Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office Reaches Grim Milestone

May 27, 2020

Cases in first five months of 2020 exceed 2019 totals

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced today that the County’s Medical Examiner’s Office caseload since January 1, 2020 has surpassed all of the cases handled by the ME in 2019. Last year, the Office determined cause and manner of death in 6,274 cases. In 2020, the Office has handled more than 6,600 cases to date.

The Office has confirmed approximately 3,700 COVID-19 deaths since the first known death from the virus on March 16. In order to keep up with the exponentially higher caseload, some Medical Examiner personnel have worked 16-hour shifts and others have worked seven days a week.

“I am so grateful to the personnel at the Medical Examiner’s Office who have worked around the clock since March to keep up with a mounting caseload,” said President Preckwinkle. “The men and women who are tasked with chronicling these deaths have one of the most difficult jobs during this pandemic.”

In order to ensure that the County’s decedents were treated with dignity, the Medical Examiner’s Office worked with the Cook County Department of Emergency Management and Regional Security to acquire a surge center to expand their morgue capacity and ease overcrowding at hospital morgues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The County’s indigent coordinator has worked with hundreds of families throughout the pandemic to assist them in making final arrangements for their loved ones.

“I thank our dedicated team who realizes how critical our role is in this pandemic and take that responsibility very seriously,” said Chief Medical Examiner Ponni Arunkumar. “The decedents under our care are treated the way we’d want our loved ones to be treated. It’s a guiding principle in our office.”

Even before the pandemic began, the Medical Examiner’s Office had started to see a dramatic increase in caseload. The Office has handled close to 700 cases over and above last year’s total at this time. That’s in addition to COVID-19 deaths. Arunkumar attributes much of the increase to opioid toxicity. There are already 503 confirmed opioid overdose deaths this year. This does not include the 567 cases that are currently pending. Of those, Arunkumar estimates 70 – 80% will be confirmed as opioid overdose deaths as well.  There were 689 opioid overdose deaths confirmed during the same period last year.

For more information about cases the Medical Examiner’s Office handles, visit the case archive. For specific information about COVID-19 deaths, visit the Office’s COVID-19 dashboard.