Coronavirus live blog, Dec. 31, 2020: Coronavirus variant found on West Coast as Fauci warns of more cases

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, Dec. 31, 2020: Coronavirus variant found on West Coast as Fauci warns of more cases

It’s the last day of 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic isn’t stopping for 2021.

Here’s what else happened on the final day of the year as the coronavirus pandemic raged on.


8:55 p.m. COVID-19 variant found in California; Dr. Fauci says more states ‘likely’


Memorial Hospital registered nurse Delaney Russom, left, and respiratory therapist Jamie Lovelady consult on a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Bakersfield, Calif.

Alex Horvath/The Bakersfield Californian via AP

SAN DIEGO – California has reported its first case of a more contagious COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom – the second confirmed case in the U.S.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking in an online conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said the case was confirmed in Southern California Wednesday afternoon.

During a Wednesday afternoon briefing, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said a 30-year-old man in the county with no travel history tested positive for the new strain on Tuesday.

“Because there is no travel history, we believe this is not an isolated case in San Diego County,” Fletcher said. He urged residents to stay at home for New Year’s celebrations, citing the region’s already strained healthcare system.

On Tuesday, California reported Southern California’s Intensive Care Unit availability is 0%.

Colorado reported the first known case of the variant in the U.S. on Tuesday and was investigating a second possible case Wednesday. Both of the cases are National Guard soldiers who were deployed to support staffing at a nursing home in Simla, Colorado, outside Denver, state health officials said.

Read the full story here.

5:02 p.m. Wisconsin hospital worker arrested for spoiled vaccine doses

MADISON, Wis. — Authorities arrested a suburban Milwaukee pharmacist Thursday suspected of deliberately ruining hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing it from refrigeration for two nights.

The Grafton Police Department said the former Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist was arrested on suspicion of reckless endangerment, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property. The department said in a news release that he was in jail. Police did not identify the pharmacist, saying he has not yet been formally charged.

His motive remains unclear. Police said that detectives believe he knew the spoiled doses would be useless and people who received them would mistakenly think they’d been vaccinated when they hadn’t.

Advocate Aurora Health Care Chief Medical Group Officer Jeff Bahr told reporters during a teleconference Thursday afternoon that the pharmacist deliberately removed 57 vials that held hundreds of doses of the Moderna vaccine from refrigeration at a Grafton medical center overnight on Dec. 24 into Dec. 25, returned them, then left them out again on the night of Dec. 25 into Saturday. The vials contained enough doses to inoculate 570 people.

Read the full report here.

2:59 p.m. One Illinois county allows indoor dining, to governor’s chagrin

SPRINGFIELD — As the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths continue to climb in Illinois, health officials in the county that includes the state’s capital city say enough progress has been made to again allow limited indoor service in bars and restaurants — to the chagrin of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office.

According to the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, bars and restaurants can reopen as of Sunday for indoor service at 25% capacity.

“It’s time to try,” said health department director Gail O’Neill, according to The (Springfield) State Journal-Register.

“There’s always a risk, but our risk level is down enough that the risk of not reopening a little bit and getting the economy back and the people who work in the food industry is great as well,” said O’Neill.

The move comes as the seven-day rolling positivity rate that peaked at 17% on Nov. 15 has dropped to 6%.

Read the full story here.

1:30 p.m. 133 more Illinois coronavirus deaths with positivity rate trending upward into new year

Illinois closed out 2020 with 8,009 new cases of COVID-19 and 133 more deaths attributed to it, keeping the state’s pandemic numbers slowly creeping upward as the battered state heads into the new year.

With one year elapsed since the first reports of a novel new respiratory disease began circulating out of China — and about 11 months after it first surfaced in Illinois — the coronavirus has infected at least 963,389 people across the state, and killed 16,490 of them.

The roller-coaster pandemic has been marked in Illinois by a mid-May peak that gave way to a summertime lull, followed by an exponential, record-breaking November resurgence that has eased up only slightly while the virus continues claiming lives at a dizzying rate.

Now, after a gradual, month-long decline, some of the state’s key metrics are inching back upward, while Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team pleads with families to cancel holiday gatherings to stave off another spike.

Read the full story here.

1:18 p.m. California is third state to pass 25,000 coronavirus deaths

LOS ANGELES — Health officials say California has surpassed 25,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The grim milestone recorded Friday comes as the nation’s most populated state faces a surge of COVID-19 infections that has hospitals stretched to capacity and forced nurses and doctors to treat more patients than usual.

The state Department of Public Health says hospitals in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, which together account for a large majority of the state’s 40 million residents, have no capacity left in intensive care units to treat COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals are housing patients in hallways, conference rooms, a cafeteria and gift shops. Makeshift hospitals are being set up in tents, arenas and schools.

Read the full story here.

12:45 p.m. Pet adoptions, fostering boomed during coronavirus pandemic

Alice Brunner’s dog, Frankie, hops onto her lap as if the small canine holds the deed to the property.

Brunner doesn’t even attempt to feign disapproval. She loves the pup: “She’s certainly made my life happier and dispels a lot of gloom on gloomy days,” said the retired stockbroker, who lives by herself in Old Town and adopted the shelter pup from PAWS Chicago.

The need for cuddly, loving moments is helping to drive a boom in people seeking to foster or adopt a pet during the pandemic.

“A lot of single people working from home wanted a companion,” said Katie Sershon, a volunteer with PAWS. “It provides structure and purpose to take care of something else, you’ve got to get up and keep a routine.”

But demand outpaced supply at many shelters in the area. The stacked rows of cages that line the picture windows of the Anti-Cruelty Society’s Near North Side headquarters were nearly empty for the first time in a long time.

Cuteness alone doesn’t account for the increased interest. Foster applications skyrocketed in the spring when shelters sounded alarms over social media requesting help in freeing up kennel space to allow for an expected rush to care for pets whose owners were hospitalized or otherwise struggling because of the coronavirus.

People stepped up. Applications increased exponentially at many area shelters. The Anti-Cruelty Society placed 1,256 pets in foster care from March through November, a 35% increase from the 928 pets placed a year earlier.

Read Mitch Dudek’s full story here.

11:35 a.m. Illinois driver facilities to reopen Tuesday after pandemic-related closure

Driver facilities are set to reopen statewide Jan. 5 after being shuttered for weeks as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in Illinois.

Facilities were closed for a second time in November after Secretary of State Jesse White determined it was best to protect the “health and safety of employees and the public.”

Currently, only two facilities are open in Chicago, but only to new drivers:

  • Chicago North, at 5401 N. Elston Ave.
  • Chicago South, at 9901 S. King Dr.

White also extended expiration dates for driver’s licenses and IDs to June 1.

Read the full story from David Struett here.

10:49 a.m. North American movie ticket sales down 80% in 2020 from last year

When the sun sets on the 2020 film box office, it’ll be difficult to look at the numbers as anything but disastrous.

After five consecutive years of North American revenues exceeding $11 billion, this year they’re expected to cap out at an almost 40-year low of around $2.3 billion. That’ll be down 80% from last year according to data firm Comscore. Globally, where markets have been able to recover more fully, ticket sales will likely end up somewhere between $11 and $12 billion. Last year, that total hit $42.5 billion. But of course, 2020 is a year with a big asterisk.

“It’s a year like no other,” said Jim Orr, president of domestic theatrical distribution for Universal Pictures. “We’ve never seen this little business in this industry.”

Outside of January and February, it’s impossible to judge the year’s box office by pre-pandemic standards. Box office, in aggregate, is fairly predictable in a normal year. But when the theaters shut down March 20, that “all went out the window,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “The unpredictability became the constant.”

Read the full story here.

7:26 a.m. With 2020 almost in our rearview mirrors, we asked Chicagoans: How will you describe this year in the future?

Some answers have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

“My husband and I grew closer in quarantine, even though we couldn’t do a lot of the things we wanted to. Having each other is more important than any missed activities.”— Betty Mantell

“It was the year I saw another side of some of the people in my life, and how they handled themselves during a crisis. Some did it with amazing grace, some did it with amazing stupidity.”— Denise Fricano

“A nightmare, but grateful for what I have and my health.”— Myrna Kar

“Exhausting, surreal and a bit like war — long stretches of boredom interrupted by a few moments of sheer terror.”— Christopher B. Alexandrov

“The year my wife and I were blessed with so much quality time with our now 2 and 4-year-old children.”— Ryan Elliott

“I am 72. Seen a lot, but this has been the strangest.”— John Green

Keep reading what Chicagoans said about 2020 here.

New cases

Analysis and commentary

7:17 a.m. Early numbers on Chicago’s vaccine rollout show extra effort is a must on South and West sides

On Dec. 15, health care workers across Chicago began receiving the city’s first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Quickly, a potentially troubling pattern emerged.

Within days, doctors and other health care workers from high-income, largely white communities near downtown and on the North Side showed up in large numbers to get shots at the hospitals where they work. By Dec. 26, the greatest number of vaccinations citywide were of doctors and other health care workers from the Near North Side and in Lake View, Lincoln Park, South Loop and Wicker Park, ananalysis by the Sun-Times’Brett Chase and Elvia Malagón found.

But for workers living in lower income and working class neighborhoods of color on the South and West sides, the picture looked much different. From Dec. 15 through 26, the fewest vaccinations in the city were of health care workers from the mostly Black Far South Side; and from West Lawn, Chicago Lawn and Belmont Cragin, neighborhoods with large Latino populations. Both areas have among the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the city.

The analysis is a stark reminder of the extra effort that will be needed to ensure high rates of vaccination for communities of color.

Chicago and Illinois cannot beat back COVID-19 and end the pandemic unless vaccination becomes the rule, not the exception, in every part of our city.

Keep reading this editorial here.

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