127 more Illinois coronavirus deaths as state prepares to receive first vaccine doses

Numbers continued trending in the right direction as the state could soon break a month-long stretch with hospitals treating 5,000-plus COVID-19 patients every night.

SHARE 127 more Illinois coronavirus deaths as state prepares to receive first vaccine doses
Rush University Medical Center staff collect nasopharyngeal swab samples to test people for the coronavirus at the hospital’s drive-thru testing site, Thursday afternoon, Nov. 19, 2020.

Rush University Medical Center staff collect nasopharyngeal swab samples to test people for the coronavirus last month at the hospital’s drive-thru testing site.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

As the state prepares to receive its first shipment of coronavirus vaccine doses from the federal government, Illinois public health officials on Saturday announced COVID-19 has killed an additional 127 residents and spread to 8,737 more.

Both figures are well below the state’s average daily tallies over the last two weeks, which have marked Illinois’ deadliest period of the entire pandemic. About 9,200 people have tested positive each day during that stretch, with the virus claiming an average of 147 lives every day.

The new cases were diagnosed among a record-high 126,888 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Health, meaning only about 6.9% of the latest tests came back positive. That’s the lowest one-day proportion of positive tests the state has reported since Oct. 27, before Illinois’ autumn resurgence hit a peak in mid-November.

It was enough to lower the state’s average positivity rate over the last week to 8.9%, the first time it’s dipped below 9% since Nov. 4. Experts use that number to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading.

Hospital figures took another step in the right direction, too, with the number of beds occupied by coronavirus patients falling to 5,048 by Friday night.

If that trend continues, the state could soon break a month-long stretch with hospitals treating 5,000-plus COVID-19 patients every night.

But the state is still feeling acute effects of its resurgence in terms of fatalities. The latest deaths included 52 Chicago-area residents, including two Cook County men in their 20s and 30s, respectively.

More than 2,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the last two weeks alone, accounting for about 15% of the state’s death toll throughout the pandemic. Since March, at least 841,688 Illinoisans have contracted the virus and 14,176 of them have died.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team has said the “finish line” is coming into view, though, with 109,000 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine expected to arrive in Illinois Monday.

The first doses will go to health care workers, followed by nursing home residents, essential workers, older people and those with underlying health conditions. It’ll be months before most residents can get a shot.

“This news doesn’t yet mean we can let up on the proven precautions that keep us healthy,” Pritzker tweeted. “Let’s stay safe until everyone can get vaccinated.”

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