238 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, most ever reported by state throughout pandemic

A total of 1,634 lives have been lost to COVID-19 over the past two weeks, an average of about 117 per day. That’s almost five times the rate compared to two months ago.

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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 swab samples to test people for the coronavirus at the hospital’s drive-thru testing site on Nov. 19.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Illinois public health officials attributed an additional 238 deaths to the coronavirus Wednesday, the highest daily number of viral fatalities reported by the state throughout nine months of the pandemic.

That figure, which shatters the previous high of 191 deaths on May 13, includes some fatalities that occurred over the long Thanksgiving weekend. The Illinois Department of Public Health previously logged a total of 362 coronavirus deaths from the holiday through Sunday.

In the week since Thanksgiving, COVID-19 has claimed an average of 116 lives per day. That’s more than double the statewide death rate at the start of November.

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“We’ll continue to watch these numbers closely in the coming weeks to have a better picture of our trajectory, but a life lost reported late following a holiday is still life lost,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said of the state’s latest “solemn milestone.”

“This virus is a killer,” Pritzker said. “Let’s honor those that it has taken by doing everything that we can to prevent more people from getting sick and dying. Wear your mask. Keep your distance. Stay home whenever you can.”

Seventy-one of the latest victims were from Cook County. Another 56 lived in the collar counties.

Five of the state’s 10 highest-ever daily death counts have come in the last month as the state has weathered an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Almost a third of the state’s death toll has accrued just since Illinois’ resurgence went into overdrive in early October.

The death rate has increased fivefold in Chicago, too, compared to five weeks ago. About 15 Chicagoans are dying of the virus each day, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Since March, the virus has killed at least 12,639 Illinoisans among almost 749,000 residents who have contracted it. An additional 758 deaths are considered to have been probable but untested cases of the virus.

The latest case tally included 9,757 new infections that were detected among 85,507 tests reported to state public health officials. That raises the average statewide positivity rate from 10.4% to 10.6%.

Hospital admissions are slowly trending downward in the state after reaching an all-time high about two weeks ago, but they’re still well above anything Illinois experienced in the first wave.

As of Tuesday night, 5,764 coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 1,190 in intensive care units and 714 on ventilators.

And as officials anticipate a potential “surge upon a surge” of cases due to transmission at family gatherings over the holiday weekend, that’s why Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said it’s more important than ever for residents to follow the basic coronavirus precautions.

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“We have normal illnesses that occur now, heart attacks, strokes, all the regular things that would take someone to the hospital — we want to have a bed for everyone who gets sick,” Ezike said. “That’s where all the mitigation measures that we’re asking people to do come in. Quarantine if you have been exposed. Isolate if you’ve actually been infected, so that we don’t create more people who may need a bed.”

Besides another possible surge, the state is preparing to distribute its first allotment of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, 109,000 doses of which are expected to be delivered by the federal government to Illinois between Dec. 13-19.

Pritzker clarified his estimate from a day earlier, noting that the initial shipment will be enough for 109,000 people — with health care workers first in line — with those recipients receiving their second dose between three and four weeks later.

“We don’t have to hold back because of the speed at which we’ll be receiving vaccines,” the governor said. “We will be able to serve more of the health care and long-term care facility people, and do it at the same time.”

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