Illinois Coronavirus Updates: Merck Anti-COVID Pill, Southwest Denies Flight Rumors

A new coronavirus treatment is one step closer to authorization from federal regulators. If approved, it would add an entirely new and easy-to-use weapon to the world’s arsenal against the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic across Illinois today: Southwest Says Vaccine Mandate Not to Blame for Flight Issues Citing air traffic control issues and bad weather, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights Sunday, 27% of its schedule, including dozens set to depart from Chicago’s Midway Airport. Midway, one of the airline’s major hubs, along with its other top destinations, Denver, Baltimore and Dallas Love Field, were among the hardest hit by the cancellations. The Federal Aviation Administration said there were a “few hours” of flight delays on Friday afternoon because of severe weather and staffing issues at Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center, which controls airspace in five parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina. But the FAA stated air traffic shortages haven’t been reported since then. The disparity between Southwest’s operation and other airlines fueled speculation on social media that employees were calling out sick, with some suggesting it was in protest of a COVID vaccine mandate. Southwest said that was not the cause of the mass flight cancellations. “It’s inaccurate,” a Southwest spokeswoman said by email. “There’s a lot of unfounded rumor and speculation circulating.” Read more here. Merck Asks US FDA to Authorize Promising Anti-COVID Pill Drugmaker Merck asked U.S. regulators Monday to authorize its pill against COVID-19. If cleared by the Food and Drug Administration — a decision that could come in a matter of weeks — it would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19. All other FDA-backed treatments against the disease require an IV or injection. An antiviral pill that people could take at home to reduce their symptoms and speed recovery could prove groundbreaking, easing the crushing caseload on U.S. hospitals and helping to curb outbreaks in poorer countries with weak health care systems. It would also bolster the two-pronged approach to the pandemic: treatment, by way of medication, and prevention, primarily through vaccinations. The FDA will scrutinize company data on the safety and effectiveness of the drug, molnupiravir, before rendering a decision. Read more here. Hampshire High School Going Remote for 2 Weeks to Slow COVID Transmission Hampshire High School in Kane County will start a two-week remote learning period Monday in an effort to reduce COVID-19 transmission in the community, school officials announced Friday. The shift to remote learning, which the Illinois Department of Public Health calls an “adaptive pause,” is a mitigation strategy being implemented by the Kane County Health Department, according to a post on the school’s Facebook page. Since Sept. 28, a total of 37 students Hampshire High School students have contracted COVID-19. Details here. Unvaccinated Chicago City Workers Must Undergo Twice Weekly Testing: Lightfoot City of Chicago employees who aren’t fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by Oct. 15 must partake in twice weekly testing, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Friday. However, the testing option won’t be available in the long term. While the city continues to educate employees with “true scientific data” and participate in discussions with labor organizations, it will permit the twice weekly testing for unvaccinated employees through Dec. 31, officials said in a news release. In late August, Lightfoot announced a vaccination mandate for all city workers, saying it’s the best way to “keep everyone in our city safe and healthy.” All city employees were initially required to be vaccinated by Oct. 15, the date the policy takes effect, but those who aren’t fully inoculated by the deadline may partake in the newly-announced testing option. Read more here. How Long Do COVID Symptoms Last? Chicago’s Top Doc Answers Quarantine times for unvaccinated and vaccinated people who contract COVID-19 are the same, according to Chicago’s top doctor, but how long do the symptoms last? Patients who test positive for COVID are required to quarantine for 10 days from the onset of symptoms or a positive test result, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Thursday. In most cases, she said, symptoms of the virus are resolved within 10 days, especially for those who have received the coronavirus vaccine. Read more here. Coronavirus in Illinois: 19,244 New COVID Cases, 209 Deaths, 251K Vaccinations in the Past Week Illinois health officials on Friday reported 19,244 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, along with 209 additional deaths and over 251,000 new vaccine doses administered. In all, 1,650,108 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the state since the pandemic began, according to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health. The additional deaths reported this week bring the state to 25,224 confirmed COVID fatalities. The state’s seven-day positivity rate on all tests dropped to 2.1% from last week 2.2% and 2.7% the week before, officials said. The rolling average seven-day positivity rate for cases as a percentage of total tests also dropped to 2.6% from 2.8% last week and 3.7% the week before. More than 14.8 million vaccine doses have been administered in Illinois since vaccinations began in December. More than 54% of Illinois resident are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with more than 69% receiving at least one dose. Read more here. Chicago Firefighter Dies of COVID-19 Complications A Chicago firefighter died from COVID-19, the fourth member of the department to die from complications of the virus. Michael Pickering, 45, joined the department in 2003. He was assigned to Engine 29 in Bridgeport and was a father of three, officials said. Read more here. Get the latest news on COVID-19 in your inbox. Click here to sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter.

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