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Illinois sees lowest COVID-19 caseload since fall, but death toll tops 20,000: ‘The steady pain of loss has not lessened’

While it took more than nine months from the beginning of the pandemic in Illinois to reach 10,000 deaths, it only took a little over three months for the death toll to double.

Cate Readling lights candles in remembrance and of Nickolas Lee, an inmate who died of COVID-19 at Cook County jail and other of COVID-19 victims at Federal Plaza last month.
Cate Readling lights candles in remembrance and of Nickolas Lee, an inmate who died of COVID-19 at Cook County jail and other of COVID-19 victims at Federal Plaza last month.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Illinois on Monday recorded its lowest daily number of new COVID-19 cases since late September but also passed the grim milestone of 20,000 total deaths statewide.

Another 1,420 coronavirus infections were reported Monday to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the lowest daily count since Sept. 29, when 1,362 cases were confirmed.

And 41 more people died from the virus, raising the state’s death toll to 20,002 deaths. Illinois surpassed 10,000 total deaths on Nov. 5.

But while it took more than nine months from the beginning of the pandemic in Illinois to reach 10,000 deaths, it only took a little over three months for the death toll to double.

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“Every day we lose more Illinoisans to this terrible virus,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted. “And with 20,000 Illinois residents having now died from COVID, the steady pain of loss has not lessened. As we grieve, we must find the courage to meet this moment.”

Despite passing 20,000 total deaths, the state’s death rate continued to lower.

Coronavirus deaths in February are half of what they were in January. The state reported an average of 50 deaths per day in the first 15 days of February, compared with an average of 104 deaths per day over the same period last month.

So far in February, 763 Illinoisans have died from COVID-19. In January, 2,774 people died from the virus; in December, 4,324.

The 24 new deaths in Cook County included a man in his 20s, a man in his 40s and three people in their 50s.

Meanwhile, the state continued to improve its inoculation rate, with 39,863 vaccines administered Sunday — more than double the number from the week earlier when only 16,110 shots were put into arms, health officials said.

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During a news conference at the 911 emergency center on the latest major snowstorm to wallop Chicago, Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Chicago expects to receive 6,700 first doses-per-day of the coronavirus vaccine this week. That’s up from 6,000 first doses-per-day last week.

Carmen Romero De Vaca, 52, a special education classroom assistant, receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Weiss Memorial Hospital on Monday.
Carmen Romero De Vaca, 52, a special education classroom assistant at James B. McPherson Elementary School, receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Weiss Memorial Hospital on Monday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“Nowhere near enough,” Arwady said.

Also on Monday, Weiss Memorial Hospital in the Uptown neighborhood held a vaccination clinic specifically for teachers and other employees from Chicago Public Schools.

Compared week-to-week, vaccines in Illinois were given at a rate about 66,000 per day in the last week, compared with an average of 55,000 for the week before. There are now 422,419 people in Illinois fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — 3.32% of the state’s population. More than 95,000 of those fully vaccinated are age 65 and over.

The state’s seven-day testing positivity average also dipped to 2.9% — where it briefly reached Saturday. The last time Illinois had a positivity rate that low was in mid-July.

Contributing: Fran Spielman