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Coronavirus live blog, Feb. 18, 2021: Illinois’ COVID-19 vaccination sites rebound with 4th most productive day yet after weather-related slowdown

Here’s Thursday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois. Follow here for live updates.

A total of 73,091 doses went into arms statewide Wednesday, following three straight days with around 40,000 shots administered, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Here’s what else happed Thursday in coronavirus-related news.


News

8:58 p.m. 73K more COVID-19 shots given in Illinois as vaccine shipments remain delayed

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Illinois’ COVID-19 vaccination sites rebounded with their fourth most productive day yet after a weather-related slowdown, but this week’s heavy snowfall is still delaying more shipments of the coveted shots, public health officials said Thursday.

A total of 73,091 doses went into arms statewide Wednesday, following three straight days with around 40,000 shots administered, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

That decline — which hit just days after the state appeared to finally be hitting its stride with a record-high 95,375 shots doled out Feb. 11 — was due to the severe winter weather that forced many vaccination sites to shut down Tuesday, when most of the region was still digging out from under a foot or more of snow.

Wednesday’s shot count raised the state’s rolling average to 61,132 given per day over the past week, but officials say the numbers will likely remain relatively low until shipments from the federal government catch back up to the pace of recent weeks.

“We are in contact with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to understand the logistical challenges and if there is anything Illinois can do to expedite getting vaccine,” the state’s public health department said in a statement.

Read Mitchell Armentrout’s full story here.


6:13 p.m. Critics slam Lightfoot’s spending of $281 million of coronavirus relief money on police

Community activists and Ald. Daniel La Spata blasted Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday for spending more than $281 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to cover police personnel costs instead of using it to help people who were losing their homes and businesses.

“We have every right to be angry,” said La Spata (1st). “Every neighbor you have who was denied housing assistance ... we could have offered them that assistance. ... Every vacant storefront you see is a small business we could have supported with these dollars,” he said during a virtual news conference.

La Spata expressed frustration that city council members learned about the spending last week as Lightfoot sought to transfer more than $60 million of unused federal COVID-19 relief funds to the city’s 2021 budget.

“The spending is part of this big black box that we’re calling ongoing COVID expenses,” La Spata said.

“This is a failure in terms of values, in terms of oversight, in terms of democratic process, but we are committed not to let that happen again.”

Reporter Mitch Dudek has the full story.

4:25 p.m. Massive storms, outages force tough decisions amid pandemic

DALLAS — Ashley Archer, a pregnant, 33-year-old Texas financial adviser, and her husband have been cautious about the coronavirus. They work from home, go out mostly just to get groceries and wear masks whenever they are in public.

But when a friend lost power amid the winter storms that have left millions of Texans without heat in freezing temperatures, the couple had to make a decision: Should they take on additional risk to help someone in need?

Archer said they didn’t hesitate. They took her husband’s best friend into their suburban Dallas home.

“He’s like family,” she said. “We weren’t going to let him freeze at his place. We figured, ‘OK, we’re willing to accept a little bit of risk because you’re not in our little pandemic group.’”

Weighing the risks in the pandemic era is fraught enough. But the storms and outages that have hit a big swath of the U.S. over the past several days have added a whole new layer of complexity.

Read the full report here.

12:04 p.m. Experts warn against COVID-19 variants as states reopen

As states lift mask rules and ease restrictions on restaurants and other businesses because of falling case numbers, public health officials say authorities are overlooking potentially more dangerous COVID-19 variants that are quietly spreading through the U.S.

Scientists widely agree that the U.S. simply doesn’t have enough of a handle on the variants to roll back public health measures and is at risk of fumbling yet another phase of the pandemic after letting the virus rage through the country over the last year and kill nearly 500,000 people.

“Now is not the time to fully open up,” said Karthik Gangavarapu, a researcher at Scripps Research Institute whose team works closely with San Diego health officials to watch for mutant versions of the coronavirus. “We need to still be vigilant.”

Over the past two weeks, the daily averages for both coronavirus cases and deaths have dropped by about half in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And as of Wednesday, over 40 million people — about 12% of the population — had received at least one dose of a vaccine.

But experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky say the downward trend could reverse itself if new variants take hold.

Read the full Associated Press story here.


New cases


Analysis and commentary

1:30 p.m. Pritzker’s budget takes on the only fight that matters: Against the pandemic

In the background, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered his annual budget address on Wednesday from the Illinois State Fairgrounds, we could see men and women in camouflage uniforms wiping down tables and straightening chairs.

They were members of the Illinois National Guard. They were tidying up a building that is being used to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to thousands of Illinois residents. And though Pritzker never mentioned them, their presence reinforced the single most important message of the day:

Illinois, like the rest of the nation, remains deeply immersed in the greatest public health crisis since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Families and small businesses continue to be slammed. And the most important job of government at such a time, as Pritzker said, is to “end the crisis as quickly as possible” and “limit the pain” for ordinary people.

The governor laid out a proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 that aims to do just that, maintaining essential services and providing relief to small businesses while avoiding a general tax hike. It’s an imperfect plan, far from a crowd pleaser, but it gets its priorities right.

Read the full editorial here.