Coronavirus live blog, April 17, 2021: State still at ‘critical time’ in pandemic as positivity rate falls

Here’s Saturday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, April 17, 2021: State still at ‘critical time’ in pandemic as positivity rate falls

News

3:50 p.m. Positivity rate falls again with 3,194 latest Illinois COVID-19 cases

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Dr. Kiran Joshi, co-lead and senior medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, speaks during a news conference to announce the opening of the county’s sixth large-scale community vaccination site in Matteson, Tuesday afternoon, April 13, 2021.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Public health officials on Saturday announced 3,194 new COVID-19 cases, lowering Illinois’ testing positivity rate to 4.1% and offering a potential sign of optimism that the state is easing down from its latest surge in infections.

The positivity rate, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, is still up sharply compared to the all-time low of 2.1% the state reached last month, while an average of more than 3,200 residents have tested positive each day over the past week — nearly double Illinois’ case rate in early March.

But the statewide positivity rate has now fallen or held steady for five consecutive days after a full month of troubling upticks.

Chicago’s regional positivity rate has fallen slightly over the past few days to 5.6%, and it’s dipped to 5.5% in suburban Cook County.

Despite any incremental progress, it’s still “a critical time in this pandemic,” according to Dr. Kiran Joshi, senior medical officer and co-leader of the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Mitchell Armentrout has the full story here.

1:45 p.m. CPS is getting $1.8B in federal relief funding. Parents and students are demanding a say in how it’s spent

Rocio Almazan, a sophomore at Curie High School, is part of a student committee that listens to classmates’ concerns and suggestions for the school, including thoughts about remote learning over the past year.

The student group advocates for its classmates, sending letters and petitions. The problem is they’re rarely heard — and that’s an issue that needs to be fixed as Chicago Public Schools officials figure out how to spend $1.8 billion in federal pandemic relief funding, she said.

“CPS has excluded all stakeholders since the pandemic and continues to do so,” Rocio said.

The district has said it’ll use the money to support students through pandemic challenges moving forward, but families want a say in that process. The Chicago Teachers Union has also turned its attention to the issue now that high school reopening negotiations are complete and all district schools are clear to resume in-person learning.

Members of parent group Raise Your Hand, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and other community organizations held a virtual town hall Friday to share how they want the funds to be used. Among their top priorities are the hiring of additional special education staff to meet those students’ needs and funding housing vouchers for the 17,000 CPS children without permanent housing.

The groups also suggested closing the digital divide with working computers and internet for all students, providing additional resources for immigrants and children whose first language isn’t English, hiring restorative justice coordinators at all schools and opening school-based health centers.

Advocates were clear on what they didn’t want the money to go toward: paying off pre-pandemic debt.

Nader Issa has the full story here.

10:37 a.m. Worldwide COVID-19 death toll tops 3 million

The global death toll from the coronavirus topped a staggering 3 million people Saturday amid repeated setbacks in the worldwide vaccination campaign and a deepening crisis in places such as Brazil, India and France.

The number of lives lost, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the population of Kyiv, Ukraine; Caracas, Venezuela; or metropolitan Lisbon, Portugal. It is bigger than Chicago (2.7 million) and equivalent to Philadelphia and Dallas combined.

And the true number is believed to be significantly higher because of possible government concealment and the many cases overlooked in the early stages of the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.

When the world back in January passed the bleak threshold of 2 million deaths, immunization drives had just started in Europe and the United States. Today, they are underway in more than 190 countries, though progress in bringing the virus under control varies widely.

While the campaigns in the U.S. and Britain have hit their stride and people and businesses there are beginning to contemplate life after the pandemic, other places, mostly poorer countries but some rich ones as well, are lagging behind in putting shots in arms and have imposed new lockdowns and other restrictions as virus cases soar.

Worldwide, deaths are on the rise again, running at around 12,000 per day on average, and new cases are climbing too, eclipsing 700,000 a day.

Read the full story here.

