Coronavirus live blog, March 19, 2021: More criticism for Loretto Hospital CEO who’s already under fire for vaccinating Trump Tower workers and Cook County judges

Here’s Friday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois. Follow here for live updates.

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, March 19, 2021: More criticism for Loretto Hospital CEO who’s already under fire for vaccinating Trump Tower workers and Cook County judges


8:55 p.m. More criticism for Loretto Hospital CEO who’s already under fire for vaccinating Trump Tower workers and Cook County judges


Sun-Times file

The president and CEO of Loretto Hospital, who authorized vaccinations for workers at Trump Tower, where a fellow executive owns a unit, is now under fire for providing vaccinations to more than 200 members of his southwest suburban church.

The vaccinations were provided in February to congregants of Valley Kingdom Ministries International in southwest suburban Oak Forest, according to hospital spokeswoman Bonni Pear.

Pear said hospital President and CEO George Miller reached out directly to the Chicago Department of Public Health to ask about the church vaccinations before they took place.

“CDPH informed Mr. Miller that as long as the recipients lived, worked or received medical care in the city and were 1B-eligible they could be vaccinated. At the time the church vaccinations occurred, the mandate from CDPH was to vaccinate as many 1A and 1B-eligible Chicagoans as possible,” Pear said.

The hospital’s primary mission has been to vaccinate people who live in and around the predominantly black community in the Austin neighborhood where its located.

Read the complete story by Mitch Dudek here.

5:45 p.m. City snuffs out smokers, says they won’t have priority for vaccine

Being a regular visitor to Flavor Country might get you to the front of the line for a COVID-19 shot in most of Illinois and beyond, but not in Chicago.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised eyebrows when it included smokers on the list of people who should be prioritized for vaccination because of increased vulnerability to the coronavirus due to underlying health conditions.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker followed suit when he expanded the state’s pool of eligible vaccine recipients last month. So did officials in suburban Cook County, which will start inoculating people 16 and older with chronic conditions beginning Monday.

But Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady have snuffed out eligibility for smokers when registration opens to more residents with the city’s launch of vaccination Phase 1C on March 29.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

4 p.m. Cook County to prioritize vaccinations in 32 suburbs

Cook County health officials will prioritize coronavirus vaccine appointments in more than two dozen of the hardest-hit suburbs to ensure equal access to the life-saving shots.

The 32 suburbs given high priority for shots were predominantly communities of color in the west and south suburbs, the Cook County Department of Public Health announced Friday.

Read the full story here.

3:15 p.m. 73% of students who opted in now showing up for in-person classes, CPS says — but vast majority remain home

Chicago Public Schools on Friday released the most comprehensive figures to date on school attendance since in-person learning resumed in February, with the administration saying they are “encouraged” by the numbers although the vast majority of students remain remote.

For the week of March 8 through 12 — the first week when all elementary grade levels were allowed back in classrooms — about three quarters, or 73 percent, of those students who were expected to show up actually did, according to CPS.

The district also said in-person attendance increased the longer schools have been open, pointing to the 55 percent of pre-K and students enrolled in cluster programs who attended in person on Feb. 11, increasing to 69 percent on March 12.

That group was the first to return to in-person learning following the district-wide closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, with K-5 students returning March 1 and grades 6-8 coming back March 8.

Read the complete story here.

2:30 p.m. AstraZeneca vaccinations resume in Europe after clot scare

WARSAW, Poland — Countries across Europe resumed vaccinations with the AstraZeneca shot on Friday, as leaders sought to reassure their populations it is safe following brief suspensions that cast doubt on a vaccine that is critical to ending the coronavirus pandemic.

France’s prime minister rolled up his sleeve to get the vaccine and Britain’s planned to, as did a handful of other senior politicians across the continent where inoculation drives have repeatedly stumbled and several countries are now reimposing lockdowns as infections rise in many places.

Britain is a notable exception: The outbreak there is receding, and the country has been widely praised for its vaccination campaign, though this week it announced that it, too, would be hit by supply shortages. European Union countries, by contrast, have struggled to quickly roll out vaccines, and the pause of the AstraZeneca shot by many this week only added to those troubles.

Read the full story here.

1:20 p.m. What in-person school could look like for CPS high schoolers who opt in

CPS high school students have until Friday to decide whether to return for in-person classes this year — even though they have little idea what things will look like if they go back.

Chicago Public Schools officials have released few details about reopening plans, although they said earlier this week that April 19, the beginning of the fourth quarter, is the target date to restart. The district said it is eyeing a hybrid learning plan that would put students in classrooms two days each week, meaning students would have 18 days or so of in-person learning before school gets out in late June.

The district also said it hopes to keep students with the same teachers they currently have for remote learning.

It’s not just the district’s 74,000 high school students who have been given few details while CPS negotiates with the Chicago Teachers Union. High school principals are also waiting for more information.

