Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 12, 2021: Illinois will soon make COVID-19 vaccine available to people 65 and older

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 12, 2021: Illinois will soon make COVID-19 vaccine available to people 65 and older

Chicago relaxed and simplified its emergency travel order, convinced the city has turned the corner on the second wave of the coronavirus.

Here’s what else happened in Chicago and around Illinois in coronavirus-related news.


8:55 p.m. Pritzker to announce this week when vaccine will be available to people 65 and older


Pritzker said Monday he expects he will announce later this week when Illinois will move on to the next phase of vaccine distribution that will include people 65 and older, but generally prioritize those over 75.

AP Photos

State health officials hope to make significantly more progress in vaccinating citizens before a COVID-19 mutation that is thought to be 50% more contagious takes root in Illinois.

It’s “only a matter of time” until the new virus strain — known as the “UK variant” — is identified in Illinois and becomes the dominant strain within months, causing an uptick in cases and deaths, the state’s top health official Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Monday.

The new strain has been identified in at least nine states.

As of Sunday, 334,939 doses of vaccine had been administered in Illinois — a number that includes Chicago, which handles vaccine distribution separately from the state, as well as a federally run program to vaccinate residents and staff at nursing homes.

The vast majority of doses have gone to health care workers in the state’s first phase of vaccination, which includes about 850,000 people.

Pritzker said Monday he expects he will announce later this week when Illinois will move on to the next phase of vaccine distribution that will include people 65 and older, but generally prioritize those over 75.

The second phase includes about 3.2 million people and, despite some hesitancy among health care workers slated for vaccination in the first phase, Ezike said she expects the vaccine to start “flying off the shelf” when made available to them.

Read Stefano Esposito’s full story here.

4:55 p.m. Restaurant owners want city to pressure Pritzker on partially restoring indoor dining

Two and a half months into the city’s latest indoor dining ban, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and all 50 aldermen to pressure Gov. J.B. Pritzker on partially reopening restaurants.

Restaurant owners, caterers and long-time residents made their case Tuesday for restoring indoor dining at 20% capacity by Jan. 29. Roger Romanelli, the coalition’s coordinator, 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.

“Is this not the moment to understand that indoor dining is not responsible for the spread?” Romanelli asked at an outdoor news conference on the Near West Side. “We cannot burden our restaurants to wait.”

Pritzker has demanded the city reduce its COVID-19 positivity rate to 6.5% before reopening restaurants, but the rolling average has remained above 8% since the shutdown. With “no end in sight,” Romanelli said city restaurants cannot keep waiting for the positivity rate to hit Pritzker’s threshold.

Read Isabelle Sarraf’s full story here.

1:08 p.m. Chicago relaxes travel advisory

Chicago on Tuesday relaxed and simplified its emergency travel order, convinced the city has turned the corner on the second wave of the coronavirus.

Starting Friday, states outside Illinois will be divided into two categories instead of three. The “red” category has been eliminated.

Anyone returning from so-called “yellow” states with a rolling 7-day average less than 15 cases-per-day for every 100,000 residents will not be required to quarantine for 10 days upon return or test negative for COVID-19 before their arrival.

They will simply be required to wear a mask in public, maintain social distance and avoid in-person gatherings.

States with a rolling 7-day average above 15 cases-per-day for every 100,000 residents will land in the “orange” category. Anyone returning to Chicago from those states will be asked to quarantine for 10 days or test negative “no more than 72 days before” their arrival in the city.

Hawaii is currently the only state that falls in the yellow category. All 49 other states are branded orange, along with Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.

“We’ve made this change to come more in line with updated CDC guidance related to travel and also in recognition that, increasingly, testing is available in more settings,” Arwady told a City Hall news conference on Tuesday.

Chicago’s quarantine order was originally 14 days and was relaxed to 10 days, following CDC guidance. It is not being strictly enforced. Compliance is voluntary. No citations have been issued.

Read Fran Spielman’s full story here.

10:17 a.m. Democratic Rep. Schneider tests positive for COVID-19; slams GOP colleagues who refused to wear masks during Capitol attack

Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., announced Tuesday he tested positive for COVID-19, possibly exposed last week when the Capitol was attacked and he was in a safe room with Republicans who refused to wear masks.

“Last Wednesday, after narrowly escaping a violent mob incited by the President of the United States to attack the Capitol and its occupants, I was forced to spend several hours in a secure but confined location with dozens of other Members of Congress.

“Several Republican lawmakers in the room adamantly refused to wear a mask, as demonstrated in video from Punchbowl News, even when politely asked by their colleagues. Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” Schneider said in a statement.

