Coronavirus live blog, March 10, 2021: City officials open registration for United Center appointments to residents in multiple South Side neighborhoods

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

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News

8:45 p.m. 104K more COVID-19 shots given in Illinois as city opens United Center registration to 5 South Side ZIP codes

In a bid to vaccinate more people of color in Chicago neighborhoods hit hard by COVID-19, city officials Wednesday opened registration for United Center appointments to residents in a handful of South and Southwest Side neighborhoods.

Anyone who lives in the 60608, 60619, 60620, 60649 or 60652 ZIP codes can sign up for an appointment at events.juvare.com/chicago/UCPOD/ with the code “CCVICHICAGO,” or by reaching the multilingual call center at (312) 746-4835.

Residents from outside those ZIP codes who try to sign up will have their appointments canceled, according to a city flyer circulated by several community groups.

Registration remains closed for all other Illinoisans in what has been a confusing start to the United Center signup process.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials running the mass vaccination site initially said that after a seniors-only signup period, registration would open last Sunday to any Illinois resident 16 or older with a chronic health condition, in addition to select essential workers.

Officials changed that much ballyhooed plan at the last minute when Chicagoans accounted for less than 40% of the initial signups, “a percentage that is at odds with the equity base and inclusion driven reasons behind why the United Center was selected as a vaccine site in the first place,” Lightfoot said during the site launch Tuesday.

Instead, they’ve put a “pause” on United Center signups for most Illinoisans who are eligible to get a shot, while targeted outreach efforts are underway in neighborhoods where Black and Brown residents have suffered a disproportionate brunt of the pandemic — and where vaccine uptake so far has lagged behind other whiter, wealthier areas.

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.


7:50 p.m. CPS, CTU talks on reopening high schools ‘very productive,’ but parents get few answers at town hall

Frustrated high school parents who are supposed to decide by the end of next week whether to send their kids back to Chicago Public Schools classrooms received little detail about high school reopening plans at a virtual town hall Wednesday, even as officials said they’ve made progress in talks with the Chicago Teachers Union.

The informational session with district leaders — advertised as a way “to give families additional opportunities to learn about our plans and provide input” — featured little to no answers about critical elements of the resumption of in-person high school classes. Officials instead discussed the district’s health and safety protocols and staff vaccination efforts.

CPS leaders acknowledged families are frustrated not to have more information by now and admitted the district is still “in the early stages” of planning. But they said their twice weekly meetings with CTU have been “very productive” and said parents’ questions would be used to inform those discussions — a welcome change for many who criticized the district for not taking parent input in the K-8 reopening.

Bogdana Chkoumbova, CPS’ chief of school management, said the forthcoming framework from CPS and CTU “will only provide general guidance,” and administrators at every school would be tasked with creating their own unique plans. One CPS principal said he planned to hold a meeting for his high school community next week but officials did not say whether other schools planned to do so.

Reporter Nader Issa has the full story.

4:44 p.m. Lightfoot: Federal relief package not a ‘slush fund’

Fresh from a City Council rebellion over her decision to spend $281 million of Round One COVID-19 relief on police payroll, Mayor Lori Lightfoot tried Wednesday to head off a repeat performance.

Hours after the U.S. House of Representatives approved an even bigger package that will send $1.8 billion to Chicago, Lightfoot warned Chicago aldermen to keep their wish lists in their back pockets, because the money will have strings attached.

“My expectation is that the money is gonna come ... through specific grants that have specific requirements on how the money can be spent,” she said.

“So I want to disabuse people out there and my colleagues in the City Council. This is not $1.9 trillion of a slush fund that we can use every way that we can.”

Lightfoot said she’s been “hearing a lot from people who’ve been around city government for a while [about] what didn’t go right and what did go right” after the infusion of stimulus funds Chicago received after the housing and economic crisis of 2008.

“We want to be smarter about the way in which we utilize this money and make sure that we’re actually making catalytic investments that are gonna lift us up into a full recovery,” the mayor said.

Read the full story from Fran Spielman here.

3:24 p.m. Illinois education officials drop 6-foot social distancing requirement to 3 feet

In a move that will be critical to bringing more students back to classrooms but will likely be met with skepticism from teachers and some parents, Illinois education officials reduced the 6-foot social distancing requirement in schools to 3 feet as long as educators are vaccinated.

