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Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 21, 2021: You can now eat in a restaurant in the south suburbs

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

Hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans will become eligible for the next round of COVID-19 vaccinations Monday but there is still only enough vaccine supply to give shots to a small number, the city’s top health official said.

Here’s what else is happening in coronavirus-related news.


News

8:55 p.m. Indoor restaurant service back on the menu in south suburbs as Illinois reports 123 more coronavirus deaths

From mid-November until last weekend, indoor service had been banned in all 11 regions of the state.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Indoor service is officially back on tap for bars and restaurants in many of Chicago’s south suburbs — at least for those that weren’t already flouting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 business restrictions.

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Thursday the Will-Kankakee county region improved to Tier 1 of the state’s mitigation plan. That allows customers to be served inside at bars and restaurants, limited to the lesser of 25% capacity or 25 people per room.

From mid-November until last weekend, indoor service had been banned in all 11 regions of the state — though many businesses openly defied Pritzker’s order — in an effort to stem a brutal resurgence in coronavirus cases.

But with most of the state’s infection numbers back down to their lowest levels in three months, Pritzker has allowed regions to begin easing some restrictions if they meet his COVID-19 hospitalization and positivity benchmarks.

Read Mitchell Armentrout’s full story here.


4:40 p.m. Some suburban movie theaters back in business

After a trial balloon that popped last week, some indoor movie theaters in the Chicago suburbs are going forward with plans to reopen, now that it’s legal.

Illinoi on Monday loosened COVID-19 restrictions on Cook County and most of the surrounding areas from Tier 3 to Tier 2, allowing movie theaters, among other businesses, to resume in-person operations.

Apparently first to open its doors was Studio Movie Grill Wheaton, which was admitting guests to see “Wonder Woman 1984,” “The Marksman” and other hits on Thursday afternoon.

Marcus Cinemas in Addison, Country Club Hills, Orland Park, Gurnee and Elgin plan to reopen Friday, as do AMC locations in Crestwood and Schaumburg. In Frankfort, the Emagine multiplex is selling tickets for shows on Saturday.

Most of the AMC theaters in the Chicago area have announced Jan. 29 reopenings.

Read Darel Jevens’ full story here.

2:37 p.m. Biden jump-starts coronavirus response, requires face masks for travel

With a burst of executive orders, President Joe Biden served notice Thursday that the nation’s COVID-19 response is under new management and he’s demanding progress to reduce infections and lift the siege Americans have endured for nearly a year.

The 10 orders signed by Biden are aimed at jump-starting his national COVID-19 strategy to increase vaccinations and testing, lay the groundwork for reopening schools and businesses, and immediately increase the use of masks — including a requirement that Americans mask up for travel. One directive calls for a addressing health care inequities in minority communities hard hit by the virus.

“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it will take months to turn this around,” Biden said. “Despite the best intentions we’re going to face setbacks.” But he declared: “To a nation waiting for action, let me be clear on this point: Help is on the way.”

The new president has vowed to take far more aggressive measures to contain the virus than his predecessor, starting with stringent adherence to public health guidance. He faces steep obstacles, with the virus actively spreading in most states, slow progress on the vaccine rollout and political uncertainty over whether congressional Republicans will help him pass a $1.9 trillion economic relief and COVID response package.

“We need to ask average Americans to do their part,” said Jeff Zients, the White House official directing the national response. “Defeating the virus requires a coordinated nationwide effort.”

Read the full Associated Press story here.

11:52 a.m. City moves to next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations but supply falls far short of need

Hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans will become eligible for the next round of COVID-19 vaccinations Monday but there is still only enough vaccine supply to give shots to a small number, the city’s top health official said.

“We do not have anywhere near enough vaccine to vaccinate anywhere near the number of people who are going to want to get vaccinated beginning on Monday,” Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Thursday.

Beginning next week, Chicagoans age 65 and older and a wide range of essential workers — including police and firefighters, teachers, grocery store workers and factory workers — will be eligible for the next phase of shots, which they will receive through health care workers or employers. That group is so large — more than 360,000 older residents and more than 300,000 essential workers — that the city will not come close to being able to meet demand until the U.S. government increases supplies. The city has been receiving about 34,000 vaccine doses a week from the federal government, Arwady said.

“The amount of vaccine that we are getting each week, right now, will allow us to vaccinate 5%, one in 20, of the people who are eligible,” Arwady said.

Read Brett Chase’s full story here.

9:33 a.m. CTU delegates approve walkout, send vote to full union membership

The Chicago Teachers Union has moved one step closer to defying Chicago Public Schools’ reopening plan, passing a resolution through its governing body that would see all union members refuse to work in-person until an agreement is reached with the district on health and safety protocols during the coronavirus pandemic.

The CTU’s 600-member House of Delegates approved the measure Wednesday with 84% in favor, sending it to the union’s 25,000 rank-and-file teachers and staff for a vote that will be held remotely through Saturday night. The resolution requires approval by a simple majority of the union’s full membership.

The move to continue working from home Monday, when thousands of kindergarten through eighth grade teachers and staff are expected to report to their schools, would represent a de facto strike as a last-ditch effort to force CPS to address workers’ concerns. This collective labor action, however, wouldn’t necessarily resemble a traditional walkout — and union leadership has been careful not to call the initial move a strike — since educators intend to continue working remotely.

“In response to serious unfair labor practices and the lack of a safe reopening agreement, do you authorize the CTU to conduct remote work only, starting on January 25?” the resolution asks CTU members who will take a vote in the coming days.

“In addition, in the event that CPS retaliates against or locks out members as a result, do you authorize a strike?”

Typically, 75% of the CTU’s rank-and-file members would need to vote in favor of a walkout for a strike to be authorized. In this case, only a simple majority approval would be required, a CTU spokeswoman said, because members would be walking out over an alleged unfair labor practice — CPS’ supposed refusal to negotiate.

Read Nader Issa’s full report here.

7:42 a.m. U. of I. to vote on tuition freeze amid ongoing pandemic — but other costs grow

University of Illinois trustees are considering freezing undergraduate tuition rates at the school’s three campuses for the upcoming school year amid the ongoing pandemic.

Members of the university board’s Academic and Student Affairs Committee on Wednesday were briefed on the proposal for the 2021-2022 school year, which includes a base tuition rate freeze and slight increases in housing and student services fees.

Under the proposal, undergraduate students who live on campus would see “modest” increases on their bills. The room and board rates would increase by 2% at the Urbana-Champaign campus, 2.6% at the Chicago campus and 1.4% at the Springfield campus for the upcoming school year.

Small increases in student fees — $13 to $14 per semester — are a possibility at Urbana-Champaign and Chicago, too, officials said.

Meanwhile, base tuition for incoming in-state undergraduates will remain at $12,254 a year at Urbana-Champaign, $10,776 at Chicago and $9,502 at Springfield. Due to Illinois’ guaranteed tuition law, tuition rates will remain fixed for students for four years.

The full board will vote on the proposal when it meets Thursday morning.

Read Madeline Kenney’s full story here.


New cases

  • Health officials reported 4,979 new cases of the coronavirus detected among 99,036 tests Thursday, which lowered the statewide average positivity rate over the last week to 5.4%. That key indicator is as low as it’s been since late October, as is the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients (3,281).
  • The state also announced another 123 deaths attributed to COVID-19, well above the state’s average of 85 deaths per day over the last week. Still, Illinois’ death rate is down about 35% compared to a month ago.

Analysis and commentary

6:34 a.m. Vaccine rollout is an embarrassment

My mother, Donna Fletcher, suffers from early onset dementia and is a resident at the Northbrook Inn memory care facility. At 67 years old, she is among Northbrook Inn’s youngest residents. When I visited her on Jan. 15, I learned that nobody from the Illinois or federal governments has contacted the facility to advise when they can expect the COVID-19 vaccine. I have written to my mother’s state and federal representatives, but hope this letter draws attention to the horrific failure of the Illinois and federal governments to vaccinate long-term care residents and spurs the authorities to action.

The federal and state rollout of this vaccine is an embarrassment to our great country. My father, who is 70 years old and lives part-time in Florida, already received his first vaccine dose this past week. He did what my mother cannot: stand in line to get an appointment and drive himself back to the vaccination site several days later and receive his shot. How is it that Illinois and the federal government have ignored the most vulnerable: those who are frail, unable to help themselves, and most at risk of contracting COVID-19 because they live in communal settings?

— Robert Schur, Northbrook

Read more letters to our editor here.