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Coronavirus live blog, Nov. 25, 2020: Vaccine timeline remains fluid, Lightfoot expects ‘all adults to be able to get vaccinated sometime in 2021’

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

Illinois’ coronavirus numbers took a slight step upward Wednesday as public health officials announced COVID-19 has killed another 155 residents and spread to 11,378 more.

Here’s what you need to know in coronavirus-related news.


News

8:55 p.m. Highest-risk Chicagoans could begin receiving coronavirus vaccine as early as mid-December: Lightfoot

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago health care workers could begin getting vaccinated against the coronavirus as early as mid-December, city officials said Wednesday.

And while the timelines remains fluid, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she expects “all adults to be able to get vaccinated sometime in 2021.”

Lightfoot said when the vaccine becomes more widely distributed, it is likely to be available at “large, centralized sites,” including city colleges and “mobile sites deployed at trusted community settings.”

Chicago’s top public health official, Dr. Allison Arwady, said the city has “very specific” plans for storage and distribution of a vaccine should the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approve one.

The Chicago Department of Public Health has already built up its “ultra-cold” storage in preparation for the arrival of a vaccine.

“We are working with multiple hospitals that also have built up some of that ultra-cold storage capacity,” Arwady said.

“Highest-risk” health care workers are expected to receive the vaccine, followed by distribution to nursing home and long-term care facilities, and then health care workers who see coronavirus patients outside of hospitals, Arwady said.

Read the full story here.


7:33 p.m. Delivering free Thanksgiving meals amid pandemic offers glimpse of ‘what hardship looks like’

Rain fell on Maria Cwiklik as she waited outside her Austin apartment Wednesday afternoon for two women to bring her something her family was in need of — a warm meal.

“Everybody is struggling, and this is a lot of help for me,” Cwiklik said. “I can’t buy any food right now so this is a lot of help, you know; this is what hardship looks like.”

Cwiklik was waiting for her old friends Candace Musick and Michelle Thomas, who were delivering to her six Thanksgiving meals just before the holiday — already cooked and individually packaged.

Both Musick and Thomas work with The Night Ministry, an organization that provides housing for young people. Wednesday, they were delivering almost 40 meals donated by Smoke Daddy Wrigleyville to those who used to be residents in their shelter, which is how Cwiklik knows the two.

Making sure people have a warm meal in the days leading up to Thanksgiving has always been a tough task, but a lingering pandemic that has triggered economic hardships has made that work even more difficult.

Reporter Manny Ramos has the full story.

4:11 p.m. McHenry County won’t prosecute violations of Gov. Pritzker’s indoor dining ban

McHenry County’s top prosecutor says he won’t enforce Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s indoor dining ban amid the state’s recent efforts to rein in rising coronavirus infections and deaths.

However, State’s Attorney Patrick D. Kenneally on Wednesday said he would enforce capacity limits and laws requiring patrons and employees to wear masks and social distance.

Indoor dining was banned statewide after Tier 3 mitigations took effect last Friday. Since then, the McHenry County Public Health Department referred 11 complaints to the state’s attorney’s office about restaurants violating indoor dining restrictions, the Northwest Herald reported.

But Kenneally explained in a statement that the mitigations rested on an executive order that he believes his office isn’t authorized to enforce. Kenneally also questioned if Pritzker’s emergency powers were constitutional under state law.

Reporter David Struett has the full story.

2:03 p.m. 155 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, second-worst day of this wave

Illinois’ coronavirus numbers took a slight step upward Wednesday as public health officials announced COVID-19 has killed another 155 residents and spread to 11,378 more.

That’s the second-highest daily death count the state has suffered during the second wave of the pandemic, and the fifth-worst day for coronavirus fatalities overall. Sixty-four of the latest victims came from the Chicago area.

The state reported 168 deaths Nov. 19, and an all-time worst 191 deaths May 13.

COVID-19 has claimed 2,084 lives in Illinois so far this month, or 336 more than during the previous two months combined.

The new cases were detected among 114,233 tests, raising the state’s average positivity rate over the last week to 10.6%.

The caseload also ended a two-day stretch in which the state reported fewer than 10,000 cases. Nearly 268,000 new cases have been logged this month, compared to about 175,000 in all of September and October.

Read the full story here.

12:47 p.m. Wiping down groceries? Airing out the mail? Experts say it can be overkill

NEW YORK — Cleaning wipes are harder to find on store shelves, and businesses are reassuring customers with stepped up sanitation measures. In New York, the subway system is shut down nightly for disinfecting.

To avoid any traces of the coronavirus that might be lurking on surfaces, Americans have been wiping down groceries, wearing surgical gloves when they go out and leaving mail packages out for an extra day or two. But experts say the national fixation on scrubbing sparked by the pandemic can sometimes be overkill.

