Here’s what happened Wednesday in coronavirus-related news.
8:59 p.m. Even with nearly 54,000 coronavirus vaccine shots given in one day, Pritzker urges Illinoisans ‘to be patient’
A total of 53,628 Illinoisans received coronavirus vaccine shots Tuesday, a new record for the state as doses slowly make their way into arms during a sluggish nationwide rollout.
In six weeks since the first Illinois shot was given, almost 774,000 doses have been administered and only about 160,000 people have received the required two doses — not even 1.3% of the population.
But with 3.2 million more residents now eligible to start receiving shots this week with Phase 1B of the state’s distribution plan, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday he expects those numbers to expand.
“We’re moving as fast as we can. The number of vaccinations available to people is ramping up. I’m very pleased to see that,” Pritzker said at a new mass vaccination site in north suburban Grayslake. “But this is going to take time. People are going to have to be patient.”
5:20 p.m. Virus will kill many more, White House projects as briefings resume
The Biden administration launched its new level-with-America health briefings Wednesday with a projection that as many as 90,000 more in the U.S. will die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks — a sobering warning as the government strains to improve delivery and injection of vaccines.
The tone of the hourlong briefing was in line with President Joe Biden’s promise to be straight with the nation about the state of the outbreak that has already claimed more than 425,000 U.S. lives. It marked a sharp contrast to what had become the Trump show in the past administration, when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation.
The deaths projection wasn’t much different from what Biden himself has said, but nonetheless served as a stark reminder of the brutal road ahead.
“I know this is not news we all want to hear, but this is something we must say so we are all aware,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “If we are united in action we can turn things around.”
2:35 p.m. In CDC’s backyard, school reopening debate divides experts
Just down the road from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a community flush with resident health professionals, the Decatur, Georgia, school system had no shortage of expert input on whether to resume in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Scores of public health and medical professionals from the affluent, politically liberal Atlanta suburb have weighed in about what’s best for their own kids’ schools.
One emergency medicine doctor said initial reopening plans for the district’s 5,000-plus students weren’t safe enough. A pediatrician doing epidemiology work for the CDC advocated delaying. Others, including a leader of the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine efforts, argued the district could get students back in classrooms safely — and that not doing so jeopardized their development and mental health.
“The challenge for me has been trying to weigh all of these things that I’m being told by experts and non-experts alike to try to make the best decision that we can,” Superintendent David Dude said. “And that’s what I, and I’m sure other superintendents, have been struggling with.”
2:08 p.m. Chicago private school, suburban districts move to vaccinate teachers
As Chicago Public Schools officials debate with the Chicago Teachers Union the role of vaccines in reopening schools, teachers at a North Side private school and some suburban districts are lining up for their shots this week.
The task of administering inoculations at smaller schools and districts is no comparison to CPS, the city’s second-largest employer after the federal government. But with the vaccine rollout already moving forward elsewhere, the issue has become a flash point in heated discussions.
Francis Parker, the prestigious Lincoln Park private school, is allowing all 200 staff members to register for COVID-19 vaccinations starting this week, tapping into a batch of doses set aside for the school.
“Fortunately, Parker has partnered with a local health care provider who has indicated they will have sufficient vaccine to accommodate all Parker employees,” the school’s nurse wrote in a message to teachers and families. “All Parker employees are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity.”
1:26 p.m. Virus will kill many more, White House projects as briefings resume
WASHINGTON — As many as 90,000 Americans are projected to die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks, the Biden administration warned in its first science briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, as experts outlined efforts to improve the delivery and injection of COVID-19 vaccines.
The hourlong briefing Wednesday by the team charged by President Joe Biden with ending the pandemic, was meant to deliver on his promise of “leveling” with the American people about the state of the outbreak that has already claimed more than 425,000 U.S. lives. It marked a sharp contrast from what had become the Trump show, in the last administration, when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation.
The striking deaths projection wasn’t much different from what Biden himself has said, but nonetheless served as a stark reminder of the brutal road ahead.
Wednesday’s briefing was conducted virtually, rather than in person at the White House, to allow for questions from health journalists and to maintain a set timing no matter the situation in the West Wing. But it was not without technical glitches.
It featured Jeff Zients, the Biden administration’s coordinator for pandemic response; his deputy, Andy Slavitt; Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert; Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of Biden’s COVID-19 equality task force, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The White House respects and will follow the science, and the scientists will speak independently,” said Slavitt.
12:15 p.m. Parents urge mayor, CPS to delay reopening plan
With a possible teachers strike looming, a group of Chicago Public Schools parents on Wednesday urged the district and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to abandon the controversial re-opening plan and stick to remote learning.
“We want them to listen to the parents,” said Bridgett White, one of about a dozen CPS parents who spoke during a virtual news conference. “The majority of CPS parents are not comfortable with sending their children back in person. They don’t trust the plan for keeping their children safe. Even the Board (of Education) meeting that is going to be held later today is going to be virtual. So why can’t our children continue to do such?”
Thousands of CPS students across the district are due back in school Monday. Staff at those schools were supposed to report to work Wednesday in preparation for the reopening. The Chicago Teachers Union told its members to work from home after the union and CPS failed to reach an agreement over reopening conditions. The union has said a strike is possible — something CPS officials have called illegal — if an agreement can’t be reached in the next few days.
11:26 a.m. Not in short supply: Blame for EU’s rusty vaccine rollout
APELDOORN, Netherlands — Jos Bieleveldt had a spring in his step when the 91-year-old Dutchman got a coronavirus vaccine this week. But many think that was way too long in coming.
Almost two months before, Britain’s Margaret Keenan, who is also 91 now, received her shot to kick off the U.K.’s vaccination campaign that has, so far, outstripped the efforts in many nations in the European Union.
