Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 15, 2021: Illinois identifies first case of new, more contagious strain of COVID-19

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 15, 2021: Illinois identifies first case of new, more contagious strain of COVID-19

The next wave of Illinoisans in line for the coronavirus vaccine are expected to start getting shots Jan. 25, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday.

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


8:55 p.m. First case of more contagious strain of COVID-19 found in Illinois


Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus has made its way to Illinois.

The city and state health departments announced Friday the first Illinois case of the strain initially identified in the United Kingdom.

Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine identified the case “through sequencing analysis of a specimen from bio-banked samples” of positive tests for COVID-19.

The person who tested positive for the new strain had traveled to the UK and the Middle East in the two weeks prior to testing positive, according to a contact tracing investigation by the city. People who were in close contact with the traveler have been identified and urged to self-quarantine.

The new strain was first identified in the United States about two weeks ago in Colorado and has since been identified in several other states. It showed up in the UK in September.

Read the full story here.

7:53 p.m. Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse found in compliance with COVID-19 regulations after fire leads to evacuation

A city investigation into Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse found it to be in compliance with coronavirus safety regulation after a fire Wednesday evacuated the restaurant.

The fire, which started about 9 p.m. in a second-floor fireplace, was quickly extinguished, and while no one was injured in the blaze, the restaurant did have to evacuate patrons from the building, according to Chicago fire officials.

That led to an investigation from the office of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which had inspected the famed Gold Coast steakhouse just days before the fire and found them compliant with COVID-19 regulations.

BACP has reached the same conclusion after another investigation on Thursday, according to spokesman Isaac Reichman.

Reporter Sam Kelly has more.

3:01 p.m. CPS, CTU ‘having better conversations’ about reopening but need an agreement ASAP, union says

The window for the Chicago Teachers Union to reach an agreement with Chicago Public Schools officials over a safe school reopening is “really getting down to the 11th hour,” union president Jesse Sharkey said Friday, a little over a week before thousands more teachers are set to return to classrooms.

Speaking at a union protest, Sharkey said there have been “better conversations” with the district this week, but he showed frustration that the union’s “reasonable demands” are at times “falling on deaf ears.” With several times more teachers and staff set to return to schools Jan. 25 than did this week, the CTU is feeling the pressure to reach a resolution at the bargaining table.

“It’s forcing us into a corner,” Sharkey said. “Give us an agreement.”

Schools chief Janice Jackson said in an interview Friday that the goal in negotiations with the CTU “has to be a compromise that tells us what is it that we need to do in order to have students back in the classroom.”

“I think everybody agrees, kids should be back in school,” Jackson said. President-elect Joe Biden “has said that’s one of his top priorities, to see students back in school. The federal government has stepped up to give us resources in order to do that safely. The time is now.

“I’m willing to have a compromise with the union on how we best do that so that we can balance choice for all parents and their health and safety concerns. But the conversation has to start with, ‘We believe children should be in schools,’ and let’s have a conversation about how we do that.”

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

2:27 p.m. Frontline workers, people 65 or older will start getting coronavirus vaccine doses Jan. 25, Pritzker says

The next wave of Illinoisans in line for the coronavirus vaccine are expected to start getting shots Jan. 25, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday.

About 3.2 million residents will be eligible for vaccine doses in “Phase 1B” of Illinois’ vaccine distribution plan, which is reserved for people 65 and older and frontline essential workers. That includes teachers, first responders, postal and public transit employees, corrections workers, incarcerated people and manufacturing, distribution and agriculture workers, including grocery store workers.

Phase 1A is still underway, with shots prioritized for health care workers and nursing home residents, groups that number about 810,000 overall

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.

2:07 p.m. Pritzker will allow bars and restaurants to open sooner than planned — but not yet

Illinois’ cash-starved bars and restaurants will be allowed to welcome customers inside sooner than originally ordered by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, but that reopening is still a ways off for Chicago.

The Democratic governor announced Friday that limited indoor service will be allowed for regions of the state that see their COVID-19 metrics improve enough to move down to the state’s Tier 1 mitigation level.

That’s a shift from the original plan laid out by Pritzker’s health team, which would’ve required regions to improve even further to return to the state’s Phase 4 of reopening.

Still, most of the state’s 11 regions remain in Tier 3, including Chicago and its suburbs.

Pritzker’s layers of tiers and mitigations have caused confusion for the thousands of establishments that have seen revenue dry up since the governor shuttered indoor service statewide in November in an effort to stem a record-breaking COVID-19 resurgence.

Read the full story here.

2:04 p.m. Chicago-area Veterans Affairs hospitals now offering COVID vaccines to at-risk vets

Chicago-area veterans who meet eligibility requirements can now get the coronavirus vaccine at local Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Edward Hines, Jr. VA hospital in suburban Maywood is offering coronavirus vaccines to veterans over the age of 65, or those who have existing medical conditions that put them more at risk. Veterans must be Hines-enrolled patients.

To see the criteria for receiving a vaccine from Hines, click here. If you meet the criteria, call the Hines VA at (708) 202-2707 or (708) 202-7000 to schedule your vaccine appointment.

Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago is also offering coronavirus vaccines to veterans 65 and older, or those in high-risk health categories. Patients at Jesse Brown who meet certain criteria will be contacted to schedule appointments.

Veterans served by Lovell Federal Health Center in Lake County are eligible to be vaccinated if they are 75 years or older, or if they are chemotherapy, dialysis or transplant patients. Lovell will call patients who meet the criteria to schedule vaccine appointments.

Read Caroline Hurley’s full story here to get more information.

