Coronavirus live blog, Feb. 15, 2021: Illinois tops 20,000 coronavirus deaths, but records lowest daily caseload since September

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, Feb. 15, 2021: Illinois tops 20,000 coronavirus deaths, but records lowest daily caseload since September

Illinois passed a grim coronavirus milestone Monday, but new cases and deaths are continuing to fall across the state.

Here’s what else happened Monday in coronavirus related news.


8:56 p.m. Illinois tops 20,000 coronavirus deaths, but records lowest daily caseload since September

Dr. Marina Del Rios, from University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, gets her 2nd and final dose of the vaccination at Norwegian American Hospital Jan. 5, 2021.

Dr. Marina Del Rios, from University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, gets her 2nd and final dose of the vaccination at Norwegian American Hospital Jan. 5, 2021.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Illinois on Monday recorded its lowest daily number of new COVID-19 cases since late September, but also passed the grim milestone of 20,000 total deaths statewide.

Another 1,420 coronavirus infections were reported Monday to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the lowest daily count since Sept. 29, when 1,362 cases were confirmed.

And 41 more people died from the virus, raising the state’s death toll to 20,002 deaths. Illinois surpassed 10,000 total deaths on Nov. 5.

Despite passing 20,000 total deaths, the state’s death rate continued to lower.

Coronavirus deaths in February are half of what they were in January. The state reported an average of 50 deaths per day in the first 15 days of February, compared with an average of 104 deaths per day over the same period last month.

So far in February, 763 Illinoisans have died from COVID-19. In January, 2,774 people died from the virus; in December, 4,324.

Reporter David Struett has the full story.

7:06 p.m. Snow day called as CPS cancels in-person classes Tuesday

Chicago Public Schools on Monday announced that in-person classes were canceled Tuesday due to travel concerns stemming from “the significant snowfall on the ground and anticipated inclement weather.”

CPS’ pre-k and special education students will continue at-home learning along with all other CPS students, the district said. Teachers will also continue to work remotely, and only essential staff members — including administrators, engineers, custodians, security guards and food service employees — are expected to report to schools.

The cancellation comes less than a week after members of the Chicago Teachers Union approved the city’s conditions for reopening schools to tens of thousands of students.

“We expect in-person learning to resume on Wednesday and will keep families updated as additional information becomes available,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in the statement.

Reporter Tom Schuba has the full story.

3:50 p.m. Office landlords use health pledges to woo leery tenants


The seal denoting the WELL Health-Safety Rating is displayed on the Sterling Bay-owned office building at 210 N. Carpenter St.


Many office workers haven’t seen their desks in months. With vaccines offering hope for subduing the pandemic, a nagging thought is commonplace: Once there’s a general return to work, how safe will that place be?

Some landlords, worried about unused space or slack demand, are taking extra, and sometimes expensive, steps to assure tenants about cleanliness and health. They are getting third-party validations that their practices promote well-being. Returning tenants can expect to see those certifications enshrined in decals or plaques to make them less anxious about working away from home again.

Prolific Chicago developer Sterling Bay is an example of one approach. For six of its office properties spanning the Loop, River West and Fulton Market, Sterling Bay has attained the WELL Health-Safety Rating. The developer is among the first here to obtain that rating, administered by the for-profit International WELL Building Institute, for a portfolio of its properties.

Others are following a more rigorous program from the same institute that confers what’s called WELL Certification. It’s far more expensive than the health-safety rating, potentially setting back the owner of an office skyscraper more than $100,000. It requires on-site verification around 10 core concepts, ranging from air and water quality to whether there is fresh fruit in the building or quiet spaces to reduce stress.

It goes well beyond controlling a pandemic. But supporters say COVID-19 has raised awareness about health in the workplace and that landlords have to meet new standards to compete for tenants.

Read David Roeder’s full report here.

1:34 p.m. COVID a killer for the obese: ‘Like pouring gasoline on top of a fire’

When the Rev. Robert Biekman was diagnosed with COVID-19 last month, he couldn’t help but think what would have happened if he had still weighed more than 360 pounds — realizing how his condition four years ago would have hurt his ability to fight the virus and potentially cost him his life.

“If I was as big as I was, this thing would’ve probably taken me out,” said Biekman, 61, who after a 2017 surgery, change in diet and a commitment to run 5 miles every other day, now keeps his weight around 190 pounds or less. He recovered from the virus and now tests negative.

Obesity is a killer in Black communities, contributing to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and all causes of death. It’s among the factors making heart disease the No. 1 cause of death among Black men in the U.S.

The pandemic exposed another deadly threat from obesity: A higher risk of complications or death from COVID-19.

After old age, underlying health conditions often spurred by being overweight or obese contribute the most to complications and death in COVID patients, U.S. health officials say. Obesity can triple the risk of being hospitalized with COVID and the risk of death rises with higher measures of body fat. The reasons range from poor lung function to suppressed immune systems from related health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Cook County Medical Examiner records list obesity as a contributing cause for 760 COVID deaths through January 10, or about 1 in 11 of the more than 8,500 deaths for that period.

The data also reveals a trend among younger people who have died. Those who are 40 or under account for only 2.5% of COVID deaths. However, almost 40% of the death records for that group indicate obesity was a contributing cause of death.

Read Brett Chase’s full story here.

10:24 a.m. COVID-19 vaccines might be tweaked if variants get worse

The makers of COVID-19 vaccines are figuring out how to tweak their recipes against worrisome virus mutations — and regulators are looking to flu as a blueprint if and when the shots need an update.

“It’s not really something you can sort of flip a switch, do overnight,” cautioned Richard Webby, who directs a World Health Organization flu center from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Viruses mutate constantly and it takes just the right combination of particular mutations to escape vaccination. But studies are raising concern that first-generation COVID-19 vaccines don’t work as well against a mutant that first emerged in South Africa as they do against other versions circulating around the world.

The good news: Many of the new COVID-19 vaccines are made with new, flexible technology that’s easy to upgrade. What’s harder: Deciding if the virus has mutated enough that it’s time to modify vaccines — and what changes to make.

“When do you pull the trigger?” asked Norman Baylor, a former Food and Drug Administration vaccine chief. “This is a moving target right now.”

Read the full Associated Press story here.

8:35 a.m. Illinois COVID vaccination rate triples compared to January

As Illinois ramps up its inoculation effort, public health data shows vaccines were administered in the first half of February at triple the rate for the same period in January.

An average of about 57,000 shots were given per day in the first half of February, compared to an average of about 19,000 per day for the first 14 days of January, according to figures from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

But a shortage of vaccine shipments from the federal government means everyone eligible for a dose won’t be able to make an appointment, Gov. JB Pritzker said Friday. The vaccination rate was expected to continue to increase as the federal government ships vaccine doses in larger quantities.

Another 59,000 people on Saturday were vaccinated against COVID-19 in Illinois, raising the total doses administered to 1,783,345, according to the health department. Nearly a quarter-million of those doses were administered at long-term health facilities.

In Illinois, 414,301 people have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus since inoculations began mid-December. That’s 3.25% of the state’s 12.7 million people.

Read Mitchell Armentrout’s full story here.

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