Coronavirus live blog, Dec. 28, 2020: COVID-19 death toll tops 16,000 in Illinois

Here’s how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, Dec. 28, 2020: COVID-19 death toll tops 16,000 in Illinois

Illinois passed another grim milestone Monday, and early data suggests many people on the South and West sides aren’t getting the coronavirus vaccine.

Here’s what you need to know about coronavirus in Chicago and around Illinois.


8:55 p.m. Illinois’ coronavirus death toll tops 16,000


Dr. Pam Khosia, chief of hematology and oncology, receives her Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination at Mount Sinai Hospital on the Southwest Side, Thursday afternoon, Dec. 17, 2020. Sinai received 975 doses of the vaccine, the hospital’s first batch, Thursday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The death toll in Illinois from the coronavirus has climbed past the 16,000 mark, state public health officials said Monday.

The state reported 105 deaths from the coronavirus and 4,453 new confirmed and probable cases of the virus Monday. The death toll rose to 16,074 since the pandemic began nine months ago.

Sixteen of the new deaths were in Cook County. The new COVID-19 cases were found in a batch of 51,406 tests conducted over the last 24 hours.

As of Sunday night, 4,243 people in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of that number, 884 patients were in intensive care units and 515 COVID-positive patients were on ventilators.

The state’s latest numbers continue a trend of lower case counts since a November surge saw the state log record-breaking daily cases, including a nationwide record of 15,415 cases reported in one day.

So far, the state has reported a total of 942,362 cases in 102 counties in Illinois. Officials have previously pointed to a decrease in testing as a potential reason why the state is seeing lower daily case totals.

Rachel Hinton has the story.

6:02 p.m. House votes to increase COVID checks to $2K

WASHINGTON — The House voted overwhelmingly Monday to increase COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000, meeting President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger payments and sending the bill to the GOP-controlled Senate, where the outcome is uncertain.

Democrats led passage, 275-134, their majority favoring additional assistance, but dozens of Republicans joined in approval. Congress had settled on smaller $600 payments in a compromise over the big year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law. Democrats favored higher payments, but Trump’s push put his GOP allies in a difficult spot.

The vote deeply divided Republicans who mostly resist more spending. But many House Republicans joined in support, preferring to link with Democrats rather than buck the outgoing president. Senators were set to return to session Tuesday, forced to consider the measure.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared, “Republicans have a choice: Vote for this legislation or vote to deny the American people” the assistance she said they need during the pandemic.

Read more here.

4:13 p.m. As South Africa’s virus spikes, president bans liquor sales

JOHANNESBURG — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reimposed a ban on alcohol sales and ordered the closure of all bars Monday as part of new restrictions to help the country battle a resurgence of the coronavirus, including a new variant.

In a nationwide address, Ramaphosa also announced the closure of all beaches and public swimming pools in the country’s infection hotspots, which include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and several coastal areas.

South Africa will extend its nighttime curfew so all residents must be at home from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m., the president said.

The president said that wearing masks is mandatory and that anyone found not wearing a mask in a public place will be subject to a fine or a criminal charge punishable by a possible jail sentence.

Ramaphosa said the increased restrictions are necessary because of a surge in COVID-19 infections which has pushed South Africa’s cumulative virus cases above 1 million.

Ramaphosa announced the new measures after a Cabinet meeting and an emergency meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council.

Read the full report here.

1:07 p.m. Vaccine’s unbalanced rollout: Few South, West side residents get COVID shots so far

Doctors, nurses and other health care workers who live near downtown or on the North Side stepped forward in large numbers to get vaccinated for COVID-19, while a smaller number of the city’s South Side and West Side residents got the shots.

The findings, from city data for the first 12 days of vaccinations along with census information showing where health care workers live, point to a trend of Chicago doctors living in more affluent areas showing up in sizable numbers to get inoculated while technicians and other lower-paid health care workers living in predominantly Black and Latino communities did not get the shots.

