Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 8, 2021: CPS forging ahead with reopening — and teachers who don’t show up won’t be paid, officials say

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 8, 2021: CPS forging ahead with reopening — and teachers who don’t show up won’t be paid, officials say

The coronavirus has killed an additional 126 residents and spread to 9,277 more, but fewer people are being hospitalized in the state.

Here’s what else you need to know about coronavirus in Illinois.


News

8:58 p.m. Top Illinois schools official says districts should consider extending school year; CTU says it’s open to the idea

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Posters with measures to ensure social distancing and reducing spread of COVID-19 at South Shore Fine Arts Academy at 1415 E 70th St in South Shore , Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez, Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools will move ahead with its plans to reopen classrooms Monday, and staff who are supposed to report to schools but don’t show up will not be paid, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her schools chief said Friday in a final pitch that it’s safe for parents to send their children back to school and teachers to go to work.

That message came despite objections from thousands of staff and parents and three-quarters of aldermen that the school system’s plan for resuming in-person instruction for the first time since March falls short of safety expectations.

The mayor and CPS CEO Janice Jackson played a good-cop, bad-cop routine in telling teachers they both understand their concerns and expect them to report to work. But in a role reversal, it was Jackson attacking the Chicago Teachers Union and Lightfoot unusually dealing a conciliatory, if underhanded, message to her strongest rival.

This time, the mayor — who since the 11-day teachers strike two falls ago has had public and sometimes ugly fights with the city’s educators — tried to flip a switch in her tone. She thanked teachers — whether they are “able to come back in-person or not” — for confronting the challenges posed by remote learning and said she acknowledged their legitimate concerns and fears.

Asked about the possibility of another strike, the type of question she typically would use to rail against the teachers union, Lightfoot passed. She admonished a questioner not to “go there.”

Read the full story here.


5:01 p.m. Chicago expands next round of vaccinations to residents 65 or older

The city of Chicago will follow the state’s lead and offer the next round of vaccine shots to people 65 and older.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday the state will diverge from federal guidelines, which limit vaccinations to people 75 or older, in an effort to vaccinate communities of color, which have suffered higher death rates among people 65 and older.

“Even as the whole phase will be open to those over 65, we will be asking our health care partners to prioritize first and foremost those at highest risk of poor COVID outcomes and an easy way of doing that is encouraging them to look to those over 75,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Alison Arwady said Friday.

Arwady’s remarks clarified which guidelines will be followed by Chicago, which receives and distributes coronavirus vaccines separately from the rest of the state.

Reporter Mitch Dudek has the full story.

3:17 p.m. Fewest Illinois coronavirus hospitalizations in two months as state reports 126 more deaths

Illinois hospitals are treating the fewest coronavirus patients they’ve seen in over two months as public health officials announced Friday the virus has killed an additional 126 residents and spread to 9,277 more.

The new COVID-19 caseload is the largest announced by the Illinois Department of Public Health since Dec. 11, but that’s partly because laboratories have only returned to their normal testing capacity this week after a decline over the holidays.

The infections were detected among 118,655 tests, keeping the state’s seven-day average testing positivity rate at 8.5%.

It’s been a rollercoaster two months for Illinois since the state hit a record-breaking autumn resurgence in mid-November. The positivity rate, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, fell nearly by half from 13.2% on Nov. 13 to 6.8% after Christmas — and then jumped to 8.6% into the first week of the new year.

Read the full story here.

12 p.m. How Chicagoans are maintaining friendships during the pandemic

We asked Chicagoans: What are you doing to maintain friendships during the pandemic? Some answers have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

“Bringing them booze! I work in the alcohol industry — this is one of the perks, and I’m happy to share.” — Holli Anzalone

“A group of friends and I get together on Zoom every Friday night, have a few beers and share music videos from YouTube on Watch2Gether — anything from classic MTV to comedy sketches. It’s one of the only things keeping me sane.” — John Eliasik

“I have been using social media quite a bit. I am in a high-risk category, due to my age, and the Internet has helped me stay focused and connected to the things I miss so much.” — Jo Ann Fields

“WhatsApp, FIFA pros and Zoom.”— Gerry Obi Jaramillo

“Monthly Zoom get-togethers with two friends whom I shared pizza and wine with one Friday a month for five years. One member of our trio moved out of state a year and a half ago, so Zoom enabled us to recreate our tradition.” —Julie MacCarthy

“FaceTime with family, texting and occasional phone calls with friends.”— Patricia Smith

Read the full story here.

