Infection rates fall as Illinois coronavirus death toll passes 15,000

Pharmacy resident Rona Jin prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and draws doses from the vial in preparation for the first round of vaccinations Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital. About 109,000 health care workers are expected to be vaccinated across Illinois through the weekend. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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

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More than 4,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths have occurred in the last month alone, and it won’t get better soon, according to Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.
“Until there are essentially no cases, then there will be the point where we can talk about having very few deaths or not,” Ezike said Thursday. “We’re still a ways away from that, unfortunately, but that is the sad truth.”
Experts say deaths are a “lagging indicator” of the pandemic, because a surge in cases is typically followed a few weeks later by a rise in hospitalizations which are more likely to end in tragedy.
As infection rates have slowly decreased, so has the burden on hospitals across the state, which were treating 4,690 coronavirus patients as of Thursday night. That’s the first time that number has fallen below 4,700 since Nov. 8. Of those hospitalized, 1,023 people were receiving intensive care and 589 were on ventilators.

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The end is slowly coming into view as the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is administered to health care workers statewide. Illinois’ first allotment of about 109,000 doses is expected to be given out by the end of the weekend.
The state has been promised an unspecified share of 4.3 million doses scheduled to be shipped to hundreds of cities next week by the federal government. Hundreds of thousands more shots could soon be on tap when the Moderna vaccine receives federal approval as expected Friday.
Shots won’t be available to the general public for several months.
“These next few weeks and really these next few months are going to be crucial in our fight to keep people healthy,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday. “Until we eradicate this virus once and for all, we must continue working to protect one another.”
Since March, about 12.3 million coronavirus tests have been administered across the state, with nearly 887,000 people confirmed to carry COVID-19.

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