Peak may be over, but pain is not: Illinois suffers third-worst daily COVID death toll of pandemic as Omicron surge slows

While cases and hospitalizations are falling, Illinois is still losing 109 lives on average each day. About 14 of every 109 live in the city, the vast majority unvaccinated. “Let me be very clear: There are still more than 200 Chicagoans being newly admitted [to hospitals] every day with COVID-19,” said Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

SHARE Peak may be over, but pain is not: Illinois suffers third-worst daily COVID death toll of pandemic as Omicron surge slows
Trailers intended to store bodies amid a COVID-19 surge are parked outside the Cook County Institute of Forensic Medicine earlier this month.

Trailers intended to store bodies amid a COVID-19 surge are parked outside the Cook County Institute of Forensic Medicine earlier this month.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Illinois might have scaled its Omicron peak, but the damaging effects of the state’s biggest COVID-19 case surge yet were felt as sharply as ever Thursday as public health officials reported 198 more viral deaths.

That’s the state’s third-worst daily toll ever, and the most fatalities reported in a day since Dec. 5, 2020 — almost two weeks before any life-saving vaccines had been administered — when 208 lives were lost. The worst day on record came three days before that with 238 COVID deaths, the after-effect of what at that time was the state’s largest case spike.

But the Omicron wave that swept Illinois last month pushed cases and hospitalizations to new pandemic heights. While officials say those numbers are now heading in the right direction, the deaths that lag behind them have yet to slow down.

Thursday’s troubling toll came a day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker tempered cautious optimism over the state turning a corner in its fifth surge by noting that “hundreds more may die among the thousands who are already seriously ill with COVID.”

A patient is wheeled out of the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side in December of 2020.

A patient is wheeled out of the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side in December of 2020.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Hospitals were treating 6,258 coronavirus patients as of Wednesday night, a decrease of 249 from the previous night — and a decrease of more than 1,000 over the past 10 days — but still slightly higher than the apex of 2020’s worst surge. Almost 600 COVID patients are still on ventilators.

The state reported 23,246 new cases on Thursday, far exceeding anything seen before last month, but still a 14% decline from what Illinois was averaging earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the state is now averaging 109 COVID deaths per day over the last week, the highest that rate has been in over a year. During the darkest days of 2020, the state was losing more than 150 residents to the virus each day.At least 29,708 residents have died overall.

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.

Chicago is losing about 14 residents to the virus each day, the vast majority of them unvaccinated. Unvaccinated Chicagoans have been 28 times more likely to die of the virus compared to their fully vaccinated and boosted neighbors, according to Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

“Let me be very clear: there are still more than 200 Chicagoans being newly admitted [to hospitals] every day with COVID-19. That’s very high, and almost all of those folks are unvaccinated,” Arwady said during a livestreamed Q&A.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks at a City Hall news conference in 2020.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks at a City Hall news conference in 2020.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

About 21.4% of Chicagoans 5 or older still haven’t gotten a shot, and about 20.8% of the eligible population statewide remain unvaccinated.

So despite “big improvements” in case numbers, the city’s vaccine mandate for admission to bars and restaurants will stay in place for at least several months, Arwady said.

“Eventually being able to take the vaccination requirement off, eventually being able to take masks off — is that in our future? I absolutely expect that it is in our future,” she said in response to a viewer’s question.

“Is that in our future imminently? Absolutely not. I’m hopeful that sort of by the spring, we’ll be in that place. But again, we will continue always to make those decisions based on our local data here and the best knowledge that we have about COVID.”

For help finding a shot, or to set up a free in-home vaccination appointment, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.

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