Preliminary numbers show this is the deadliest year in U.S. history, mainly because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reported Tuesday morning. The United States is on track to see more than 3.2 million deaths this year, or at least 400,000 more than in 2019.
Meanwhile, Illinois public health officials Tuesday announced 116 additional fatalities, bringing the statewide death toll to 15,414 since the start of the pandemic.
The state also announced 6,239 new and probable cases of COVID-19, a day after logging its lowest number of cases — 4,699 — in nearly two months. The total number of known infections in Illinois was 911,308 since March.
It does appear, however, that some help is on the way. On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci received his first dose of the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health.
New and long-delayed aid from the federal government could arrive as soon as next week after Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Monday night. The legislation, once signed by President Donald Trump, would deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources for local authorities to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. It provides a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants, and theaters and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.
Here’s what’s happening Tuesday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:
1:35 p.m.: Dr. Deborah Birx, White House COVID coordinator, says she will retire
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, said Tuesday she plans to retire, but is willing to first help President-elect Joe Biden’s team with its coronavirus response as needed.
Birx, in an interview with the news site Newsy, did not give a specific timetable on her plans.
“I will be helpful in any role that people think I can be helpful in, and then I will retire,” Birx told the news outlet.
Birx and White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Her comments came just days after The Associated Press reported that she traveled out of state for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was urging Americans to forgo holiday travel.
12:08 p.m.: 6,239 new and probable cases of COVID-19 and 116 additional deaths reported Tuesday
Illinois public health officials Tuesday announced 6,239 new and probable cases of COVID-19, a day after logging its lowest number of cases — 4,699 — in nearly two months. The total number of known infections in Illinois was 911,308 since March.
The state also announced 116 additional fatalities, bringing the statewide death toll to 15,414 since the start of the pandemic.
There were 84,764 tests reported and the statewide positivity rate for the past seven days was 9%.
11:27 a.m.: COVID-19 Q&A: Should people be concerned about the highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus circulating in England?
British officials recently have expressed alarm about a highly contagious coronavirus mutation circulating in England. According to University of Chicago Medicine’s Dr. Allison Bartlett, who specializes in the medical management of acute and chronic infectious diseases, it is important that Americans be aware that this variant has been detected. But because scientists actively have been looking for potential variants throughout the pandemic, news of mutations lets us know that the process is working.
“This variant has multiple mutations, several of which are in the spike protein, which is important for attaching to host (human) cells and which is the target for the currently available vaccines,” she said. “There are many parameters that influence transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). The structure of the virus is one important parameter, but the behavior and environment of the population is critical as well. Mask use, physical distancing, ventilation, hand-washing all impact the risk of transmission, and will remain effective and essential components of controlling the pandemic.”
Bartlett says the mutation news does not have an impact on vaccination plans in the United States because there is no evidence to suggest that the spike protein in the variant is distinct enough that the current vaccines will not be effective.
11:15 a.m.: R. Kelly tentatively set to go on trial in Chicago in September after months of COVID-19 delays
After months of delays due to COVID-19 concerns, a federal judge in Chicago on Tuesday set a September trial date for indicted singer R. Kelly but said it’s “not set in stone” given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said during a brief status hearing that jury selection will tentatively begin Sept. 13 for Kelly and his co-defendants, who are charged with trying to rig Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County by paying off witnesses and victims to change their stories.
Travel-starved consumers want to get back to their jet-setting ways in 2021, and the COVID-19 vaccine has some feeling more optimistic. Airlines and tour operators are trying to reassure customers with more flexibility and outdoor, crowd-free destinations, but many travelers are still hesitant to make plans.
Online searches for flights, which had been about 25% below last year’s levels, began growing quickly in November amid positive news about the COVID-19 vaccine, according to travel data firm and booking app Hopper.
But there’s a difference between browsing and booking.
On the first weekend after Shedd Aquarium was forced to close by the new coronavirus that was endangering the country, the penguin handlers had an idea.
Taking advantage of the building’s quiet halls, the empty spaces where normally tourists would congregate in front of fish displays, they brought the rockhopper penguin Wellington to the Amazon Rising exhibit, full of South American aquatic life.