Read the complete story by Nader Issa here.

12:30 p.m. Happiness Report: World shows resilience in face of COVID19

STOCKHOLM — The coronavirus brought a year of fear and anxiety, loneliness and lockdown, and illness and death, but an annual report on happiness around the world released Friday suggests the pandemic has not crushed people’s spirits.

The editors of the 2021 World Happiness Report found that while emotions changed as the pandemic set in, longer-term satisfaction with life was less affected.

“What we have found is that when people take the long view, they’ve shown a lot of resilience in this past year,” Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, one of the report’s co-author, said from New York.

Read the complete story here.

11:15 a.m. CDC changes school guidance, allowing desks to be closer

NEW YORK — Students can safely sit just 3 feet apart in the classroom as long as they wear masks but should be kept the usual 6 feet away from one another at sporting events, assemblies, lunch or chorus practice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday in relaxing its COVID-19 guidelines.

The revised recommendations represent a turn away from the 6-foot standard that has sharply limited how many students some schools can accommodate. Some places have had to remove desks, stagger scheduling and take other steps to keep children apart.

Three feet “gives school districts greater flexibility to have more students in for a prolonged period of time,” said Kevin Quinn, director of maintenance and facilities at Mundelein High School in suburban Chicago.

In recent months, schools in some states have been disregarding the CDC guidelines, using 3 feet as their standard. Studies of what happened in some of them helped sway the agency, said Greta Massetti, who leads the CDC’s community interventions task force.

Read the complete story here.

9:30 a.m. Uber offering drivers access to streamlined vaccination booking process through Walgreens

Illinois Uber drivers will now have access to a simpler process to schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments through Walgreens.

The initiative stems from Uber and Walgreens’ partnership formed in early February to help COVID-19 vaccines become more accessible to underserved communities.

According to the Cook County Department of Public Health, ride-hailing service drivers are considered public transit workers and are eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1B — which began Jan. 25 — along with first responders, educators, corrections workers, inmates and grocery store workers, among others.

Read the full story by Mari Devereaux here.

New Cases & Vaccination Numbers

Analysis & Commentary

5 p.m. Loretto Hospital leaders deserve more than a ‘harsh reprimand’ for misuse of COVID shots

I was pleasantly surprised when Loretto Hospital, a small hospital in Austin, was chosen to kick off the city’s campaign to get Chicagoans vaccinated against the deadly COVID-19 virus.

The city’s honor did two things:

  • It pushed the issue of healthcare disparities from hand-wringing to action.
  • And it elevated the profile of a community hospital that desperately needed its own shot in the arm.

Sandwiched between the massive Loyola University Medical Center in nearby Maywood and the sprawling medical district to the east, Loretto has struggled to be recognized as a credible provider of care in an area that desperately needs access to quality healthcare.

Hospitals like Loretto have suffered because too often community residents with financial resources and good insurance choose to go elsewhere.

Read the full column by Mary Mitchell here.

10:45 a.m. COVID-19, the Affordable Care Act and why America must tackle its health care disparities

One community at a time, the deadly coronavirus spread into every corner of the Chicago area last year, killing nearly 10,000 and sending thousands more to intensive care units at overwhelmed hospitals.

The harrowing story of COVID-19’s spread throughout Cook County, as told in a Sun-Times investigation by Kyra Senese and Eric Fan, drives home once again a powerful lesson about health care access:

America, much to its shame as the world’s richest nation, is a country beset by health care disparities that lead to enormous differences, based on race and income, in who lives, who dies and who can see a doctor when they get sick.

Those disparities, of course, were already clear to anyone who cared to look. They just became more glaring during a pandemic that swiftly killed the poor and vulnerable even as wealthier folks had the means to hunker down and avoid the virus.

Read the complete editorial by the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board here.

7 a.m. Yup, got myself vaccinated, but won’t say how — oh, OK, I will

Yes, I got my first COVID vaccination on Monday. And no, I’m not going to tell you how it happened. In a manner embarrassing enough that I decided to never share the specifics. I didn’t lie. I didn’t body-check anybody out of line. Let’s leave it at that.

The moment I made this uncharacteristic decision — discreet silence not being my forte — my immediate qualm was, “So what do I say if people ask?”

And the fully formed thought instantly flashing into mind was:

“I’ll just say I got vaccinated at the synagogue with everybody else, in late 2019, just before the virus was released.”

That’s a joke. I make jokes. It’s a twitch, a reflex, to cover unease at getting the life-saving shot that 88% of Illinoisans haven’t gotten yet. Is it a good joke? Well, it plays on the psycho conspiracy theories that millions of Americans lap up like kittens around a dish of cream. Certainly not as wild as Secret Jewish Space Lasers.

Read the full column by Neil Steinberg here.

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