12:21 p.m. Biden unveiling $1.9 trillion plan to stem virus and steady economy


President-elect Joe Biden speaks as he lays out his plan for combating the coronavirus and jump-starting the nation’s economy at the Queen theater January 14, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden is unveiling a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan Thursday to turn the tide on the pandemic, speeding up the vaccine rollout and providing financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses struggling with the prolonged economic fallout.

Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. On a parallel track, it would deliver another round of aid to stabilize the economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic, said aides who described the plan ahead of a speech by Biden on Thursday evening.

It includes $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 that Biden has called for. The plan would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September.

And it shoehorns in long-term Democratic policy aims such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing tax credits for families with children. The last item would make it easier for women to go back to work, which in turn would help the economy recover.

Read the full story here.

12:06 p.m. Global death toll from COVID-19 tops 2M amid vaccine rollout

The global death toll from COIVID-19 topped 2 million Friday as vaccines developed at breakneck speed are being rolled out around the world in an all-out campaign to vanquish the threat.

The milestone was reached just over a year after the coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The number of dead, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the population of Brussels, Mecca, Minsk or Vienna.

While the count is based on figures supplied by government agencies around the world, the real toll is believed to be significantly higher, in part because of inadequate testing and the many fatalities that were inaccurately attributed to other causes, especially early in the outbreak.

Read the full story here.

11:34 a.m. Biden taps former FDA chief Kessler to lead vaccine science

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden has picked a former Food and Drug commissioner to lead vaccine science in his drive to put 100 million shots into the arms of Americans in his administration’s first 100 days and stem the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. David Kessler, who will have the title of chief science officer of COVID response, headed the Food and Drug Administration in the 1990s under presidents of both political parties. He has been acting as a top pandemic adviser to Biden and his appointment was announced Friday by the presidential transition office.

Kessler will work out of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, assuming responsibility for the scientific side of Operation Warp Speed, an effort launched under the Trump administration to rapidly develop vaccines and treatments. The drive has already produced two highly effective vaccines, and more are on the way.

Nonetheless, the nation’s vaccination campaign has gotten off to a slow start, and most of the vaccine being delivered to states by the federal government is not being used right away.

A person advising the Biden transition team said Kessler will take on the role now being carried out by Dr. Moncef Slaoui, a prominent vaccine scientist and innovator who has been serving as chief advisor to Operation Warp Speed. Several vaccine candidates in the pipeline are in final clinical trials, and one company is expected to soon apply for FDA emergency approval for its formulation. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Read the full story here.

10:19 a.m. What Chicagoans say about CPS schools being reopened despite the pandemic

The Chicago Public Schools system is in the process of bringing students back to their classrooms, so we asked readers what they think of how CPS is handling the reopening in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Some answers have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

“No one wins: students, parents, teachers, administration. This is an unprecedented and terribly difficult circumstance felt by everyone.” — Perlina Dani Chitwood

“I think it’s reckless, and it’s a political move by the mayor. This way, she looks good, and the CTU looks bad. Shame on her. Show some damn empathy for these teachers! Will not vote for her a second time.” — Sam Fakhoury

Read the full story here.

9:36 a.m. 2 suburban movie theaters slated to reopen Friday despite state’s coronavirus restrictions

Two suburban movie theaters are reopening seemingly in defiance of a state order that closed theaters across Illinois months ago due to the growing number of coronavirus cases in Illinois.

“The wait is finally over! Our doors open back up Friday afternoon!,” Marcus Elgin Cinema, 111 S. Randall Rd., posted on its Facebook page before listing the do’s and don’ts of visiting in person.

Joining Elgin Cinema in reopening is Marcus Addison Cinema, 1555 W. Lake St. in Addison, as well as Marcus’ Bloomington Cinema in downstate Bloomington.

The three theaters are part of a chain owned by the Milwaukee-based Marcus Theaters, which exhibits movies in 17 states across the country.

The move to reopen comes as all of Illinois’ 11 regions are still adhering to its Tier 3 resurgence mitigation plan, which prohibits — among other things — movie theaters from hosting in-person viewings.

Elgin Cinema is located in Kane County and Addison Cinema is in DuPage County, both in Region 8. Bloomington Cinema is located in McLean County and is part of Region 2.

The state has remained in that tier since November when the Midwest region faced a surge of coronavirus cases.

Read the full story from Manny Ramos here.

New cases

Analysis & Commentary

4:45 p.m. Expect a more subdued, less glitzy presidential inaugural this year

Who knew?

Apparently, only a few.

Who figured America’s presidential inaugural would be recalibrated by a gruesome twist in American history: sedition fueled by an accelerator named President Donald Trump and his thug acolytes.

The recent attack of domestic terrorism by the latest version of the historic “Plug Uglies,” is not expected to force President-elect Joseph Biden’s inauguration off the steps of the nation’s Capitol this week.

But it’s a good bet the nation’s “House,” invaded last week by soldiers of Trump’s alternative universe, will be hovered by a “Star Wars” sized military force ostensibly protecting celebrants looking sideways — and facing the possibility of a pat-down rather than a pat on the back.

Sadly, our nation’s inaugural transfer of power used to be a ball, a bash to celebrate the success of democracy.

Read the full column from Michael Sneed here.

9:38 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.

COVID-19 cases and deaths — now numbering over a staggering 375,000 in the U.S. alone — continue to shatter records on a daily basis. The rampaging pandemic has exposed once more the extreme disparities in our nation.

The black community has suffered a hospitalization rate 3.7 times greater and a death rate 2.8 times greater than the white community. This reflects the harsh reality of inadequate health care in African-American communities. Many impoverished urban communities are health care deserts with hospitals and clinics unavailable. African Americans disproportionately work for employers that do not provide health care. Those who make too much for Medicaid eligibility are particularly at risk.

Read the full column from Jesse Jackson here.

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