11:37 a.m. Biden to speed release of coronavirus vaccines

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden will release most available COVID-19 vaccine doses to speed delivery to more people, a reversal of the Trump administration policy, his office said Friday.

“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” spokesman T.J. Ducklo said in a statement. Biden “supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now.”

Under the Trump administration’s approach, the government has been holding back a supply of vaccines to guarantee that people can get a second shot, which provides maximum protection against COVID-19. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require a second shot about three weeks after the first vaccination. One-shot vaccines are still undergoing testing.

After a glow of hope when the first vaccines were approved last month, the nation’s inoculation campaign has gotten off to a slow start. Of 29.4 million doses distributed, about 5.9 million have been administered, or 27%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden has already indicated his displeasure. In a speech last week, before his election victory was certified by Congress, the president-elect said he intends to speed up vaccinations by having the federal government take a stronger role to make sure that vaccines are not only available, but that shots are going into the arms of more Americans.

“The Trump administration plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind—far behind,” Biden said. “If it continues to move as it is now, it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”

Read the full story here.

9:24 a.m. Some immigrants shut out of stimulus; other, mixed-status households will get COVID-19 relief check

As a second round of pandemic stimulus checks trickles into Americans’ bank accounts, Glo Harn Choi again will be left to figure out how to stretch his wages to help his family, who were shut out of the financial relief because of their immigration status.

The Albany Park resident and his family, living in the suburbs, haven’t received either of the two stimulus checks approved by Congress. That’s because they are undocumented.

With his mother’s catering business taking a 20% hit during the coronavirus pandemic, the family members find themselves depending on each other to stay afloat financially.

“For families living paycheck to paycheck, a dollar here or there could be the breaking point,” Choi says.

Last March, undocumented immigrants were excluded from getting the stimulus checks under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. That exclusion extended to those married to undocumented immigrants, too — even if one of the spouses was a U.S. citizen. Undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children also weren’t eligible for the relief.

With the $600 payments approved by the federal government in late December, households with mixed-immigration statuses that include an adult who has legal status in this country — U.S. citizenship or permanent residency — will receive a stimulus check for the first time, though it still won’t include any money for the undocumented relative, according to Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“That’s a significant step, but it’s not everybody,” Tsao says. “It’s important to remember who qualifies but also who does not qualify.”

Read the full story from Elvia Malagón here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

9:27 a.m., Jan. 5 COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for state workers who care for high-risk people

The first round of the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine was administered to residents and employees of Illinois veterans’ homes in late December, but data shows that the number of caregivers vaccinated is worrisome.

Seventy-four percent of residents in the homes have been vaccinated — that’s 95% of residents in Anna, 90% in Manteno and Quincy, and 71% in LaSalle — according to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. However, the people charged with providing care to our most vulnerable residents have been vaccinated in much lower percentages. Only 40% of the staff throughout Illinois have received the vaccine as of Dec. 31.

After waiting more than nine excruciating months for a vaccine, that is unacceptable. We believe the vaccine should be a mandatory condition of employment in all facilities in the state that care for high-risk individuals, especially the elderly. The only temporary exception would be for those who recently had COVID-19 or currently have it.

Employees of veterans’ homes who have not been vaccinated include some people who were hospitalized, currently recovering from COVID-19 or currently receiving antibody treatment, Bridget Dooley, IDVA public information officer, told the Sun-Times. Those medical exceptions are justified. But other employees simply have declined to be vaccinated — and that is unacceptable.

Read more from the CST Editorial Board here.

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