Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and federal officials clashed Wednesday over whether the state’s next two shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine were being cut back, putting on display the logistical complications of a massive vaccination distribution effort that’s slowly getting off the ground.
Pritzker said anticipated shipments nationwide in the next two weeks both have been cut in half, which “will likely cut our state’s projected Pfizer shipments this month roughly by half.” But a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said there have been no changes to the three official allocations that have been made to the states.
Meanwhile, Illinois Veterans’ Affairs officials acknowledged Wednesday that a complaint has been filed with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration over employees who tested positive for COVID-19 but continued to work at the state’s home in LaSalle where a deadly outbreak sickened more than 200 residents and staff members, and 33 residents have died.
Here’s what’s happening Wednesday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:
7:30 p.m. (updated): More Illinois hospitals begin vaccinating health care workers as state and federal officials clash over size of future shipments
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and federal health officials clashed Wednesday over whether the state’s next two shipments of Pfizer’s new coronavirus vaccine were being cut back, putting on display the logistical complications of a massive vaccination distribution effort that’s slowly getting off the ground in Illinois.
Pritzker began his daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday by saying anticipated shipments nationwide in the next two weeks both have been cut in half, which “will likely cut our state’s projected Pfizer shipments this month roughly by half.”
“The same is true across the rest of the nation,” the governor said.
But a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said there have been no changes to the three official allocations that have been made to the states: the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine, which was allocated Nov. 20 and went out this week; the first shipment of a second vaccine from Moderna, allocated Nov. 27 and set to ship as soon as next week; and the second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine, which was allocated Tuesday and also would ship next week.
“Operation Warp Speed remains on track to allocate enough vaccine for about 20 million Americans to receive their first doses before the end of the month,” assuming the Food and Drug Administration authorizes the Moderna vaccine for emergency use later this week, the spokesperson said.
A Pritzker spokeswoman had no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
The dispute over the number of available vaccine doses comes as public anticipation and media fervor triggered by the vaccine’s arrival in the state butts up against the painstaking process of receiving, repackaging and distributing the highly delicate doses to regional medical centers.
Those 10 large hospitals will serve as hubs for getting the vaccine to the designated local health departments and hospitals in line to receive the initial doses.
Some Illinois hospitals began giving their employees vaccines Wednesday.
6:20 p.m.: State VA official acknowledges employees with coronavirus allowed to work at LaSalle home where 33 veterans died
Illinois Veterans’ Affairs officials acknowledged Wednesday that a complaint has been filed with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration over employees who tested positive for COVID-19 but continued to work at the state’s home in LaSalle where a deadly outbreak sickened more than 200 workers and residents.
Staff members at LaSalle were not required to work after testing positive for the virus, but some chose to do so, Tony Kolbeck, chief of staff for the state VA department, said after being asked by legislators at a state House committee hearing whether employees were pressured to stay on the job.
“There were occasions in the overnight shift in which an individual was alerted that they were positive, they were in the COVID unit already,” Kolbeck said during the nearly four-hour House Veterans’ Affairs committee meeting. “They were asymptomatic and they chose to stay the rest of the shift. If they had not, there may have been a concern about not the proper staff being there in that overnight shift.”
The outbreak at LaSalle was first identified on Oct. 31, when a routine test on a staff member came back positive and a resident who was sent to the hospital for a separate issue tested positive.
Since then, 33 residents have died, and more than 200 residents and staff members have been infected. Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration fired LaSalle home administrator Angela Mehlbrech and placed the nursing director on administrative leave pending the outcome of an ongoing inspector general’s investigation.
4:45 p.m.: Chicago Teachers Union says ‘all options’ are on the table if schools can’t reopen safely
Less than 40% of Chicago Public Schools students eligible to begin in-person instruction next year plan to do so.
That’s according to survey data released during Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting – data that also showed a significant disparity in the rate of white students opting to return to schools versus students of color.
But at the same meeting, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey indicated the union remains highly skeptical about CPS’s reopening plans and he all options are on the table if the sides can’t reach an agreement on how to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmissions in schools.
Sharkey said options could include those that “would have very real consequences for this whole city.”
3:15 p.m.: Three Floyds reportedly closes brewpub — this time for good — due to pandemic
The newspaper reported Wednesday afternoon that the iconic northwest Indiana brewery has informed investors that its brewpub, which operated a full kitchen and poured a broad array of Three Floyds beers, will not reopen after being closed for seven months.
