Omicron anguish: Cook County records 14,000th COVID-19 death as worst surge wanes — but fatalities rise

The state has averaged 107 deaths per day over the past week, a stretch that saw Cook County lose a total of 425 residents to the virus — the worst week since mid-November 2020.

SHARE Omicron anguish: Cook County records 14,000th COVID-19 death as worst surge wanes — but fatalities rise
Trailers intended to store bodies amid a COVID-19 surge are parked on the parking lot of the Cook County Institute of Forensic Medicine earlier this month. Illinois is averaging 107 COVID deaths per day.

Trailers intended to store bodies amid a COVID-19 surge are parked on the parking lot of the Cook County Institute of Forensic Medicine earlier this month. Illinois is averaging 107 COVID deaths per day.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Closing out the deadliest COVID-19 week since vaccines were deployed in the pandemic, Cook County on Friday recorded its 14,000th viral fatality.

It took only 16 days for the county to log its latest thousand COVID deaths, following previous intervals that spanned six weeks and more than three months, respectively, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The grisly acceleration — which prompted officials to send trailers to hospital morgues across the county to accommodate the volume of bodies — marks the tragic aftershock of Illinois’ biggest COVID resurgence of the pandemic.

While officials say the state has begun bending the curve of the Omicron wave in terms of new infections and hospitalizations, the fatal cases that lag behind them are still piling up at a vicious pace.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday reported 137 more deaths, the third straight daily death toll surpassing 100. The state has averaged 107 fatalities per day over the past week, a stretch that saw Cook County lose a total of 425 residents to the virus — the worst week since mid-November 2020. The first COVID-19 vaccine dose to go into an Illinois arm was administered Dec. 15, 2020.

Overall, the virus has killed at least 29,845 people statewide, including 6,750 in Chicago. Every day, more than 20 Cook County residents have died of COVID-19 on average since South Sider Patricia Frieson became the first Illinoisan to die from the virus on March 16, 2020.

The vast majority of the latest victims have been unvaccinated, officials say. Not even 0.09% of the state’s fully vaccinated population have ended up in a hospital bed with COVID, and an even tinier fraction have died.

Nurse practitioner Ilse Vega administers a COVID-19 vaccine at a West Englewood site during the pandemic.

Nurse practitioner Ilse Vega administers a COVID-19 vaccine at a West Englewood site last February.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Cook County officials are re-opening three mass vaccination sites in an effort to get more people vaccinated and boosted. Nearly half the state population is now boosted — but almost 21% of eligible residents still haven’t gotten a single shot. In Chicago, unvaccinated residents have proven 28 more times likely to die of the virus compared to their boosted neighbors, city data shows.

New COVID-19 cases by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

While statewide case counts and hospitalizations declined by 11% and 21% respectively over the past week, they’re still near pandemic highs.

The state is still racking up new cases at a rate of 26,246 per day over the last week, including nearly 41,000 reported on Friday alone. That’s the third-highest daily caseload of the pandemic.

And while hospital admissions for COVID are falling precipitously — 6,054 as of Thursday night, a decrease of more than 200 in a day — intensive care units are still being stretched thin, at 91% capacity statewide and worse in some regions. ICUs were 93% full in Chicago, 94% in southern Illinois and 96% in the Metro East region.

Health care workers put on personal protective equipment as patients rest nearby in the hallway at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side last month.

Health care workers put on personal protective equipment as patients rest nearby in the hallway, as no rooms were open in the Emergency Department at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side earlier this month.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Because the vaccines and better treatments are available, experts have said they don’t expect the state’s death rate to surpass that seen in the worst days of the crisis in December of 2020, when more than 150 Illinois lives were being lost each day. But with 972 COVID patients in ICUs and 560 on ventilators, more tragedy is still likely on the way.

“It breaks my heart to know that in the coming weeks, hundreds more may die among the thousands who are already seriously ill with COVID,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday.

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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