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Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 5, 2021: Lightfoot says it may take a year and a half to vaccinate all of Chicago if the federal government continues to lag

Here’s the latest news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois. Follow here for live updates.

The coronavirus has killed 126 more Illinois residents and spread to an additional 6,839 people, but the state’s average testing positivity rate declined Tuesday for the first time in 11 days, officials said.

Here’s what else happened in coronavirus-related news.


News

8:55 p.m. It could take a year and a half to vaccinate all Chicago residents if feds don’t speed up the pace, Lightfoot says

Dr. Marina Del Rios of University of Illinois Health, the first person to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Chicago, gets her 2nd and final dose at Norwegian American Hospital Tuesday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on President-elect Joe Biden to deliver significantly more COVID-19 vaccines to Chicago and other cities or face a drawn-out pandemic that will last well into 2022.

Lightfoot, at a media event showcasing the first five Chicago health care workers receiving their second doses of vaccine, said that the rate of distribution to cities is way too slow and added that it will take Chicago almost a year and a half to vaccinate all the city’s residents unless things speed up.

“We do not have enough vaccine,” Lightfoot said. “If you want to have us bend this curve and give people confidence that they can resume their normal lives, there must be an exponential increase in the amount of vaccine that is available to cities and towns all over this country.”

Lightfoot directed her criticism at President Donald Trump for falling well short of a promised 20 million doses to be delivered nationally by the end of 2020, but called upon his administration and Biden to fix the problem.

“Whatever problems there were before, we cannot solve them, but we have an obligation to solve them going forward and solve them we must,” Lightfoot said. “The federal government absolutely, 100% must step up.”

Read Brett Chase’s full story here.


6:02 p.m. CPS CEO rips aldermen, says reopening concerns ‘purely political’

Chicago Public Schools chief Janice Jackson took aim Tuesday at 36 aldermen who have criticized the city’s school reopening plan, calling a public letter they sent to her and the mayor over the weekend “purely political” and hypocritical.

Jackson ended a morning news conference on the district’s plans with heated remarks about “the intentions behind” the letter — signed by a majority of City Council — that said the aldermen were “deeply concerned” with the school district’s decision to bring back thousands of teachers and students this month as COVID-19 infections remain at high levels in the city.

“There have been schools operating in every single ward, in every single community throughout this city,” Jackson said, referring to private schools that have been open. “And so why the concern now? Do they care more about the lives of CPS teachers than the Catholic school teachers that have been going to school since August?”

Read the full story here.

4 p.m. Most workers at state’s veterans’ homes in no hurry to get coronavirus vaccine

Though COVID-19 vaccines have been made available to all employees at Illinois veterans’ homes, only 40% of staff members have so far opted to receive their first dose of the inoculation against the deadly virus.

The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced last Thursday that vaccines have been made available to all residents and employees at the department’s facilities.

So far, 74% of residents, and 40% of staff, have received the vaccine, but a further breakdown of those numbers show that staff at the locations have largely opted out of receiving the first dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine.

At the Manteno home, only 18% of staff have been vaccinated — the lowest percentage of the state’s four homes.

At LaSalle, which has grappled with a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 36 veterans, only 28% of the staff have been vaccinated.

Nearly a third of staffers at the home in Anna have received the vaccine, while 42% of staff at Quincy have received their first doses.

Bridget Dooley, the public information officer for the department, said they’re currently “pulling out all the stops” to encourage staff members to take the vaccine.

“We continue to aggressively communicate and educate employees about the importance of taking the vaccine, and we’ve asked those who have taken the vaccine, who tend to be leaders among their peers, to reach out to their co-workers,” Dooley said.

Read Rachel Hinton’s full story here.

1:13 p.m. 126 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, more than 6,800 new cases

The coronavirus has killed 126 more Illinois residents and spread to an additional 6,839 people, but the state’s average testing positivity rate declined Tuesday for the first time in 11 days, officials said.

The new cases were detected among 87,083 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, lowering the seven-day average positivity rate by a tenth of a percentage point to 8.5%.

That number, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, had been on the rise nearly daily since Christmas. Gov. J.B. Pritzker urged families to cancel holiday gatherings to avoid another statewide surge like the one that shattered records in mid-November.

The positivity rate fell by almost half from an autumn high of 13.2% on Nov. 13 to 6.8% on Dec. 26, but it has steadily risen since then.

Read Mitchell Armentrout’s full story here.

12:07 p.m. Germany agrees to extend coronavirus lockdown until Jan. 31

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that she has agreed with state governors to extend the country’s current lockdown by three weeks until Jan. 31.

Merkel said they also are tightening curbs on social contacts, in line with measures imposed at the beginning of the pandemic in March. And they called for new restrictions on movement for people living in areas with particularly high infection rates.

The decision came as new coronavirus cases and deaths are running at stubbornly high levels, and officials remain uncertain what effect the Christmas and New Year holidays have had on the situation.