Wellington, the rockhopper penguin, who turned 33 years old on Dec. 20, poses in his habitat at the Shedd Aquarium. (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)
Wellington looked up. He looked left, then right, and then back at handler Michelle Natasowski, who was recording the scene on her phone. Then he walked over to one of the big tanks in front of him and seemed especially taken by the red-bellied piranhas and black-barred silver dollars passing by.
In those 27 seconds, a star was born.
That short, simple Wellington video has been the greatest viral sensation Shedd has had, more so even than the 2014-15 buzz over the rescued baby sea otter Luna. As of this writing Twitter users have watched the video more than 3.7 million times.
In that and the subsequent series known as “Penguin Field Trips,” he and his fellow Shedd rockhopper and Magellanic penguins kept homebound humans entertained throughout this pandemic year merely by displaying their natural curiosity in settings ranging from Shedd exhibits to other museums to Chicago’s Soldier Field.
The Blue Demons have been living the basketball version of “Groundhog Day.”
Five more games have been axed or postponed after a pointless trip to Iowa State. Now, after missing the first 10 scheduled games since Nov. 25, DePaul is eager to finally compete this season when it plays Western Illinois on Wednesday at Wintrust Arena.
Fingers crossed. Knock on wood. Hope and pray. No jinxes.
Big East brethren Villanova and Xavier have each played eight games and Creighton has played nine so far. DePaul remains painfully undefeated: 0-0.
Cook County health technicians and maintenance workers, as well as Cook County clerk’s and sheriff’s office employees, were holding a one-day strike to ask for extra pay for those working with COVID-19 patients and the right for workers who can to work remotely, among other demands.
SEIU Local 73 also is objecting to the county’s use of workers from outside Illinois to supplement county employees, calling them strikebreakers.
Jaunita Irving, who works at Stroger Hospital, in a news conference streamed on Facebook Live from outside Stroger Hospital, said that she has six family members at home, several of them already with illnesses that could make them vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“We come to work every day, put our lives on the line,” Irving said.
“We would like (county officials) to remove the strikebreakers out of our hospital and allow us to make this money ourselves,” she said.
The county and the union have been negotiating since September, according to the union. —Chicago Tribune staff
At at least 59 incarcerated people have died since March after becoming infected with the new coronavirus in Illinois’ custody — a death toll that has nearly doubled since November, state data through Dec. 21 shows. One staff member — a 64-year-old nurse near retirement — also died.
Advocates for prisoners’ rights say the state’s delays in broadening staff testing, releasing thousands of medically vulnerable or other nonviolent prisoners and better enforcing a staff mask mandate have led to widespread infections and more deaths.
The latest surge has far exceeded any previous peaks inside the Illinois Department of Corrections since the start of the pandemic.
To put the numbers in perspective, there were fewer than 700 known infections of inmates and staff across IDOC from March to early August, when the latest surge began. Since then, the total number of infections has risen by more than 9,000 cases, state data shows. In total, nearly 10,000 inmates and staff have tested positive.
“This is absolutely a failure by the state,” said Jennifer Soble, executive director of the Illinois Prison Project. “There is no question that COVID was going to make it into the prisons. The tragedy is the number of people who have become sick and died. That tragedy was preventable.”
Town Council members in Normal in central Illinois on Monday waived 2021 liquor license fee renewals for certain businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Normal Town Council approved by a vote of 6-1 an ordinance waiving certain liquor license renewals for bars and restaurants.
“The intent of this is to relieve the struggles of the businesses in the community have had,” said Mayor Chris Koos. “This is a way we thought we could help small businesses.’
Under the plan, operators of brewpubs, hotels, taprooms, stadiums, movie theaters will not have to pay renewal fees.
License renewals were also waived for other beer only-on premises consumption; all liquor on premises consumption; outdoor premises for existing on-premises licensees; limited hours on premises consumption; and college/universities, were waived.
If a business is found in violation of state or local COVID-19 regulations, businesses would have to pay the amount of the license renewal within 30 days. —The Pantagraph, via Tribune Content Agency
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