OutbreakCoronavirus, COVID-19 and Chicago

COVID-19 in Illinois: State Ranks Fourth Nationally in Total Cases

By Kate Perschke and Nicole Sroka |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020

As of Dec. 28, there have been 939,671 confirmed coronavirus cases in Illinois along with 17,336 deaths. Per 100,000 people in Cook County, the COVID case rate is 7,474 and the death rate is 158.

Maricel Ortega contracted the coronavirus in April along with everyone in her Chicago household.

“My grandma initially contracted the virus from her local laundromat job, where she worked in poor working conditions with fellow immigrant co-workers,” said Ortega, a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

“Given the small living space, the spread within the household was inevitable.”

Ortega’s story was one that played out in Chicago, Illinois and the rest of the U.S. countless times over the past year as the pandemic spread from household to household across the world. 

As of Dec. 28, Chicago has 384,981 confirmed coronavirus cases for the year, contributing to Illinois’s overall total of 939,671.

While Illinois ranks fourth nationally for total COVID-19 cases, the ranking drops significantly when population is figured in. Based on CDC data, as of Dec. 24, Illinois ranks No. 31 with average daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days.   

According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Chicago had 18% of 937 ICU beds available as of Dec. 19, meeting the threshold of a state "warning" of 20% availability. The latest data shows the availability of ICU beds in Chicago remains just above 20%. Statewide, there are a total of 4,083 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Dec. 26, as the city remains in a Tier 3 stay-at-home order until at least Jan. 10.

The first COVID-19 case in Illinois was documented in Chicago on Jan. 24, which soon translated into the first person-to-person coronavirus case in the state. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic following the rapid cross-continental spread of the virus.

Three months after the WHO’s announcement, Chicago had accumulated 47,571 positive cases, based on data provided by the City of Chicago Data Portal.

In the 6½ months from June 1 to Dec. 18, Chicago's confirmed cases nearly tripled, from 47,517 to 140,829. 

Despite countless efforts to decrease the coronavirus spread –– the mandatory stay at home orders, closure of indoor dining and bars –– positive case totals began to surge in late October and into November and the holiday season.  

The “second surge” of the coronavirus in Illinois began in the first week of November as it was the leading state with the highest total of positive cases in the nation.

Dr. Sidaya Khan, an epidemiologist, said that COVID fatigue can be an explanation for the surge in cases.

In the days before the Thanksgiving holiday, Chicago saw startling spikes in cases. Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Health, said at a Nov. 17 press conference that as many as 1 in 15 Chicagoans were positive with the coronavirus.

Maddie Milonean, a registered nurse at Rush University Medical Center, recalled her COVID-19 unit being at full capacity during the second surge.

“My unit three weeks ago, the whole unit, which is 32 beds, was filled with COVID [patients]” she said. 

Although the unit was at full capacity, Milonean noticed that almost all of the patients were highly functioning, independent individuals who primarily had symptoms of shortness of breath. 

COVID-19 Cases Grow Globally

New York led the nation with the highest total confirmed COVID cases for the first three months since the pandemic was announced. Toward the end of June, California surpassed New York and has since been the leading state with the highest total coronavirus cases.

At a July 22 news briefing, California Gov. Gavin Newsom attributed California’s the states surging cases to its large population base: California has a population of 39.5 million, more than double that of New York state.

“We’re a state, again, size of 21 states combined, so it’s not surprising now in some respects as we’ve begun to reopen key sectors of our economy” he said.

By December the states with the highest number of reported cases are California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Illinois has remained in the top five states with the highest number of cases.

Internationally, the United States has the most cases of any country, with over 18.9 million reported cases as of Dec. 27. Following the U.S. are India, with nearly 10.2 million cases, and Brazil, with over 7.46 million cases. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, there are over 80.72 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus globally as of Dec. 27.

Chicagoans Fighting COVID-19 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,580 Chicagoans have been hospitalized with complications associated with COVID-19, ranging from breathing problems to high fevers. 