9:04 a.m. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Obamas and other celebrities make a stand for COVID vaccines on TV special

President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama and a slew of celebrities including Billy Crystal, Jennifer Hudson and Lin-Manuel Miranda are part of a special aimed at boosting COVID-19 vaccination rates.

“Roll Up Your Sleeves,” airing at 6 p.m. Sunday on NBC, will feature Matthew McConaughey interviewing Dr. Anthony Fauci to help separate “fact from fiction” about the vaccines, the network said.

Biden will make a direct appeal in support of the effort, while Obama will be joined by basketball greats Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal to reinforce the role of vaccines in allowing Americans to get their lives back on track.

Former first lady Michelle Obama will team with Miranda, Faith Hill and Jennifer Lopez in support of shots during the hour-long special hosted by spouses Russell Wilson, the NFL quarterback, and actor-singer Ciara.

Read the full story here.

8:15 a.m. Stuck outside U.S. during pandemic, burst pipe floods suburban home, and Allstate won’t pay

The COVID-19 pandemic has messed with people’s lives in countless ways, but I hadn’t heard anything quite like the travails of Floyd and Betsy Rogers.

It’s a complicated story, so settle in.

The Rogerses are retirees.

He’s 78 and used to work at IBM before retiring early to help his brother operate a now-defunct garden center. She’s 79 and went back to school for her Ph.D. after her daughters went away to college, then worked for a time as a consultant retraining industrial workers.

The Rogerses have lived since 1975 in a two-story frame home near Glen Ellyn where they raised two daughters.

Younger daughter Becky Ackermann is a paleoanthropologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where she lives with her husband Kurt and their 11-year-old son, the Rogerses’ only grandchild. Their older daughter died of a blood clot in 2002.

Like many people their age with their only surviving child and grandchild far, far away, the suburban couple make annual visits to their daughter’s family in Cape Town, over time gradually extending their stays to months at a stretch.

That’s where they were in February 2020, scheduled to return that April, when Betsy Rogers broke her pelvis, requiring a long, difficult rehabilitation during which she could not be on an airplane.

That meant they were still in South Africa when the pandemic struck.

There were no flights back to the U.S. for a while. By the time there were, it wasn’t really safe to fly from a COVID standpoint, so they settled in for Betsy to recuperate.

That’s why the couple was still in South Africa this past Jan. 22 when they were informed a DuPage County sheriff’s deputy had spotted water running down their driveway. A cracked pipe in an upstairs bathroom had flooded the house, destroying much of the interior and furnishings: 213,000 gallons escaped, according to the water bill they later received.

All very sad, but that’s why people have homeowners’ insurance. Right?

That’s what the Rogerses were thinking. But Allstate denied their claim, citing an exception in their policy for plumbing that freezes while a building is vacant or unoccupied “unless you have used reasonable care” to maintain the heat or shut off the water supply and drain the system.

Read Mark Brown’s full column here.


New cases & vaccination numbers

  • Public health officials on Saturday announced 3,194 new COVID-19 cases, lowering Illinois’ testing positivity rate to 4.1% and offering a potential sign of optimism that the state is easing down from its latest surge in infections.
  • The positivity rate is still up sharply compared to the all-time low of 2.1% the state reached last month, while an average of more than 3,200 residents have tested positive each day over the past week — nearly double Illinois’ case rate in early March.
  • Chicago’s regional positivity rate has fallen slightly over the past few days to 5.6%, and it’s dipped to 5.5% in suburban Cook County.
  • The state reported its fourth most productive vaccination day yet with 160,014 doses administered Friday. Nearly 8 million shots have gone into arms overall, with about 3.3 million residents fully vaccinated — nearly 26% of the population.
  • Officials also said 23 more residents have died with the virus, including 12 Cook County residents. The state’s death toll is up to 21,653 among about 1.3 million residents who have tested positive over the past year.
  • Nearly a quarter of all Illinoisans are now fully immunized against the coronavirus after Thursday’s shot effort, which came a week after the state set a record with almost 176,000 administered doses.
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