Chicago will join the rest of Illinois by advancing to the next phase of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program on Monday, which will include residents age 65 or older and front-line essential workers, including teachers, the city said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union’s governing body is expected to convene Wednesday and could send a vote to members as soon as Thursday to strike or take other collective action as early as next week, several sources told the Tribune.
Here’s what’s happening Tuesday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:
7 p.m.: IHSA approves plan for winter sports to begin, allows contact days for fall, spring and summer sports
Winter sports will be on their way.
By an email vote, the Illinois High School Association board approved a plan Tuesday that allows winter sports, with the exception of boys and girls basketball, to be played seven practice days after the first practice.
Badminton, boys swimming, boys and girls bowling, and girls gymnastics are all lower-risk sports.
The acclimation period was developed by the IHSA’s sports medicine advisory committee.
The Illinois Department of Public Health moved Chicago and most of the suburbs Monday into Tier 2, which allows competition.
Will and Kankakee counties, however, are still in Tier 3. That means high schools like Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way Central, Lincoln-Way West, Lockport, Lemont, Providence and Joliet Catholic will not be able to practice or compete until reaching the next level.
The IHSA also approved contact days for all fall, spring and summer sports, beginning Jan. 25.
6 p.m. (update): Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum announce plans to reopen as COVID restrictions loosen
Shedd Aquarium Tuesday became the first major cultural institution to announce reopening plans following the state’s determination Monday that Chicago is now in improved Tier 2 COVID mitigation status.
The Shedd news was followed by the Field Museum revealing its plans to reopen even sooner, by the end of this week.
The lakefront aquarium, which in November closed down for a second time due to the pandemic, said it will allow the public back in on Saturday, Jan. 30. Members will be allowed in first, Jan. 27-29, with additional members-only hours available on the 31st.
Its Museum Campus neighbor the Field said it will open to members Thursday and Friday and then to the general public on Saturday, with next Monday and Thursday being free to Illinois residents.
Other museums are expected to follow suit. The area’s two major zoos, Brookfield and Lincoln Park, are closed for the first two months of the year as a cost-saving and safety measure.
5:20 p.m.: Drive-through indoor facility opens at Lake County Fairgrounds for faster vaccinations
Conditions were good for Deputy Lake County Coroner Kiersten Reif when she received her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 28 at the Lake County Health Department’s drive-through site at its Waukegan offices.
But, Reif liked the circumstances much more when she received her second dose Tuesday at the department’s new drive-through indoor facility at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake.
“It was a lot nicer, and less congested,” Reif said. “They were able to do a lot more at the same time.”
“It was a lot better this time,” added Sgt. Steve Carroll of the coroner’s office, who also received his second dose.
The health department opened its expanded facility at the fairgrounds Tuesday utilizing the building’s garage doors to allow patients to pull into the building, receive their shot and drive out in five minutes, with a goal of doubling overall vaccination capacity.
Mark Pfister, the health department’s executive director, said the fairgrounds large main building has the room to accommodate multiple lines of vehicles, and indoor lighting enables longer hours. Indoor working conditions make it easier for staff to prepare and administer the doses.
“Once a person is in line, they should get their shot in five minutes,” Pfister said. “This is for people who are eligible and registered in our system. We can do more (now), but we must have the vaccine in our system.”
5 p.m.: IRS investigating hundreds of COVID-19 scams, warns Illinois taxpayers
As the second round of pandemic relief checks go out to millions of Americans, the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation division warned Illinois taxpayers Tuesday that it was looking into hundreds of COVID-19-related scams across the country and abroad.
“Criminals will look for any opportunity to take what they are not entitled to and this is no exception,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Tamera Cantu, of the IRS’ Chicago field office, in a news release.
“This payment is meant to help those that are struggling to get by as a result of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic,” said Cantu. “Be wary of any phone calls, emails, or text messages asking for your personal information or offering a deal that seems too good to be true.”
The IRS highlighted several COVID-19 scams, including fabricated text messages requiring bank account information to receive a stimulus check, fake test kits, cures and vaccines, fraudulent donation requests and calls to invest in companies supposedly developing vaccines.
The agency notes online that it does not demand payment without the chance to appeal, ask for account information over the phone or via text, threaten lawsuits, jail time or deportation for nonpayment or ask people to pay in gift cards.
The IRS’ Chicago field office did not have further data on the scams affecting Illinois residents specifically, a spokesperson said.
Taxpayers can report suspected scams to the National Center for Disaster Fraud’sphone hotline, 1-866-720-5721 or through its online complaint form.
