Illinois on Monday logged its lowest number of newly reported daily coronavirus infections in nearly two months, with 4,699 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19. The last time the daily number of new coronavirus cases was below 5,000 was Oct. 27, as the state was starting to see an aggressive fall resurgence of the illness.
Officials also announced 98 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 905,069 and the statewide death toll to 15,299 since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, after months of Washington gridlock, Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Monday night that would finally deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
The package would establish 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 and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction. Here are other highlights from the bill.
Here’s what’s happening Monday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:
11 p.m.: Congress passes $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill, authorizing long-sought aid
Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Monday night that would finally deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
The bill combines coronavirus-fighting funds with financial relief for individuals and businesses. It would establish 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.
On Monday morning, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a key negotiator, said that the direct payments would begin arriving in bank accounts next week.
5:45 p.m.: More than 63,000 COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Illinois since shots arrived last week
A week after the first shipment of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine arrived in Illinois, more than 63,000 health care workers across the state have received their first of two doses of the immunization, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office said Monday.
That total does not include vaccinations in the city of Chicago, which received its own shipment of the vaccine.
The state has been allocated an additional 60,450 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, the bulk of which will be set aside for a federal partnership with CVS and Deerfield-based Walgreens to immunize nursing home residents, according to the governor’s office. The program is expected to begin vaccinations next week.
The remaining 20,000 doses are expected to arrive Tuesday and Wednesday at hospitals statewide that have the ultracold freezer equipment required to store the Pfizer vaccine.
Illinois also expects to receive about 174,000 doses of a second vaccine, from Moderna, on Wednesday and Thursday. The doses, which can be stored at regular freezer temperatures, also will go directly to hospitals to continue ramping up the immunization of health care workers.
4:13 p.m.: Priority vaccinations are urged for the incarcerated and workers at jails and prisons
More than five dozen community and social justice groups joined forces Monday to urge Illinois public health officials to include incarcerated people and staff working in prisons, county jails and other detention facilities with others receiving priority COVID-19 vaccinations.
The activists also are asking that low-wage warehouse workers aren’t forgotten among essential workers in the state’s rollout plan.
In a letter sent Monday to the state’s top public health official, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the coalition of groups noted positive cases have surged in recent months in the Illinois Department of Corrections and other institutions where many incarcerated people are old and have underlying medical conditions.
The letter was addressed to Ezike, the Illinois Department of Public Health director, and sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker as well. The advocates also held a Facebook Live event on Monday, organized by the nonprofit Westside Justice Center in Chicago.
Mirroring state and national trends, a second wave of the pandemic has hit state prisons, with cases rising widely across the system. More than 6,000 inmates and 3,000 staff have tested positive since the pandemic began in March, with at least 59 inmate fatalities, according to state data released Dec. 21.
One IDOC staff member also has died of a virus-related illness.
To date, 20% of Illinois’ prison population of 30,000 inmates has tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, said incarcerated people – especially those who are elderly and infirm – should be prioritized with other populations in congregate care settings, such as nursing homes. And inmates who work in health care units should be on the list with other health care professionals, according to Mills.
”Back in August, we told the (Illinois) Department of Corrections that they should be testing everyone, two or three times a week … They didn’t do that,” said Mills, noting thousands of new infections in recent months.
“Unlike the rest of the world, prisons have total control over who comes in and out. They could have stopped the introduction (of the virus) entirely. They chose not to do that.”
The state has not announced yet when incarcerated people will receive the vaccine shot but prison staff, especially those who work in health care units, are expected to be prioritized, state officials have said.
Sharyln Grace, executive director of Chicago Community Bond Fund, said the rising statistics call for an urgent response. She also mentioned the Cook County Jail, where thousands of adult detainees are housed.
”The state of Illinois and the individuals responsible for running each facility have a duty to protect people in their custody from COVID-19 because people inside don’t have the ability to practice social distancing the way we do on the outside,” said Grace, speaking at Monday’s Facebook Live event.
3:05 p.m.: Dozens test positive for coronavirus in Lake County Jail COVID-19 outbreak
With 35 inmates at the Lake County Jail in Waukegan testing positive for COVID-19, Lake County Sheriff’s Department officials said they are taking steps to curb the spread of the virus among prisoners and staff.
After four inmates housed in pod 5-North at the jail for several weeks tested positive for the virus Dec. 14, the area was quarantined and all 53 prisoners there were tested. Authorities learned Sunday that 35 were positive. All are asymptomatic, according to a news release.
Sgt. Chris Covelli, the spokesman for the sheriff’ department, said in an email the 35 are in good condition. Those who tested positive cannot go to other areas of the jail. Only specific employees can enter the area wearing personal protection equipment including masks and possibly gloves.
Covelli said steps were also taken to protect the inmates with negative test results though they remain in the area. Any time they leave their individual cell, they must wear a mask and distancing rules have been implemented, he said.
1:04 p.m.: Daily COVID-19 case count dips below 5,000 for first time in nearly two months
Illinois on Monday logged its lowest number of newly reported daily coronavirus infections in nearly two months, with 4,699 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19.
The last time the daily number of new coronavirus cases was below 5,000 was Oct. 27, as the state was starting to see an aggressive fall resurgence of the illness.
At that time, the state was reporting only newly confirmed cases, and has since begun combining new daily confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19.
The daily case numbers the state reports tend to be lower on Mondays due to weekend lags.
The seven-day statewide positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests was 7.5% for the period ending Sunday.
The new cases reported on Monday came out of a batch of 86,454 tests conducted during a 24-hour period, for a daily case positivity rate of roughly 5.4%.
