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Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 14, 2021: Illinois’ coronavirus testing positivity rate falls to lowest rate since Christmastime

Here’s Thursday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

Illinois’ daily case numbers and deaths are slowly beginning to trend down, and the state’s average positivity rate is also falling. But the coronavirus pandemic isn’t over yet.

Here’s what else happened in Chicago and around Illinois.


News

8:55 p.m. Positivity rate back down to Christmas levels as Illinois logs 6,652 new cases, 88 more deaths

Ashlee Rezin Garcia /Chicago Sun-Times

Illinois’ coronavirus testing positivity fell to its lowest point since Christmastime as public health officials on Thursday announced 6,652 new cases of COVID-19 and 88 more deaths attributed to the disease.

The latest infections were diagnosed among 118,036 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, decreasing the seven-day average positivity rate to 6.8%.

That indicator of transmission has been on the decline for a full week after a steady post-holiday increase. It had topped 13% on Nov. 13 during the state’s record-breaking resurgence and fell to 6.8% by Dec. 26 — and then edged back up to 8.6% as recently as Jan. 4.

The positivity rate soared over 20% when the pandemic first gripped the state and sank as low as 2.5% in early July.

Read the full story here.


6:01 p.m. Biden unveiling $1.9 trillion plan to stem virus and steady economy

President-elect Joe Biden is unveiling a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan Thursday to turn the tide on the pandemic, speeding up the vaccine rollout and providing financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses struggling with the prolonged economic fallout.

Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. On a parallel track, it would deliver another round of aid to stabilize the economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic, said aides who described the plan ahead of a speech by Biden on Thursday evening.

It includes $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 that Biden has called for. The plan would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September.

And it shoehorns in long-term Democratic policy aims such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing tax credits for families with children. The last item would make it easier for women to go back to work, which in turn would help the economy recover.

Read the full report here.

4:45 p.m. State legislators told to quarantine after potential coronavirus exposure in Springfield this week

SPRINGFIELD – Just as they were heading home after ending their weeklong session in the state capital, state legislators were told Thursday that they might have to stay home for the next two weeks.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s chief of staff notified members that someone who was at the Bank of Springfield Center for the legislative session this week tested positive for COVID-19.

“All members and staff who were at the BoS Center today, or around someone who was, should self-quarantine,” Jessica Basham, Welch’s chief of staff, said in a brief written statement.

Welch himself tested positive for the virus in November. It’s not clear if he will be quarantining. Public Health guidelines suggest he might not need to.

Reporter Andrew Sullender has the full story.

3:06 p.m. COVID-19 cluster developing at CPS school, forcing 8 into quarantine in 1st week back, officials say

A preschool student gets his temperature checked as he walks into Dawes Elementary School in Chicago, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Monday was the first day of optional in-person learning for preschoolers and some special education students in Chicago Public Schools after going remote last March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times

A cluster of COVID-19 cases at an Uptown elementary school has forced eight people, including the principal and assistant principal, into quarantine during the first week that students are back in classrooms since March, Chicago Public Schools officials said Wednesday.

A second staff member at McCutcheon Elementary has tested positive for the coronavirus after a colleague tested positive Friday, the district said. The school’s two cases were confirmed well within a 14-day period and “could potentially be related,” meeting the criteria for a cluster, officials said.

A CPS spokeswoman said in a statement that while the district “cannot rule out the possibility that these cases were acquired in the community, outside of school,” officials also “cannot rule out the possibility of in-school transmission.” That acknowledgment is notable because this appears to be the first case district-wide that CPS representatives are suggesting may have been transmitted in a school.

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

1:30 p.m. Lightfoot wants to reopen bars and restaurants as soon as possible

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday she’s seeking to reopen Chicago’s bars and restaurants for indoor service as soon as possible.

“If we look at the various criteria that the state has set, we are meeting most, if not all of those, so that’s a conversation that I will have with the governor,” she said.

“We are at the point where we need to be talking about when and not if.”

Easing restrictions on indoor service would provide a safer outlet for people to socialize and possibly cut down on underground parties where attendees do not social distance or wear masks, she said.

Indoor dining was suspended in November during a COVID-19 surge.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Lightfoot’s comments came during a news conference at Richard J. Daley College, one of six city colleges that will serve as mass vaccination sites capable of administering up to 25,000 shots a week.

