Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 22, 2021: Chicago bars, restaurants could reopen indoor service Saturday

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 22, 2021: Chicago bars, restaurants could reopen indoor service Saturday

Chicagoans can toast once more in bars and restaurants — so long as those establishments serve food and keep a 25% capacity inside.

The coronavirus isn’t over yet. Here’s what happened today that you need to know.


Customers eat at Broken English Taco Pub in Old Town in June, when Illinois moved into phase four of its reopening.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

8:30 p.m. Chicago ‘on track’ for bars and restaurants to reopen indoor service Saturday

Customers will be allowed back inside at bars and restaurants in Chicago and suburban Cook County beginning Saturday, barring a sudden reversal in improving coronavirus infection rates.

The city and Cook County will move from Tier 2 to Tier 1 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 mitigation plan as long as “metrics continue to improve or are stable,” the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Friday.

Tier 1 mitigations allow bars and restaurants to seat customers inside at the lesser of 25% capacity or 25 people per room.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot limited the establishments to outdoor service in late October at the onset of the state’s record-breaking fall resurgence, which prompted Pritzker to nix indoor service statewide in mid-November.

Lightfoot has since called for Pritzker to allow for limited reopening as infection rates have improved since the holidays.

Mitchell Armentrout has the full story.

3:36 p.m. A year since COVID came to Chicago, and, despite difficulties, people have found ways to manage

A year ago Sunday, the city’s top public health official announced the first case of the novel coronavirus in Illinois — a Chicago woman who’d recently returned from a trip to Wuhan, China.

In a calm, cheerful voice, Dr. Allison Arwady said it was an isolated case and that the risk to the public “remains low at this time.”

That last part might have given some pause. But even in early March, people were being told there was no need to wear masks or stop enjoying life as we always had.

A year later, almost nothing is as it was before. Yet people have found ways to cope, to survive, even thrive.

Violinist Melanie Kupchynsky was on tour in Italy with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra last January when she saw the news about the spreading virus in China — where she’d been with the CSO a year earlier.

Reporter Stefano Esposito has the full story.

1:20 p.m. CPS CEO won’t deny remote classes could be halted if teachers refuse to return to schools next week

If Chicago teachers collectively refuse to return to their schools on Monday in defiance of Chicago Public Schools’ reopening orders, the district will consider the labor action a strike, schools chief Janice Jackson reiterated Friday, suggesting the outcome could be all classes coming to a halt.

The 25,000 rank-and-file members of the Chicago Teachers Union are voting through Saturday night on a resolution to continue working from home next week because of health concerns tied to in-person work.

The union has repeatedly argued that its action Monday — when about 10,000 educators have been told to report to work in-person — would not be a work stoppage since teachers plan to still work remotely. The CTU’s pending resolution instead says a strike would start if CPS “retaliates” by locking out all its teachers from remote work as it has done with about 90 pre-Kindergarten and special education staff members who were supposed to report to their schools earlier this month but haven’t shown up.

Nader Issa has the full story here.

12:42 p.m. Durbin: Illinois National Guard members may be administering COVID vaccine shots

With an urgent need to quickly organize mass COVID-19 vaccinations, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Friday said members of the Illinois National Guard may actually be administering the shots.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker also said in his daily briefing Friday that the Illinois National Guard will be deployed to set up a total of six mass vaccination sites in Cook County with 25 smaller sites in high-demand areas.

As more vaccination centers are developed, and more people trained to give shots, the crucial part for Illinois is to obtain, on a giant scale, far more doses than it has so far. Durbin said that 1.2 million doses have been shipped, with 570,000 shots given. The remainder is being held back for the necessary second dose. There are about 13 million people in Illinois.

More details on the Illinois National Guard mobilization for vaccine administration — and specific duties — emerged in a call Durbin had with Illinois reporters from his Capitol office.

Lynn Sweet has the full story here.

10:45 a.m. CPS to administer coronavirus vaccine beginning in mid-February

Chicago Public Schools will begin vaccinating its teachers in mid-February, officials announced Friday as they head into a weekend of uncertainty with thousands of teachers preparing to defy orders to return to classrooms next week.

Educators in Illinois will become eligible for their COVID-19 shots on Monday, according to the state’s vaccination plan, and could receive one at any point going forward from their private health care provider or a local pharmacy.