“As many of you know, this pandemic has not been kind to the restaurant industry, and we are no exception,” Three Floyds wrote in a letter to investors, according to the Times. “As of December 1, 2020, we have decided to permanently close 3 Floyds Brewpub. This decision was not easy for us, but at the end of the day, the safety of our customers and staff will always be our top priority.”
Calls to the brewery and its founder, Nick Floyd, were not returned Wednesday.
2:24 p.m.: Twin Drs. Brandi Jackson and Brittani James discuss COVID-19 and the Black community on Facebook Live
As part of the largest vaccination effort in American history, Chicago and other parts of Illinois began administering the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine this week.
While the pandemic has impacted all of our lives, it has disproportionately affected Black and brown communities.
Over one-third of Black adults said they know someone firsthand who died after contracting COVID-19. This reflects generations-long disinvestment in communities of color – disinvestment rooted in policy that continues in areas of housing, employment, education, food, transportation, small businesses and access to health care.
This harsh reality has been intensified by the racial tension seen across the nation following accounts of police brutality in the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others.
While some see the vaccine as a silver bullet that will take us back to prepandemic life, others are concerned that the vaccines have been rushed and want to see how the rollout goes before they commit to getting it.
In a recent poll, fewer than half of Black Americans said they would take the vaccine.
Dr. Brandi Jackson, director of Integrative Behavioral Health at Howard Brown Health Center and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at Rush University Medical College, and Dr. Brittani James, a family practitioner with the University of Illinois health system and assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, discuss the Black community’s response to the vaccine and the disparities and inequities they’ve seen in the past nine months on Facebook Live.
1:29 p.m.: Shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine significantly reduced over next two weeks
The next two shipments of the new Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to Illinois and other states have been significantly reduced by the federal government, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday.
”This development will likely cut our state’s project Pfizer shipments this month roughly by half,” Pritzker said at his daily COVID-19 briefing. “The same is true across the rest of the nation.”
Anticipated deliveries of about 8 million and 9 million doses in the next two weeks both have been cut to 4.3 million, Pritzker said.
Pritzker did not immediately provide a reason for the reduction.
12:10 p.m.: 7,123 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 146 additional deaths reported
Illinois health officials on Wednesday announced 7,123 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 146 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 870,600 and the statewide death toll to 14,655 since the start of the pandemic.
Officials also reported 93,278 new tests in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide rolling positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests was 8.5% for the period ending Tuesday.
11:13 a.m.: Chicago teachers union discusses ongoing safety concerns over in-person classes, reiterates demands
The Chicago Teachers Union held an online news conference Wednesday to address its ongoing safety concerns and to reiterate its demands ahead of Chicago Public Schools potentially reopening schools on a hybrid basis Feb. 1.
Numerous teachers and union officials, including its president, Jesse Sharkey, were joined on a Zoom call by environmental consultants to outline what they see as unacceptable conditions that should preclude reopening. Sharkey said there is a path to reopening before widespread access to a coronavirus vaccine becomes available, but that it hinges on a variety of factors which are addressed in a list of demands submitted to CPS by the union.
”The whole point behind the CTU setting out a number of demands is we think we should begin in-person learning when we can meet those demands,” Sharkey said. “We shouldn’t say everyone has to be vaccinated (first). Public health officials are telling us that may take a long time … It depends on there being some guardrails, if you will, that help us be assured of safety, equity and trust.”
Linda Perales, a special education teacher at Corkery Elementary, said that Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS have already made empty promises, among them that teachers would have access to adequate disinfectant wipes and that 400 additional custodians will be hired to keep schools clean and safe. She said each teacher would only get three containers of disinfectant wipes and only a quarter of those 400 janitorial positions have been filled to date.”
In addition, the CDC has told us that we should not interact with anyone outside of our household. And with the current CPS reopening plan, teachers and students will be interacting on a daily basis with multiple people that do not live in their household, who will not be able to wear a mask all day and who will not be able to social distance. So this plan is just truly unsafe,” Perales said.
She also said the demands on teachers to instruct students on basic safety precautions – how to socially distance, wear masks and wash their hands – on top of teaching under the hybrid remote and in-person model, are unsustainable.
