Another positive coronavirus test shuttered Halas Hall, sending all Chicago Bears to conduct their meetings virtually.
Here’s what else happened in coronavirus-related news.
8:55 p.m. Latest COVID-19 tally: 196 more Illinois deaths
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file
COVID-19 has killed 196 more Illinois residents, public health officials announced Thursday, the third-most deaths ever reported in a single day as the coronavirus continues ravaging vulnerable populations across the state even with the finish line of the pandemic slowly coming into view.
The virus has claimed nearly 1,600 Illinois lives over the first 10 days of December, by far the state’s worst stretch in the last nine months. With an average of almost 160 deaths per day, Illinois’ COVID-19 death rate has more than tripled compared to the first 10 days of November.
Among the latest victims were 101 Chicago-area residents, including a Cook County man in his 30s and two women in their 40s.
The Illinois Department of Public Health also reported 11,101 new cases of the virus statewide, the most reported in a day since the start of the month. But because they were diagnosed among 114,503 tests, the state’s average positivity rate fell for a third consecutive day; it’s down to 9.5%, the lowest since Nov. 5.
Hospital numbers also took a step in the right direction, recovering from a jump in coronavirus patients Tuesday night. By Wednesday night, the number of beds occupied by people suffering from COVID-19 had fallen by 146, to 5,138. That’s the fewest since Nov. 10, but still well beyond the burden hospitals faced in the first wave in April.
The number of patients requiring intensive care also fell to 1,081, and those requiring ventilators fell to 606. Hospitals are still being stretched thin across the southern and western regions of the state, where more than 80% of ICU beds are occupied.
6:13 p.m. Panel of FDA advisors back Pfizer coronavirus vaccine
WASHINGTON — A U.S. government advisory panel has endorsed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, in a major step toward an epic vaccination campaign that could finally conquer the outbreak.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the recommendation issued Thursday by its expert advisers. The advisory group, in 17-4 vote with one abstention, concluded that the shot appears safe and effective against the coronavirus in people 16 and older.
A final FDA decision is expected within days. Millions of shots would then ship to begin vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents. Widespread access to the general public is not expected until the spring.
The meeting of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration represented the next-to-last hurdle before the expected start of the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history. Depending on how fast the FDA signs off on the panel’s recommendation, shots could begin within days.
4:32 p.m. CTU releases list of demands for reopening CPS
As the fight continues over the safe reopening of Chicago Public Schools in the midst of a raging public health crisis, the Chicago Teachers Union has released for the first time a list of demands it wants met before members return to schools, including lower COVID-19 test positivity rates, testing and vaccination protocols and changes to both hybrid and remote learning.
Some of the demands are likely to face strong and immediate rejection by city officials who have been adamant that it’s up to them to decide how and when the nation’s third-largest school district will return to classrooms for the first time since March.
The district and the union have maintained an increasingly abrasive and hostile relationship, perhaps the least collaborative of any major public school system in the nation, as the standoff over reopening schools continues. The CTU’s public release of demands after months of inaction at the bargaining table — which includes about a dozen unproductive meetings in the past month — hearkens back to the weeks leading up to last fall’s 11-day strike that was the union’s longest in three decades.
After the union threatened a strike vote in August when Mayor Lori Lightfoot was planning to send teachers and students back to schools to start the fall, the table appears set once again for the threat of a work stoppage, an option the CTU is considering. There does not appear to be enough time for agreements to be reached on all of these demands before preschool and special education cluster program staffers are scheduled to return Jan. 4.
“The CTU is putting forward a safe reopening plan that undercuts CPS’ ability to lie about us being the people who are hurting education,” reads a preliminary document that the CTU plans to publicize this week. “We will go back to in-person school when CPS can demonstrate that they have taken our concerns seriously.”
1:02 p.m. Here’s what we know about the COVID-19 vaccines heading to Chicago and Illinois
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the health and economic stability of countries around the globe, COVID-19 vaccines are being developed at record speeds by researchers and pharmaceutical companies rushing to meet the urgent and widespread need.
This week, officials announced that Chicago and Illinois will receive their first doses of the vaccine, developed by drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna, later this month. Both vaccines require two doses to be maximally effective; Pfizer’s two shots must be administered three weeks apart, and Moderna’s requires four weeks between doses.
Here’s what we know now about who will receive the vaccine, how it will be distributed, and what lies ahead.
- Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday that he anticipates the state will receive about 109,000 doses of the vaccine in the first shipment from the federal government within the next few weeks.
- Chicago expects to receive the 20,000-to-25,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine in that first shipment by the third and fourth week in December, Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday. Once the distribution pipeline is in place, roughly 25,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines expected to arrive every week, with Moderna vaccines to follow. From there, Arwady said the city expects to “scale up rapidly.”
- First in line will be Chicago’s 37 hospitals so they can at least begin the job of vaccinating their “highest-risk” health care workers. Priority will be given to those health care workers who are “seeing COVID patients” and those “performing procedures that put them at highest risk,” according to Dr. Carla Robinson, a medical director at the Chicago Department of Public Health.
- The first round of vaccines will also go to employees of Chicago’s long-term care facilities. That includes both skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities.
12:08 p.m. COVID doesn’t care if you follow all the rules
This is a story about a good man who worked brutally hard his adult life, paid his taxes, played by the rules and was starting to enjoy retirement, only to die a week after testing positive for COVID-19.