Germany launched a nationwide partial shutdown on Nov. 2, closing restaurants, bars, leisure and sports facilities. That failed to reduce infection figures, and the current lockdown — which closed nonessential shops and schools, and further limited social contacts — took effect Dec. 16. It was initially due to run through Jan. 10.

Read the full story here.

9:43 a.m. 40% of Chicago teachers and staff didn’t report to schools as ordered, district says

About 40% of Chicago Public Schools teachers and staff who were expected to report to schools Monday for the first time during the pandemic didn’t show up for in-person work, officials said Tuesday, accusing the Chicago Teachers Union of “pressuring” its members to defy the district’s orders.

In all, about half of teachers and three-quarters of support staff returned to classrooms as expected, accounting for 60% of the 5,800 employees told go back to schools, officials said. The first two days after winter break last school year saw about 83% of employees present.

Those who didn’t report to work and elected to continue teaching remotely were sent emails telling them their absence was unexcused. CPS CEO Janice Jackson said that those who continue to ignore their orders will face progressive discipline according to the union’s contract, but that it’s in nobody’s interest to fire teachers.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey told reporters earlier in the morning that “there are a tremendous amount of concerns and many of our members are not feeling safe at all, are feeling more anxious and scared than ever.”

In a survey conducted by the union, 69% of members who did return reported conditions in schools that were “not adequate,” Sharkey said. Among staff concerns, Sharkey said, were “filthy” buildings, those in “various states of disrepair” and either missing or inadequate air purifiers.

Sharkey said the reopening won’t work if “the district simply continues to dictate to us.”

Read the full story here.

8:33 a.m. Alex Trebek urges support for COVID-19 victims in first of final five shows

In a message taped for what turned out to be his final week as “Jeopardy!” host, Alex Trebek urged the game show’s viewers to honor the season of giving by helping victims of the coronavirus epidemic.

Trebek’s plea aired in the opening moments of the show that aired on Monday.

“We’re trying to build a gentler, kinder society and if we all pitch in just a little bit, we’re going to get there,” he said.

Trebek died November 8 at age 80 of pancreatic cancer but had pre-taped several weeks of shows that have continued to air. Monday’s show began the final week of programs that he left behind.

His last week of shows were originally scheduled to air on Christmas week; two categories of clues on Monday were “December 21” and “Christmas on Broadway.” But to give Trebek’s final week wider exposure, “Jeopardy!” put them off until this week.

The show’s executive producer, Mike Richards, told NBC’s “Today” show on Monday that Trebek was “an absolute warrior” in his last taping sessions.

“He was in enormous pain,” Richards said. “He was, you know, 10 days away from passing away. And you will not sense that in any of these episodes.”

Read more of this story from the Associated Press here.

7:31 a.m. Lower Metra fares, improved Pace service for south suburban Cook County under new program

Some Metra and Pace riders will see lower fares and improved service thanks to a pilot program launched Monday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who spearheaded the program, said it will make public transportation more accessible and affordable to people who live in or travel to the south suburbs.

“The Southland has long been plagued by a lack of access to transportation and affordable options to get residents to their destinations,” Preckwinkle said Monday. “Time spent waiting on a train or bus could mean the difference between keeping or losing a job and right now, in the current climate with the pandemic, every dollar counts.”

Fair Transit South Cook is a three-year program giving riders a 50% reduction in fares for the Metra Electric and Rock Island Lines. It also increases the hours and frequency of Pace’s Halsted 352 route.

Preckwinkle said the program is especially important now that the pandemic has “disrupted all aspects of our daily lives” and Cook County’s essential workers who rely heavily on public transportation will see some help.

Keep reading about this program here.


New cases


Analysis and commentary

6:55 a.m. Unworkable City Council pandemic proposals could gravely harm Chicago’s hotel industry

The hotel industry is facing the worst economic challenge any of us have seen. The anchor of Chicago’s economy — the tourism industry — has been, and continues to be, decimated. We all know the reason — COVID-19.

There have been times when hotels have more employees working than reservations on the books. We continue to have to make payroll, pay for PPE that the government did not provide, try to make the minimum loan payments on our properties and pay millions of dollars in property taxes. What you have read in the news about hotels is 100%, absolutely correct — many across Chicago simply will not survive the downturn.

Yet, a series of unsafe, and unconstitutional, proposals are being considered in Chicago’s City Council, including one that would force housekeepers to clean rooms every single day no matter the risk to their health and welfare.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the hotel industry has worked tirelessly to protect workers and guests in the face of unprecedented health and economic challenges. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have worked diligently to implement health and safety procedures to protect employees and guests. We have enhanced the cleaning of all public spaces, provided PPE to staff and utilized technology to limit in-person interactions.

Instead of adding additional regulations that would further hinder an already struggling industry, elected officials at all levels of government should consider ways to support hotels and their employees.

Read more of this column here.