4:10 p.m.: Illinois school districts get $2 billion in latest COVID-19 federal relief package
Illinois public schools have been awarded $2.2 billion in COVID-19 relief funding — more than four times the federal dollars the state received in the first round of pandemic aid for schools last spring, state education officials said.
The U.S. Department of Education’s preliminary allocations for the second round of COVID-19 relief money for Illinois schools through the second Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund arrives as president-elect Joe Biden is pledging to reopen a majority of schools across the U.S. during his first 100 days in office.
The infusion of federal dollars will be released to school districts in the form of grants for “urgent needs,” officials said, including COVID-19 safety protocol, mitigating learning loss during the pandemic, closing the digital divide, and addressing the mental health needs of students, officials said.
3:50 p.m.: Illinois launches four new COVID-19 vaccination sites in Cook County
Illinois residents began getting COVID-19 shots at four new mass vaccination sites in Cook County on Tuesday as the state readies for the next phase of immunizations.
Two of the sites are in the western suburbs, the North Riverside Health Center in North Riverside and Morton East Adolescent Health Center in Cicero; and two are in the south suburbs, Robbins Health Center in Robbins and Cottage Grove Health Center Ford Heights.
The four sites are being run with support from the Illinois National Guard and will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office said Tuesday.
The sites are will be open to front line health care workers until Illinois officially moves into Phase 1b of its vaccination plan on Monday. That phase includes people 65 and older and front-line essential workers including public transit and grocery store employees, as well as teachers.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is also launching partnerships with large pharmacies to set up “hundreds of new sites in communities across Illinois,” according to Pritzker’s office.
Pritzker called the sites “a pivotal first step of a plan that coordinates our 97 local health departments statewide — who operate clinics already and will open up more as vaccine supply grows,” in a statement on Tuesday.
Illinois National Guard members are also deploying to other parts of the state to help set up new vaccination sites and expand existing ones.
Illinois began vaccinating front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities against COVID-19 in mid-December.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called the new vaccine sites “critical in increasing our vaccination capabilities and protecting our communities from COVID-19, as we return to normalcy.”
3:15 p.m.: Restaurants decry uneven playing field over owners who flout indoor dining ban
Even as a return to indoor dining in Illinois appears to be inching closer, restaurant owners — particularly those who have been complying with state mandates — are expressing growing resentment over what they describe as an uneven playing field.
The resentment is twofold: Restaurants that skirt or openly flout Illinois state rules — and the number doing so is significant, restaurateurs claim — are taking away business from compliant operations. Inconsistent or absent enforcement is enabling violators.
Indoor dining could resume as early as this week, according to Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s public health commissioner, who cited improved COVID-19 numbers, in predicting Tuesday that dining could be “days” away. Yet capacity would still be limited to 25%, giving restaurants flouting the rules an unfair advantage. In Chicago, 395 businesses, most of them restaurants and bars, have been cited for violating COVID-19 regulations since March.
No restaurateur will call out bad-faith competitors by name. Nobody wants to play police officer, and there is sympathy for those who are struggling to keep their businesses alive and their staffers employed. But there is concern that, by allowing indoor dining to customers eager to “return to normal,” rules-breaking restaurants may be adding to the surge in coronavirus cases, thus postponing the day when indoor dining can resume safely.
3:10 p.m.: Lightfoot calls on Chicagoans to take part in national memorial to remember COVID-19 victims on eve of Biden-Harris inauguration
Chicago’s Democratic mayor is calling on Chicagoans to turn off their lights and other electronics Tuesday night, the eve of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, for 10 minutes in remembrance of victims of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
The event, dubbed a National COVID-19 Memorial Service, is being organized by the incoming Biden administration and scheduled at 6 p.m.
The Willis Tower antenna, along with several other buildings in the downtown skyline, sit partially dark during a 10-minute citywide COVID-19 memorial service on Jan. 19, 2021, in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)
Chicago residents as well as businesses owners can participate by turning off their lights and electronics, step outside their home or workplace, and light a candle and offer a moment of silence for those who have died from the virus.
“Following 10 minutes of reflection, everyone will turn the lights back on at 6:10 p.m. CST to symbolize moving from darkness to light,” the mayor’s office said in a statement last week.
Among those who have said they’re participating: the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago (BOMA/Chicago) — an association of 240 downtown buildings — and Wrigley Field. The mayor’s office set up an email for people to participate, [email protected], as well as a social media hashtag, #brightertogether.
