Officials on Wednesday marked a somber milestone, as the number of Cook County residents who have died from COVID-19 reached 11,000.
More than 2,500 of those deaths occurred in 2021.
“At this point, nearly every death, every hospitalization that we are seeing is entirely preventable,” said Dr. Kiran Joshi, co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health. “If we work together, if we continue to mask, if we get vaccinated and encourage others to do the same we can bring COVID to a standstill.”
Among those who have most recently died from the virus are a 31-year-old man from Chicago’s Austin neighborhood and a 28-year-old man from Little Village.
“No matter your age, no matter how healthy you are, you’re susceptible to the virus,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “It can kill you, and it will most certainly leave devastated family and friends behind.”
The vast majority of those who have died from the virus in Cook County since the start of the pandemic are over age 50, according to Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar. Just under 7% of the 11,000 people who have died were under 50, but that figure increased to 18% last month, Arunkumar said.
Black and Latino residents of Cook County have been disproportionately impacted by the virus, accounting for 29% and 22%, respectively, of all virus-related deaths in the county.
But last month, Black residents accounted for 46% of virus-related deaths, which numbered 72, while Latinos accounted for 25%, according to the medical examiner.
Speaking Wednesday, Arunkumar said, “11,000 COVID deaths is 11,000 too many. Please, get vaccinated. You could be saving your life and saving the lives of your loved ones. You will make a difference.”
Since January, when COVID-19 vaccines became available, 2,522 people have died from COVID-19, according to Arunkumar, but it’s not clear how many of those people were unvaccinated.
Nationally, 99% of people who die as a result of COVID-19 are unvaccinated, Joshi said, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures. “This is powerful data that is a testament to the effectiveness of these wonderful vaccines,” he said, “and part of the reason we as public health professionals and public health physicians are encouraging everyone to be vaccinated. They’re incredibly effective. They can prevent hospitalizations and deaths.”
Officials also warned that the more transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 — which is now the predominant strain the U.S. — is fueling a rise in infections.
“If we do not act urgently, we will see hospitals in Cook County overwhelmed with sick and dying patients, including children who are not yet able to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Sharon Welbel, system director of infection control and hospital epidemiology at Cook County Health.
Since June 26, COVID-19 cases have increased by 30% in Cook County and the test positivity rate jumped from 0.7% to 3.18%, according to officials.
“Vaccination is the most effective intervention we have today to save lives,” Welbel said.
According to officials, approximately 53% of Cook County residents are fully vaccinated.
Last week, Cook County updated its masking guidance to align with the CDC, since the county is experiencing substantial community transmission of COVID-19. That guidance recommends that masks be worn in school settings by teachers, staff, students and visitors as well as in all public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.