COOK COUNTY, Ill. - The Cook County medical examiner’s office on Wednesday announced it has recorded its 10,000th death this year — a major increase in deaths compared to 2019, when the county recorded 6,274.
The medical examiner’s office attributed the increase to several factors: more than 5,000 COVID-19 deaths, 282 suicide deaths, 1,400 opioid-related deaths and close to 600 homicides so far this year.
“This caseload is absolutely unprecedented,” Cook County Board President Preckwinkle said in a statement. “Our communities of color are still the hardest hit. The majority of these residents lived in underserved and under-resourced neighborhoods. These are residents who have less access to healthy foods, safe streets and quality healthcare.”
The 10,000th death was a 46-year-old man who died after falling into water Sunday near Jackson Park on the South Side. A witness told police the man was pulling his boat in, but then disappeared, Chicago police said. He was found 16 minutes later by divers near a pier, police said. He later died at the University of Chicago Medical Center. His autopsy results remain pending.
A major racial disparity can be seen in Cook County’s deaths.
Nearly 43% of all cases handled this year are African American, the medical examiner’s office said. About 33% of those who succumb to coronavirus are Black and more members of the Black community have committed suicide in Cook County this year than in all of 2019.
Around half of those who’ve died of an opioid overdose are Black as well and three quarters of homicides in Cook County are committed against the Black community, the medical examiner’s office said. When Latinx deaths are factored in, almost 94% of homicides are committed against people of color in Cook County this year.
“While COVID-19 deaths make up approximately half of the Medical Examiner’s Office cases for the year, deaths in other categories are soaring as well,” Medical Examiner Dr. Arunkumar said in the statement. “We are seeing extraordinary numbers of opioid overdoses. We estimate we have already exceeded last year’s total by more than 100. If the current trend continues, we could see as many or even more than 2,000 cases this year.”
The medical examiner’s office has eclipsed the 10,000 case number only three times before: in 1977, 1978 and 1979.
“We keep comparing 2020 to previous years, but the truth is, there is no comparison,” Arunkumar said. “If for the remainder of 2020 the caseload stabilized to similar levels from the past several years, the County would still double last year’s case count.”