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1,634 total lives lost in Illinois to COVID-19 during the past two weeks, an average of about 117 per day (LIVE UPDATES)

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238 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, most ever reported by state throughout pandemic

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Illinois public health officials attributed an additional 238 deaths to the coronavirus Wednesday, the highest daily number of viral fatalities reported by the state throughout nine months of the pandemic.

That figure, which shatters the previous high of 191 deaths on May 13, includes some death that occurred over the long Thanksgiving weekend. The Illinois Department of Public Health previously logged a total of 362 coronavirus deaths from the holiday through Sunday.

A total of 1,634 lives have been lost to COVID-19 during the past two weeks, an average of about 117 per day. That’s almost five times the rate compared to two months ago.

Seventy-one of the latest victims were from Cook County. Another 56 lived in the collar counties.

Read the full story here.


News

7:25 p.m. Lightfoot plans $450M in short-term borrowing to buy time for Congress to ride to the rescue

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is planning $450 million in short-term borrowing — for less than a year, at an interest rate of 1.95% — to buy time for Congress to ride to the rescue of pandemic-ravaged cities.

The $12.8 billion budget narrowly approved by the City Council last week includes plans to refinance $1.7 billion in general obligation and sales tax securitization bonds and claim $949 million in savings in the first two years.

That would extend the debt eight years and return Chicago to the days of “scoop-and-toss” borrowing that former Mayor Rahm Emanuel ended (though not nearly fast enough for Wall Street rating agencies).

Lightfoot also plans to borrow against future revenue from the sale of recreational and medical marijuana to avert the need for 350 layoffs and issue $1.54 billion in general obligation bonds to bankroll the first two years of her five-year capital plan.

Reporter Fran Spielman has the full story.

5:07 p.m. Fed reports slowing U.S. economic activity due to virus surge

WASHINGTON — A Federal Reserve survey of business conditions around the country found that economic activity in several regions slowed in November as coronavirus cases surged.

The Fed report released Wednesday said that overall, the Fed’s 12 regional banks characterized the economic expansion as “modest or moderate.” But it noted that three Midwest regions and the Philadelphia region reported activity had begun to cool in early November as COVID-19 cases surged.

The report said that most districts found that local businesses’ optimism has “waned,” with many citing concerns about the wave of virus cases and renewed lockdown restrictions. The report also said there was concern about the looming expiration dates for government support programs, including extended unemployment benefits and the moratoriums that have been in place on evictions and foreclosures.

The report, known as the beige book, will be used by Fed officials when they hold their last meeting of the year on Dec. 15-16 to discuss possible changes to the central bank’s interest-rate policies.

Read the full report here.

12:47 p.m. Here’s what we know about the COVID-19 vaccines heading to Chicago and Illinois

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the health and economic stability of countries around the globe, COVID-19 vaccines are being developed at record speeds by researchers and pharmaceutical companies rushing to meet the urgent and widespread need.

This week, officials announced that Chicago and Illinois will receive its first doses of the vaccine, developed by drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna, later this month. Both vaccines require two doses to be maximally effective; Pfizer’s two shots must be administered three weeks apart, and Moderna’s requires four weeks between doses.

Here’s what we know now about who will receive the vaccine, how it will be distributed, and what lies ahead.

How many doses of the vaccine will Chicago and Illinois receive?

Current estimates project that no more than 20 million doses of each vaccine will be available in the country by the end of 2020, according to the Associated Press.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday that he anticipates the state will receive about 109,000 doses of the vaccine in the first shipment from the federal government within the next few weeks.

Chicago expects to receive the 20,000-to-25,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine in that first shipment by the third and fourth week in December, Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday. Once the distribution pipeline is in place, roughly 25,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines expected to arrive every week, with Moderna vaccines to follow. From there, Arwady said the city expects to “scale up rapidly.”

But Pritzker cautioned that federal authorities are constantly updating the number of potential vaccinations that could be Illinois-bound.

Read the full story here.

12:02 p.m. Starbucks offering free coffee to health care workers, first responders

Starbucks has brought back its free coffee giveaway for first responders and health care workers as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise.

The Seattle-based coffee giant announced Tuesday that through Dec. 31 ”any customer who identifies as a front-line responder to the COVID-19 outbreak” will receive a free tall brewed coffee, hot or iced.

“Our hope with this is to reignite the movement of gratitude and to show those on the front line how much they are appreciated,” Virginia Tenpenny, Starbucks vice president of global social impact, said in an interview with USA TODAY. “For us, we believe that one way we can do this is by offering a free cup of coffee.”

The free coffee offer can be redeemed at Starbucks U.S. company-operated locations and select licensed stores.

Read the full story here.

11:57 a.m. Who will get the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Chicago?

In this March 2src2src file photo, a volunteer receives a shot in a clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19.

In this Monday, March 16, 2020 file photo, Neal Browning receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19.
Ted S. Warren/ AP Photos

Chicago expects to receive the first 20,000-to-25,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine by the third and fourth week in December and has built up an “unusual amount of cold storage capacity” to handle the onslaught, Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday.

