As of Tuesday night, the seven-day average of total hospitalizations in Illinois is 1,341, the highest since an average of 1,425 was recorded Feb. 27.
In a somber milestone, the Cook County medical examiner’s office also announced that the county has surpassed 10,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19-related causes since the first such local death just over a year ago.
Also on Wednesday, the county announced a “limited number” of first-dose appointments would go up at 6 p.m. on the Cook County Health website. Those appointments total to more than 8,000 slots throughout Thursday, with more future openings scheduled to be released that day.
Additionally, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul warned Wednesday against “scams and fraud” associated with COVID-19 vaccination cards, and said his office is looking into reports of fake cards being sold online. He also advised the public to avoid sharing pictures of vaccination cards online.
Here’s what’s happening Wednesday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area:
7 p.m.: How the Cook County medical examiner’s office handled 10,000 COVID-related deaths
They have dealt with more than 700 dead during the 1995 Chicago heat wave, the 273 people killed in the 1979 crash of Flight 191 and the remains of the 33 young men slain by John Wayne Gacy.
But as Cook County marked 10,000 confirmed deaths from coronavirus-related causes Wednesday, never before have the doctors, investigators and technicians at the medical examiner’s office had to handle so many dead in one year.
That number suggests a jarring number of residents will have lost at least one friend, family member or co-worker to the pandemic, while each medical professional, emergency responder or other front-line worker likely felt overwhelmed by the number of coronavirus patients treated or lost.
Under a charter that requires the agency to investigate and catalog every COVID-19-related death because of its threat to public health, starting in March 2020 to Wednesday the medical examiner’s office was the only local agency collecting information on every COVID-19 death in a county of 5 million people.
“It has been a hard year,” said Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, the Cook County medical examiner. “But I think everyone knows our mission is to determine cause and manner of death, and we’re going to do it and continue doing it until we’re done with this pandemic, and we need each other’s support.”
6 p.m.: Vice President Kamala Harris to visit Chicago next week to discuss equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine
Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Chicago on Tuesday to talk about equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the White House. It’s her first official visit here since she and President Joe Biden were inaugurated.
In rolling out the vaccine, national and local Democratic leaders, including Biden and Harris, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and many others have focused with varying success on putting communities hardest hit by the pandemic at the front of the line to receive a vaccine, including older adults and Black and Latino residents.
The federal government put up mass vaccination sites, such as the one at the United Center on Chicago’s West Side, to help drive that effort.
Since the election, Harris has worked to encourage people to get the vaccine and close the anticipated equity gap. When she got her first dose of the Moderna vaccine back in December she did it before the news cameras, emphasizing that she trusted science and others should, too. It came as polling showed some vaccination hesitancy in the Black community.
4 p.m.: Cook County joins national effort to recognize frontline workers at Southland vaccination sites
Frontline workers including Illinois National Guard members helping to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the Southland received a token of thanks this week during a Morning of Gratitude effort.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other community leaders dropped off “pick-me-up” bags the morning of Wednesday, March 31, for workers distributing vaccines at South Suburban College in South Holland.
“We’re deeply indebted to the good people who are distributing our vaccinations,” Preckwinkle said.
3:50 p.m.: Argument over face masks at Park Ridge nail salon leads to confrontation and arrest, police say
An argument over face masks at a Park Ridge nail salon led to a confrontation, a police response and an arrest, according to local police.
Park Ridge police charged Lidia Danciu, 47, of the 900 block of South Home Avenue, Park Ridge, with battery under a local ordinance in connection with the alleged incident that occurred March 24 at Venezia Nail Spa, 100 Euclid Ave., in Uptown Park Ridge, police said in a statement Wednesday.
In an email to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, Danciu called the accusations against her “lies” and said she would be handling the matter through her attorneys.
According to police, an 18-year-old woman reported that while she was a customer inside the spa, she saw a woman, later identified as Danciu, wearing her mask improperly. The teen reportedly confronted the woman about her mask and began recording the woman on her cellphone, according to police.
Park Ridge Police Executive Officer Tom Gadomski said video showed the woman was wearing a mask, but it was not covering her nose. Eventually, she removed the mask completely, he said.
While the 18-year-old was recording, the woman walked up to her and knocked the phone out of her hand, police said.
Gadomski said the woman ended up hitting the teen in the face as she pushed the phone out of the teen’s hand.
