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Illinois’ coronavirus death toll surpasses 21,000 as pandemic wanes

With almost 13% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the state’s average daily death rate is near an all-time low, but the virus is still wreaking havoc for many families.

A memorial commissioned by Illinois first lady M.K. Pritzker and Gov. J.B. Pritzker for the lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic in Illinois on the north lawn of the Illinois governor’s mansion in Springfield on Tuesday.
A memorial commissioned by Illinois first lady M.K. Pritzker and Gov. J.B. Pritzker for the lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic in Illinois, is illuminated for the first time on the north lawn of the Illinois governor’s mansion in Springfield on Tuesday. More than 21,000 residents have died with COVID-19 across the state over the past year.
AP Photos

Illinois’ COVID-19 death toll eclipsed 21,000 on Thursday, a sobering reminder that the virus is still ravaging families across Illinois even as vaccine supply improves and the state gradually prepares to reopen for business.

The latest 34 coronavirus deaths reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health included nine Cook County residents and raised the statewide pandemic total to 21,022. Another 2,265 deaths are considered to have been “probable,” untested cases.

Since a South Side woman became the state’s first known victim of COVID-19 a year ago, the virus has claimed an average of 58 Illinois lives every day.

But the daily death rate was almost triple that figure during the worst days of the crisis. Nearly 1,100 residents lost their battles with COVID-19 during the first week of December, amounting to roughly 156 deaths each day. That included the worst day of all with 238 coronavirus fatalities logged Dec. 2.

That was also the week before Illinois’ first coronavirus vaccine doses were administered. The death rate has shrunk by about 85% since then, with an average of 23 COVID-19 deaths per day over the past week.

New COVID-19 deaths by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

More than 1.6 million residents have now been fully vaccinated, or almost 13% of the population. Cook County officials reported the number of suburbanites vaccinated (239,327) has surpassed the county’s number of confirmed cases (217,753).

“Our daily mortality rate… is down to two individuals for every million people in the population,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “Combining these decreasing trends in cases and hospitalizations and deaths with increasing vaccinations — that is clearly a recipe for ending this pandemic. We cannot lose our momentum.”

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks during a news conference at the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop, Thursday afternoon.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks during a news conference at the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop, Thursday afternoon.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

But the state’s vaccine effort has indeed lost a little momentum this week. Ezike’s agency reported 91,684 doses were administered Wednesday, lowering the state’s rolling average to 99,210 shots given per day over the past week — and ending the state’s first ever stretch with a daily average clip of more than 100,000 daily doses. It only lasted three days.

COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

Officials also reported 2,325 new cases of the disease were diagnosed among 89,817 tests, raising the state’s rolling average positive rate by two notches up to 2.4%. That’s still near an all-time low of 2.1% recorded last weekend.

Chicago’s regional positivity rate is also near a record low at 2.9%, but the city’s dramatic improvement over the past two months has leveled off since the start of March. Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city saw a 9% bump in total cases this week compared to last.

“I’m not thrilled about this,” Arwady said during an online forum. “This is not a cause for major alarm at this point, but it is a reminder, I hope, for everybody that we are not actually at a low-risk setting from COVID here in Chicago, although we’re making beautiful progress on vaccination.”

Coronavirus hospital admissions remain as low as ever across the state, with 1,120 beds occupied as of Wednesday night.

More than 1.2 million Illinoisans have tested positive for the virus. Experts agree tens of thousands more have likely carried it at some point.