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County maps reveal suburban spread of coronavirus infections. Some of the highest numbers are in the northern suburbs.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Joe Mahr and Hal Dardick

When a Skokie couple died from the coronavirus just hours apart Saturday, the deaths illustrated not only the tragic nature of the pandemic but also its uneven spread through the suburbs.

A Tribune review of available data from counties and municipalities shows that Skokie leads suburban Cook County, with 81 reported positive results, including the deaths of the couple and two others in their 80s.

Authorities acknowledge that the level of testing remains woefully inadequate to get the true picture of the virus’s spread. And the state doesn’t publish data that tallies up positive tests by city or village.

But the Tribune’s review of information at the local level offers clues to how the pandemic is affecting different parts of the region. (There are details here on how to research it yourself on local government websites.)

This is some of what we found:

Chicago — not surprisingly — leads the state, by far, with 2,693 cases, or about 45% of the state’s total, as of Tuesday.

It’s clearly a hot spot for the outbreak, with an overall rate of 99.5 positive results per 100,000 residents, a rate that’s nearly double that for the rest of the metro area and 13 times that of the rest of the state outside metro Chicago.

Another way to look at it: Roughly 1 of every 1,000 residents has tested positive.

While the city’s data offers some key insights not seen elsewhere, including breakdowns of ages and who was hospitalized, it does not specify the number of residents testing positive for each of the city’s 77 community areas, whose populations rival those of many suburbs.

That’s unlike New York City and Los Angeles County, the latter of which covers the city of Los Angeles and offers a breakdown for 139 neighborhoods in the city.

Suburban Cook County has 1,803 residents who’ve tested positive through Monday, which equates to a rate of 73 per 100,000 residents, or roughly 1 in every 1,400 residents.

Some of the higher numbers can be found in the northern suburbs.

In Skokie, a village of about 64,000 people, there have been 86 confirmed cases of COVID-19, giving it the highest number of known infections in the suburbs. There have been four resulting deaths, including the immigrant couple who died hours apart.

But Dr. Catherine Counard, the village’s health director, downplayed the numbers. The reported cases do “not reflect the rate of infection. ... Most people who are sick are not getting tested.”

She attributed the higher numbers to the fact that more testing was available in her town because it’s being done at Skokie Hospital, part of the NorthShore University Health System. “That’s what it is,” she said. “I think we’re seeing a testing bias.”

Glenview isn’t far behind Skokie, with 84 cases, according to figures reported through the Cook County health department. Evanston, which reports its own figures, has logged 81 cases. Compare that with Oak Park, which reports 30 cases.

Those figures may not offer the full context because they are places with larger populations. The Cook County health department also measures communities by the rate of positive test results. By that measurement, Glenview has a higher rate than Skokie. But it’s not the highest.

Kenilworth has the highest rate of any suburban Cook County community. It has 10 residents who’ve tested positive out of 2,513 residents. That puts its ratio of known infections at 1 in 251 residents, or about 0.4% of the population.

Lake County, as of Monday, had 389 reported positive tests, for a rate of 56 per 100,000 residents, or roughly 1 in every 1,800 residents.

Its health department shows the biggest concentration of cases, both raw number and rate, in the southeast corner of the county.

It doesn’t provide specific numbers for each community, but it provides a range. As of Tuesday afternoon, Deerfield had 30 to 34 reported cases, with Lake Forest somewhere between 40 to 54 cases. Highland Park has the highest number; somewhere between 50 and 54 residents have tested positive.

The distinction troubles Nancy Rotering, mayor of the lakefront city of about 30,000 people just north of the Cook County border.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering worries about the high number of coronavirus cases in Highland Park. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

“We’ve been watching the numbers go up daily,” Rotering said Tuesday. “We continue to lead Lake County in COVID-19 cases. This is not a proud moment.”

Rotering said Lake County health officials told her Highland Park’s affluent residents — the city’s median household income is $148,000 — may have more access to COVID-19 testing and may have traveled more to locations where the disease was spreading.

She noted that the city’s parks, recreational facilities, schools and City Hall were closed weeks ago, and most people are complying with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order. But some are not, and the city expects to have police in the next day or two move from warnings to citations in the most troubling cases they encounter.

Rotering also has issued stern warnings on her Facebook page and via an email blast.

“Our children may be bored. We may be bored,” she wrote in the email. “Too bad. Enough with the playdates or sending the kids to the park or into town or having friends over or sneaking down to the beach.”

DuPage County — with 356 residents testing positive — has a rate of 38 per 100,000 residents, or about 1 for every 2,600.

But, much like their counterparts across the region, county health officials caution that they’re probably missing many cases. “Due to the nature of COVID-19 community spread and testing, the number of positive cases is likely much higher than that listed as a result of unreported or untested cases in our community," according to its website.

DuPage’s figures help illustrate the impact of a cluster of cases. Willowbrook has the highest number of residents testing positive, at 37. It’s where the Chateau Nursing & Rehabilitation Center is located; at that nursing home, at least 33 residents and 16 staff members have tested positive, leading to six deaths.

Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

A woman wearing a mask leaves the Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Willowbrook onMarch 19, 2020. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

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Next highest is Naperville, with 28 residents testing positive, followed by Lombard (20), the DuPage County portion of Aurora (19), Addison (18), Elmhurst (17), and Darien (15).

Will County — with its 228 positive tests as of Monday ? has a rate of 33 residents per 100,000 That’s about 1 in every 3,000 residents who have tested positive.

The county also offers a unique map of where those positive-testing residents live in the county.

Instead of tabulating the figures by municipality, as other counties do, Will County has plotted the rough address of each person testing positive. (The map is tiny. So it helps to enlarge it on a web browser.)

It shows most infections clustered around the more populated areas in the county’s north and northwest sections.

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Kane County has recorded 128 residents testing positive. That equates to a rate of 24 per 100,000 residents, or about 1 in every 4,200 residents.

The county’s website does not list the number of known infected people per community, but county officials said they are working on a way to report that.

McHenry County, with 63 residents testing positive, has a rate of 20 per 100,000 residents with positive results. That’s about 1 in every 4,900 residents.

Its website also does not list the number of known infected people per community.

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