Cook County Medical Examiner Reports Record Number of Deaths in 2020

(Photo by Mayron Oliveira on Unsplash)(Photo by Mayron Oliveira on Unsplash)

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office handled a record 16,049 death cases in 2020, and the coronavirus accounted for just more than half of those deaths — 8,192 — according to statistics released Friday.

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Typically, the medical examiner’s office handles approximately 6,200 deaths each year. 

In 2019, the office handled 6,274 death cases. The previous record for cases handled in a year – 10,654 – was set in 1977, according to officials.

Black and Latino people made up nearly 58% of the deaths handled in 2020, according to the medical examiner’s office. Those communities also account for nearly half of the county’s confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

In addition to COVID-19, record numbers of gun-related homicides and opioid overdoses contributed to the surge in deaths last year.

Overall, 970 homicides were reported in 2020. That’s a 43.7% increase over the 675 homicides reported in 2019 and the most reported since 1996, according to preliminary data. Blacks accounted for 78% of homicide victims, while Latinos accounted for 16%, according to officials.

A record 875 gun-related homicides were reported in 2020, breaking the previous record of 838 set in 1994, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Throughout last year, county officials sounded the alarm on the rising number of opioid-related deaths, anticipating 2020 would be a record year for opioid overdose deaths.

According to preliminary data, there were 1,599 confirmed opioid overdose deaths in 2020, but officials are awaiting the results of hundreds of toxicology tests and anticipate the cause of death in approximately 450 to 500 of those pending cases will be due to opioid toxicity. That means the final number of opioid overdose deaths in 2020 will likely surpass 2,000. Already, last year’s figure has topped the record set in 2019 — 1,277 deaths — according to the medical examiner’s office.

Officials say the number of suicides in 2020 didn’t increase year-over-year, but the rate of suicides has increased dramatically in the Black community. According to county data, Blacks accounted for 94 of the 432 suicides in 2020, which is a 65% increase over 2019, when there were 57 suicides in the Black community.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz (773) 509-5452  [email protected]

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