The state surpassed the 900,000 case mark over the weekend, and with Monday’s numbers the known case count statewide grew to 905,069.
The state also reported another 98 deaths on Monday, raising the death toll to 15,299 throughout the pandemic. Monday was the second consecutive day the number of deaths reported in a 24-hour period was in the double digits, after 12 days in a row with daily death tolls over 100.
As of Sunday night, 4,460 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized across the state, with 981 in intensive care units and 546 patients on ventilators. Those figures have dropped gradually over the past several weeks — there were more than 6,000 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in the state in late November.
9 a.m.: Second stimulus bill would give airlines $15 billion more, bring back 32,000 furloughed airline workers
After wrangling over a stimulus package for months that includes direct payments to Americans and increased relief for small businesses, the air travel industry was able to secure another $15 billion in aid to airlines that would bring back workers, guarantee pay and delay talk of payroll cutbacks until at least the end of March.
The bill is still waiting on a final vote and signature from President Donald Trump, but Senate key Democrat and Republican leaders in both chambers endorsed the compromise.
8:18 a.m.: Vatican tells Catholics it’s ‘morally acceptable’ to get COVID-19 vaccines based on research using fetal tissue from abortions
The Vatican on Monday declared that it is “morally acceptable” for Roman Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines based on research that used fetal tissue from abortions.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s watchdog office for doctrinal orthodoxy, said it addressed the question after receiving several requests for “guidance” during recent months. The doctrine office noted that bishops, Catholic groups and experts have offered “diverse and sometimes conflicting pronouncements” on the matter.
Drawing on Vatican pronouncements in past years about developing vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted fetuses, the watchdog office issued a statement it said Pope Francis had examined last week and ordered to be made public.
The Catholic Church’s teaching says that abortion is a grave sin.
The Vatican concluded that “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses” in the research and production process when “ethically irreproachable” vaccines aren’t available to the public. But it stressed that the “licit” uses of such vaccines “does not and should not in any way imply that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses.”
8:12 a.m.: COVID-19 fills winter break with angst and uncertainty for families about 2021 reopening plans
For many teachers, students and parents, a COVID-19 winter break offers little break from anxiety over 2021 reopening plans, which remain uncertain in Chicago Public Schools and many suburban districts.
With community spread of the coronavirus still high, along with continued resistance to reopening plans from teachers union and a small number of school outbreaks statewide, many school officials are still trying to calibrate plans for when and how schools can reopen, with parents feeling frustrated.
”There’s a lot of uncertainty for us, but it’s got to be really terrible for the teachers,” Arlington Heights parent Danny Strauss said after School District 25 last week postponed a decision on virus metrics that he believes would definitively determine whether school buildings remain open or closed.
Some suburban districts, including Winnetka School District 36 and Township High School District 214, as well as the Archdiocese of Chicago, have announced they will be offering strictly remote learning following winter break to allow time to gauge virus rates before students return to school buildings in mid-January.
But officials at other suburban school districts, including District 25 and New Trier High School, are optimistic that 2021 will ring in a return to more classroom learning, and are planning to resume classes immediately following winter break, as well as expanding the amount of in-person instruction offered to students.
Whatever the plans, in many districts they’ve been met by some parents who aren’t pleased.
6 a.m.: With hospitals short on workers, those remaining feel pushed to the edge by COVID-19
Even as the first vaccine shots begin to roll out to health care workers, doctors and nurses say they are struggling to make it through the pandemic’s darkest surge yet, in an atmosphere some describe as bordering on exhaustion.
Federal data shows that roughly 1 in 5 of the state’s hospitals is reporting a “critical” staff shortage each day, a problem reflected in the desperate competition among hospitals for trained staff at a time when the pandemic is straining resources across the country.
The advertised pay for some workers is approaching $3,000 a week, amid stories of workers quitting or calling in sick, and hospitals adding more beds than they have the staff to cover.
“Compensation now is through the roof … which tells you it’s hard to find people to fill all the jobs we need to fill now,” Joshua Gottlieb, an associate professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, said earlier this month.
Federal officials aren’t providing the names of hospitals reporting staff shortages, but they have released weekly numbers showing that some facilities are at or near capacity in terms of available beds, particularly in working-class areas hit especially hard by the pandemic.
There are some positive signs, with case counts and hospitalizations starting to drop in Illinois, though the latter numbers can be affected by hospitals’ decision making. Hospitals have been more choosy about who gets admitted — some COVID-19 patients who arrive in emergency departments are being sent home with monitoring instructions — and doctors and nurses told the Tribune that some patients with conditions that are usually monitored in intensive care have been moved to other areas.
Workers also said staffing has been strained as hospitals continue to perform elective surgeries. These are often time-sensitive and necessary operations, but they also can be moneymakers for hospitals. Indiana recently tightened the rules on what surgeries hospitals can do amid the surge, but Illinois has not.
“People are tired,” said Pat Meade, a recovery nurse at Amita Health Saint Joseph Medical Center Joliet who is also vice president of the Illinois Nurses Association. “You can’t consistently ask of the same group of people to give more than they can. They’ve got to rest, but the need still exists, so what do you do?”
5 a.m.: City distributing grab-and-go activity kits for kids, teens at parks, libraries
Starting Monday, Chicago is handing out grab-and-go activity kits for children and teens for use during the winter break, according to the mayor’s office.
The kits will be handed out at Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Library locations and “will be filled with hands-on projects,” according to a release from the mayor’s office.
The city is providing what it’s calling “enriching, virtual content and resources” for young people from Dec. 19 to Jan. 3, including prerecorded online content and live classes, according to the release. Anyone interested can go to MyCHIMyFuture.org to learn more.
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