“It’s important to clean surfaces, but not to obsess about it too much in a way that can be unhealthy,” said Dr. John Brooks, chief medical officer for the COVID-19 response at the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control.

Health officials knew less about the virus in the early days of the pandemic, but say it’s become clearer the main way it spreads is between people — through the respiratory droplets they spray when talking, coughing, sneezing or singing. It’s why officials emphasize the importance of wearing masks and social distancing.

That doesn’t mean surfaces don’t pose any risk — cleaning is still recommended — especially frequently touched spots like door knobs or elevator buttons that infected people might have recently touched. Other germs that sicken people, like gastrointestinal bugs, haven’t gone away either.

But with COVID-19, experts say to keep the risk in perspective: The virus is fragile and doesn’t survive easily outside the body for long. Early studies finding it could linger on surfaces for days used large viral loads and were in laboratory conditions, not the real world. Other tests might just detect remnants of the virus, rather than live virus capable of infecting people.

Read the full story here.

11:39 a.m. As state logs 125 more coronavirus deaths, Pritzker offers Thanksgiving warning: ‘Skip the big group dinner this year’

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

As Illinois reported 9,469 more coronavirus cases and 125 deaths Tuesday, officials said they’re “cautiously optimistic” the state’s massive viral resurgence might finally be leveling off — but warned that any progress will be wiped out if families don’t cancel plans for holiday gatherings this week.

“Thanksgiving this year needs to be different,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “To those who haven’t yet changed your plans, the doctors are asking all of us to skip the big group dinner this year. The vaccines that seem to be on the horizon can’t help you if you get sick now.”

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike cautioned that “without even knowing it, you could be putting your friends and family, or yourself in grave danger.”

“We have to accept what we’re dealing with: a global pandemic, the likes of which no one has seen before. That does deserve a change from the norm,” Ezike said.

Read the full story here.

11:00 a.m. Alabama coach Nick Saban tests positive for coronavirus

Alabama coach Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the Iron Bowl.

Team physician Dr. Jimmy Robinson and head trainer Jeff Allen said in a joint statement that the positive test came Wednesday morning.

“He has very mild symptoms, so this test will not be categorized as a potential false positive,” the statement said. “He will follow all appropriate guidelines and isolate at home.”

The 69-year-old Saban previously received a false positive ahead of the game with Georgia, but didn’t have any symptoms. He was cleared to coach in the game after subsequent tests leading up to the game came out negative.

Read the full story here.

10:10 a.m. Keep the mask: A COVID-19 vaccine won’t end the pandemic crisis right away

NEW YORK — Don’t even think of putting the mask away anytime soon.

Despite the expected arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in just a few weeks, it could take several months — probably well into 2021 — before things get back to something close to normal in the U.S. and Americans can once again go to the movies, cheer at an NBA game or give Grandma a hug.

The first, limited shipments of the vaccine would mark just the beginning of what could be a long and messy road toward the end of the pandemic that has upended life and killed more than a quarter-million people in the U.S. In the meantime, Americans are being warned not to let their guard down.

“If you’re fighting a battle and the cavalry is on the way, you don’t stop shooting; you keep going until the cavalry gets here, and then you might even want to continue fighting,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said last week.

This week, AstraZeneca became the third vaccine maker to say early data indicates its shots are highly effective. Pfizer last week asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization to begin distributing its vaccine, and Moderna is expected to do the same any day. Federal officials say the first doses will ship within a day of authorization.

But most people will probably have to wait months for shots to become widely available. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also each require two doses, meaning people will have to go back for a second shot after three and four weeks, respectively, to get the full protection.

Read the full story here.

9:31 a.m. No new talks planned as Infinity nursing home strike continues for a 2nd day, union says

Union officials representing nearly 700 nursing home workers who hit the picket lines this week said the owner of the 11 facilities has left town and they aren’t sure when negotiations for a new contract will resume.

“The employer has refused to make a move,” said Shaba Andrich, vice president for nursing homes at SEIU Healthcare Illinois. Infinity Healthcare Management Owner Moishe Gubin “had indicated to some people that he would be available to negotiate last Sunday, but then left the state and has not been able to negotiate.”

Nursing home workers at Infinity locations in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs entered their second day on strike as negotiations for a new contract remain nonexistent. Members have been fighting for improved working conditions, base salaries for between $15 and $15.50 an hour (up from $11.50 to $13.50, depending on location) and hazard pay for the duration of the pandemic.

But union members claim their employer has completely walked away from the table and negotiating sessions haven’t been scheduled for the near future.

