Coronavirus live blog, Feb. 1, 2021: Cook County suburbs likely to move to Phase 4 this week

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, Feb. 1, 2021: Cook County suburbs likely to move to Phase 4 this week

Daily coronavirus cases and deaths are falling once more, and that’s good news for Illinois.

Here’s what’s happening in COVID-related news in Chicago and around the state.


News

8:55 p.m. Coronavirus metrics fall to lowest point in months as Cook County suburbs move toward limited indoor dining this week

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Suburban Cook County will likely move into Phase 4 of the state’s coronavirus mitigation plan later this week, state health officials announced Monday.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo

Suburban Cook County will likely be able to resume restricted indoor restaurant and bar service under the state’s coronavirus mitigation plan later this week as state health officials on Monday reported Illinois’ lowest daily caseload and death tallies since the fall surge hit.

The number of new infections is the lowest in nearly four months, and the number of deaths the lowest in nearly three months.

As preliminary seven-day statewide COVID-19 positivity rate hovered at just under 4%, the lowest since early October, Region 10 — Cook County suburbs — may start to allow limited indoor dining at restaurants and bars as early as Tuesday.

State public health officials Monday reported 2,312 new confirmed, and probable, cases of COVID-19 as well as 16 deaths.

That figure is the lowest daily case count since the state saw 1,617 new and probable cases on Oct. 6 and the lowest daily death toll since Nov. 9, when the state reported 14 deaths.

As of Sunday night, 2,387 people in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of that number, 515 patients were in intensive care units around the state and 278 patients with the virus were on ventilators.

Meanwhile, Region 7 — which includes Will and Kankakee counties — transitioned from the tougher Tier 1 restrictions back to Phase 4 Monday.

Read Manny Ramos and Rachel Hinton’s full story here.


7:49 p.m. CPS won’t lock out teachers this week, pushing back strike threat in hopes of ‘final resolution’

Chicago Public Schools teachers will not be locked out of remote learning this week “as a gesture of good faith” while negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union continue, officials said Monday, backing off a threat that likely would have triggered a strike.

The school system called off in-person classes Tuesday and Wednesday and will continue remote learning to allow more time for an agreement with the union on how and when to reopen all elementary schools for the first time during the pandemic.

“We have secured agreement on one other open issue and made substantial progress on a framework that we hope will address the remaining issues,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson said in a statement.

“We are calling for a 48-hour cooling off period that will hopefully lead to a final resolution on all open issues. As a result of the progress we have made, and as a gesture of good faith, for now, teachers will retain access to their Google Suite.”

Reporter Nader Issa has the full story.

4:44 p.m. Pandemic’s deadliest month in US ends with signs of progress

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The deadliest month yet of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. drew to a close with certain signs of progress: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are plummeting, while vaccinations are picking up speed.

The question is whether the nation can stay ahead of the fast-spreading mutations of the virus.

The U.S. death toll has climbed past 440,000, with over 95,000 lives lost in January alone. Deaths are running at about 3,150 per day on average, down slightly by about 200 from their peak in mid-January.

But as the calendar turned to February on Monday, the number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 fell below 100,000 for the first time in two months. New cases of infection are averaging about 148,000 day, falling from almost a quarter-million in mid-January. And cases are trending downward in all 50 states.

Read the full story here.

3:22 p.m. CPS reaches reopening deal with 9,000 district staff represented by SEIU Local 73

Even as a teachers strike looked increasingly likely, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Public Schools administration announced a deal Monday with about 9,000 other district workers.

Among other things, the tentative agreement allows the special education classroom assistants to work remotely while in-person learning is suspended and continue that way if their assigned students have chosen not to return to the classroom. Also, if there’s a teachers strike, security guards, custodians and crossing guards can continue to report to work and receive pay, according to the terms of the agreement.

SEIU Local 73 also announced the terms of the deal on its website.

“We are pleased to announce we have reached an agreement with CPS regarding remote work and in-person learning for our members,” the union said.

Read Stefano Esposito’s full story here.

3:13 p.m. Biden to meet Republicans who propose lesser virus aid

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is to meet on Monday with a group of 10 Republican senators who have proposed $618 billion in coronavirus aid, about a third of the $1.9 trillion he is seeking as congressional Democrats are poised to move ahead without GOP support.

The Republican group’s proposal focuses on the pandemic’s health effects, tapping into bipartisan urgency to shore up the nation’s vaccine distribution and vastly expanding virus testing with $160 billion in aid. That’s the same as Biden’s proposed total, while their slimmed down $1,000 direct payments would go to fewer households than the $1,400 Biden has proposed, and they would avoid costly assistance to states and cities that Democrats argue are just as important.

Gone are Democratic priorities such as a gradual lifting of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Engaging the White House in high-profile bipartisan talks is certain to appeal to Biden’s wish to unify the nation. But Democrats are determined to push ahead with votes as soon as this week in the House and Senate on broader budget resolutions that will lay the groundwork for approving a COVID relief bill with their new majority in Congress.

Read the full story here.

12:25 p.m. Mask mandate for airlines, public transit taking effect

ATLANTA — Travelers on airplanes and public transportation like buses and subways will be required to wear face masks starting next week to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The 11-page order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes effect late Monday, just before midnight. It makes refusal to wear a mask a violation of federal law, enforced by the Transportation Security Administration and other federal, state and local authorities.

It was signed by Dr. Marty Cetron, director of CDC’s division of migration and quarantine, who said it “will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during this pandemic.”

