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Coronavirus live blog, March 20, 2021: About 1.7 million Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated so far, 13.6% of the population

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

News

5:00 p.m. 120K more COVID-19 shots given in Illinois as positivity rate ticks up again

Public health officials on Saturday reported another six-figure vaccination day for Illinois, but 1,962 more people tested positive for COVID-19 to raise the statewide infection rate to its highest point in almost a month.

The new cases were diagnosed among 77,661 tests, raising the average positivity rate over the past week to 2.6%. Experts use that number to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading.

It hit an all-time low of 2.1% last weekend but has now increased for four consecutive days. As infections have declined dramatically statewide since the start of the year, the positivity rate hadn’t hit 2.6% since Feb. 25.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also reported 25 more coronavirus deaths, including that of a Cook County woman in her 30s.

The number of hospitalized patients increased slightly as well to 1,179, but that’s still near a record low.

Read the full story here.

3:00 p.m. City snuffs out smokers, says they won’t have priority for vaccine

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Being a regular visitor to Flavor Country might get you to the front of the line for a COVID-19 shot in most of Illinois and beyond, but not in Chicago.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised eyebrows when it included smokers on the list of people who should be prioritized for vaccination because of increased vulnerability to the coronavirus due to underlying health conditions.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker followed suit when he expanded the state’s pool of eligible vaccine recipients last month. So did officials in suburban Cook County, which will start inoculating people 16 and older with chronic conditions beginning Monday.

But Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady have snuffed out eligibility for smokers when registration opens to more residents with the city’s launch of vaccination Phase 1C on March 29.

“In this interim period where we just have very limited vaccine, we’re using the state’s 1B+ guidance, but we did not include smokers in that,” Arwady said during an online Q&A last week.

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.

2:12 p.m. Loretto exec prays for redemption after COVID vaccine mess

The chief executive of The Loretto Hospital posted a prayer on Facebook asking for the Lord’s forgiveness on the same day he and the officer who orchestrated the Trump Tower COVID-19 vaccinations were reprimanded by the West Side institution’s board.

“Have mercy on me O God,” George Miller wrote on Facebook. “Forgive me for going my own way and not aligning my life with Your perfect will. I confess that I have been misguided by my own self-serving purposes and have lost sight of Your face.”

The prayer, posted Friday morning, preceded a statement later in the day from Loretto’s board that announced an undisclosed action against the CEO and another top officer after a week of disclosures about the hospital’s vaccinations of ineligible people. Miller couldn’t be reached for comment.

“We are disappointed by the revelations of the past week,” the board said in a statement. “We have taken appropriate actions of reprimand against Loretto’s President/CEO George Miller and [Chief Operating Officer] Anosh Ahmed, MD, for their roles in mistakes of judgment made.”

Read the full story here.

9:17 a.m. Cook County to prioritize vaccinations in 32 suburbs

Cook County health officials will prioritize coronavirus vaccine appointments in more than two dozen of the hardest-hit suburbs to ensure equal access to the life-saving shots.

The 32 suburbs given high priority for shots were predominantly communities of color in the west and south suburbs, the Cook County Department of Public Health announced Friday.

The department used two risk-factor indexes to identify the municipalities most adversely impacted by COVID-19. Those indexes — the COVID-19 Vulnerability Index and Social Vulnerability Index — considered factors including socioeconomic, household composition and disability, minority status and language.

Residents can register for an appointment online at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov.

Read the full story here.


New Cases & Vaccination Numbers

  • Public health officials on Friday announced 135,525 more COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered statewide.
  • The Illinois Department of Public Health also reported 2,380 new cases of the disease were diagnosed among 92,161 tests.

Analysis & Commentary

9:20 a.m. Loretto Hospital leaders deserve more than a ‘harsh reprimand’ for misuse of COVID shots

I was pleasantly surprised when Loretto Hospital, a small hospital in Austin, was chosen to kick off the city’s campaign to get Chicagoans vaccinated against the deadly COVID-19 virus.

The city’s honor did two things:

  • It pushed the issue of health care disparities from handwringing to action.
  • And it elevated the profile of a community hospital that desperately needed its own shot in the arm.

Sandwiched between the massive Loyola University Medical Center in nearby Maywood and the sprawling medical district to the east, Loretto has struggled to be recognized as a credible provider of care in an area that desperately needs access to quality health care.

Hospitals like Loretto have suffered because too often community residents with financial resources and good insurance choose to go elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the goings-on since those first shots of the Pfizer vaccine went to Loretto’s hospital workers are shocking. Instead of focusing on the Austin community, where there is no shortage of people waiting to be vaccinated, the vaccine also was given to workers at Trump Tower’s posh hotel and apartments — where Loretto’s chief operating officer, Dr. Anosh Ahmed, owns a unit.

Before the furor died down over that came reports that Cook County judges and their spouses were “invited” to get shots even though it wasn’t their turn. And then this bombshell Friday: 200 members of the hospital CEO’s church, Valley Kingdom Ministries International in Oak Forest, were given doses of Loretto’s supply of the coveted vaccine.

Read Mary Mitchell’s full column here.