“We are dependent on what the European Commission says we can, and cannot, do. As a result, we are at the bottom of the list, it takes far too long,” Bieleveldt said of the executive arm of the EU, which, perhaps unfairly, has taken the brunt of criticism for a slow rollout in many of its member states. Onerous regulations and paperwork in some countries and poor planning in others have also contributed to the delay, as did a more deliberate authorization process for the shots.
Overall, the 27-nation EU, a collection of many of the richest countries in the world — most with a universal health care system to boot — is not faring well in comparison to countries like Israel and the United Kingdom. Even the United States, whose response to the pandemic has otherwise been widely criticized and where tens of thousands of appointments for shots have been canceled because of vaccine shortages, appears to be moving faster.
10:40 a.m. Biden says he’s ‘bringing back the pros’ for virus briefings
WASHINGTON — For nearly a year it was the Trump show. Now President Joe Biden is calling up the nation’s top scientists and public health experts to regularly brief the American public about the pandemic that has claimed more than 425,000 U.S. lives.
Beginning Wednesday, administration experts will host briefings three times a week on the state of the outbreak, efforts to control it and the race to deliver vaccines and therapeutics to end it.
Expect a sharp contrast from the last administration’s briefings, when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation.
“We’re bringing back the pros to talk about COVID in an unvarnished way,” Biden told reporters Tuesday. “Any questions you have, that’s how we’ll handle them because we’re letting science speak again.”
The new briefings, beginning just a week into Biden’s tenure, are meant as an explicit rejection of his predecessor’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak.
10:31 a.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, go to hines.va.gov/emergency/index.asp. If you meet the criteria, call the Hines VA at (708) 202-2707 or (708) 202-7000 to schedule a 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 this criteria can call 312-569-5801 to schedule an appointment.
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 at lovell.fhcc.va.gov to schedule vaccine appointments.
9:15 a.m. CPS tells parents to keep children home Wednesday as CTU prepares for potential strike
The Chicago Teachers Union has told its members to work from home Wednesday after failing this week to reach an agreement with Chicago Public Schools over reopening conditions, a move that suspends in-person classes that had already resumed and puts the union on the verge of a strike if a deal isn’t reached over the next few days.
Leaders of both the union and the school district had held out hope that the impasse could be resolved ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for thousands of elementary and middle school staff to report to schools, but the disagreements proved too large to sort out.
The immediate implication of the union’s collective decision to reject in-person work because of health and safety concerns is about 3,200 preschool and special education students will return to remote learning Wednesday, just two weeks after resuming in-person instruction for the first time since last March.
The broader and potentially more damaging consequence if the district responds by cutting off remote work and the union goes out on strike could be CPS classes coming entirely to a stop — even for high schools, which are not due to return to classrooms anytime soon and have final exams scheduled for next week.
For now, CPS and CTU have bought a few more days to keep negotiating, and remote classes are expected to continue through this week.
“So it’s come to this,” the union wrote in an email to members Tuesday afternoon. “Short of some late-breaking change, *all* CTU members will begin working remotely tomorrow, Wednesday, January 27. And if CPS retaliates against members for exercising their right to a safe workplace, *all* CTU members will stop working on Thursday and set up picket lines at their schools.”
9:14 a.m. State House to convene for just one day in hopes of figuring out ways to meet with ‘as much normalcy as possible’
Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch plans to cancel all but one day of the Illinois House’s session next month.
That decision, which was laid out in an email from Welch’s chief of staff Jessica Basham, points to public health recommendations on quarantining before and after large gatherings — such as legislative sessions — as well as weekly trips to Springfield being “impractical” for those with small children or older family members as reasons for nixing the upcoming days.
“Therefore, with the health and safety of members, staff, and the public being the priority, the Speaker plans to cancel the session dates set for February 2-4, 9, 11, and 16-18,” Basham’s email reads. The Center Square first reported the email.
Members should still expect to return to Springfield Feb. 10 to adopt the rules for the General Assembly’s procedures. Between now and then, Majority Leader Rep. Greg Harris will “be working with members on both sides of the aisle to gather and consider potential changes to the Rules, including the authorization of remote committees,” according to the email.
Unlike the lame-duck session earlier this month, the one-day session will be held in the House chambers in the Illinois State Capitol, not the Bank of Springfield Center.
- The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 3,667 new cases of the disease detected statewide Tuesday among 69,285 tests.
- Local and state health officials Monday reported eight new cases of a more contagious COVID-19 variant in Illinois.
- As of Sunday night, 2,962 people with COVID-19 were in Illinois hospitals, with 601 patients in intensive care units and 302 on ventilators.
Analysis & Commentary
9:19 a.m. Take it from Gwen - get the vaccine
My faithful readers know that Gwen Washington, 87, is feisty and fearless. My mother, as they say, “don’t take no stuff.”
She demands what is rightfully hers, and then some, from the store manager at her neighborhood Walgreens to powerful Chicago politicians. She has stood toe-to-toe with former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Now we are hearing about “vaccine hesitancy,” especially among African Americans and other people of color.
Gwen isn’t hesitant. She is a self-appointed ambassador for the COVID-19 vaccine. “I would advise anyone who is African American to take the shot,” she says.
For weeks, my mother has been badgering her doctors, nurses and everyone else within earshot: “Where is the vaccine? Don’t you know how old I am?”
The email with an invitation to make an appointment finally arrived. On Thursday, she took an Uber from her Hyde Park apartment to the University of Chicago Hospital to get her first of two doses of the precious commodity.
“I got the Pfizer shot!” she declared to me on the phone. “It only took a second!”