The largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history is now underway as health workers in select U.S. hospitals rolled up their sleeves for shots to protect them from COVID-19 and start beating back the pandemic has killed 1.6 million and sickened 71 million worldwide.

The first shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine for widespread use in the United States headed Sunday from Michigan to distribution centers across the country.

Chicago-area hospitals are also gearing up to give the first COVID-19 vaccination shots to their employees as soon as early this week.

Doctors to answer reader questions about COVID-19 vaccinations today and Wednesday on Facebook Live »
Illinois health officials Sunday announced 7,216 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 115 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 848,904 and the statewide confirmed death toll to 14,291 since the start of the pandemic.

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Here’s what’s happening Monday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:

9:41 a.m.: Health care workers begin receiving COVID-19 vaccine as largest vaccination campaign in US history now underway: ‘I feel hopeful today’
The largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history got underway Monday as health workers in select hospitals rolled up their sleeves for shots to protect them from COVID-19 and start beating back the pandemic — a day of optimism even as the nation’s death toll neared 300,000.

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“I feel hopeful today. Relieved,” said critical case nurse Sandra Lindsay after getting a shot in the arm at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York.

Shipments of precious frozen vials of vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech began arriving at hospitals around the country Monday.

“This is the light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s a long tunnel,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as he watched Lindsay’s vaccination via video.

Several other countries also have OK’d the vaccine, including the U.K., which started vaccinating last week.

For health care workers who, along with nursing home residents, will be first in line for vaccination, hope is tempered by grief and the sheer exhaustion of months spent battling a coronavirus that still is surging in the U.S. and around the world.

“This is mile 24 of a marathon. People are fatigued. But we also recognize that this end is in sight,” said Dr. Chris Dale of Swedish Health Services in Seattle.

Read more here. —Associated Press

8 a.m.: Zoom scavenger hunts, Champagne deliveries: With office parties canceled, Chicago companies get creative
Kelly Cain normally goes all out for her staff of about 20 at the holidays, renting a suite at United Center for Chicago Blackhawks games or organizing a group trip to the theater.

The tab for these year-end festivities at Supply & Equipment Foodservice Alliance typically runs $400 to $600 per employee, said Cain, CEO of the Schaumburg-based company.

This year, the celebration will be on Zoom, since the coronavirus pandemic has nixed an in-person gathering. The company also plans to mail employees gift baskets filled with an assortment of food products, Cain said.

“Some of them are going through some rough times. Some have spouses or partners who have been very negatively impacted. … It’d be a missed opportunity to not show you care, especially with virtual opportunities,” Cain said.

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For businesses large and small, it’s been a tough year of layoffs, furloughs, and salary cuts, as some companies struggle to keep the doors open. Health concerns and tight finances may have scrapped traditional holiday parties, as well as year-end bonuses at some companies, but employers are looking for creative ways to offer some sort of cheer at the end of a difficult year.

Read more here. —Abdel Jimenez

7:15 a.m.: Cook County to detail plans for vaccine distribution as doses to begin arriving in Illinois
Cook County officials were scheduled Monday to detail plans for distribution of the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in suburbs in the county, after Chicago officials last week provided some information on city plans and hospitals geared up to start vaccinating their workers as soon as Monday.

City officials last week said they expect to receive 23,000 doses in their initial batch and additional doses of the vaccine every subsequent week, with all 34 hospitals in Chicago receiving some of the initial doses, city officials said Friday. Rush University Medical Center officials last week said they could begin vaccinating health care workers there as soon as Monday, while other hospitals said they were looking at midweek starts.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and leaders of the county’s health department were scheduled to hold a Monday afternoon news conference to detail plans for distribution in Cook County suburbs. Hines VA Hospital in the west suburbs on Friday said it was one of 37 Veterans Administration sites selected to receive initial doses of the vaccine.

—Chicago Tribune staff

7:05 a.m.: ComEd, state offer grants to small businesses hit by COVID-19
In light of the economic hardships brought about by COVID-19, starting Wednesday, ComED is accepting applications for its Small Business Assistance Program, which provides eligible small business customers, with a one-time grant up to $2,000 towards a past-due balance. Eligible customers also may place a remaining balance into a payment plan of up to 6 months.

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Call 877-426-6331to apply; go to www.comed.com for more information.

In addition, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity reminds small businesses and communities that applications for the Business Interruption Grant program are due by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

DCEO and its grant administrators Accion and WBDC have developed a menu of resources and technical assistance to help small businesses in need qualify for grants. Go to www2.illinois.gov for more information on BIG eligibility, how to receive assistance with submitting your application, and to review the application.

BIG grants, leveraging federal CARES Act dollars, provide grants ranging from $5,000 to $150,000. The average grant provided to date is $25,000. Grant funds may be used toward operational expenses, including PPE, rent and utilities, payroll, and more.

—The Daily Gazette, via Tribune Content Agency

5 a.m.: Violent crime rate doubles on CTA rail system in 2020, even with stepped-up police efforts and far fewer riders
The rate of violent crime on CTA trains and platforms has more than doubled this year, even though the number of riders has dramatically dropped and Chicago police have stepped up patrols and surveillance, according to a Tribune analysis of police and CTA data.

Ridership this year on the “L” system has been down 61% through September compared with the same period in 2019, according to the CTA. In some months during the spring and summer, it was down more than 85%.

The number of crimes has dropped, too, but not nearly as much as ridership. That means those left riding the system saw a jump in their odds of becoming a victim to a crime on the “L” or at CTA platforms and stations.

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