Schneider said he has displayed no symptoms. Before his diagnosis, Schneider was so cautious that, to avoid crowds, he has been driving to Washington from his suburban Deerfield home.

He is the third House member to test positive for the coronavirus after being in a room with House members not wearing masks, joining Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J. and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington.

Schneider also said in his statement, “Wearing a mask is not a political statement, it is public health guidance, common courtesy, and simply what should be expected of all decent people.”

Read Lynn Sweet’s full story here.

9:10 a.m. CTU members decry Chicago Public Schools reopening

When Linda Perales’ students log in for class Tuesday they’ll be greeted by an unfamiliar face.

Perales, a special education cluster teacher at Corkery Elementary School, continued to teach remotely last week rather than return to her classroom. Perales said she informed Monday that her access to her Google Classroom account was being suspended.

About 6,000 children returned to Chicago Public Schools classrooms Monday for the first time in 300 days.

“I know returning to school is unsafe because we know that our cluster students cannot wear their masks all day. We have been told that we need to build their tolerance to wearing the mask, which implies that they cannot wear the mask and this is an airborne virus, and not wearing masks puts everyone at risk,” Perales said.

Chicago Teachers Union leadership accused CPS of bullying staff members into returning to classrooms they say are unsafe without issuing staff members procedures to follow in case of an outbreak in a school.

“The frustrating part is that we feel like we aren’t being listened to,” CTU President Jessie Sharkey said at a news conference Tuesday morning. “We feel like we are raising reasonable concerns.”

Read Jermaine Nolen’s full story here.

7:02 a.m. COVID-related pneumonia is far harder to treat — here’s how NU researchers hope we can fight it

Northwestern University researchers say they’ve potentially discovered a way to more effectively treat COVID-related pneumonia, a life-threatening condition of the virus.

The peer-reviewed research was published online Monday in the scientific journal Nature. A small, early-stage human study — using Northwestern data — is expected to begin within weeks to see if a drug treatment can drastically reduce the impact of pneumonia on those hospitalized with the virus.

It’s unlikely that a treatment will be developed before mass vaccinations should essentially bring the pandemic under control, but doctors expect people will continue to get sick. In fact, the treatment may be critically necessary if a similar virus emerges in the future.

“We will undoubtedly see more of these related coronaviruses,” Scott Budinger, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said in an interview. “I think we will be better prepared.”

Read Brett Chase’s full story here.

New cases

Analysis & commentary

7:07 p.m. CPS and CTU have one job now that schools are open: Keeping kids and teachers safe

Should you need a reminder of what’s at stake with this week’s reopening of Chicago Public Schools to in-person learning, listen to Tamara Walker.

Walker is one of thousands of parents who, despite COVID-19, decided to bring their children back to school on Monday because remote learning just hasn’t been cutting it.

“They’ve been extremely prepared,” Walker told the Sun-Times about her son’s school, Suder Montessori Magnet on the Near West Side. “That being said, we’re still nervous. He has a mask and backup mask. So we’re obviously praying for the best. It’s a better solution than the at-home learning has been.”

Nervous and praying for the best likely describes every parent who brought their child back to school Monday — and every teacher who showed up, too, risking the chance of contracting a potentially deadly virus.

Read the full editorial here.

8:11 a.m. Scientific community must reach out to African Americans to bolster confidence in vaccine

On Friday, I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. I was honored to be accompanied by Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, the brilliant African American viral immunologist who is a rock star in the field of immunology science.

From Dr. Corbett’s post at the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, she led the team that performed the scientific miracle of developing and testing the Moderna vaccine in record time. Now she is working to overcome the widespread hesitancy in the Black community about vaccination. Vaccination is imperative to save lives, particularly for African Americans, disproportionately the greatest victims of the virus.

Now the vaccines offer the potential of staunching the march of the pandemic and saving millions of lives. For understandable reasons — remember the infamous Tuskegee experiments? — African Americans harbor suspicions about scientists and vaccines.

Corbett’s role in leading the development of the Moderna vaccine in itself should calm some of the fears. Both of the vaccines currently approved for emergency use — the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — have proven to be greater than 94% effective at preventing COVID-19 and even more effective at preventing severe cases. That reality enables scientists like Corbett to have confidence in treating African Americans with the vaccine.

Racial violence plagues this country to this day. For the country to reach herd immunity, more than three in every four persons must be vaccinated. If African Americans or Latinos decline to be vaccinated, all will remain at risk. The past cannot be erased. But the present offers hope with Dr. Corbett’s leadership providing reassurance.

Read the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s full column here.

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