Lightfoot is not attending the Biden inauguration, her staff said.
2:10 p.m.: American COVID-19 deaths pass 400,000, with death rate accelerating, on final full day of Trump’s term
As President Donald Trump entered the final year of his term last January, the U.S. recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19. Not to worry, Trump insisted, his administration had the virus “totally under control.”
Now, in his final hours in office, after a year of presidential denials of reality and responsibility, the pandemic’s U.S. death toll has eclipsed 400,000. And the loss of lives is accelerating.
“This is just one step on an ominous path of fatalities,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and one of many public health experts who contend the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis led to thousands of avoidable deaths.
“Everything about how it’s been managed has been infused with incompetence and dishonesty, and we’re paying a heavy price,” he said.
The 400,000-death toll, reported Tuesday by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of New Orleans, Cleveland or Tampa, Florida. It’s nearly equal to the number of American lives lost annually to strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, flu and pneumonia combined.
With more than 4,000 deaths recorded on some recent days — the most since the pandemic began — the toll by week’s end will probably surpass the number of Americans killed in World War II.
1:55 p.m.: Downtown Dogs closing after more than 26 years due to pandemic
Downtown Dogs, the much-loved Chicago hot dog stand that first opened in 1994, plans to close by the end of the month. According to a message from the restaurant, “the pandemic has caused us to lose our lease and permanently close our doors.” The restaurant also noted that it was looted twice over the past year.
While finding a hot dog in Chicago isn’t exactly a difficult task, Downtown Dogs’ location a block from the Chicago Water Tower, meant that it was a welcome reprieve from the crush of bag-toting tourists on the Magnificent Mile. Along with fully loaded hot dogs, the shop served a number of classic Chicago dishes, including Italian beefs and Polish sausages. In fact, we last visited for a pizza puff, that misunderstood Chicago classic.
You have until Jan. 30 to place your last order.
1:25 p.m.: Evanston, Skokie move forward with COVID-19 vaccination plans as thousands of doses already administered
Evanston and Skokie health officials hope to finish their first round of COVID-19 vaccinations this week as they look toward expanding distribution to include high-risk residents.
When that will ultimately happen, though, depends on if the state provides the needed vaccine doses to finish inoculating paramedics and hospital health care workers, said Greg Olsen, public health manager for the city of Evanston’s Health and Human Services Department.
“Once we have the vaccine in hand, it’s been very smooth,” Olsen said.
However, local health officials don’t know in advance how much vaccine they will receive each week, which makes it difficult to estimate when, exactly, this phase will wrap up and the next phase of inoculations will begin.
12:55 p.m.: CTU delegates could set a strike vote this week as impasse looms over schools reopening
The Chicago Teachers Union’s governing body is expected to convene Wednesday and could send a vote to members as soon as Thursday to strike or take other collective action as early as next week, several sources told the Tribune.
With thousands more teachers due to report to work in person for the first time on Monday – and the union still at an impasse with Chicago Public Schools leaders over a reopening plan – there’s urgency to the need to come to an agreement to reopen schools.
CPS CEO Janice Jackson Tuesday she wants an agreement but that it must involve how schools can reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, not whether they will reopen.
12:22 p.m.: Elmwood Park schools reopen for first time since closing last March
Parents and children, standing in small clusters divided by household, greeted each other from six feet apart as they waited in line outside Elmwood Elementary School for the first day of hybrid learning Tuesday morning in Elmwood Park.
Elmwood Park School District 401 students have been taking online classes since Gov. J.B. Pritzker closed all schools throughout the state last March. On Tuesday, the youngest students, pre-K through second graders, and those in bilingual classes and special education returned to school for the first time since then. The rest of the students are scheduled to return Jan. 25.
12:10 p.m.: 4,318 new and probable cases of COVID-19, 33 additional deaths reported
Illinois announced Tuesday 4,318 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, for a total of 1,076,532 statewide since the pandemic began. The state also announced 33 new deaths for a total of 18,291.
There were 71,533 tests reported and the seven-day statewide positivity rate is 6.9%.
On Monday, 13,169 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered, officials said, bringing the number administered statewide to 508,732.
12:05 p.m.: Chicago entering next phase of Illinois’ COVID-19 vaccine program Jan. 25, as officials predict indoor dining could resume within days
Chicago will join the rest of Illinois by advancing to the next phase of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program on Monday, which will include residents age 65 or older and front-line essential workers, including teachers, the city said Tuesday.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, meanwhile, said she hopes indoor dining “soon” will be allowed at restaurants across Chicago after Gov. J.B. Pritzker eased other COVID-19 restrictions on the city.
