Coronavirus live blog, Feb. 2, 2021: Suburban Cook County cleared to return to Phase 4 of Illinois’ reopening plan
Here’s Tuesday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.
Suburban Cook County got to Phase 4 by reporting three consecutive days with a testing positivity rate below 6.5%, in addition to meeting other hospital metrics. That means diners will be welcomed back indoors.
Here’s what else happened in coronavirus-related news.
8:50 p.m. Suburban restaurants can serve more diners inside under new rules; bowling alleys and skating rinks can open
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team cleared suburban Cook County to return to Phase 4 of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan Tuesday, meaning bars and restaurants can serve larger parties indoors.
Up to 10 people can sit at a table and local officials have more leeway to increase indoor capacity beyond 25% as the region sheds Pritzker’s Tier 1 level of COVID-19 mitigations.
Those restrictions had been in place for several months across Illinois in an effort to suppress a record-breaking fall surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
But as infection rates have fallen back to their lowest levels in about four months, eight of the state’s 11 regions have returned to Phase 4.
Suburban Cook County got to Phase 4 by reporting three consecutive days with a testing positivity rate below 6.5%, in addition to meeting other hospital metrics.
Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.
2:04 p.m. Both St. Patrick’s Day parades canceled for second straight year
For the second straight year, Chicago will be forced to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without the back-to-back, downtown and South Side Irish parades that have been the colorful holiday’s most entrenched traditions.
Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said the downtown parade scheduled for March 13 has been canceled and the same goes for the South Side Irish Parade down Western Avenue, scheduled for the following day.
To prevent community spread of the coronavirus and its variants, City Hall will “not be issuing any permits for parades or large gatherings in the first quarter” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although it pains him to say it as a proud Irishman, Hopkins said canceling both parades is the only call to make. There is simply no alternative to prevent “the type of activity that the parade inspires — not just the crowd watching the parade itself, but throughout the day,” he said.
Read the full story from Fran Spielman here.
1:15 p.m. City taps new website to help schedule COVID-19 vaccinations
Chicago is contracting with an online health care service to allow residents to schedule vaccinations at city sites, though there are still an extremely limited number of shots available and users potentially will get no more than a response promising to send an email when appointments open up.
The city says eligible residents, including those 65 and older and essential workers, can sign up through a site or app operated by Zocdoc, a New York-based medical appointment service. It can be accessed at www.zocdoc.com/vaccine or by downloading the app, which is available from Apple and Google app stores.
There is no fee for the service and Zocdoc provides no phone number option for scheduling. City health officials encourage people to first try to schedule vaccinations through their own health care providers.
Two Sun-Times reporters tested the Zocdoc site Tuesday only to get a message that reads “You’re signed up!” and notes “we’ll send you an email … when we’re available to book vaccination appointments in your city.”
Read the full story from Brett Chase here.
12:55 p.m. Biden administration to provide COVID vaccine to pharmacies
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will begin providing COVID-19 vaccines to U.S. pharmacies, part of its plan to ramp up vaccinations as new and potentially more serious virus strains are starting to appear, the White House said Tuesday.
Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said starting next week some 6,500 pharmacies around the country will receive a total of 1 million doses of vaccine. The number of participating pharmacies, and the allocation of vaccines, are expected to accelerate as drugmakers increase production.
Drug stores have become a mainstay for flu shots and shingles vaccines, and the industry is capable of vaccinating tens of millions of people monthly. “This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities,” said Zients.
12:49 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.”
Read the full story from Nader Issa here.
9:18 a.m. Mixed feelings for parents, students who wait to see if there will be a strike or a deal
With a teachers strike looming that could further impact her kids’ education, Mary Clare Maxwell is left shaking her head at both Chicago Public Schools leaders and Chicago Teachers Union officials for their inability to strike a deal.
“I don’t have time for all the details,” Maxwell, who has two daughters in public schools, said about parsing inconsistent messages from each side about how negotiations are going.
“Part of me just wants to say: ‘The adults need to get in the room and figure it out and move forward, and stop the bickering because no one is benefiting from the bickering,’” said Maxwell, 47, who lives in the West Loop and has two daughters in public schools.
Her daughter, Rory, a sophomore at Jones College Prep, said she supports her teachers.
“If a strike is what it takes, then that’s what it takes, but I would definitely rather not miss out on anymore learning,” she said.
She worries her studies, which she feels have been watered down by remote learning, will slip further if has to switch to a curriculum her mom plans to create and implement in the event of a strike.
“As good as my mom can explain things to me, she’s not a teacher,” she said.
Read the full story from Mitch Dudek here.
- 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
9:20 a.m. Bipartisanship is nice, but Joe Biden’s first job is to come to the aid of suffering Americans
For people who care about average Americans, the arithmetic doesn’t add up.
In 2017, nine U.S. senators were among those who cheerfully voted for tax cuts geared toward the wealthiest people. Those tax cuts are expected to cost $2 trillion over a decade.
But now that President Joe Biden is proposing to spend a tad less — $1.9 trillion — to address a once-in-a-century pandemic disaster, the message from those same nine senators, joined by a 10th senator who wasn’t in office in 2017, is: Not so fast.
We’re really trying to understand.
If the federal government could cut taxes by $2 trillion to put a smile on the faces of people with private jets and multiple homes, why can’t it now find $1.9 trillion to help struggling families buy groceries during a pandemic? Why can’t it protect families from being evicted? Why can’t it increase federal jobless benefits to $400 a week and extend them through September, rather than just June, as the Republicans would prefer?
At this critical time, for that matter, why can’t Washington provide $170 billion to schools, colleges and universities to help them reopen safely or improve remote learning?