Pritzker lays out next phase of vaccination plan as Illinois coronavirus death toll passes 17K

Rush University Medical Center staff collect nasopharyngeal swab samples to test people for the coronavirus at the hospital’s drive-thru testing site in November. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

About 207,000 people have received shots in Illinois since Dec. 19, mostly health care workers and nursing home residents. Illinois’ coronavirus death toll surpassed 17,000 Wednesday as public health officials on Wednesday announced the latest 139 fatalities attributed to COVID-19.
It took only nine days for the state to hit the latest cruel milemarker in the 10-month pandemic; Illinois eclipsed 16,000 deaths Dec. 28.
That brutal fatality rate has actually slowed slightly compared to early December — Illinois’ worst stretch of the pandemic — when it took only six days for the toll to jump from 13,000 to 14,000 deaths.
The virus has claimed 3,860 Illinois lives over the last month, an average of about 125 deaths per day — or roughly one fatality every 12 minutes.

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The latest victims included 44 Cook County residents, including two men in their 40s.
With the state’s toll now up to 17,096, Illinois accounts for about 5% of 352,000-plus coronavirus deaths confirmed across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About half of Illinois’ deaths have come from nursing homes and long-term care facilities, where nearly 8,300 people have died with the virus. Overall, the recovery rate is 98%.
An additional 1,603 deaths statewide are considered to have been probable but untested coronavirus cases, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, which also announced the latest 7,569 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed statewide.
That brings the state’s pandemic case total to 999,288, poised to pass the 1 million mark Thursday. Experts say thousands of additional infections have likely gone undetected since early last year.
The new cases were detected among 80,974 tests, slightly lowering the state’s seven-day average testing positivity rate to 8.4%.

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That number, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, topped 13% in mid-November and sank to 6.8% around Christmas, but has generally risen since then.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have slowly declined since late November. As of Tuesday night, 3,928 hospital beds were occupied by coronavirus patients, including 812 receiving intensive care and 451 on ventilators.
But Gov. J.B. Pritzker has warned more beds could eventually fill up as a result of wider transmission among families at holiday gatherings. It’s not yet clear if Illinois’ recent uptick is tied to that. Such increases take two weeks or more to appear in the data.
During his first COVID-19 update of the new year Wednesday afternoon, Pritzker said the state will soon advance to “Phase 1B” of its vaccine distribution plan, meaning an additional 3.2 million people will be eligible to receive vaccine doses as they become available.
Since the first shots were given Dec. 19, about 207,000 people have received the vaccine in Illinois, mostly health care workers and nursing home residents. Those groups — about 700,000 health care workers and 110,000 nursing home residents — are first in line.
Phase 1B in Illinois will include “frontline essential workers” and people 65 or older. That includes first responders, education workers, grocery store workers; manufacturing, distribution and agriculture workers; postal workers, public transit employees, corrections workers and incarcerated people.

Pritzker said the Illinois National Guard would play a key role in the next phase of the state’s unprecedented vaccination effort.

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