Ortega, the UIC graduate, had mild symptoms and fully recovered in about three weeks. Her other household members experienced symptoms more intensely, and everyone recovered without hospitalization.

“Access to a doctor, basic knowledge of navigating the telehealth system, getting tested in a timely manner, and an understanding of the symptoms are all crucial tools for fighting the virus and preventing spread,” she said.

Healthcare workers across the city have been tirelessly fighting the coronavirus on the frontline. Anna Mitroszewska, an intern nurse at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in River North, has spent 10 weeks working within the COVID-19 unit there.

Mitroszewska said that admitted patients were at one point in the intensive care unit in other facilities before they were transferred to Shirley Ryan. Patients receive rehabilitation for ailments that inhibit their ability to live independently post-COVID-19.

“Our COVID patients usually are positive [when they arrive]“ she said. “We are working to rehabilitate them, whether that be weaning them from oxygen or teaching them how to walk again, teaching them how to eat again.”

A majority of the patients within the coronavirus rehabilitation unit are people of color, primarily Hispanic or Latino people who have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.

“There is a considerable amount of white people, but you would think that the ratios would be different, it wouldn't be half and half, there would probably be more white people than people of color” she said.

Chicago has seen a great disparity between race and coronavirus cases. According to data from the city, as of Dec. 27 Black people are being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 more than any other racial group: Latinos make up over 70,900 cases, 35.9 percent of all Chicago coronavirus cases.

Vaccinations and Virus mutation

On Dec. 11, the Federal Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer vaccine for emergency administration in the United States, and four days later, Chiciago healthcare workers were some of the first to receive the vaccine.

Biotechnology company Moderma also recently received approval from the FDA to begin emergency distribution of its vaccine to healthcare workers and most vulnerable populations.

Milonean received her first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on Dec. 22 and will receive the second dose on Jan. 12. 

“It’s kind of like taking a flu shot,” she said. “It’s an mRNA based vaccine, it just makes your immune system make antibodies against that spike [the virus] that the coronavirus has.”

The abnormally rapid production of a vaccine raises some concern amongst individuals and healthcare workers.

Allergy wise Milonean felt that the vaccine was rushed as some people experience adverse allergic reactions when administered the vaccine.

“We don't really know all the side effects of the vaccine. I feel like it's very unfortunate that some people are getting such serious allergic reactions.” 

A collective of researchers from the COVID-19 Expert Database say that there will be an estimated distribution of 1.3 billion doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of 2021.

The New York Times published an interactive tool in which readers can fill out a form to estimate when they will receive a vaccination. Users can input their age, profession, and pre-existing conditions to determine their “place” in the coronavirus vaccine line. Healthcare workers, individuals who are older and have pre-existing conditions are some of the first individuals to have the choice to get vaccinated.

A new strain of COVID was identified in the United Kingdom, particularly across London, on Dec. 21. According to the CDC, a new variant of the virus does not translate to it being more infectious.

Researchers theorize that the potential consequences of the mutation may range from the virus being able to spread more quickly to it being undetectable by particular diagnostic tests.


Read more: Outbreak: COVID-19 and Chicago | Faces of COVID-19


As levels of anxiety increase amongst the public due to the detection of a new strain, researchers and authoritative figures attempt to alleviate any fear the public may have through expressing the importance of scientific evidence.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said at a Dec. 21 press conference that although the new mutation has reported to be more infectious than the original strain, there is not enough evidence to determine whether that is true.

While the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, it is important to practice the guidelines the WHO, CDC, and local organizations recommend - practice social distancing, wear a mask and wash your hands.

Although the vaccination may appear as “the light at the end of the tunnel,” healthcare workers still question the effectiveness and half-life of the vaccine.

“Say I go in on Jan. 12 and I get my second shot. I hope it's not effective for, what, three months and then I'm not being protected, you know, for the rest of the year. So, that's just something that I hope is not the case,” Milonean said.


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