Citing improved COVID-19 numbers, Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s public health commissioner, predicted indoor dining could be “days” away.
“We’re still a few days, could be a week, away from this but if progress continues in the right way, I think it is likely that we may be able to move all the way to the Tier 1 mitigation, which is when we are able to reopen indoor dining,” Arwady said during an online question-and-answer session. “We’re not there yet, but I want you to know that the way the numbers are heading, I am feeling very optimistic.”
Arwady also announced on Tuesday that the city’s vaccination plan for phase 1b, which includes Chicagoans 65 and older and front line essential workers, will formally begin Jan. 25. Those oldest and at highest risk will be prioritized.
A team of pharmacists from Walgreens arrived at Plymouth Place Senior Living in La Grange Park Saturday morning with the coronavirus vaccine. When they left more than seven hours later, between 550 and 560 people had been vaccinated with the Pfizer BioNTech drug.
”It is exciting for them, and their families are thrilled,” said Kate Curran, Plymouth Place’s senior director of communications. “Our staff and residents have been through months and months of challenging times.”
The complex, at 315 N. La Grange Road, offers a range of living accommodations, from independent living to skilled nursing care.
“We have had no communal dining for awhile,” Curran said. Since COVID-19 infection rates increased in the fall, the residents have been tested for the virus twice a week.
11:45 a.m.: Small nonprofits could get up to $25,000 in latest round of state grant program
Ten small Illinois nonprofits could win grants of up to $25,000 in the latest cycle of an Illinois grant program, State Treasurer Michael Frerichs announced Tuesday.
“We are excited to kick off the new year with up to $250,000 available to small” nonprofits, Frerichs said in a news release. “We all are experiencing the impact of the pandemic and this funding will help valuable organizations continue their mission to feed, house, and employ those in need.”
The Illinois General Assembly authorized the Charitable Trust Stabilization Fund in 2017 to help primarily nonprofits with operating costs of less than $1 million annually. Since then, the fund has awarded nearly $3 million to 134 nonprofits, according to the office of the treasurer.
Organizations can apply until March 31 in three categories, depending on their work: food, housing and workforce or economic development.
More than half of Illinois nonprofits reported revenue drops of at least 15% since the start of the pandemic, according to a survey released this month by statewide nonprofit association Forefront. —Leslie Bonilla
11:37 a.m.: Winnetka teachers report increased workload, health and safety concerns under COVID-19 hybrid learning plan
Despite most parents and students giving high marks to the COVID-19 hybrid learning plan at Winnetka School District 36, many of the district’s teachers are less enthusiastic about several aspects of the school year, according to a recent survey.
The survey, which gauged the opinions of 918 parents, 927 students and 260 staff members in mid-December, found that while nearly 57% of parents described the district’s management of the school year during the pandemic as “very successful,” only 28% staff members felt the same way.
Parents were also far more enthusiastic in regards to their overall comfort level with the district’s health and safety protocols for students attending school in-person, with 83% of parents saying they felt “very comfortable,” compared with just around 30% of the district’s staff.
When it comes to perceived student engagement with the in-person portion of the school day, 61% of parents said their students were “very engaged,” but just 33% of students and 43% of staff agreed with that sentiment.
Still, the three groups found some common ground, with just 20% of students and parents, and 21% of staff members, describing student engagement with the remote, synchronous arts portion of the school day as “very engaged.”
11:20 a.m.: Wisconsin to offer coronavirus vaccine to everyone over age 65
Everyone over age 65 in Wisconsin will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting on Monday, a group of 700,000 people that is more expansive than originally envisioned to be next in line for the shot, the state Department of Health Services said Tuesday, .
The department also cautioned that the speed of vaccinations depends on how much vaccine the state receives from the federal government. Wisconsin receives about 70,000 doses of first-dose vaccine each week; at that pace, it could take months to vaccinate the new group.
People over age 65 will be able to get vaccinated through their health care provider, pharmacy, or local or tribal public health agency. Those being vaccinated directly through their health care provider will typically be contacted to schedule an appointment, the state health department said.
10:57 a.m.: SAT dropping essay section, subject-matter tests to streamline during pandemic
The College Board announced Tuesday that it would drop the optional essay section from the SAT college entrance examination, which it administers, and that it would stop administering subject-matter tests in the United States, as part of a streamlining process that was accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The board said it would continue to develop a version of the SAT test that could be administered digitally, something it tried and failed to do quickly last year, after the pandemic shut down testing centers and forced the organization to cancel many administrations of the test. The board gave no time frame for when a digital version of the SAT might be introduced.