It’s a story about my stepdad, Terry Warmbir.
No longer able to live by himself, Terry finally agreed a few months ago to move to a retiree apartment complex 15 minutes away from me and my family in Chicago.
It had a good track record of keeping its residents safe from COVID-19, provided him three squares a day and a spacious one-bedroom apartment where he could snack on Snickers and watch TV to his heart’s content.
Last week, he learned several staffers at the apartment complex had tested positive for COVID-19. Within days, his own test came back positive. He had no symptoms, but as a precaution, he was taken to the hospital, where he was infused with bamlanivimab, the experimental antibody drug. The ER doctor called his prognosis good, and he was released.
Two days later, he was dead, his body discovered during the morning delivery of breakfast to his room.
10:40 a.m. Mayor ‘deeply disappointed’ in Tunney for violating indoor dining ban
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she is “deeply disappointed” in her hand-picked Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney for allowing regular customers to dine inside his Lake View restaurant in defiance of state and city orders.
Tunney faces up to $10,500 in fines after being caught thumbing his nose at rules he knew just about better than anybody but chose to ignore — to make an extra buck and accommodate his most loyal customers.
He acknowledged he “made a mistake” and promised it would never happen again. But that was only after a blog devoted to police issues exposed the double-standard, including photographs of indoor dining at Ann Sather on Dec. 3.
Lightfoot made clear that, if she has anything to say about it, the hefty fine will not be reduced by an administrative hearings officer.
“I’m deeply disappointed. I’ve known Tom Tunney for 25-plus years. I consider him a friend. He understands what he did was absolutely wrong. … He made an intentional decision to break the rules. He didn’t just break them as a business person. He broke them as an alderman,” she said.
“I’ve heard from a number of restaurateurs about this issue. The one thing they’ve consistently said to me throughout this very difficult year for them is, ‘Just be fair, mayor.’ Make sure that, whatever the rules are, that they’re enforced uniformly. That there’s no exceptions. And that, when people break those rules, that they are held accountable.”
In late October, Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered Illinois restaurants to close dining rooms again to stop a second surge of coronavirus cases.
9:33 a.m. Bears shut down Halas Hall after another positive coronavirus test
After another player tested positive for the coronavirus, the Bears shut down Halas Hall on Thursday. Meetings will be conducted virtually, but the team will not practice.
The unnamed player is already in isolation. He’s the fourth player to test positive this week. The Bears already already put three practice squad players on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list: inside linebacker Manti Te’o, defensive lineman LaCale London and receiver Thomas Ives.
The Bears are still scheduled to play the Texans on Sunday. The NFL is delaying games only if there’s no evidence that an outbreak has been curbed on a team.
8:55 a.m. Seniors’ COVID-19 vaccine consumer guide: What to expect once the shots are available
With vaccines to protect against COVID-19 coming soon, what should older adults expect?
The first candidates, from Pfizer and Moderna, could arrive before Christmas, according to Alex Azar, who heads the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Both vaccines are notably effective in preventing illness due to the coronavirus, according to information released by the companies, though much of the data from clinical trials is still to come. Both have been tested in adults 65 and older, who mounted a strong immune response.
Seniors in nursing homes and assisted living centers will be among the first Americans vaccinated, under recommendations by a federal advisory panel. Older adults living at home will need to wait a while longer.
8:18 a.m. Illinois’ infection rate drops again, but hospitalizations jump
Days ahead of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine’s expected arrival in Illinois, the state endured its fifth-highest daily death count of the pandemic Wednesday with public health officials announcing COVID-19 has claimed 179 more lives.
And while the average statewide infection rate has fallen to its lowest point in almost five weeks, Illinois hospitals saw their biggest one-day jump in coronavirus patients since reaching an all-time high before Thanksgiving.
The latest fatalities reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health included 61 Cook County residents and 27 more from elsewhere across the Chicago area.
The daily toll of 179 trails only the spring peak of 191 and the three worst days of the pandemic, all of which have been tallied over the last week — capped by the grisly record of 238 COVID-19 deaths reported Dec. 2.
The respiratory disease has claimed 13,666 Illinois lives since early March — about 52 lives lost each day. At least 812,430 people have contracted the virus over the past nine months.
Analysis & Commentary
8:40 a.m. ‘Sweet gentle soul’ holes up in his room with flu-like symptoms — dies on the way to the hospital
Xavier P. Gaines made his living as an armed security guard but loved working on computers and playing video games, dreaming he might one day have a chance to design his own games.
Gaines lived at home with his mom, kept to himself and stayed out of trouble. In fact, he’d never been in any trouble.
Gaines was only 26 when he landed on this week’s Cook County medical examiner’s list of COVID-19 victims.
He died Dec. 2, his heart giving out as he struggled to breathe just moments after walking down the steps of his West Pullman home — before he could get to the hospital.
“He died in front of my house, in the ambulance,” his mother, Nicky Reynolds, told me between tears.
Gaines was a big man. Maybe 6 foot tall, 365 to 375 pounds, his family said.
The Medical Examiner’s office listed “morbid obesity” as a contributing factor in his death.
Some families would prefer I gloss over that part, knowing that people can be judgmental. But the deadly coronavirus is particularly dangerous to those who are overweight, and I’ve come across it often enough at this point to know it’s a factor that should be emphasized, not hidden.