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126 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, more than 6,800 new cases

The state’s average positivity rate fell Tuesday for the first time in 11 days, but overall it has trended steadily upward since Christmas.

Nurse Tamara Jones checks blood sugar levels for a 73-year-old woman with COVID-19 and on a ventilator last month in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side. Illinois’ pandemic total is on pace to surpass 1 million coronavirus cases this week.
Nurse Tamara Jones checks blood sugar levels for a 73-year-old woman with COVID-19 and on a ventilator last month in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side. Illinois’ pandemic total is on pace to surpass 1 million coronavirus cases this week.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The coronavirus has killed 126 more Illinois residents and spread to an additional 6,839 people, but the state’s average testing positivity rate declined Tuesday for the first time in 11 days, officials said.

The new cases were detected among 87,083 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, lowering the seven-day average positivity rate by a tenth of a percentage point to 8.5%.

That number, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, had been on the rise nearly daily since Christmas. Gov. J.B. Pritzker urged families to cancel holiday gatherings to avoid another statewide surge like the one that shattered records in mid-November.

The positivity rate fell by almost half from an autumn high of 13.2% on Nov. 13 to 6.8% on Dec. 26, but it has steadily risen since then.

Pritzker’s health team has not indicated whether they think the uptick is tied to holiday transmission. Experts say it typically takes at least one viral incubation period, or about two weeks, for such an increase to show up in the data.

Chicago, which saw a slight bump in cases after Thanksgiving, is up to a regional average positivity rate of 10%, compared to 8.2% on Christmas.

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Meanwhile, Illinois’ daily COVID-19 death rate has slowly declined along with nightly hospitalizations. The virus has claimed about 112 lives per day over the last week, compared to about 150 this time last month.

As of Monday night, 3,905 Illinois hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, with 800 receiving intensive care and 457 on ventilators — all figures that are high compared to the summer but well below peak levels.

That’ll change if daily caseload growth accelerates, throwing the state back to the start of the pandemic’s predictably grim pattern of higher case counts leading to more serious cases, leading to more hospitalizations that end in tragedy.

Sixty-four of the latest victims came from the Chicago area, including a Cook County woman in her 40s.

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Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities account for almost half the state’s coronavirus deaths, but a teenager and a woman in her 30s were among the fatalities announced Monday.

Within a few days, the state will surpass the brutal milestones of 1 million cases and 17,000 deaths recorded throughout 10 months of the pandemic. Those figures stand at 991,719 and 16,959, respectively.

That means about 7.8% of the state’s 12.7 million residents have been infected at some point.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike has said the state is aiming to vaccinate at least 80% of the population to achieve COVID-19 herd immunity.

Almost 177,000 vaccine doses have been administered across the state so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials say it’ll be a few months before it’s available to most residents.