Two Cents Worth: Skewed death count data causes breakdown in trust

A prediction model shared by Governor JB Pritzker shares deaths per day and future predictions.

By Nick Miller, Owner and Publisher

This issue kicks off our sixth year of the O’Fallon Weekly, meaning we have just concluded our first five years in business. It’s a big benchmark to accomplish. 

I plan on diving more into what our first five years has meant to us and what is shaping up for the next five years in next week’s column. Technically we launched on April 29, 2015, and so I feel it appropriate to do a bigger anniversary update in the April 29, 2020 edition. 

In the meantime, I’d like to touch on a bit of disturbing news coming out of the governor’s COVID-19 briefings. Dr. Ngozi Ezike from the Illinois Department of Public Health answered a question regarding COVID death classification. 

“I just want to be clear in terms of the definition of people dying of COVID. So, the case definition is very simplistic. It means at the time of death, it was a COVID positive diagnosis. So if you were on hospice and had only been given a few weeks to live and were then found to have COVID, that would be counted as a COVID death. It means that, technically, if you died of a clear alternate cause but had COVID at the same time, it’s still listed as a COVID death. Everyone who’s listed as a COVID death, it doesn’t mean it was the cause of their death, but that they had COVID at the time of their death,” she explained. 

Additionally, St. Clair County Health Department Emergency Response Coordinator Samantha Bierman similarly said “Once you have a COVID positive result, it’s considered one of the contributing causes of death.”

Now, perhaps there is a very good reason for this, but I have a big problem with it because, on the surface, it appears to be an admission of skewed death rate numbers. The Governor is standing at his podium each day telling us how bad things are and how bad things are going to be, but how can we truly trust the numbers now? 

My editor, Angela, and I don’t see fully eye to eye on this, as is evident by her column. She has her reasons and I respect it. However, I personally am starting to feel as though we have been being fed bad information and been forced to make bad decisions as a result. 

It’s high time the Governor begins to understand that he is the chief executive of a massive state and that the problems facing Chicago are not the same as those facing those of us downstate. While St. Clair County has higher numbers than surrounding counties, it’s because more people live here. That was bound to happen! 

It’s time for him to begin a regional reopening of Illinois. For example, Perry County with its ONE case should not be held to the same standard as Cook County. 

No, we aren’t going back to “normal” when this is over, but we need to start moving towards it ASAP before it’s truly too late. 

*As of the time of posting, Perry County now has three confirmed cases.