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Coronavirus live blog, March 21, 2021: 1,962 more people tested positive for COVID-19, highest statewide infection rate in almost a month

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

News

5:00 p.m. Vitamin D study to assess role in protecting Black population from COVID

University of Chicago researchers want to determine whether vitamin D supplements can help African Americans better fight COVID-19.

Dr. David Meltzer, chief of hospital medicine at UChicago Medicine and lead researcher of two upcoming studies, said Black people typically have lower levels of vitamin D than whites, though the health consequences are not well known.

Newly published research led by Meltzer found a lower risk of infection, particularly for Black people, when vitamin D levels are increased higher than what experts now deem sufficient for overall health.

In the wake of that data study, Meltzer is recruiting volunteers for two human trials to better understand that relationship between immune system and boosting vitamin D with supplements. Meltzer wants to hone in on the racial distinctions and see if boosting vitamin levels reduces either the risk of becoming infected or the severity of illness.

The benefit of taking vitamin D to ward off COVID-19 has sparked debate in the medical community. Some doctors caution too much of the vitamin can be detrimental to health. Nonetheless, attention around coronavirus-related research last year has driven sales of vitamin D supplements during the pandemic.

Meltzer argues there are unanswered questions about vitamin D as it relates to the overall health of Blacks, particularly for fighting infections. One benefit of Vitamin D is bone strength, a factor that can help prevent osteoporosis, but previous research suggests even though vitamin D levels are lower in Blacks than whites, bone density isn’t dramatically different between the racial groups, Meltzer said.

What isn’t well understood, he adds, is the role Vitamin D levels in Black people plays in boosting the immune system, another benefit of vitamin D.

“The effects on the immune system … have been much more difficult to define,” Meltzer said in an interview. “Even if one has enough vitamin D to be good for bone health, that doesn’t mean one has the right amount of vitamin D to be good for immune function.”

Read the full story here.

4:45 p.m. 120K more COVID-19 shots given in Illinois as positivity rate ticks up again

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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 from Mitchell Armentrout here.


News

12:19 p.m. Fact-check: Democrats’ relief bill doesn’t give states free hand in spending — but it doesn’t tie them very tight either

After failing to stop the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package from becoming law, Republicans are blasting the plan as a bailout for poorly managed Democratic states and cities.

A key piece of the criticism has been the stipulation that $350 billion be siphoned off for state and local governments, money Democrats who pushed through the legislation with no Republican support argue will blunt the pandemic’s fiscal fallout.

Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican from Murphysboro in southwestern Illinois, joined the national GOP chorus when in a WJPF radio interview he claimed there was nothing in the legislation limiting how states can spend the money.

“Where are the checks and balances in the issuing of these funds? Where is it that in there it says, it can only be used for A, B, C and D? It does not,” Bost said. “And that’s the problem.”

The law — dubbed the “American Rescue Plan” by President Joe Biden — is more flexible than previous aid packages in how money can be spent, experts told us. But it’s also not a free-for-all.

Read the full story here.

9:48 a.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.”

State Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Loretto board member, said the action did not involve firing the executives but he declined to describe the reprimand.

Read the full story from Brett Chase and Mitch Dudek here.


New Cases & Vaccination Numbers

  • 1,962 more people tested positive for COVID-19 raising the statewide infection rate to its highest point in almost a month.
  • The Illinois Department of Public Health also reported 25 more coronavirus deaths, including that of a Cook County woman in her 30s.
  • A total of 120,426 shots went into arms statewide Friday, marking the state’s sixth-best vaccination day yet.