Coronavirus live blog, Dec. 18: Public health officials announce 181 COVID-19 related deaths, 7,377 new cases statewide

Good news: A second coronavirus vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

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


7:55 p.m. Infection rates fall as Illinois coronavirus death toll passes 15,000

Coronavirus infection rates fell across Illinois again Friday as public health officials announced COVID-19 has killed another 181 residents and spread to 7,377 more people statewide.

The new cases were diagnosed among 112,292 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, meaning only about 6.6{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of tests returned positive. That’s the lowest proportion of positive results reported by the state in a day since Oct. 27, when the virus was just beginning to surge to all-time highs across the state.

Most of the state’s metrics have gradually fallen since hitting a brutal mid-November peak. The 7-day average positivity rate statewide is down to 8{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9}, as low as it has been since Nov. 1.

That’s not the case for coronavirus deaths in the state, which continue to mount at an unprecedented frequency.

Friday was the 11th consecutive day Illinois reported 100 or more fatalities. Previously, that had never happened more than five days in a row.

The latest deaths, which included 104 Chicago-area residents, pushed the state’s death toll past the 15,000 mark, up to 15,015 — just one week after Illinois surpassed 14,000 deaths.

On top of that, officials say about 1,200 more deaths throughout the pandemic are considered to have been probable but untested cases of the disease.

Read the full story here.

6:57 p.m. FDA approves 2nd coronavirus vaccine

WASHINGTON — The U.S. added a second COVID-19 vaccine to its arsenal Friday, boosting efforts to beat back an outbreak so dire that the nation is regularly recording more than 3,000 deaths a day.

Much-needed doses are set to arrive Monday after the Food and Drug Administration authorized an emergency rollout of the vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health.

The move marks the world’s first authorization for Moderna’s shots. The vaccine is very similar to one from Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech that’s now being dispensed to millions of health care workers and nursing home residents as the biggest vaccination drive in U.S. history starts to ramp up.

The two work “better than we almost dared to hope,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told The Associated Press. “Science is working here, science has done something amazing.”

Early results of large, still unfinished studies show both vaccines appear safe and strongly protective although Moderna’s is easier to handle since it doesn’t need to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures.

Read the full report here.

4:29 p.m. ‘The Big Leap’ filming in Joliet on hiatus after crew members test positive for COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has shutdown production for another TV series filmed in the Chicago area.

Fox’s “The Big Leap,” which has been filming its pilot at Joliet’s Rialto Square Theatre since Dec. 2, has temporarily shut down production due to positive COVID-19 test results, venue officials told the Sun-Times.

The positive test results came from the routine testing on set, which takes place three times a week, according to crew officials.

No further decision has been made about the remaining four days left in production. The pilot had completed 11 days of filming when the positive tests shut down filming.

NBC’s “Chicago Fire” shut down production in November after several team members tested positive for COVID-19.

Reporter Evan F. Moore has the full story.

1:26 p.m. Here’s how to get a free rapid COVID-19 test in Chicago

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Oak Street Health is expanding access to COVID-19 testing by providing free rapid coronavirus tests to Chicago residents.

The network of primary care centers is working with the City of Chicago to expand its free rapid COVID-19 testing, and has already completed more than 2,500 tests.

All testing provided by Oak Street Health is free, does not require an appointment and tests will be administered regardless of symptoms or insurance status.

“Testing remains critical to containing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping Chicagoans safe,” Christina Anderson, Deputy Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Health, said in a release announcing the renewed effort Friday. “We’re grateful for Oak Street Health’s leadership and effort to broaden testing access to those who need it most. We remain committed to allocating resources and providing support to our partners who are on the frontline of this pandemic, working every day to increase access to testing in communities hit the hardest.”

Current testing locations include:

Testing hours are every Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

To learn more about Oak Street Health, click here.

11:05 a.m. Pence receives COVID vaccine on live TV: Will Trump be next?

Karen Pence, seated center, receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Washington. Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams also participated.

Karen Pence, seated center, receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Washington. Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams also participated.
Andrew Harnik, AP Photos

Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated for COVID-19 on Friday in a live-television event aimed at reassuring Americans the vaccine is safe.

“The American people can be confident: we have one and perhaps within hours two safe vaccines,” Pence said, referring to expected FDA approval for Moderna’s vaccine.

His wife Karen and Surgeon General Jerome Adams also received shots during the televised White House event.

But five days into the largest vaccination campaign in the nation’s history, Trump has held no public events to trumpet the rollout. He hasn’t been inoculated himself. He has tweeted only twice about the shot. Pence, meanwhile, has taken center stage — touring a vaccine production facility this week and receiving a dose himself on live television Friday morning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both said Thursday that they will get vaccinated in the next few days.

Pence, along with his wife, Karen, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams, received their shots Friday morning in an office suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building from three medical technicians from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Read the full story here.

8:32 a.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.

New Cases

Analysis & Commentary

8:03 a.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.