The state is expecting about 109,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to be delivered in the first shipment from the federal government within the next few weeks, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday.

First in line will be Chicago’s 37 hospitals so they can at least begin the job of vaccinating their “highest-risk” health care workers.

The initial doses won’t be enough to vaccinate all of them, even though they are expected to come with both the first and second doses.

So, priority will be given to those health care workers who are “seeing COVID patients” and those “performing procedures that put them at highest risk,” according to Dr. Carla Robinson, a medical director at the Chicago Department of Public Health.

The first round of vaccines will also go to employees of Chicago’s long-term care facilities. That includes both skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities.

Only after health care and long-term care employees are vaccinated will City Hall begin the monumental task of vaccinating at least 70% of its general population needed to achieve what’s known as “herd immunity.”

Read the full story here.

11:48 a.m. Anthony Fauci optimistic that stadiums could be full by late 2021

It may not be during basketball season or before baseball begins, but Dr. Anthony Fauci is confident stadiums will once again be full in 2021.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that although filling arenas and bowls to capacity is one of the final signs of defeating the pandemic, he could envision packed crowds in the fall thanks to the development and distribution of a vaccine.

One condition underscores that prediction: the willingness of American adults to become vaccinated.

“By the time you get (the vaccine) to the general public, the people who’ll be going to the basketball games, who don’t have any underlying conditions, that’s gonna be starting the end of April, May, June,” Fauci told Yahoo Sports on Monday. ”So it probably will be well into the end of the summer before you can really feel comfortable (with full sports stadiums) — if a lot of people get vaccinated. I don’t think we’re going to be that normal in July. I think it probably would be by the end of the summer.”

Read the full story here.

9:08 a.m. CDC to shorten COVID-19 quarantine to 10 days, 7 with test

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to shorten the recommended length of quarantine after exposure to someone who is positive for COVID-19, as the virus rages across the nation.

According to a senior administration official, the new guidelines, which are set to be released as soon as Tuesday evening, will allow people who have come in contact to someone infected with the virus to resume normal activity after 10 days, or 7 days if they receive a negative test result. That’s down from the 14-day period recommended since the onset of the pandemic.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement, said the policy change has been discussed for some time, as scientists have studied the incubation period for the virus. The policy would hasten the return to normal activities by those deemed to be “close contacts” of those infected with the virus, which has infected more than 13.5 million Americans and killed at least 270,000.

While the CDC had said the incubation period for the virus was thought to extend to 14 days, most individuals became infectious and developed symptoms between 4 and 5 days after exposure.

Read the full story here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

11:15 a.m. Celebrities, stop partying like arrogant buffoons

It has long been a fashionable and celebrated pastime in Republican circles to mock Hollywood celebrities for their elitist, superficial and often silly proclivities, their inability to relate to average Americans and the belief that rules don’t apply to them.

Hollywood is in fact a reviled category of people for many on the right — unless, of course, one shows up at your national convention to speak to an empty chair, or is Angelina Jolie’s estranged dad, or Chachi. Otherwise, though, to many conservatives, celebrities are bad and evil and out of touch.

They don’t have any business telling “Real America” what to do, and they possess few valuable life skills. (Incidentally, the reviled skills they do have made two celebrity types, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, perfectly acceptable candidates for president.)

Celebrities, according to the Fox News wing of the party, should keep their politics to themselves. They should shut up and sing, or shut up and dribble, or shut up and post strange videos about fried fish from their lavish bathrooms, in Madonna’s case.

Unless, that is, their politics are supportive of President Trump, in which case, welcome to the program, Kirstie Alley, Kid Rock, James Woods and Antonio Sabato Jr. — what are your thoughts on China’s trade policies, election fraud and pulling troops out of Afghanistan?

Ignoring these inconvenient holes in the Republicans’ argument against celebrity, they do occasionally stumble into a point. Whether it’s stuff like the college admissions scandal, or well-known climate hypocrise, or the entertainment industry’s protection of powerful predators, it’s not a stretch to say that Hollywood, like anywhere else, is filled with imperfect and questionable moral authorities.

During the current public health crisis, however, much of Hollywood has been fairly responsible about following COVID-19 protocols and precautions. Los Angeles has endured several lockdowns, movie and television production has halted, and many celebs have helped encourage others to stay home and stay safe — albeit in occasionally cringe-worthy ways.

Read the full column here.

9:19 a.m. A national pandemic plan — finally — comes to the rescue first of health care workers and the elderly

An advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted Tuesday in favor of a policy every American should be able to get behind:

Giving front-line health care workers and nursing home residents top priority for a COVID-19 vaccine.

CDC Director Robert Redfield is expected to approve the recommendations by the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices. States will have the final say on who gets a vaccine first, once a vaccine is approved and the federal government begins shipments. But, for once, they’re getting sound guidance from Washington.

Our country sorely needs a national strategy, based on science, to rein in this pandemic. With these recommendations, we might finally have the beginnings of one, just as the single most powerful tool against the disease — a safe, highly effective vaccine — is within reach.

Read the full column from the CST Editorial Board here.

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