Fact-Check: No, the Coronavirus Did Not Cause the Death Rate to Drop in Chicago
As the coronavirus forces people across the country to stay indoors, questions have emerged over how the pandemic is impacting crime rates.
It’s a debate of particular significance to cities like Chicago, which is accustomed to high levels of violent crime. As of April 1, 2020, the virus sickened over 3,000 people in Chicago and killed 39 — even as Illinois officials attempt to contain the spread through a stay-at-home order.
But a March 22, 2020, Facebook post that accumulated more than 2,200 shares took it one step further.
"In Chicago, Covid-19 actually LOWERED the death rate," the post stated, over a background of laughing emojis.
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Murders in Chicago decreased in March 2020 compared to years prior, but officials have yet to attribute that shift to COVID-19.
And overall, deaths don’t appear to be declining.
Death rates in Chicago
The first case of COVID-19 arrived in Illinois in January after a 60-year-old Chicago woman returned from Wuhan, China — where the virus originated — but like many states did not see a surge in cases until March. Illinois reported its first death on March 17, a patient who was a Chicago resident.
The most recent available numbers on deaths in Chicago come from the Cook County medical examiner, which takes cases that require additional investigation to determine a cause of death. If someone was under the care of a doctor when they died, that case wouldn’t necessarily go to the medical examiner because the doctor can sign off on their death certificate.
So it’s important to note that information from the medical examiner doesn’t encompass all deaths in Chicago. But it does provide a valuable snapshot.
The examiner’s office handled 413 deaths in Chicago in March, according to its case archive as of April 2. At least 11 of them were tied to COVID-19, while other causes of death ranged from gunshot wounds to cardiovascular disease.
In March 2019, by comparison, the medical examiner saw 279 deaths in Chicago. There were 301 Chicago cases in March 2018 and 306 in March 2017.
These numbers show the virus doesn’t appear to be decreasing deaths as the Facebook post suggested. Instead, officials say it's likely the opposite.
"The uptick you are seeing is a direct correlation to the rise in COVID-19 cases," said Natalia Derevyanny, director of communications for the Cook County Bureau of Administration.
The homicide question
Chicago sees high rates of gun violence largely tied to gang conflict. Given its reputation, this Facebook post implies that the virus is ultimately saving lives because people are inside and not on the streets.
The poster did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the Chicago Police Department, the city saw 24 homicides in March, a decrease from 35 in March of last year. But shootings and shooting victims for the month jumped roughly 6% and 5%, respectively.
The department declined to say whether it attributes the decrease in homicides to COVID-19.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been hesitant to draw a line between the virus and crime.
"We can’t specifically say that the crime rate is affected by coronavirus," Lightfoot said. "But obviously what we know going back many, many years and looking at data is that when large congregations of people are outside in neighborhoods where gun violence is prevalent, that increases the risk."
A Facebook post shared by more than 2,000 people claimed that in Chicago, COVID-19 has lowered the death rate.
But numbers from the Cook County medical examiner do not indicate that deaths in Chicago decreased in March as COVID-19 started to ravage Illinois. In fact, the data suggest the opposite — more deaths, despite a decrease in murders reported by Chicago police.
We rate the claim False.
FALSE — The statement is not accurate.
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Interview with Natalia Derevyanny, director of communications for the Cook County Bureau of Administration, March 31, 2020.
CPD announces reduction in overall crime for March as department continues crime prevention efforts amid COVID-19, Chicago Police Department news release, April 1, 2020.
Email from Sgt. Rocco Alioto, Chicago Police Department, April 1, 2020.
Email from Natalia Derevyanny, director of communications for the Cook County Bureau of Administration, April 2, 2020.