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Afternoon Edition: Dec. 29, 2021

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

People wait in line today for a COVID-19 test at 1425 S. Ashland Ave in University Village. 
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

This afternoon will be mostly cloudy, with a high around 33 degrees. Tonight is expected to be cloudy with a chance of snow and a low around 32 degrees. Tomorrow will be mostly cloudy, with a high near 38 degrees.

Top story

‘Be smart’ on New Year’s, Lightfoot pleads as COVID-19 cases skyrocket

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is urging Chicagoans to “be smart” with their New Year’s Eve celebrations as an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases racks the city and the rest of Illinois.

Facing questions about her decision to host a downtown fireworks show along the Chicago River when the clock strikes midnight into 2022, Lightfoot today said the latest record-breaking coronavirus surge will only crest if residents follow the basic precautions she’s been pushing for nearly two years: masking, spacing, sanitizing, testing and especially vaccinating.

“I’m not going to be the mom and tell people what they should and shouldn’t do,” Lightfoot said. “But I know what I’m going to do, which is to be close, make sure that … if I gather, I’m only gathering with people that I know are vaccinated, particularly boosted. And in gatherings that I’ve been in, in social settings, we are having people take a test to make sure that they’re not positive.”

The mayor encouraged people to watch the fireworks show from home instead of flocking downtown but said the fact that it’s an outdoor event should ease concerns about promoting a potential superspreader event.

The show will go on as more Illinoisans test positive for the virus than ever before. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 21,098 new cases statewide, the second-highest total ever, trailing only the 21,131 positive tests returned on Christmas Eve.

The state has averaged nearly 16,700 new cases each day over the past week, which surpasses the 15,000-plus cases that were recorded at the height of last fall’s surge. The seven-day average case positivity rate is up to 9.1%, higher than it’s ever been since vaccines were introduced.

About 3,825 Chicagoans are testing positive each day. “Our COVID cases right now are higher than they have ever been,” Arwady said.

Hospitals are quickly filling as a result. A total of 5,471 beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients statewide as of Tuesday night, a net increase of 271 in a day and the greatest burden health care workers have faced since Dec. 2, 2020.

Mitchell Armentrout has more on the state of the pandemic in Chicago here.

More news you need

  1. Two men have been charged in connection with a gunfight that wounded four people and sent Christmas shoppers running for cover at an Oak Brook mall two days before Christmas. Bail was set at $1 million for each man.
  2. John Catanzara, the president of Chicago’s largest police union, blasted the Chicago Police Department for failing to designate the death of an officer as “line of duty” after he died from COVID-19 just before Christmas. Officer Jose “Joey” Huerta, 50, was a 21-year veteran of the department.
  3. Chicago Public Schools families now have until tomorrow to return district-issued COVID-19 tests for students, the district has announced. The tests were originally supposed to be returned yesterday, but the deadline was extended after photos were posted online of returned tests piling up outside FedEx drop-off boxes.
  4. Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans is requiring all his employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Judges — elected officials — are not considered employees and therefore, are exempt from Evans’ vaccine mandate.

A bright one

Logan Square flash mob joins ‘Say Anything’-style Christmas Eve marriage proposal on 606 Trail

Last Friday, one man on a mission enlisted the help of some neighbors — who showed up carrying items like a guitar and a stuffed horse, and wearing things like a fake bear’s head, an inflatable Pokemon costume and more.

The man on the mission was 43-year-old Shahab Astabraghpour, a salesman at Abt Electronics, and he was about to propose to his girlfriend, Deva Suckerman. In addition to a few close friends, he was accompanied by half a dozen complete strangers, all of whom responded to his recent Logan Square Community Page Facebook post seeking help with his marriage proposal.

Participants were asked to bring with them “weird, gimmicky things” — Astabraghpour, who trained at The Second City and performs in an improv show in the suburbs, really wanted to make his artist girlfriend laugh.

Deva Suckerman and Shahab Astabraghpour, (kneeling) pose with those who assisted with his proposal on the 606 Trail on Christmas Eve.
Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

One neighbor strummed a guitar as Astabraghpour declared his love for Suckerman with a series of posterboard-size notes held up by him and the volunteers along the trail so that she could see them from the couple’s second-floor apartment in the Bloomingdale Arts Building.

One of the signs read, “Yes, he’s playing the music from ‘Say Anything,’” a reference to the famous scene in the 1989 movie featuring Evanston-native John Cusack that inspired Astabraghpour’s proposal — and countless others over the years.

A few moments later, a flabbergasted Suckerman hurried down to the street to meet her boyfriend of seven years, who dropped to one knee, pulled out a diamond engagement ring and then popped the question. She said “yes.”

Stefano Esposito has more on how neighbors came together for the big proposal here.

From the press box

Your daily question ☕

What has getting tested for COVID in Chicago been like for you?

Email us (please include your first name and where you live) and we might include your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday we asked you: As we face another COVID-19 surge, what are your plans for New Year’s Eve?

Here’s what some of you said…

“Same as last year! Good meal at home, catch up with friends via FaceTime, etc. — not taking any chances exposing myself/others to Omicron. Be safe everyone!” — Kate Niedner

“Bought a new dress. Made plans. New covid surge. Canceled plans. Returned the dress.” — Nicole Boylan

“Celebrating with a small group of six all vaccinated three times in well-ventilated, heated and enclosed screened-in porch adjacent to a living room fireplace. A safe cozy night enjoying pizza and drinks.” — Judy Panko Reis

“Party like it’s 2019.” — Robert Obniski

“Go to work — with 2 masks around my mouth and nose — and pray for the best!” — Sharea Arnold-Cason

“I will be home with the wife and kids — we all tested positive yesterday.” — Cesar Benavides

“Most likely working double shifts due to short staff as a result of COVID infections.” — Roderick Ramirez

Thanks for reading the Chicago Afternoon Edition. Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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