID-19 cases at those two long-term care facilities included in the county’s Lake Bluff tally? Or not?

The answer was uncertain as of this writing.

The county health department is working on the data in its map, according to Hannah Goering, marketing and communications manager.

“When the Health Department launched the COVID-19 Cases by Municipality map on March 25, our original intent was to display case counts within the municipal borders identified on the map, and that residents in unincorporated areas would not be included in those counts. We realized on April 8 that the platform was in fact adding the residents in unincorporated areas into the municipality counts, so we clarified the wording on the map to explain that the case locations were based on the person's self-reported city or village of residence,” she explained.

“Later this week we will be launching an improved map that brings further clarity to the data, breaking down the case counts for residents who live within municipal boundaries and those who live in surrounding unincorporated areas.”

LakeBluffStrong also reached out to the Illinois Department of Public Health and asked: Can you explain where the data comes from in the state’s nursing home report?”

The communications office replied: “Data for long-term care cases and deaths are reported into two electronic systems – the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System and the Outbreak Reporting System. The data are changing hour by hour, so a facility will have the most up-to-date data. To help preserve the integrity of the data as much as possible when trying to report in real-time, IDPH posts data as was reported from the day before, so there is a slight lag. The data are also updated once a week, and not daily. While reporting sounds fairly straight forward, it is quite complex and we are doing our best to be transparent, while also being responsible.

Outbreak reported cases include those that are laboratory confirmed, but also those that are epidemiologically and clinically linked. This means someone with known exposure to a laboratory confirmed case and is experiencing symptoms compatible with COVID-19 meets the outbreak definition and would be reported in the case count.”

So what's the takeaway of all of this?

“All residents need to take precautions, follow the stay-at-home order, and assume that anyone you come in contact with could be infected,” said Goering of the county health department. “While a significant portion of cases may be identified in long-term care facilities, residents at these facilities are prioritized for testing so those numbers may be disproportionately represented. Cases we are reporting in Lake County and in any particular municipality are not reflective of all people who are infected with COVID-19. Testing is still very limited and people with mild or no symptoms are generally not being tested, and therefore are not reflected in the numbers.”

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash