Public health officials announce 8,828 new COVID-19 cases, highest daily figures reported in a week (LIVE UPDATES)

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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181 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, 8,828 new cases

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
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.

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%.
That number, which experts use to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading, has slowly declined from 13.2% 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.

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

Chip Somodevilla, Getty
WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 29: U.S. President Donald Trump’s name appears on the coronavirus economic assistance checks that were sent to citizens across the country April 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. The initial 88 million payments totaling nearly $158 billion were sent by the Treasury Department last week as most of the country remains under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775508458

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.
11:26 a.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 allowing the CTU to proceed with its request for an injunction to halt the scheduled Jan. 4 return date for preschool and special education cluster program staff, a week before their students. If the vote had passed, the board would have asked Illinois’ attorney general to go to court seeking an injunction for the CTU.
“The district commends the IELRB for ruling in favor of the more than 77,000 CPS students whose families have asked to return to schools,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement. “It’s time for the CTU to put students first and be supportive partners in the effort to safely reopen classrooms for the families who need us now more than ever.”
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% 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.

5:40 p.m. Biden, Pence set to get COVID-19 vaccine soon
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence are set to receive the COVID-19 vaccine soon.
According to two transition officials familiar with the matter, Biden will receive the vaccine publicly as early as next week. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss it publicly.
The White House says Pence and his wife, Karen, will receive the vaccine publicly on Friday.
Biden said on Tuesday that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, advised him to get the vaccine “sooner than later.” Biden has said that he wants to keep front-line health care workers and vulnerable people as the top priority as the vaccine is rolled out throughout the country.
Read the full story here.
5:25 p.m. Months into COVID-19 pandemic, seniors say wellness checks have been rare

Months after an ordinance was passed the City Council aimed at helping seniors through the coronavirus pandemic, some say they are still awaiting enforcement of the measure that calls for regular wellness checks.
“It’s a hit or miss depending on the management company,” said Debra Miller, who lives in a senior building and is a member of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, a Chicago-based senior citizen advocacy group that pushed for the ordinance.
And with most COVID-19 deaths in Chicago found among victims 60 and older, residents in senior buildings, including those part of public housing, say they need better oversight of the measure in order to stay safe.
The “senior safety ordinance” was passed by the City Council in July, and it tasks senior building owners and managers with conducting wellness checks, establishing safety protocols, implementing a cleaning regimen and restricting access to a building during public health emergencies.
Read the full story here.
2:53 p.m. Illinois’ next shipment of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine cut in half by federal government, Pritzker says
A day after the first coronavirus vaccine doses went into Illinois health care workers’ arms, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday announced the state’s next vaccine shipments from the federal government will be cut roughly in half.
About 8 million doses initially were scheduled for distribution to hundreds of cities beginning next week through the federal “Operation Warp Speed” effort, but that number has been slashed to 4.3 million, Pritzker said during a COVID-19 briefing.
Another 8.8 million doses had been scheduled to go out the week after, but that’s also been downsized to 4.3 million, Pritzker said. From those totals, doses are distributed to states in proportion to their population.
The federal government sent out about 3 million doses in the first shipments this week, and Illinois’ allotment of about 109,000 still are expected to be administered to health care workers by the end of the week.
Read the full story here.
12:30 p.m. Cook County Jail was one of the nation’s largest COVID-19 hot spots last spring. It’s worse now
The number of detainees testing positive for the coronavirus at the Cook County Jail has soared to levels not seen since cases there last peaked in the spring, when it saw one of the largest outbreaks of confirmed cases of any location in the country.
Twenty-three detainees at the jail tested positive for the virus on Nov. 1, according to data from the sheriff’s office. Just over a month later, the jail set a new record for cases on Dec. 7, with 370.
That’s even higher than the previous peak, 307, on April 10.
The drastic increase in little more than a month illustrates just how difficult a task it is to control the virus’ spread inside correctional facilities and how quickly cases can rise.
It’s the situation Sheriff Tom Dart — who himself tested positive last month — warned about recently as he stood outside the jail and urged the public to take measures including wearing masks, socially distancing and remaining home as much as possible.
Releasing more detainees through alternatives to incarceration, such as home monitoring, would be the quickest way to bring cases down again — to protect not only detainees but also the community at large, advocates and public officials say.
However, previous attempts to do so have been met with criticism that inmates being released were contributing to spikes in crime, which sources said has made it difficult this fall to take the same action.
Reporter Matthew Hendrickson has the full story.
11:39 a.m. NFL won’t allow teams to create postseason bubbles to prevent coronavirus infections
NFL teams won’t be allowed to create local bubbles during the postseason by mandating that players stay in a hotel, except for the night before a game.
“Clubs may not require players and staff to stay at a hotel in their local area,” reads a league memo obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. “This decision is based upon an analysis of the frequency of positive cases in the league compared to the risk of significant spread among players and staff gathered for an extensive period of time at one hotel.”
Teams will be allowed to continue paying for players who want to move into a hotel to avoid the risk of catching COVID-19 from family or roommates throughout the postseason, according to the memo.
When teams stay in hotels before games, players and staff now will be required to wear a tracing device until they return to their rooms for the night whether staying at home or on the road.
Read the full story here.
10:54 a.m. Congressional leaders nearing deal on long-delayed COVID-19 relief bill
WASHINGTON — Top congressional leaders are nearing agreement on a long-delayed COVID-19 relief package, hoping to seal a deal as early as Wednesday that would extend aid to individuals and businesses and help ship coronavirus vaccines to millions.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a coauthor of a $908 billion bipartisan package, said leadership negotiators are close to agreement on legislation that would extend direct payments of perhaps $600 to most Americans. No. 2 Senate Republican John Thune of South Dakota confirmed the likely addition of direct payments in that range, as well as a $300-per-week bonus federal unemployment benefit to partially replace a $600-per-week benefit that expired this summer.
“We made major headway toward hammering out a bipartisan relief package,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The bill would include a new round of stimulus checks, enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefits, and other avenues for delivering aid to states, localities, territories and tribes, according to two people familiar with the talks and authorized to characterize them. Their statement said that a GOP-sought provision shielding businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits would be dropped.
Read the full story here.
8:15 a.m. Pritzker announces $711 million in budget cuts in ‘first phase of our path forward’
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday he authorized more than $711 million in budget cuts in offices under his control for the current fiscal year in an attempt to close a nearly $4 billion budget gap.
“This gets us part of the way toward addressing the budget deficit,” Pritzker said at his daily coronavirus briefing. “For additional, and more permanent balancing of our budgets going forward, I will work with the legislature, but make no mistake: legislative action and engagement is required. While short term federal help may yet come, we need to take action to maintain fiscal stability over the long run and address the problems that plagued Illinois pre-pandemic.”
Pritzker said his administration has “scoured the budget” to try to reduce the effect of the cuts on residents but, with a move to a graduated income tax off the table, “there will be a real human impact here.”
“I’m sorry to say that we simply cannot prevent these losses from touching the real lives of our residents,” Pritzker said. “This is going to be tough.”
The cuts, which total $711.2 million, have already begun to be implemented, Pritzker said.
Rachel Hinton has the story.

New Cases

Cook County Jail reported 370 positive COVID-19 cases on Dec. 7, setting a new record for the facility that saw one of the largest outbreaks of confirmed cases of any location in the country last spring.

Two more employees have tested positive for the coronavirus in Cook County’s Office of the Chief Judge. A total of 216 employees working in Office of the Chief Judge have tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, 17 judges have tested positive since the start of the pandemic.

Analysis & Commentary
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.

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