The numbers signal the challenge ahead for Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago public health officials who have said they expect resistance from minority residents who may distrust the vaccination process. Health care workers are the first in line to receive the shots, and city officials hope Black and Latino nurses, doctors and others will set the example for the broader population in communities of color.

“This is exactly the challenge,” Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health chief, said in an interview. “Our whole plan here in Chicago is really about equity, and it’s about recognizing there is a lot of extra work that needs to go in to see a map that shows equitable vaccine uptake.”

Arwady said she was “not at all surprised this is how the very first week of data look” but added, “I am confident that it will improve as more vaccine is available both within hospitals, but, importantly, when we move beyond hospitals.”

A large concentration of health care workers living in the whitest, wealthiest neighborhoods in Chicago were vaccinated between Dec. 15 and 26, according to city data. There were 20,091 vaccinations of Chicago residents in total.

The largest numbers were in ZIP codes that include Near North Side, Lake View, Lincoln Park, South Loop and Wicker Park.

The 60611 ZIP code had the most number of vaccinated people with 1,297. The Near North Side ZIP code is more than 70% white, with a median income of almost $107,000, and includes the Magnificent Mile and Streeterville.

The ZIP code is among those in the city with the highest number of doctors and physicians, according to a city analysis of census data.

Brett Chase and Elvia Malangón have the story.

12:17 p.m. ‘This is not Tuskegee’: Elected officials work to build Black trust in COVID-19 vaccine

Black elected officials from the West Side held a virtual press conference Sunday to encourage Chicagoans, especially Black residents, to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available to them.

“I have taken the vaccine,” said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., who was vaccinated Dec. 20 in Washington, D.C. “I have had it injected into my body, and I guarantee that if I thought it would in any way harm myself or any other people, I would never ever recommend it.”

Black Americans are one of the groups most hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 35% of Black adults said they “definitely or probably would not get vaccinated.”

Some of the elected officials referenced the Tuskegee experiment as a major reason why Black Americans distrust the COVID-19 vaccine. Hundreds of Black men, many of whom had syphilis, were told they would be treated for the disease but in fact were misled and never given adequate treatment.

“This ain’t that, I’ll say it again, this ain’t that,” Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer (2nd) said. “I want to get the message across that this is not Tuskegee; this is about you and about your children and about your generation.”

Read the full report here.

10:03 a.m. You know who thrived during 2020? All the plants and lots of people who grew them

Maybe you’re crabby you were “stuck at home” throughout this pandemic, but I was off luxuriating in the garden.

My plants have never looked so happy since I’ve been home.

Weeds never stood a chance once I started taking phone calls out front in the bee border and tall garden, and yanked the buggers as they popped up. Houseplants got watered and pruned (and talked to) on demand, not just on Saturday mornings when the house was otherwise empty. The big ones sucked up air and light on the front porch oasis arranged to make a safe place to see a few friends or some grandparents, an extra “office,” occasionally a kindergarten classroom.

Like the puppies and the babies of 2020, green growing things thrived with caretakers around all the time, clearly among the big winners of our collective staying put for weeks that have stretched into months.

And bonus, we growers confronting the end of normal got to hold on to some sanity, too, one unfurled leaf, one sprouted seed, one cycle of photosynthesis at a time.

When I ventured out late in the spring and couldn’t find the usual seeds and seedlings to buy, I realized that everyone else was growing stuff, too. I asked an online houseplant group I joined this year: Why?

All the birthday parties and barbecues and vacations got canceled. For a minute, actual food shortages seemed possible. We needed a bright side to unemployment, something to do with ourselves. Our COVID-essential jobs left us stressed and drained. We had to entertain kids who were isolated from friends. We always wanted to grow tomatoes.

The more of us the coronavirus killed, the more we surrounded ourselves with living things.

Lauren FitzPatrick’s story continues here.

8:46 a.m. Trump signs massive funding bill, averts shutdown

President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Sunday, ending days of drama over his refusal to accept the bipartisan deal that will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown.

The massive bill includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems and an increase in food stamp benefits.

