Illinois coronavirus death toll passes 17K, averaging roughly one fatality every 12 mins over last month (LIVE UPDATES)

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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.
Read the full story here.

12:47 p.m. Photo of a family Christmas dinner reminds us to stay safe — so we can be with each other again

Getty Images
Treating the virus seriously means we’ll be able to gather for Christmas dinners once it’s safe.

My nephew in Maryland just sent me a photo of a Christmas dinner in his home. In the left hand bottom corner of the photo, the edge of a large table is visible. That’s the table where my nephew, his wife and three children are sitting.
The camera is pointed toward a different adjoining room where my nephew’s father and mother sit having their Christmas meal.
I felt a catch in my throat when I saw the photograph because it seemed so sad to see the grandparents isolated and separated from their loved ones. But these were sensible adults who planned this Christmas meal together and who were resolved to keep their distance in order to preserve everyone’s health.
Treating this virus as a life and death matter strengthens us to make courageous decisions in the present, so that future photographs and videos of family and friends once again frame the closeness denied in 2020.
— Kathleen Melia, Niles
Read more of our letters to the editor here.
12:40 p.m. Availability of coronavirus vaccine could affect start of spring training for minor leaguers
NEW YORK — Spring training could be delayed for Double-A and Class A players if major leaguers are not vaccinated for the novel coronavirus by the time big league practice is scheduled to start in mid-February.
Major League Baseball, which has taken over operation of the minors, gave notice to minor league teams and big league clubs on Monday.
“We are still evaluating many issues that affect both the major league and minor league schedules, including, most importantly, when it is likely that players and staff will be vaccinated,” Peter Woodfork, MLB’s senior vice president of minor league operations and development, wrote in a letter to big league clubs that was obtained by The Associated Press.
The letter was first reported by Baseball America.
“Assuming that a vaccine is not available to players and staff at the beginning of major league spring training, there is a strong possibility that minor league spring training will be delayed for players who otherwise would be assigned to Double-A, High-A, and Low-A because clubs have informed us that there is not sufficient space at spring training facilities for all of the players in an environment requiring strict physical distancing,” Woodwork wrote.
Read the full story here.
8:07 a.m. WHO ‘disappointed’ at Chinese delays letting experts in to examine origins of COVID-19
The head of the World Health Organization said that he is “disappointed” that Chinese officials haven’t finalized permissions for the arrival of a team of experts into China to examine the origins of COVID-19.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a rare critique of Beijing, said members of the international scientific team have begun over the last 24 hours to leave from their home countries to China as part of an arrangement between WHO and the Chinese government.
“Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalized the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China,” he told a news conference in Geneva.
“I’m very disappointed with this news, given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute, but had been in contact with senior Chinese officials,” he said.
Tedros said he had “made it clear” that the mission was a priority for the U.N. health agency, and that he had been “assured that China is speeding up the internal procedures for the earliest possible deployment.”
“We are eager to get the mission underway as soon as possible,” he said.
The experts, drawn from around the world, are expected to visit the city of Wuhan that is suspected as the place that the coronavirus first emerged over a year ago.
Here’s the story from the Associated Press.

New cases

The coronavirus has killed 126 more Illinois residents and spread to an additional 6,839 people, but the state’s average testing positivity rate declined Tuesday for the first time in 11 days, officials said.
The new cases were detected among 87,083 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, lowering the seven-day average positivity rate by a tenth of a percentage point to 8.5%.

Analysis and commentary
7:33 a.m. COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for state workers who care for high-risk people
The first round of the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine was administered to residents and employees of Illinois veterans’ homes in late December, but data shows that the number of caregivers vaccinated is worrisome.
Seventy-four percent of residents in the homes have been vaccinated — that’s 95% of residents in Anna, 90% in Manteno and Quincy, and 71% in LaSalle — according to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. However, the people charged with providing care to our most vulnerable residents have been vaccinated in much lower percentages. Only 40% of the staff throughout Illinois have received the vaccine as of Dec. 31.
After waiting more than nine excruciating months for a vaccine, that is unacceptable. We believe the vaccine should be a mandatory condition of employment in all facilities in the state that care for high-risk individuals, especially the elderly. The only temporary exception would be for those who recently had COVID-19 or currently have it.
Read the full editorial here.

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