The owner of the 83-story Aon Center is investing $6.5 million to demolish and redesign its half-acre plaza in anticipation of greater demand for outdoor space in a post-pandemic downtown. (HGA)
8 a.m.: Aon Center plaza getting $6.5 million renovation, as workers expected to seek outdoor spaces after COVID-19
The owner of one of Chicago’s biggest office towers is investing $6.5 million to demolish and redesign its half-acre plaza in anticipation of greater demand for outdoor space in a post-pandemic downtown.
Work is underway to tear out the underutilized, multilevel plaza along the south side of the 83-story Aon Center. The overhaul is designed to eliminate the fortresslike edge of the plaza along Randolph Street, just north of Millennium Park, and create more usable space as the city moves toward a large-scale return of workers later this year as COVID-19 vaccinations are broadly distributed.
The renovated plaza is expected to open around August, according to the Telos Group, one of the leasing brokers for New York-based property owner 601W Cos.
“The current plaza isn’t very welcoming,” said Telos leasing broker Caroline Colnon. “You can’t see the entry from street level. This is a great time to bring the plaza into present times.”
Other property owners that have ground-level outdoor spaces — and money to invest during a challenging real estate market — could follow suit, experts say.
7:05 a.m.: State teachers union launches COVID-19 case tracker for schools
The Illinois Federation of Teachers on Tuesday announced it’s launching a coronavirus case tracker for schools, combining state data with case reports from its members and the public.
Before the start of the school year, the IFT said it wanted all reopening plans to be negotiated with unions and include precautions such as temperatures checks and limiting groups to 15 students in elementary and secondary classrooms.
“The new interactive website is designed to help track coronavirus-related health and safety concerns in real time for schools and campuses across the state,” according to a news release. The information will be used “by unions and communities in their continued efforts to ensure safe learning and working conditions.”
The union site is designed for “crowdsourcing reports of health and safety violations and concerns identified by staff members, parents, and community members,” according to the release.
The site includes “a mapping tool that shows district-by-district information reported to the IFT to help easily identify issues in each area,” and will show “all school-related outbreaks as reported” to the state health department, according to the release.
Teachers unions in Texas and Massachusetts, as well as the Chicago Teachers Union, whose information is included in the IFT site, also are using similar sites, according to the release.
For more information and to view the tracker when it’s operating, check the IFT’s website. —Chicago Tribune staff
6:30 a.m.: Progress against COVID-19 threatened by mutations during slow vaccine rollout
The race against the virus that causes COVID-19 has taken a new turn: Mutations are rapidly popping up, and the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more likely it is that a variant that can elude current tests, treatments and vaccines could emerge.
The coronavirus is becoming more genetically diverse, and health officials say the high rate of new cases is the main reason. Each new infection gives the virus a chance to mutate as it makes copies of itself, threatening to undo the progress made so far to control the pandemic.
On Friday, the World Health Organization urged more effort to detect new variants. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a new version first identified in the United Kingdom may become dominant in the U.S. by March. Although it doesn’t cause more severe illness, it will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths just because it spreads much more easily, said the CDC, warning of “a new phase of exponential growth.”
“We’re taking it really very seriously,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
6 a.m.: A nursing home network is offering cash bonuses to employees who get a COVID-19 vaccination. How effective are such incentives?
Tonya Tjavaras, a nurse at a local nursing home network, received her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in a festive atmosphere with music and doughnuts.
But Tjavaras got something else as well — a bonus of $150 for opting in to receive the vaccine, which has not had universal buy-in among health care workers eligible to take it under the state’s first phase of inoculation.
The health care network, BRIA Health Services, which has multiple facilities in the Chicago area, is offering the cash bonus as an incentive to persuade staff members to take the vaccine, creating one possible tool for employers and agencies to boost vaccine rates.
“I think the bonus is definitely appreciated,” Tjavaras said.
Some studies have shown that incentivizing vaccines can increase participation, but some experts are wary of the practice. At least one Texas health system is offering a similar cash bonus, paying workers a $500 bonus for choosing to become vaccinated, according to news reports, and Chicago Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady at a City Council hearing on Wednesday threw out the idea of giving stipends to health care workers as an incentive to boost vaccine rates, though a health department spokesman said there are no immediate plans to do this.
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