CPS expects to receive its own supply of vaccine next month and will start offering inoculations to its teachers at four sites across the city.

“There is nothing we want more than to get the shots in the arms of our dedicated staff,” schools chief Janice Jackson said at a morning news conference at Ellington Elementary in Austin. “If we could vaccinate everyone today, we would do it. But with supplies being limited, our plan to distribute vaccines will need to take into account several factors.”

The district will prioritize workers who have been reporting to schools since the start of the pandemic, such as security guards, cafeteria workers and clerks, Jackson said. Staff over 65 and with high-risk medical conditions will also be given priority.

Notably, CPS’ plan does not call for the delay of in-person school until more educators are vaccinated. That idea, proposed by the Chicago Teachers Union, has been rebuffed by CPS and the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Nader Issa has the full story here.

10:28 a.m. Here’s where CPS, CTU stand on how, when to reopen schools

Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union are negotiating daily but have so far not agreed how and when to reopen schools.

Teachers and staff say they have serious health and safety concerns that haven’t been addressed, while the school system says it has gone “above and beyond” public health guidelines to ensure buildings are safe.

So what exactly has been resolved and what are the remaining points of contention?

In a document circulated by the district Thursday, CPS laid out more than a dozen issues on which agreements have been reached with the union, including: daily health screeners and temperature checks; hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and PPE at every school; mandatory social distancing; air purifiers in every classroom; contact tracing; and ordering symptomatic people and close contacts to quarantine.

The rest of the outstanding issues “are primarily related to CTU requests that do not align to the best available guidance from public health experts,” the district said.

The CTU contends that it still doesn’t fully trust the district to make good on its promises or for mitigation protocols to be implemented uniformly at all 500 schools — especially when up to 71,000 K-8 students could return Feb. 1. But it has other, larger concerns that need to be sorted out.

Nader Issa has the full story here.

8:21 a.m. Dave Chappelle tests positive for COVID-19; shows canceled

Dave Chappelle tested positive for the coronavirus just before his comedy show scheduled for Thursday, forcing his upcoming appearances to be canceled, a spokeswoman said.

Chappelle was expected to perform Thursday through Sunday at Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater in Austin, Texas. Those shows have been canceled, and Chappelle is quarantining, his representative Carla Sims said in a statement. The comedian is asymptomatic.

Chappelle had been performing socially-distanced shows in Ohio since June, and moved his shows to Austin during the winter, Sims said. Rapid testing for the audience and daily tests for Chappelle and his team were implemented.

Read the full story here.

6:32 a.m. Plywood comes off, National Guard leaves Capitol as protests fizzle — but Springfield still wary as coronavirus lingers

With one public safety threat behind them, state officials on Thursday sent National Guard troops home and took down the plywood intended to protect windows and doors at the state Capitol from violent protests that never materialized.

But with another safety threat still raging, lawmakers canceled an upcoming legislative session at the Capitol over coronavirus concerns.

Citing the difficulties in “legislating in the midst of a global pandemic,” Democratic and Republican state Senate leaders issued a joint statement canceling the session that was to begin Tuesday at the Capitol.

Senators will continue to hold remote committee hearings, state Senate President Don Harmon and Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie said.

Andrew Sullender has the full story here.

New cases

  • Health officials reported 7,042 new cases of the coronavirus detected among 125,831 tests Friday.
  • The state also announced another 95 deaths attributed to COVID-19 Friday.

Analysis and commentary

7:45 a.m. Teachers, do what’s best for your profession and your students and vote ‘no’ on a strike

Not a single Chicagoan, we suspect, will be surprised if teachers vote this weekend to essentially go on strike and refuse to return to classrooms on Monday because of fears of COVID-19.

That’s how toxic the stalemate over the reopening of schools has become between the Chicago Teachers Unions and school district officials.

The outcome of this weekend’s vote may well be inevitable, but we’re still urging teachers to vote “no.” To vote in favor of the effective strike could lead to a needless, acrimonious disaster for public education in Chicago in a school year that’s already been turned upside down by the pandemic.

Chicago doesn’t need another strike by teachers. Not for the second time in little more than a year and on the same day that thousands of elementary school teachers are scheduled to return to their schools, joining colleagues who already returned on Jan. 11.

Wasn’t it just days ago that CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the union and the district were having “better conversations” about reopening? And now the call to teach remotely rather than report back to schools?

We just don’t buy it.

Read the full editorial here.

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