27 Illinois veterans die of coronavirus in nursing home, prompting probe

Outbreak 'claimed the lives of 27 of our nation’s heroes,' one official said

State officials in Illinois are investigating a coronavirus outbreak at a veterans’ nursing home that infected nearly 200 residents and personnel and killed 27 veterans.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office and the state’s Department of Veterans' Affairs are attempting to determine what caused the outbreak at the state-run LaSalle Veterans’ Home, according to multiple reports.

The department on Tuesday requested an independent probe into the facility, which was the focus of a state Senate committee virtual hearing on the outbreak.

“The tragedy of what has unfolded at the veterans’ home cannot be understated," said State Sen. Sue Rezin, who represents the district where the home is located. “I’m glad that the director has called for an independent investigation and agree that there are lesson[s] to be learned from this terrible outbreak that has claimed the lives of 27 of our nation’s heroes.”

LaSalle Veterans' Home in LaSalle, Ill. (Google Street View)

LaSalle Veterans' Home in LaSalle, Ill. (Google Street View)

CORONAVIRUS IN THE US: STATE-BY-STATE BREAKDOWN

The current outbreak was identified in late October when a staff member and a resident tested positive for the virus, the Chicago Tribune reported. The home was not largely impacted by the pandemic until then. But since the beginning of November, two-thirds of residents and employees have tested positive, according to the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs.

“It is no coincidence that cases within the home began to rise just as cases rose dramatically within the surrounding community,” Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Linda Chapa LaVia testified Tuesday at the state hearing.

Dr. Avery Hart, a consultant for the state’s Public Health Department, said during the hearing that all 16 long-term care facilities in LaSalle County have had outbreaks.

State officials have increased staff testing at the facility, and the governor said an infection control team was sent to the home. As of Tuesday morning, 40 residents and 24 staff members were positive for the virus. There are currently 101 residents at the home.

A patient is loaded into an ambulance by emergency medical workers outside Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, New York, on April 17, 2020. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

A patient is loaded into an ambulance by emergency medical workers outside Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, New York, on April 17, 2020. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

The outbreak is reminiscent of, albeit not nearly as severe, the string of COVID-19 infections reported months earlier at nursing homes in New York State.

CDC CONSIDERING SHORTENING CORONAVIRUS QUARANTINE PERIOD

Empire State officials have said an estimated 6,722 people died from COVID-19 while living in nursing homes. But many said they believe the statistic is likely off by thousands because New York, unlike nearly every other state, counts only residents who died on a nursing home’s property and not those who died after being taken to a hospital.

In August, The Associated Press found that New York is probably undercounting nursing home deaths by thousands, noting that a separate federal count since May that included resident deaths in hospitals was 65 percent higher than the comparable state count.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has generally been praised for flattening the curve in a state hit with nation-topping virus deaths, has nonetheless faced unrelenting criticism over his handling of coronavirus in nursing homes, particularly a controversial March 25 order that sent thousands of recovering COVID-19 patients from hospitals into nursing homes at the height of the pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE