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133 more Illinois coronavirus deaths with positivity rate trending upward into new year

Since COVID-19 claimed its first Illinois victim March 16, an average of about 57 people have died with the virus every day — or about one fatality every 25 minutes.

Nurses look through a window as they check on a man with COVID-19 and on a ventilator earlier this month in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side.
Nurses look through a window as they check on a man with COVID-19 and on a ventilator earlier this month in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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 up, while Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team pleads with families to cancel holiday gatherings to stave off another spike.

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The latest cases announced Thursday by the Illinois Department of Public Health were detected among 99,426 tests, raising the state’s average positivity rate for a fourth straight day, up to 7.7%.

That key indicator of transmission is still down from 13.2% in mid-November — but has increased almost a full percentage point since Christmas.

It’s still too early to say whether holiday transmission is contributing to Illinois’ slight uptick. Experts say it takes about two weeks for that to show up in the data.

But the 8,009 new cases are the most announced by the state in two weeks, while the death count of 133 is higher than the state’s average of 123 over that stretch.

Among the latest victims were 56 Chicago-area residents, including a Cook County man and woman in their 40s.

Since COVID-19 claimed its first Illinois victim March 16, an average of about 57 people have died with the virus every day — or about one fatality every 25 minutes.

December was the worst month of all, with at least 4,234 deaths, accounting for more than a quarter of the entire toll.

Overall, about 48% of the fatal Illinois cases have come from nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The recovery rate is 98%.

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Hospital numbers have steadily declined to pre-peak levels. As of Wednesday night, 4,093 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 837 receiving intensive care and 496 using ventilators.

On the worst night of the fall surge, almost 6,200 beds were taken up by COVID-19 patients. ICU and ventilator usage has fallen off by about 30% since then, too.

State public health officials are also on the lookout for a new, more infectious variant of the virus that was first detected in the United Kingdom and was found this week in California and Colorado. It has yet to show up in Illinois.

“Viruses are constantly changing through mutation and variant virus are expected,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “At this time, we have no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease or death. However, early study shows the variant may spread more easily and quickly. We will continue to work with academic partners, laboratory researchers, physicians, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor for cases.”

The state’s biggest new year’s resolution is taking the form of a historic vaccination campaign. As of Monday, about 126,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered, but several months remain before shots are available to most of Illinois’ 12.7 million residents.

Pritzker’s office also announced the first round of doses have been made available to all residents and staff at the four state-run veterans’ homes. As of Thursday, about 74% of residents had been vaccinated, along with about 40% of workers.