1:55 p.m.: All essential workers in suburban Cook County eligible for vaccine as ‘limited number’ of doses to open up
Suburban Cook County will allow remaining essential workers who have not yet been eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine to qualify for the shot starting Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, the county announced a “limited number” of first-dose appointments would go up at 6 p.m. on the Cook County Health website. Appointments can be made at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov or by calling 833-308-1988.
Those appointments total to more than 8,000 slots throughout Thursday, with more future openings scheduled to be released that day.
1:54 p.m.: Cook County passes 10,000 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths Wednesday
The Cook County medical examiner’s office Wednesday announced that the county has surpassed 10,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19-related causes since the first such local death just over a year ago.
The grim total took about 54 weeks to reach since the first coronavirus-related death on March 16, 2020. Of those who died from coronavirus-related causes, 57 percent were male and 43 percent were female, according to the medical examiner’s office.
More than half of the county’s coronavirus-related deaths were in communities of color, according to a news release. About 27% of those who died were Black, 22% were Latino and 4% were Asian, according to the news release, while 44% were white.
In 2020, the medical examiner’s office dealt with 16,049 deaths, about 8,200 of them COVID-19-related deaths, compared to just 6,274 total deaths in 2019, according to Natalia Derevyanny, a spokeswoman for the agency.
Derevyanny said the approximately 100 employees of the agency became aware last week that they would soon surpass what had once been an impossible-sounding figure. Although the agency would not otherwise be required to investigate natural deaths, it was tasked with cataloging the deaths under a charter that focuses on the ongoing threat to public health, she said.
COVID-19 is not automatically determined to be the cause of death for everyone who tests positive for the virus, Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, the county’s chief medical examiner, said recently. The virus must have led to the primary cause of death, which happens most often through pneumonia.
But if an otherwise healthy person, who happened to be carrying the virus but who did not seek treatment for it, happens to be shot or is fatally injured in a car crash, that case is not considered a COVID-19 death. Arunkumar estimated that happened about 5% of the time in Cook County.
12:52 p.m.: Officials say 70% of Illinois residents 65 and up have been vaccinated, but further reopening on hold as hospitalizations, cases on rise
Seventy percent of Illinois residents 65 and older have now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, but rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations will prevent the state from moving forward under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s gradual reopening plan.
Before reaching the “bridge” phase, the in-between period before full reopening, public officials will have to see a sustained decrease in virus transmission over the course of at least 10 days.
Statewide metrics show an increase in new hospital admissions, hospitalized patients and daily COVID-19 cases.
As of Tuesday night, 1,413 people in Illinois were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 294 patients in intensive care units and 123 patients on ventilators. The seven-day average of total hospitalizations is 1,341, the highest since an average of 1,425 was recorded Feb. 27.
12:07 p.m.: 2,592 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 28 additional deaths reported
Illinois health officials on Wednesday announced 2,592 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 28 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 1,244,585 and the statewide death toll to 21,301 since the start of the pandemic.
Officials also reported 77,727 new tests in the last 24 hours. The statewide positivity rate for cases is 3.3%.
The 7-day daily average of administered vaccine doses is 109,358, with 137,445 doses given on Tuesday. Officials also say a total of 5,801,871 vaccines have now been administered.
12:01 p.m.: Wrigleyville rooftops will be open for baseball season, but with restrictions due to COVID-19
The city of Chicago has cleared the way for rooftops around Wrigley Field to host fans, offering another way to watch Cubs games this year when the park opens with limited capacity.
The rooftops, which overlook Wrigley Field and offer food, drinks and seats for viewing the games, are allowed to open with similar capacity restrictions as they operated with last year, when the rooftops were the only venue to watch baseball in person.
11:54 a.m.: Illinois AG Kwame Raoul warns residents not to post vaccination cards online and to look out for COVID-19 ‘scams and frauds’
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul warned Wednesday against “scams and fraud” associated with COVID-19 vaccination cards, and said his office is looking into reports of fake cards being sold online.
Raoul urged residents to report any potentially counterfeit vaccination cards to his office. He added that people should avoid websites claiming to sell doses of the vaccine, as well as phone and text offers for the vaccine.
With some people sharing news that they got vaccinated on social media, Raoul also advised the public to avoid sharing pictures of vaccination cards online.
