Coronavirus live blog, Dec. 17: Public health officials announce 8,828 new COVID-19 cases, highest daily figures reported in a week

A second coronavirus vaccine received a key endorsement, making it almost certain it will be approved by the Federal Drug Administration.

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


8:55 p.m. 181 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, 8,828 new cases

Nurse Jessica Bell gives a sip of water to a patient with COVID-19 and on a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side, Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 8, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Public health officials on Thursday announced the coronavirus has killed another 181 residents and spread to 8,828 more, the highest daily figures the state has reported in a week.

Most of the state’s key COVID-19 metrics still kept trending in the right direction, though, with the new cases confirmed among 92,015 tests to lower the average statewide positivity rate to 8.4{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9}.

That number, which experts use to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading, has slowly declined from 13.2{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} on Nov. 13, when the state hit a peak in its record-setting autumn resurgence.

Hospital admissions have gradually fallen from all-time highs in late November, too. As of Wednesday night, 4,751 hospital beds across the state were occupied by COVID-19 patients, with 1,056 receiving intensive care and 575 using ventilators. On the busiest night of the pandemic for hospitals, COVID-19 patients were taking up 6,175 beds Nov. 20.

But hospitals are still stretched thin in the downstate Metro East region, where only 14 ICU beds were available as of Wednesday night, and in the southern Illinois region, where 17 beds were open.

And the state’s death rate has shown no signs of slowing down. The virus has claimed nearly 4,000 lives over the last month alone, making for a brutal average of 133 deaths per day. During the worst 30-day stretch of the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, about 100 deaths were reported each day.

The latest victims included 94 Chicago-area residents, including a Cook County man in his 20s.

Read the full story here.

7:47 p.m. Norwegian American Hospital gives health care workers first batch of COVID-19 vaccine

Norwegian American Hospital administered its first series of COVID-19 vaccines to five of its health care workers Thursday afternoon.

“We need this little thing, a syringe full of just a few drops of life and hope, so we can all start to get some normalcy,” said Dr. Abha Agrawal, chief medical officer at the Humboldt Park hospital, 1044 N. Francisco Ave.

“I’m excited, I am honored to be part of this day and I am just full of hope and relief as we are looking to the days ahead to the end of this very long and dark time.”

The vaccines administered at Norwegian American came from the 150 doses it received Thursday morning. By late afternoon, 35 people had been vaccinated; the hospital anticipates using up all 150 doses by Monday morning.

Reporter Manny Ramos has the full story.

5:45 p.m. Uber to offer 10 million free or discounted rides to people getting COVID-19 shots

Uber says it will offer 10 million free or discounted rides to people looking to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

The rides include transportation to and from their destination for both the first and second doses.

A date for when the offer will begin rolling out hasn’t been set, according to Uber.

The ride-hailing app partnered with organizations dedicated to serving communities of color, including the National Urban League, the Morehouse School of Medicine and the National Action Network, to help target riders who could benefit most. And it plans to partner with other organizations in the future.

Read the full story here.

4:10 p.m. Rev. Jackson wants Cook County Jail detainees, staff included in first round of COVID-19 vaccinations

Rev. Jesse Jackson on Thursday called for detainees and staff at the Cook County Jail to be included in the first round of folks eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations in Illinois.

Currently, those vaccinations are reserved for front-line medical workers and people at long-term care facilities and assisted-living facilities.

Jackson argued staff and detainees who aren’t able to socially distance, and who rotate in and out of the prison, present a danger to the broader community.

“It’s an incubator for infestation and the spread of disease,” Jackson said at a news conference outside the jail in the Little Village neighborhood on the Southwest Side.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is also calling for detainees and jail staff to be included in the first round of vaccinations, which began in Chicago and across the nation this week.

Reporter Mitch Dudek has the full story here.

3:45 p.m. Tenants rights advocates warn of eviction wave in January

Chicago will see a wave of eviction cases in January unless Gov. J.B. Pritzker extends a moratorium in place since the beginning of the pandemic, a tenants rights organization said Thursday.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing said the city could see 21,000 eviction cases in the first month after the moratorium ends. It’s due to expire on Jan. 9 but has been extended several times.

The projected total is about 13 times the monthly number of evictions the city saw before the pandemic. The lawyers group, working with Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Urban Research, arrived at the estimate using a statistical model tracking the relationship between eviction filings and changes in unemployment.

Researchers warned the situation for renters, some out of work or with reduced hours because the pandemic has affected their jobs, could be much worse than its projection.

Business reporter David Roeder has the full story here.

3:15 p.m. Labor board denies teachers union’s attempt to halt return to CPS schools

A labor court Thursday denied the Chicago Teachers Union’s attempt to delay Chicago Public Schools’ planned January reopening, a setback for the union that was looking to fully bargain with the district over the return to schools for the first time during the pandemic.

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board ruled in a split 2-1 vote against granting the CTU a preliminary injunction to halt the scheduled Jan. 4 return date for preschool and special education cluster program staff.

The union had charged the district with violating labor law by refusing to negotiate in good faith over a safe schools reopening and acting unilaterally in all its decisions. A trial was set for Jan. 26 for the case to be resolved, which is after hundreds of staffers and more than 6,000 students would have already returned.

The CTU’s request for injunctive relief asked for the reopening to be put on hold until the union could make its case at trial, with the goal of forcing the two sides to bargain to completion. With the injunction denied, the CTU said Thursday that it’ll ask for the trial to be moved up to next week and a final ruling to be made before Jan. 4.

Read the full story here.

1:57 p.m. Chicago Fire Department paramedic dies of COVID-19

A third member of the Chicago Fire Department has died from COVID-19.

Paramedic Robert Truevillian, who joined the department in 2000, died from complications of the virus, Chicago fire officials said Thursday in a statement posted to Twitter.

Truevillian was assigned to ambulance 71, which operates out of the firehouse at 10458 S. Hoxie Ave. in South Deering, officials said.

He’s the third active CFD member to die from complications of the coronavirus.

Read the full story here.

1:23 p.m. Aid package with unemployment bonus, second round of stimulus checks, nears finish line in Washington

Congressional negotiators are closing in on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package that would deliver additional help to businesses, $300-per-week jobless checks and $600 stimulus payments to most Americans. But there was no deal quite yet.

The long-delayed measure was coming together as Capitol Hill combatants finally fashioned difficult compromises, often at the expense of more ambitious Democratic wishes for the legislation, to complete the second major relief package of the coronavirus pandemic.

A hoped-for announcement Wednesday failed to materialize as lawmakers across the spectrum hammered out details of the sprawling legislation and top negotiators continued to trade offers. But lawmakers briefed on the outlines of the aid bill freely shared them.

It’s the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the landmark CARES Act in March, which delivered $1.8 trillion in aid and more generous jobless benefits and direct payments to individuals. Since then, Democrats have repeatedly called for ambitious further federal steps to provide relief and battle the pandemic, while Republicans have sought to more fully reopen the economy and to avoid padding the government’s $27 trillion debt.

Read the full story here.

11:59 a.m. Shamrock Shuffle returns as a virtual race

The Shamrock Shuffle, which kicks off the outdoor running season in Chicago, is back in 2021 after being canceled earlier this year due to the pandemic.

But like so many events, it’s going to look a bit different in 2021. Registration began Thursday.

“For more than 40 years, the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle has brought the running community together for a celebration of health and movement,” Carey Pinkowski, the race’s executive director, said in a statement. “While we wish we could be together in person, we’re excited for a new take on one of the city’s most celebrated running traditions.”

Organizers are planning an eight-week training challenge beginning Jan. 25.

Read the full story here.

10:56 a.m. One judge, 5 more Cook County court employees test positive for COVID-19

Another judge and five more employees in the Office of the Chief Judge of Cook County have tested positive for COVID-19.

The judge who tested positive works at the Daley Center, the chief judge’s office said in a statement Thursday.

One employee works in the Juvenile Probation Department at the Bridgeview Courthouse and was last in the office in October, according to the statement.

Read the full story here.

8:34 a.m. More than 6 in 10 CPS kids — including most students of color — won’t be in schools when in-person learning resumes

About 77,000 Chicago Public Schools students plan to return to classrooms once schools reopen in the new year, accounting for 37{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of K-8, preschool and special education cluster program students who will initially be eligible for in-person learning, district CEO Janice Jackson announced Wednesday.

In a presentation at the monthly Board of Education meeting, district officials revealed that a disproportionate number of families sending their children back to schools are white, while Black families were more likely to decline the opportunity to return, matching a trend seen in other large urban school systems nationwide.

That reality raises questions about the argument that has been made for weeks by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS officials that reopening schools will help reduce racial inequity gaps caused by remote learning — though the district repeated that belief in its announcement Wednesday,

“When we talk about offering more options for parents, we’re serving a large swath of our families who believe this is the best choice for their students,” Jackson said. “And we believe we have a moral obligation to do so.”

Reporter Nader Issa has the full story.

New Cases

Analysis & Commentary

3 p.m. Trypanophobia is real

I have tiny veins. So tiny that it usually takes several sticks before a phlebotomist can draw my blood. This has always been a problem, and as I aged, a bad situation got a lot worse.

Thankfully, my health hasn’t required that I have blood draws more than once a year in recent years. But, man, do I get stressed out when it comes to shots.

I trace a lot of this anxiety back to childhood. On “shot day,” teachers herded us like cattle into the auditorium. There we stood in long lines, with some of the children crying so hysterically a teacher had to restrain them.

Of course, the anticipation of the shot was a lot worst than the actual prick. But I still have to steady my nerves before I get a flu shot.

So you can imagine how anxious I am about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. I glanced at Wednesday’s front-page photograph of Dr. Marina Del Rios getting the first COVID-19 vaccination at Loretto Hospital in the Austin neighborhood, and I felt faint.

Yes. I’m one of those people who get weak in the knees if I even see someone getting a shot.

And I’m not alone.

Read Mary Mitchell’s full commentary here.

7:52 a.m. At a time of pandemic, my clients keep dying

I opened my email at 8:30 in the morning and my heart sank. A “dear subscriber” notification, simple and plain, told me that my client Richard was no longer in Graham Correctional Center because he was deceased. There was no further information, no condolences offered, no way to follow up. Had I not signed up for these notifications — status updates that are useful when clients are transferred from institution to institution — no one would have told me that he died.

Richard, an affable and religious man who was bombarded by love from family and friends, was 71 when he died. When I met him earlier this year, he had served 37 years of a natural life sentence for robbing a grocery store in Champaign, Illinois, one of hundreds of mostly Black men condemned to die in prison on his “third strike.” He never hurt anyone, in that case or in any other. While in prison, he dedicated his life to his fellow prisoners, to his family, and to God. He studied the Bible and became an ordained minister. Trusted by both incarcerated people and correctional officers alike, Richard worked with the assistant warden and the prison chaplain.

The email coldly informing me of Richard’s death was the fourth I have received since COVID-19 took hold of the Illinois Department of Corrections. My clients keep dying.

Read the full commentary from Jennifer Soble, executive director of the Illinois Prison Project.