”This is an impossible task. Not to mention that clinicians and special teachers, like art and music, will be travelling to multiple (buildings) which increases the risk for the transmission of COVID-19,” she said. “What we need is a real plan that is safe … and we need a better plan for remote learning.”
Sterling Laylock, a behavioral economist and environmental consultant working with the teachers union, said he’s repeatedly heard school and city officials say they are “following the science,” but he said that’s not accurate.
He is concerned about classroom conditions and remains unconvinced that a study provided by CPS, which relied on an air quality inspection of about 20% of CPS classrooms, is a fair assessment of what conditions will be like once they’re in use.
”We’ve got a lot of inconsistencies and a lot of missing information. If you just simply take a look at how the schools were inspected, they inspected 20% of the classrooms for indoor air quality with no persons present. People are the source of this COVID-19 pollution, when we breathe, when we cough,” he said.
The other 80% of classrooms were evaluated with a walkthrough and visual assessment. But Laylock said that beyond the dangers of COVID-19 transmission once rooms are in use, many of the most toxic gasses are colorless and odorless. By simply looking at an empty classroom, no one can say whether that room will be safe, Laylock said.
”We keep hearing, ‘we’re following the science, we’re following the science.’ Well, that sounds nice but we have to actually do the science – and that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is a marketing presentation, straight away,” Laylock said.
Short of ongoing monitoring, he said there is no way to use the visual inspections to extrapolate and say with any certainty what conditions will be like in all classrooms.
”I’m so passionate about it because how will we know where we are, and how will we know what we’re doing, and how will we be able to make any kind of corrective action, especially coupled with the fact that this report is incomplete and it focuses on buildings, not children and the adults that are staff and teachers, that are going to be expected to implement all this stuff,” he said.
8:38 a.m.: Negotiators nearing agreement on long-delayed COVID-19 aid bill — including direct payments
Top congressional leaders appear closer to an agreement on a long-delayed COVID-19 relief package, hoping to seal an agreement as early as Wednesday that would extend aid to individuals and businesses and help ship coronavirus vaccines to millions.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., a coauthor of a $908 billion bipartisan package, said leadership negotiators are closing in on an agreement that would extend direct payments of $500-$600 to most Americans but would deny Democratic negotiators long-sought aid to state and local governments. Manchin credited his bipartisan group with facilitating the breakthrough.
“I think they’re basically now putting it all together,” Manchin said on CNN. “We were able to break the gridlock.”
7:20 a.m.: Chicago handing out more than $11 million in relief to performance venues, restaurants and bars
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration was slated to announce that more than $11 million in grants is being handed out this week as part of a city COVID-19 relief fund, according to a news release.
The city’s Hospitality Grant Program has handed out grants of $10,000 to 995 restaurants and bars and grants of at least $10,000 to 100 performing arts venues, according to the release.
The grant money is designed to help those most affected “throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, especially following recent state-wide mitigation measures that have closed indoor service and performances,” according to the release.
The City Council was expected Wednesday to pass ordinances to give what Lightfoot’s office calls “regulatory relief” to businesses, including extending license expiration dates to July 21, after capping fees charged by third-party food delivery companies.
5 a.m.: ‘Project Cheer’ making Christmas a little brighter for Decatur restaurant employees
A group of anonymous donors are serving up a bit of Christmas cheer to local restaurant and bar employees affected by COVID-19 restrictions, and helping other businesses in the process.
“The mitigation measures faced by the restaurant and bar establishments has taken both a human and economic toll. With the holiday season upon us, our support is needed now more than ever,” said a news release from the Decatur Regional Chamber of Commerce announcing the Project Cheer initiative.
Working with the owners of restaurants that are members of the Chamber, employees most in need were identified to be among the beneficiaries of donations totaling more than $22,000.
The gifts, in the form of Metro Money, are being delivered to the recipients this week. Metro Money can be redeemed at over 45 local businesses and are treated just like cash.
“This gift allows those employees the opportunity to purchase food, Christmas gifts, whatever is needed to lighten their load this December while also putting dollars back into our local community,” the release stated.
The effort grew out of inquiries from Chamber members about ways of helping those in the local restaurant industry.
The Chamber partnered with the United Way of Decatur and Mid-Illinois to accept additional donations.
—Decatur Herald & Review, via Tribune Content Agency
Here are five things that happened Tuesday related to COVID-19: