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The Rundown: Local opioid deaths poised to set new record

Hey there! I’d totally take the “doggy bus” to work if I could. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. The number of opioid deaths reported in Cook County last year may set a new record

Cook County officials say the number of opioid deaths reported last year will likely surpass 2,000 after all autopsies are completed.

That means Cook County is poised to see back-to-back years setting new records. In 2021, the county reported a record 1,936 opioid overdoses.

But researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago say the county may be seriously undercounting the deaths, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

“A study by the UIC School of Public Health found at least 633 hospital deaths from 2016 to 2019 that met the criteria for opioid overdose yet were not listed as such by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the newspaper reports. [Chicago Sun-Times]

2. Willie Wilson’s bid for mayor got a potential boost

Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson was endorsed today by Ald. Ray Lopez, a former mayoral contender who hopes to broaden Wilson’s support among Latino voters, reports my colleague Fran Spielman at the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Last time, he won all [but five] Black wards,” Lopez said of Wilson. “He’s been working hard to expand beyond that base and develop a constituency in other wards.”

Like Lopez, Wilson is running to the right of Mayor Lori Lightfoot with a “tough on crime” platform.

But when it comes to the support of more conservative voters, Wilson still faces competition from Paul Vallas, a former head of Chicago Public Schools who has ties to the city’s Fraternal Order of Police. [Chicago Sun-Times]

3. The GOP stalemate over House speaker drags on despite a last-minute plea from Trump

The deadlock over who will become House speaker dragged on for a second day, with Republican leader Kevin McCarthy failing to gain enough support on a fourth, fifth and sixth vote.

Even a last-minute plea from former President Donald Trump was not enough to resolve a rebellion from far-right Republicans.

The problem boils down to this: 218 votes are needed to become speaker if every member casts a ballot. Republicans hold a slim 222-seat majority, leaving little room for defections.

The House, which is unable to do anything else until the standoff ends and a speaker is selected, is expected to reconvene at 7 p.m. CT. [NPR]

The whole debacle reflects how “House Republicans have grown more skilled at legislative sabotage than legislative success, leaving the difficult business of getting things done to others,” writes Carl Hulse, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times. [NYT]

4. What happens if cash bail ends in Illinois? New Jersey may offer some answers.

An Illinois law abolishing cash bail has been halted by the state’s supreme court, which is expected to hear arguments over whether this significant overhaul of the criminal justice system violates the powers given to judges by the state’s constitution.

But does ending cash bail work as intended without leading to a surge in crime? That’s the question being debated outside of the courtroom.

And New Jersey could give us a better picture of what happens after cash bail ends, reports the Illinois Answers Project.

“The Garden State’s bail reform coincided with a sharp drop in the state’s pretrial jail population, from more than 15,000 detainees in 2012 to fewer than 8,000 in 2019. By 2021, defendants with violent charges made up about 55% of the state’s jail detainees, up from 47% in 2018,” the nonprofit news organization reports.

“At the same time, the percentage of defendants who were charged with serious crimes while out on pretrial release did not budge from 2017 to 2019, holding at 13.7%. The proportion of re-offenders soared past 20% in 2020, however, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic and a nationwide spike in crime.” [Illinois Answers Project]

5. Could the answer to combating seasonal depression be something called ‘hygge’?

We are well into Chicago’s gloomy winter season. And it can be a very difficult time for many residents who experience seasonal depression.

My colleague Araceli Gomez-Aldana is trying something new to help her get through the next couple of months — hygge, which is pronounced hugh-guh.

It’s a Danish expression “associated with comfort and joy,” said Kristen Larson, who works at Chicago’s Swedish American Museum and is ancestrally Danish.

“Are you comfortable? Are you warm? Are you grounded and open to moments of connectedness with the people around you?” Larson said. “The true expression of hygge is joining with a loved one in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.” [WBEZ]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Damar Hamlin’s recovery is moving in “a positive direction,” according to a family spokesman. [AP]
  • Survivors of police torture want candidates running in Chicago’s mayoral race to support a public memorial. [Block Club Chicago]
  • Some pharmacies will be able to offer abortion pills. [AP]
  • Southwest Airlines is giving 25,000 frequent-flyer points to passengers stranded by its holiday meltdown. [NPR]

Oh, and one more thing …

Whenever the GOP stalemate over the House speaker ends, everyone will be sworn in. And one incoming congressman will take the oath of office on a rare Superman comic book under the Constitution, reports The Washington Post.

Rep.-elect Robert Garcia, a Democrat from California, is an outspoken fan of comic books, saying “anyone who understands comics knows that comics are an essential part of American fiction. And the lessons learned are invaluable.”

Garcia said he will also take the oath on his citizenship certificate and a photograph of his parents, who died from COVID-19 in 2020. [Washington Post]

Tell me something good ...

I can’t stop laughing about the 2023 predictions made by people in 1923. So I’d like to know, what do you think will happen in 2123?

Paul Lockwood writes:

“It won’t be because of a pandemic, but I predict that in 2123, plays and musicals will be performed without in-person audiences. Instead, there’ll be hundreds of individual cameras — one per seat — so you can remotely zoom in or out and see the show, but the more you pay, the better your view. Oh, and The Lion King will still be a ‘mane’ attraction.”

Feel free to email me, and your response might be shared in the newsletter this week.

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