Officials pegged the new guidance released this week by the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health as a way to help school districts reopen sooner and with higher student capacity.

“It reflects what we have learned about the transmission of COVID-19 in school settings, as more students in Illinois and across the country have returned safely to in-person learning during the 2020-21 school year,” State Supt. of Education Carmen Ayala wrote in a letter to school leaders statewide.

“This joint guidance supports the return to in-person instruction as soon as practicable in each community.”

The state’s revised health guidelines come after new instructions from the Centers for Disease Control that prioritized the reopening of schools, as they are “an important part of community infrastructure.

But those federal recommendations still include 6 feet distance between students, a protocol that has been heavily debated in recent weeks. The top education official in Massachusetts announced last month that he would allow children to be 3 feet apart. Colorado, Ohio and Florida are among the other states to disregard the CDC’s guidelines.

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

2:22 p.m. First shots administered at United Center mass vaccination site

CV_UPDATE_030621_14.jpg

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

People emerged with smiles on their faces and stickers on their chests after some initial delays in getting people through the front door Tuesday on the opening day of operations at the mass vaccination site outside the United Center.

Ken Molitoris, 75, of North Park, offered an assessment shared by many.

“In and out, no problem,” he said. “It was real smooth, especially for the first day! I’m real pleased.”

After clearing up the initial jam, which caused some confusion because appointments are required, a steady flow of people over 65 made their way to a tent erected in a parking lot across the street from the United Center.

Parking was available in an adjacent lot where uniformed soldiers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division helped shuttle people who asked for assistance to and from the site in wheelchairs.

About 6,000 shots per day will be administered at the federally run site.

A total of about 185,000 people are expected to be vaccinated at the site over the course of eight weeks.

After booking about 50,000 appointments in recent days, the online booking process was suspended but is expected to reopen later this week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner, said at a news conference.

There is no on-site registration for shots at the United Center. Several people who showed up without an appointment hoping to get a shot were turned away Tuesday morning.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said that despite significant progress in rolling out the vaccine and keeping the state’s positivity rate down, people should still wear masks.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said Tuesday.

Read the full story from Mitch Dudek here.

1:21 p.m. Congress OKs $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill in win for Biden, Dems

WASHINGTON — A Congress riven along party lines approved a landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Wednesday, as President Joe Biden and Democrats claimed a triumph on a bill that marshals the government’s spending might against twin pandemic and economic crises that have upended a nation.

The House gave final congressional approval to the sweeping package by a near party line 220-211 vote precisely seven weeks after Biden entered the White House and four days after the Senate passed the bill without a single Republican vote. GOP lawmakers opposed the package as bloated, crammed with liberal policies and heedless of signs the crises are easing.

Most noticeable to many Americans are provisions to provide up to $1,400 direct payments this year to most adults and extend $300 per week emergency unemployment benefits into early September. But the legislation goes far beyond that.

The measure addresses Democrats’ campaign promises and Biden’s top initial priority of easing a one-two punch that first hit the country a year ago. Since then, many Americans have been relegated to hermit-like lifestyles in their homes to avoid a disease that’s killed over 525,000 people — about the population of Wichita, Kansas — and plunged the economy to its deepest depths since the Great Depression.

“Today we have a decision to make of tremendous consequence,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “a decision that will make a difference for millions of Americans, saving lives and livelihoods.”

Read the full story here.

12:52 p.m. Clinics wait to vaccinate farmworkers: ‘Our hands are tied’

With Georgia’s sweet onion harvest approaching and COVID-19 vaccine arriving in increasing quantities from the federal government, migrant health centers around the state want to start vaccinating farmworkers. But there’s a catch.

In Georgia and many other places around the U.S., such efforts are blocked by state policies that give priority for shots to other groups.

“Our hands are tied,” said East Georgia Healthcare Center CEO Jennie Wren Denmark, whose agency runs 13 clinics, including one in Vidalia, home of the celebrated Vidalia onion. Her clinics’ vaccine will instead go to patients on the state eligibility list, which was expanded this week to teachers.

Public health authorities have said in their defense that drawing up the priority lists is a complex balancing act that requires them to take into account outbreak data, the risks to various categories of workers and vital industries, and the limited supply of vaccine.

