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Illinois reports no new COVID-19 deaths for first time since March 2020: ‘Thank god for the vaccines’

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported no new COVID-19 fatalities Monday, which hadn’t happened previously since March 16, 2020, a span of 476 days.

DJ Kevin Burns and Footwork Folks dancers perform for people in the observation area at a COVID-19 vaccination site at Kennedy-King College last month. Illinois reported no new COVID-19 deaths Monday for the first time in almost 16 months.
DJ Kevin Burns and Footwork Folks dancers perform for people in the observation area at a COVID-19 vaccination site at Kennedy-King College last month. Illinois reported no new COVID-19 deaths Monday for the first time in almost 16 months.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

For the first time in nearly 16 months, Illinois has gone a full day without losing a resident to COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported no new COVID-19 fatalities Monday, which hadn’t happened previously since March 16, 2020 — a few days before Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered residents to stay inside their homes as much as possible to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It’s still possible one or more fatalities could eventually be added to the rare zero-total. Officials often adjust daily figures based on delayed reports from hospitals, especially after a holiday.

And the grief is far from over. The state reported 11 deaths over the weekend, and another 16 Tuesday.

But for now, the end of a miserable 476-day stretch with viral deaths is the latest sign of optimism for a state slowly emerging from the pandemic.

“We all are very, very pleased that our infection rate in the state of Illinois is way down. The number of cases, the number of hospitalizations, the number of deaths — way, way down,” Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference. “The vaccines have done the work. Thank god for the vaccines.”

Chicago hasn’t reported any coronavirus deaths for a full week, though that too could change because those figures are generally delayed. Before June 20, the city reported only three days without a COVID-19 death, according to Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, who called the decline “good news.”

“We want to keep getting these numbers down, and the best way you can help is by getting vaccinated,” Arwady said.

About 70% of eligible residents have gotten at least one vaccine dose, and 54% are fully immunized.

That has helped slash the death rate in Illinois, where officials have reported an average of 49 deaths every day of the pandemic — about two per hour.

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.

Over the past week, the state has averaged just eight daily deaths. In the darkest days of a devastating resurgence last fall, the state was losing more than 150 residents every day.

Illinois’ single worst day came Dec. 2, when a staggering 238 lives were lost to the virus.

Overall, COVID-19 has claimed at least 23,272 lives statewide, according to public health officials. That’s roughly equivalent to wiping out the population of north suburban Morton Grove. Another 2,455 deaths are considered to have been “probable” but untested cases of the disease.

Despite the recent progress, officials are pleading with residents to keep taking precautions seriously. With concerns growing about the more infectious Delta variant of the virus, Illinois’ average case positivity rate has risen to 1.1%, up from an all-time low of 0.6% on June 25.

One reason for the jump is that far fewer people have been getting tested — an average of about 27,000 each day so far in July, compared to 45,000 daily tests in the first week of June.

Chicago’s regional positivity rate doubled in a week up to 0.8%, but with the drop in tests, Arwady said she’s “not concerned about that at this point.”

The state has confirmed 174 Delta variant cases so far, but only a small fraction of positive tests are analyzed for it. Experts agree there are likely thousands of cases already in the state, and expect it to become the dominant strain by fall.

“We have it here already, but not in extraordinarily high numbers yet,” Pritzker said. “The Delta variant gets people sicker faster, and that’s very disconcerting, but let’s be honest: if you’re vaccinated, you’re very well protected.”

Nearly 1.4 million Illinoisans have been infected since March 2020.