“We want to get back to negotiations, we want him to come back with different solutions and different ideas about how we get a contract done,” Andrich said during a Zoom call Tuesday afternoon. “There is none [no meetings] happening now, there is none on the calendar.”

Read the full story here.

9:27 a.m. State launches investigation into coronavirus outbreak at LaSalle Veterans’ Home, where 27 died of COVID-19

Ineffective hand sanitizer, employees showing up for work after testing positive for the coronavirus and inadequate “hand hygiene” are all under scrutiny as possible sources of a COVID-19 outbreak that has left 27 residents of an Illinois veterans’ home dead.

Those findings from a pair of reports prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state veterans officials to launch an investigation into the circumstances around the spread of the deadly virus at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

The reports released by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs found employees of the home attended the same Halloween gathering and later tested positive for the virus.

The veterans’ home in LaSalle was also stocked earlier this month with hand sanitizer found not to be effective against COVID-19, and some staff were observed touching patients and surfaces without changing their gloves or performing “hand hygiene,” according to one report released Tuesday.

Those were just some of the findings from one site visit on Nov. 12 — a second visit five days later found many of the initial recommendations were followed, a second report found.

But cases at the home some 95 miles southwest of Chicago have ballooned over the course of the month, and 27 residents have died, a spokeswoman for the veterans’ affairs department said.

Read the full story here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

3:14 p.m. COVID-19 forces the question: How can we keep from warehousing the elderly?

Every once in a while, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, says something I absolutely agree with.

At the beginning of the pandemic, he went on and on about how every human life matters. I prayed: If he means this, maybe we can see that reflected in our politics. As it happens, with all the death this year, my friends in the religious order Sisters of Life tell me that some pregnant women are rejecting abortion because the last thing we need is more death.

Wouldn’t a newfound commitment to protecting human life be something healthy to come from the COVID-19 ordeal?

But we seem to be heading in the wrong direction.

The Associated Press recently reported on the staggering number of Americans dying in nursing homes during the pandemic, not just from the coronavirus, but from neglect.

“As more than 90,000 of the nation’s long-term care residents have died in a pandemic that has pushed staffs to the limit,” the AP reports, “advocates for the elderly say a tandem wave of death separate from the virus has quietly claimed tens of thousands more, often because overburdened workers haven’t been able to give them the care they need.”

Read the full column here.

9:33 a.m. Why I am asking you to support one of the most painful budgets in Chicago’s history

I want to speak directly to Chicagoans about our city’s budget, which will come up for a vote before the full City Council today.

Long before I formally introduced this budget in October, it became clear that our economic path out of the COVID-19 pandemic would require us to make some extraordinarily difficult decisions. It was a matter of when, not if, these decisions would be made, and how we would make them — all while holding firm to our core values of equity, inclusion and transparency.

COVID-19 has not only upended all our lives from a health perspective, it also has devastated significant parts of our economy. This has resulted in an $800 million loss of revenues for the 2020 budget and a significant $1.2 billion deficit for next year, 65% of which is directly tied to COVID-19.

Dealing with a $1.2 billion gap means there were no easy decisions. None. And while the prospect of better times comes closer into view, particularly because of a new partner in the White House, along with the prospect of a nationwide COVID-19 response plan rooted in science and data, we must face the reality in front of us right now.

To put it bluntly, this is likely the most painful budget we have ever faced as a city. And it comes after the many difficult and painful choices we’ve already had to make over the last eight months. So, if there were a responsible way to close our budget gap that didn’t involve raising taxes or requiring some level of furloughs for our City employees, we would have already taken it. But among the many thing this pandemic has taken from us is our ability to make decisions without sacrificing something in return.

Read Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot’s full column here.

9:17 a.m. Vaccine news highlights racial disparities in COVID-19 cases

America got more good news about a COVID-19 vaccine last week, the second potential vaccine shown to be at least 90% effective against the disease in early data from clinical trials.

If the Food and Drug Administration grants emergency use authorization to one or both vaccines, doses could be distributed beginning in late Decembe,r and the country will have its most powerful tool yet against the pandemic.

But no vaccine, no matter how effective it is or how quickly it becomes available, will be a powerful tool against the pandemic if too few people — especially African Americans, who are among the most vulnerable to severe illness or death from COVID-19 — get the shot.

And as the Sun-Times’ Brett Chase reported Sunday, distrust of a COVID-19 vaccine runs deep among Black Americans. They’re less likely to volunteer for clinical trials to test vaccine safety and effectiveness. Public opinion polls, too, have consistently shown African Americans are less likely to say they would take a coronavirus vaccine.

The health care system has a lot of work to do to get past that lingering distrust. As states and the federal government plan public education campaigns to urge people to take a vaccine, extra effort must be made to reach the African American community, get people vaccinated and save lives.

Read the full editorial here.