Farmworkers and activists are upset.

“Waiting and waiting has some people angry and causes despair,” said Edgar Franks, a 41-year-old leader of the agricultural union Familias Unidas por la Justicia, or Families United for Justice, who works in the blueberry fields on weekends in the Mount Vernon, Washington, area. “We’re essential, but we are not really treated as essential.”

Leticia Cuevas, 35, who works pruning wine grapes near Prosser, Washington, said: “I hope that everything could return to normal and that we would all be treated equally. We all deserve dignity.”

Read the full story here.

11:42 a.m. Huge virus aid bill nears final OK in win for Biden, Dems

WASHINGTON — Congress sped toward final approval Wednesday of a landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, as President Joe Biden and Democrats neared a major triumph for the party’s priorities and showcased the unity they’ll need to forge future victories.

The House was on track to use a virtual party-line vote to approve the 628-page measure, which represents Democrats’ effort to bridle the catastrophic pandemic and revive the enfeebled economy. Four days after the Senate passed the measure over unanimous Republican opposition, GOP House counterparts were poised to do the same for a bill they’ve characterized as bloated, crammed with liberal policies and heedless of signs the dual crises are easing.

Democrats rejected those complaints.

“I call upon my Republican colleagues to stop their March madness and show some compassion for their constituents who are less than wealthy,” said No. 3 House Democratic leader James Clyburn of South Carolina as the House debated the legislation.

For Biden and Democrats, the bill is essentially a canvas on which they’ve painted their core beliefs — that government programs can be a benefit, not a bane, to millions of people and that spending huge sums on such efforts can be a cure, not a curse. The measure so closely tracks Democrats’ priorities that several rank it with the top achievements of their careers, and despite their slender congressional majorities there was never real suspense over its fate.

Read the full story here.

10:59 a.m. Smithsonian obtains vial from the first U.S. COVID-19 vaccine dose

WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has acquired the vial that contained the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine administered in the United States as part of its plans to document the global pandemic and “this extraordinary period we were going through.”

The acquisition also includes other materials related to that first vaccine dose — among them special shipping equipment and the medical scrubs and ID badge of the New York City nurse who was America’s first coronavirus vaccine recipient.

“We wanted objects that would tell the full story,” said Anthea M. Hartig, the museum’s director. “Everything from the scrubs to the freezer unit that shipped the vaccines.”

“Our broadest mandate was to document this extraordinary period we were going through” said Diane Wendt, a curator in the museum’s medicine and science department. “We particularly had our eye on vaccine development from the start.”

The first dose of vaccine in the United States was given on Dec. 14, 2020, by Northwell Health, a New York health provider, to Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse. The donation from Northwell includes the original Pfizer vials as well as the specialized shipping container, about the size of a hotel room fridge, that would deliver the super-cold Pfizer doses packed in dry ice.

The museum also obtained first-batch vials of the alternate vaccine created by Moderna, and Lindsay donated her hospital ID badge and her medical scrubs.

“Our curators were particularly interested in the process and the packaging,” museum spokeswoman Melinda Machado said. “The story of the vaccine is not just what goes in your arm.”

Read the full story here.

9:04 a.m. Many still face COVID-related losses, AP-NORC poll finds

Roughly four in 10 Americans say they’re still feeling the financial impact of the loss of a job or income within their household as the economic recovery remains uneven one year into the coronavirus pandemic.

A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research provides further evidence that the pandemic has been devastating for some Americans while leaving others virtually unscathed or even in better shape when it comes to their finances.

The outcome often depended on the type of job a person had and their income level before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has particularly hurt Black and Latino households and younger Americans, some who are now going through the second major economic crisis of their adult lives.

“I just felt like we were already in a harder position, so (the pandemic) kind of threw us even more under the dirt,” says Kennard Taylor, a 20-year-old Black college student at Jackson College.

Taylor moved back in with his family after losing his job as a server at his campus cafeteria in the first weeks of the pandemic and struggling to make rent and car payments while continuing his studies.

The poll found that about half of Americans say they have experienced at least one form of household income loss during the pandemic — including 25% who have experienced a household layoff and 31% who say someone in their household was scheduled for fewer hours.

Overall, 44% said their household experienced income loss from the pandemic that is still having an impact on their finances.

Read the full story here.


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