The Chicago Restaurants Coalition on Thursday repeated its call for restoring indoor dining at 20% capacity by Jan. 29. The group cited a joint Northwestern University and Stanford University study, which found capping indoor dining at 20% reduces the number of new infections by more than 80% compared to fully reopening.

Read the full story from Mitch Dudek here.

12:32 p.m. WHO team arrives in Wuhan to investigate pandemic origins

WUHAN, China — A global team of researchers arrived Thursday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries.

The group sent to Wuhan by the World Health Organization was approved by President Xi Jinping’s government after months of diplomatic wrangling that prompted an unusual public complaint by the head of WHO.

Scientists suspect the virus that has killed more than 1.9 million people since late 2019 jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in China’s southwest. The ruling Communist Party, stung by complaints it allowed the disease to spread, has suggested the virus came from abroad, possibly on imported seafood, but international scientists reject that.

Fifteen team members were to arrive in Wuhan on Thursday, but two tested positive for coronavirus antibodies before leaving Singapore and were being retested there, WHO said in a statement on Twitter.

The rest of the team arrived at the Wuhan airport and walked through a makeshift clear plastic tunnel into the airport. The researchers, who wore face masks, were greeted by airport staff in full protective gear, including masks, goggles and full body suits.

Read the full story here.

12:12 p.m. US unemployment claims jump to 965,000 as virus takes toll

WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking unemployment aid soared last week to 965,000, the most since late August and a sign that the resurgent virus has likely escalated layoffs.

The latest figures for jobless claims, issued Thursday by the Labor Department, remain at levels never seen until the virus struck. Before the pandemic, weekly applications typically numbered around 225,000. They spiked to nearly 7 million last spring, after nationwide shutdowns took effect. Applications declined over the summer but have been stuck above 700,000 since September.

The high pace of layoffs coincides with an economy that has faltered as consumers have avoided traveling, shopping and eating out in the face of soaring viral caseloads. More than 4,300 deaths were reported Tuesday, another record high. Shutdowns of restaurants, bars and other venues where people gather in California, New York and other states have likely forced up layoffs.

Some states and cities are resisting shutdowns, partly out of fear of the economic consequences but raising the risk of further infections. Minnesota allowed in-person dining to resume this week. Michigan is poised to do the same. Some bars and restaurants in Kansas City are extending their hours.

Read the full story here.

9:46 a.m. New $150 million state fund to address health care disparities: ‘It’s literally going to save lives’

A pair of coalitions of hospital, community and church leaders hope to tap tens of millions of dollars in just-approved state money to fund initiatives aimed at addressing health care inequities like those that have long plagued the South and West sides.

A measure passed by the Illinois General Assembly Wednesday provides $150 million in state Medicaid money for each of the next seven years to fund new innovative community initiatives that aim to improve health and medical care in the most needy areas of the state, including large parts of Chicago’s Black and Latino neighborhoods that have also been hit hard by COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services will review applications in coming months, and at least two coalitions from Chicago are already well along with plans for hiring doctors, community health care workers, upgrading medical record technology and a number of other actions.

“It’s literally going to save lives,” said the Rev. Julian DeShazier, senior pastor at University Church in Hyde Park and an advocate of the South Side project. “We’re grateful for the money. Now we have to go get it for the South Side.”

Read the full story from Brett Chase here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

9:50 a.m. Democratic Rep. Schneider tests positive for COVID-19, slams GOP colleagues who refused to wear masks during Capitol attack

WASHINGTON — After Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., announced Tuesday he tested positive for COVID-19 - becoming the third lawmaker possibly exposed after being in a safe room with Republicans who refused to wear masks during the Capitol siege — new House rules were imposed cracking down on unmasked members.

Schneider, who said he was asymptomatic, spoke to reporters from his Deerfield basement, where, for the time being, he is in “strict isolation” worried about the health of his wife, Julie.

He told reporters during a Zoom press conference he was “angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers, who put their own contempt and disregard of decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff.”

Before his diagnosis, Schneider was so cautious that, to avoid crowds at an airport and on a plane, he has been driving to Washington from his north suburban home.

Schneider is not totally sure how he got infected. He does make “pit stops” on his marathon drives, but overall is careful. He received a COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 4, but it takes some time to achieve immunity plus a second dose.

Read the full column from Lynn Sweet here.