COVID spike feared as federal funding drains, pilots take the abortion battle to the skies and more in your Chicago news roundup

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

SHARE COVID spike feared as federal funding drains, pilots take the abortion battle to the skies and more in your Chicago news roundup
merlin_109817102.jpg

CVS Pharmacy Manager Lillian Kong, 45, vaccinates Priyanka Reddy, 34, with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 bivalent booster at a CVS pharmacy in West Lawn, last Tuesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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

This afternoon will be partly sunny with a high near 47 degrees. Tonight will be mostly cloudy with a low near 39. Tomorrow will be cloudy with a chance of showers.

Top story

COVID-19 risk could rise again as federal funding drains, Chicago’s top doc warns

Dwindling federal funding for public health and low booster shot participation threatens to raise the COVID-19 risk once again in Chicago, according to Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

“COVID is not gone,” she said last week at an event promoting vaccinations on the Southwest Side.

This news comes at a time when the city’s risk for infection has been low to medium, with fewer hospitalizations and a dramatic decline in deaths from a year ago. Then, a new variant of the virus, omicron, was gaining steam and a deadly surge in cases loomed. More than 10,000 city residents were being diagnosed with COVID daily. More than 300 Chicagoans were being hospitalized daily last December and January, on average, and dozens were dying every day. Today, on average, around 400 Chicagoans are diagnosed with COVID-19 — and around 30 are hospitalized — each day, with a death rate of less than one per day.

But two factors risk undoing some of that progress.

Chicagoans have become lax about getting their latest booster shots — only about 15% of those eligible have received the newest shot aimed at strains of the omicron variant, the culprit behind mass hospitalizations and deaths last winter.

And federal money is beginning to dry up, leaving health departments locally and across the country — many having already been gutted over the past 10 years — back to fending for themselves with insufficient resources.

In 2002, Chicago had a public health workforce of 1,600 employees. That number dropped to under 600 by 2019, largely because of federal cuts, a city spokesman said, before growing to just over 800 in response to the pandemic.

In recent interviews with the Sun-Times, Arwady said the pandemic has exposed what she describes as a flaw in funding public health departments. Health departments are on a lifeline from Washington, and that funding tends to spike during crises and then fade. That’s a problem because other health crises pop up, she said, whether it’s an unexpected outbreak, such as monkeypox, or a particularly bad flu season. And for each crisis, local health officials have to build programs knowing that they will ultimately end them once the current health threat subsides.

Brett Chase has more on the looming risk of another rise in COVID cases here.

More news you need

  1. Mayor Lori Lightfoot officially kicked off her reelection campaign this morning by dropping a stack of nominating petitions at the city’s election supersite. Many believe that filing early can land your name at the top of the ballot, while filing later today could put your name at the bottom — both coveted positions. But name recognition is on her side, said Lightfoot, explaining, “[Voters] know who I am.”
  2. A growing network of pilots, through a fledging Illinois nonprofit, are volunteering time, equipment and expertise to help connect people with abortion care. WBEZ’s Elly Fishman has more with the pilots and their work here.
  3. Elected officials are calling for federal help after a series of water main breaks in south suburban Robbins left around 100 homes without water over the holiday. Water was restored Friday and a boil order was issued for 24 hours at the homes near the latest water main break, according to the village.
  4. Nurses at Lurie Children’s Hospital are at odds with management after receiving what some described as anti-union messaging. Leaders told nurses they “don’t need a union” to speak for them and that hospital administration is “concerned about how unions can impact work culture,” according to a letter obtained by the Sun-Times. Our Mary Norkol has more here.
  5. More than a dozen Chicago high school soccer players donated 1,000 sweatshirts to students in the city experiencing homelessness. Players in the group said they wanted the donation to highlight teen homelessness, which affected nearly 40,000 Illinois students in the last school year, according to the National Center for Homeless Education.
  6. Restaurants in River North cut their operating hours more during the COVID-19 pandemic than restaurants in any other part of the country, according to a new survey. Restaurant owners cite reasons including inflation, lack of workers and changing consumer habits. But the biggest issue may be workers’ sluggish return to downtown.
  7. Tim Degnan, a former state senator and longtime top advisor to former Mayor Richard M. Daley, died last week at his home in Oak Brook. Degnan, 82, was Daley’s political point man, finding consensus between state and city officials to push the agenda forward.
  8. A community group is making headway at revitalizing a neglected Morgan Park corner, putting the final touches on a housing proposal as it looks for other ways to improve the area. Our David Roeder has more on the Far South Community Development Corp.’s plan here.
  9. The grave of notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone was defaced last week in suburban Hillside. A photo that made the rounds on social media shows the word “Evil” spray-painted in red on Capone’s grave marker at Mount Carmel Catholic Cemetery, where the Capone family is buried.
  10. Since 2020, more than 3,500 complaints have been filed about San Francisco-based Chime Financial Inc. with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about closed accounts, unauthorized charges or other issues. Our Stephanie Zimmermann spoke with several Chime app users who shared their experiences here.