Issued late Friday, the CDC rule builds on an order announced Jan. 21 by President Joe Biden.

The CDC rule applies to passengers on airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares. It says travelers must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth while riding and while getting on and off rides. The order extends to waiting areas such as airports, train platforms and subway stations.

Read the full story here.

11:30 a.m. Limited indoor restaurant service to resume in Will, Kankakee counties

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Monday that Region 7 — Will and Kankakee counties — will transition from Tier 1 to Phase 4 of the state’s coronavirus mitigation plan.

Phase 4 doesn’t mean businessescan fully open without restrictions, but does grant a path forward for restaurants and bars. Restaurants in Will and Kankakee counties can now allow indoor dining and drinking as long as tables are sufficiently separated, and parties don’t exceed more than 10 people.

Phase 4 also allows for indoor meetings and social gatherings with a maximum of 50 people or 50% of room capacity. Museums will be allowed to reopen — though limited to 25% capacity. Some indoor recreation facilities, like bowling alleys and skating rinks, can also reopen.

The transition from Tier 1 to Phase 4 means the positivity rate has remained at 6.5% for three consecutive days; staffed ICU bed availability is at 20%; and there hasn’t been a sustained increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Read Manny Ramos’ full story here.

11:23 a.m. Vaccine skepticism lurks in Tuskegee — Alabama town famous for syphilis study

TUSKEGEE, Ala. — Lucenia Dunn spent the early days of the coronavirus pandemic encouraging people to wear masks and keep a safe distance from each other in Tuskegee, a mostly Black city where the government once used unsuspecting African American men as guinea pigs in a study of a sexually transmitted disease.

Now, the onetime mayor of the town immortalized as the home of the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis study” is wary of getting inoculated against COVID-19. Among other things, she’s suspicious of the government promoting a vaccine that was developed in record time when it can’t seem to conduct adequate virus testing or consistently provide quality rural health care.

“I’m not doing this vaccine right now. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to do it. But I know enough to withhold getting it until we see all that is involved,” said Dunn, who is Black.

The coronavirus immunization campaign is off to a shaky start in Tuskegee and other parts of Macon County. Area leaders point to a resistance among residents spurred by a distrust of government promises and decades of failed health programs. Many people in this city of 8,500 have relatives who were subjected to unethical government experimentation during the syphilis study.

Read the full story here.

9:45 a.m. As Chicago re-enters Phase 4, non-essential curfew lifted but indoor capacity won’t change, mayor says

State officials announced Sunday that Chicago has made enough progress in the fight against COVID-19 to re-enter Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s statewide resurgence plan, but Chicago’s recently reopened bars and restaurants will remain at their current capacity.

Chicago’s coronavirus testing positivity rate remained below 6.5% for a third consecutive day, clearing the way for Chicago to leave the state’s Tier 1 restrictions and enter Phase 4 for the first time since November.

The city moved to Tier 1 last week, allowing bars and restaurants to seat customers indoors at either 25% of capacity or 25 people per room, whichever is less.

Under Phase 4, establishments are allowed to operate at 50% capacity or serve less than 50 people at once, whichever is less, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement Saturday a rush to expand capacity too quickly would be “irresponsible.”

“With cases and positivity rates still higher than before the second surge, now is the time to keep safeguards in place to ensure continued progress and hopefully prevent any rollbacks in the future,” the mayor said.

Read the full story here.

8 a.m. Inmates file class-action lawsuit over handling of COVID-19 at downtown jail

Inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center claim the downtown federal high-rise jail’s “haphazard and insufficient” measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic led to two major outbreaks, endangering people in custody and staff.

Some of those failed measures include a lack of cleaning supplies and proper social distancing as well as a “poorly implemented and incomplete” isolation and quarantine process, according to a proposed class-action lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in Chicago. Officials also allegedly turned “a blind eye” to staff who didn’t wear masks and ignored some people in custody who asked for tests.

The plaintiffs, Ricky Price and Kevin Conway, both inmates at the MCC on West Van Buren, allege that the Federal Bureau of Prisons and MCC officials have “failed not once, but twice, to protect the people in their custody” from the pandemic.

As a result, more than 200 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility, according to the Bureau of Prisons’ website, though the lawsuit suggests “the real infection rate was certainly higher” than that.

Read Madeline Kenney’s full story here.


New cases

  • The U.S. death toll has climbed past 440,000, with over 95,000 lives lost in January alone. Deaths are running at about 3,150 per day on average, down slightly by about 200 from their peak in mid-January.
  • Illinois public health officials Monday reported 2,312 new confirmed, and probable, cases of COVID-19 as well as 16 deaths. The statewide seven-day positivity rate continues to hover around 4%.

Analysis & commentary

7:33 a.m. Golden Apple teacher: Returning to schools is ‘the right thing to do’

I’m a supporter of the Chicago Teachers Union. I will be a card-carrying member for as long as I work for Chicago Public Schools.

Beyond my support for the union, I am a Chicagoan first and foremost. I grew up in the South Shore area and attended the public schools. One thing I learned in this time is that you don’t walk away from a struggle and you always do best by the community.

I may be in the minority of teachers who want to come back to school, but I know it’s the right thing to do. There are Chicago parents and students eager to get back to school and we should not deny them this opportunity.

All throughout my teaching career I’ve watched us struggle to gain the respect of other professions. This is our moment to step up and be heroic at a time when students and parents need us the most.

— Ronald Hale, Chicago Public School teacher at Stephen K. Hayt Elementary School

Read more letters to our editor here.

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