”People are understandably excited about the vaccine and the hope it offers, but they should refrain from posting pictures of their vaccine cards on social media, as thieves can use the information on the cards to access and steal additional personal information,” Raoul said in a statement.
11:45 a.m.: As Chicago sees ‘quantum leap’ in coronavirus cases, Mayor Lori Lightfoot says more significant reopening will have to wait till numbers subside
As Chicago’s daily COVID-19 cases rose to nearly 500 a day this week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she’s concerned about the “quantum leap” in coronavirus numbers and won’t call for any more significant reopening plans until those numbers subside.
”Seeing the uptick on the North Side that we’ve seen, we are concerned and we’re urging members of those communities, whether it’s Old Town, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Portage Park, Old Irving, that’s where we’re seeing the increase and we’re seeing it in the 18-39 year old cohort across different races. We’re concerned,” Lightfoot said during an unrelated news conference.
The citywide positivity rate as of Tuesday’s figures was 4.5%, up more than a percentage point from last week. During that same period, the seven-day rolling average of cases went up to 498, a 37% increase from the week before — despite average tests per day going down about 4%.
Chicago public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has said having 400 or more cases a day equals the threshold for states that get put on Chicago’s emergency travel order list.
Emergency department visits also have spiked this month with a seven-day average landing around 80 visits per day. Intensive care unit occupation remains stable, but Arwady has said that figures tend to lag the rest of the metrics.
”We have over 400, almost 500 cases on average as of today. That’s a quantum leap from where we were even 3 weeks ago, Lightfoot said Monday. “That’s concerning and that is obviously dictating that we have to proceed with caution as we open up. We’re not going to see anything more significant in the reopening front until we see those numbers stabilize and start to come down.”
6 a.m.: Chicago’s first opening day in two years will see changes aplenty inside and outside Wrigley Field
Cubs season ticket holder Patrick McCarron moved to Wrigleyville two years ago so he’d have an easier time getting to games, only to see Wrigley Field closed to fans once the pandemic started.
That will finally change Thursday, when the gates part for opening day and enough spectators to fill up to 25% of the 41,000-seat ballpark get their first in-person glimpse of the Friendly Confines in 18 months. McCarron, a 41-year-old iPhone developer, will be one of them.
Yet while he’s excited as a fan, he’s also nervous as a resident. COVID-19 cases are rising and he already sees packs of young people walking around the surrounding streets without masks. What will the ballpark and neighborhood be like when the Old Style is flowing, the excitement is high and Kyle Hendricks is about to deliver the season’s first pitch?
“I’m curious how well-behaved other people are going to be, and I wonder how good the security will be to make sure people keep their distance,” McCarron said.
The Cubs’ opening day will be one of Chicago’s first mass events in more than a year, and everyone from beer vendors to CTA platform workers will have new ways of doing things. That’s true for the surrounding businesses as well, which are hoping for robust but manageable crowds as the season begins.
6 a.m.: Woman uses stimulus money to fly grandparents back to Chicago to get COVID-19 vaccine: ‘I just hoped I would see them again’
It was nearly two years ago that Elizabeth Oyarzun had last seen her grandparents. And every day for the past year, she prayed she would see them again.
After what seemed like an eternity, the two arrived at O’Hare International Airport from Monterrey, Mexico, Sunday night, she said.
Oyarzun, the couple’s oldest granddaughter, who they raised as their daughter, used the money from her most recent stimulus check to fly them to Chicago to get a COVID-19 vaccine. She feared they wouldn’t get it in time in Monterrey.
Her grandmother, Irma Rodriguez, 70, contracted COVID-19 in October, and though she survived, the fear that her grandfather, Jose Perez, 74, would eventually get the coronavirus haunted her, Oyarzun said.
“I wish my grandparents were eternal,” she said, and paused for a long time.
“But the reality is that they are not, so I will do my best to keep them safe and healthy for as long as possible,” she said.
6 a.m.: Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine safe and effective in children as young as 12
Pfizer announced Wednesday that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in children as young as 12, a step toward possibly beginning shots in this age group before they head back to school in the fall.
Most COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out worldwide are for adults, who are at higher risk from the coronavirus. Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and older. But vaccinating children of all ages will be critical to stopping the pandemic — and helping schools, at least the upper grades, start to look a little more normal after months of disruption.
In a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, preliminary data showed there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared to 18 among those given dummy shots, Pfizer reported.
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