Trump announced the signing in a statement Sunday night that spoke of his frustrations with the COVID-19 relief for including only $600 checks to most Americans instead of the $2,000 that his fellow Republicans rejected. He also complained about what he considered unnecessary spending by the government at large. But Trump’s eleventh-hour objections created turmoil because lawmakers had thought he was supportive of the bill, which had been negotiated for months with White House input.

“I will sign the Omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed,” Trump said in the statement.

While the president insisted he would send Congress “a redlined version” with items to be removed under the rescission process, those are merely suggestions to Congress. The bill, as signed, would not necessarily be changed.

Lawmakers now have breathing room to continue debating whether the relief checks should be as large as the president has demanded. The Democratic-led House supports the larger checks and is set to vote on the issue Monday, but it’s expected to be ignored by the Republican-held Senate where spending faces opposition.

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

New cases

Analysis & Commentary

12:13 p.m. Goodbye 2020: A year like... well, you know

An Easter like no other.

A summer like no other.

A World Series like no other.

A year like no other.

The description “a _____ like no other” wasn’t invented in 2020. It has been used for more than a century: ”It has been a year like no other,” wrote R.M. Squires, summing up the world of dentistry in 1919.

But the phrase was worn to a nubbin over the past nine months by journalists lunging to convey in a handy three-word code the baked-in strangeness and continuous turmoil we’ve been enduring. A branded logo to rubber-stamp this slow-motion train wreck: COVID-19 pandemic meets civic unrest meets economic disruption. Our locked-down society of shuttered schools and struggling restaurants, all playing out against a political clown show that veers from farcical to frightening, sometimes within the same hour.

Read Neil Steinberg’s full column here.

7:30 a.m. Pending Chicago projects can relieve the pandemic blahs

In 2020, the pandemic altered life so profoundly that for many Chicagoans, their relationship to each other and to city institutions changed. For many, work has been severed from a traditional place to do it, surrounded by colleagues or from standard commuting patterns.

Much has been written about whether the glue that binds cities together will give way because of the pandemic. Luckily, trends have a way of smoothing out over time. For every tech worker who decamps for Idaho or rustic Michigan, somebody else will toy with the option but stay put, whether it’s because a small-town music scene isn’t any good or there’s a real deficit in health care just about anywhere beyond metro areas.

For Chicago, 2021 is shaping up as a year to get back on its feet — a real positive, all things considered. It brings back confidence, and capital is sure to follow. The city needs investment across its neighborhoods. Perhaps the lessons from this year’s demonstrations over social injustice will be fresh enough to ensure that investments are more equitable.

Construction plans being laid in various communities offer signs of urban revival — not calling it “renewal” — with a notable involvement from nonprofit organizations. Here are a few proposals somewhat unique:

At 2500 S. Wabash Ave., the developer who built the Wit Hotel at 201 N. State St. is touting a $30 million e-sports arena called Surge. Scott Greenberg, president of Lincolnshire-based ECD, is promising an IMAX-like experience in virtual reality for up to 1,200 gamers and those who watch them. The site is just the other side of I-55 from McCormick Place. Greenberg also plans a parking and retail site at 2601 S. Wabash to serve the facility. Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and neighborhood groups back the plan, so city approval should come soon. Greenberg is aiming for mid-2022 completion. Might as well get started on this before these ventures pop up in old department stores in the suburbs.

• Last week, I reported the Chicago Cubs are eyeing the old Silver Shovel site, nearly 21 acres at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue, for a baseball-oriented youth academy. The Cubs’ plan will be evaluated against other proposals for the site, because the city invited developer interest. But the Cubs could be a welcome lift for Lawndale families. The site is associated with a 1990s scandal over illegal dumping that spoke volumes over how poor neighborhoods get treated.

• On a similar theme is a proposal for a North Austin Community Center at 1830 N. LeClaire Ave., a venture of the By the Hand Club for Kids and Grace and Peace Fellowship. The nonprofit developer Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives is managing the project using New Markets Tax Credits. Its president, David Doig, said the $30 million facility could be ready by summer 2022. It will include indoor turf fields, basketball and volleyball courts, and space for after-school programs.

Keep reading David Roeder’s column here.

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