A bright one

Skating through the outfield: ‘Winterland’ at Wrigley Field

A Tilt-A-Whirl sits where Jason Heyward once caught pop flies, hundreds of people circle the bases on a train and more mill about the shops offering food, drinks and holiday wares.

It’s not a dream. It’s Winterland at the Friendly Confines.

This year marks the first time the field was put to use as part of Gallagher Way’s winter celebrations, allowing a carousel to be added outside the ballpark along with the new features on the playing field. Construction on the attractions — 12,000-square-foot ice rink, carnival rides and all — started at the end of October to be ready for opening day on Nov. 18.

But one feature didn’t need to be built. It was already there, and for many, it was the main attraction: Wrigley Field.

merlin_109905789.jpg

Dozens ice skate around an ice rink located inside Wrigley Fields outfield last Friday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Karen Evans, who attended last Friday with her family, said her father worked the hand-operated scoreboard at Wrigley for a stint in the 1940s, so part of Winterland’s draw was being able to set foot on the field.

Outside Wrigley, a Christkindlmarket is set up. The Belgian hot chocolate, along with other drinks, as well as food and various products for sale seemed to be a hit with the crowds — some even stopping to watch a rendition of “The Nutcracker” put on by Roselle-based dance studio HOTT Productions. The market features vendors from around the world, hailing from as far away as Kyrgyzstan or as close as nearby neighborhoods.

Chris Bauer, who helped to run the Sweet Castle tent, said the market gives him, as a native of Austria, a chance to share his culture with another place he calls home — and that’s something he takes “a lot of pride” in.

The market runs through year’s end. The Winterland inside Wrigley is open through Jan. 8.

Zack Miller has more on the holiday celebrations in Cubs country here.

From the press box

Your daily question☕

What’s your favorite locally owned store for holiday shopping?

Send us an email at newsletters@suntimes.com and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Last Wednesday, we asked you: Where can you find the best holiday decorations/lights in Chicago?

Here’s what some of you said...

“In the Sauganash neighborhood of Chicago. North of Devon and west of Cicero. The best! Kids will love it!” — Debbie Mytych

“The best house displays are in Lincolnwood just north of Sauganash.” — Jack Franklin

“Downtown Chicago, at the storefronts.” — Steve Price

“The Macy’s downtown and Michigan Ave” — Myrna Kar

“On 63rd between Halsted and Racine.” — JCarlos Reyes

“Brookfield Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo and The Morton Arboretum have wonderful displays and usually have availability. The Chicago Botanic Garden’s holiday lights are out of this world but tickets are really difficult to get — they sell out really fast.” — Julia B. Meyer

“River Road in Rosemont.” — Dawn Lerner-Manshreck

“Navy Pier — it’s always lit up for the holidays.” — Laura Gidcumb

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

The Latest
The man was attempting to cross the roadway in the 3800 block of South Lake Shore Drive when he was hit by a vehicle going north.
About 9:30 p.m., officers responded to reports of a person stabbed and found the man in the 4300 block of West 26th Street.
Anthony Calderon, 20, was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Arturo Cantu.
A dedicated servant to the team, the Fire are winless in six matches and it’s bothering Klopas that he cannot find a fix.
The nonprofit wants to open a fourth school that would double as a venue with a bar, in a “significant step forward” as it also looks to offer an affordable performance space for artists.