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Coronavirus live blog, March 12, 2021: Pritzker says Illinois could beat Biden’s May 1 vaccine goal

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

A day after President Joe Biden said he’d direct states to make all Americans eligible for the vaccine by May 1, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he hopes Illinois can do even better than that.

Read all the latest news from today below.

News

TOP STORY: Pritzker applauds Biden’s May 1 pledge — but hopes to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility here ‘a little bit earlier’

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a press conference at the Thompson Center in the Loop.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

One day after President Joe Biden pledged to open up COVID-19 vaccinations to all adults by May 1, Gov. J.B. Pritzker went one step better on Friday, saying he is confident Illinois can open up eligibility a bit earlier.

“I feel very confident moving forward that supplies are increasing, that the president is doing everything that he can to get us there,” Pritzker said during a news conference at Loretto Hospital. “And I’m confident that not just by May 1, but maybe even a little bit earlier, we could open up to everyone in the state, everyone that’s eligible.”

In his nationwide address Thursday night, Biden pledged he would make all U.S. adults eligible for vaccines by May 1, in the hopes that small groups could gather by the Fourth of July.

“Let me be clear, that doesn’t mean everyone’s going to have that shot immediately, but it means you’ll be able to get in line beginning May 1,” he said.

Pritzker applauded the president’s announcement on Friday.

“I am very, very pleased at what President Biden announced last night,” the governor said. “I am confident as we’ve been promised by the federal government that we would reach 100,000 doses per day, by the middle of March—we’ve arrived.”

Read Mari Devereaux’s full story here.

7:30 p.m. Not easy being green: No big parades. No river dyeing. Only a tiny livestreamed parade.

There will be zero, zip, zilch — NO — dyeing of the Chicago River to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year.

Michele Scaccia-Coyne, head of marketing for the city’s downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which has also been canceled — along with the South Side Irish Parade — seemed exasperated Friday when asked about the chances of a river-dyeing event this year.

“This is crazy, so many people are obsessed with river dyeing,” she said, pointing to the volume of calls she’s been receiving on the topic.

Well, it is a bit of a tradition, beloved by decades of Chicagoans and immortalized in the 1993 movie “The Fugitive.”

“If they can dye this river green today, why can’t they dye it blue the other 364 days of the year?” an underling asks Tommy Lee Jones’ Marshal Samuel Gerard.

The tradition dates back to 1962. The annual task is handled by the Plumbers Union Local 130.

Read the full story here.

3 p.m. Wendella river cruises start up Friday, limited to 13 capacity

Wendella Tours and Cruises, forced to shut down about this time last year due to the coronavirus, starts its 87th season Friday — with a gradual reopening.

“We’ve operated through depressions, world wars, bus strikes and now a global pandemic,” said Andrew Sargis, a Wendella spokesman.

Wendalla has 10 boats, including five water taxis. To begin with, only one tour boat will operate, offering 45- and 90-minute architecture cruises, Sargis said.

Read the complete story by Stefano Esposito here.

2:15 p.m. Tussle between US, allies over vaccine supply escalates

BRUSSELS — Millions of coronavirus vaccine doses are in cold storage in the U.S. that can’t be injected in the states because they are not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but the Biden administration is not yet allowing them to be sent overseas, where American allies are struggling to get enough doses for vulnerable populations.

The two-dose vaccine from AstraZeneca has received emergency approval from the European Union and World Health Organization, but not in the U.S. Now U.S. partners are prodding President Joe Biden to release the supply, noting that the administration has lined up enough doses of the three already-approved vaccines to cover every American adult by the end of May and the entire U.S. population by the end of July.

EU member states’ ambassadors this week discussed the challenge of accessing US-produced doses of the AstraZeneca shots. The German government said on Friday it was in contact with U.S. officials about vaccine supplies, but stressed that the European Commission had the lead when it comes to procuring shots for member states.

Read the full story here.

1:05 p.m. Global rise in childhood mental health issues amid pandemic

PARIS — By the time his parents rushed him to the hospital, 11-year-old Pablo was barely eating and had stopped drinking entirely. Weakened by months of self-privation, his heart had slowed to a crawl and his kidneys were faltering. Medics injected him with fluids and fed him through a tube — first steps toward stitching together yet another child coming apart amid the tumult of the coronavirus crisis.

For doctors who treat them, the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of children is increasingly alarming. The Paris pediatric hospital caring for Pablo has seen a doubling in the number of children and young teenagers requiring treatment after attempted suicides since September.

Doctors elsewhere report similar surges, with children — some as young as 8 — deliberately running into traffic, overdosing on pills and otherwise self-harming. In Japan, child and adolescent suicides hit record levels in 2020, according to the Education Ministry.

Read the full story here.

12:30 p.m. Defying rules, anti-vaccine accounts thrive on social media

With vaccination against COVID-19 in full swing, social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter say they’ve stepped up their fight against misinformation that aims to undermine trust in the vaccines. But problems abound.

For years, the same platforms have allowed anti-vaccination propaganda to flourish, making it difficult to stamp out such sentiments now. And their efforts to weed out other types of COVID-19 misinformation — often with fact-checks, informational labels and other restrained measures, has been woefully slow.

Twitter, for instance, announced this month that it will remove dangerous falsehoods about vaccines, much the same way it’s done for other COVID-related conspiracy theories and misinformation. But since April 2020, it has removed a grand total of 8,400 tweets spreading COVID-related misinformation — a tiny fraction of the avalanche of pandemic-related falsehoods tweeted out daily by popular users with millions of followers, critics say.

Read the full story here.

11:30 a.m. People of color bear COVID-19’s economic brunt: poll

NEW YORK — A year ago, Elvia Banuelos’ life was looking up. The 39-year-old mother of two young children said she felt confident about a new management-level job with the U.S. Census Bureau — she would earn money to supplement the child support she receives to keep her children healthy, happy and in day care.

But when the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic last March, forcing hundreds of millions of people into strict lockdown, Banuelos’ outlook changed. The new job fell through, the child support payments stopped because of a job loss and she became a stay-at-home mom when day cares shuttered.

“The only thing I could do was make my rent, so everything else was difficult,” said Banuelos, of Orland, California.

Millions of Americans have experienced a devastating toll during the yearlong coronavirus pandemic, from lost loved ones to lost jobs. More than 530,000 people have died in the United States. Those losses haven’t hit all Americans equally, with communities of color hit especially hard by both the virus and the economic fallout.

Read the full story here.

10:45 a.m. City cites 8 more businesses for coronavirus violations

City investigators cited eight Chicago businesses last weekend for violating coronavirus restrictions, including one Southwest Side child play center that had over 100 people inside.

That’s according to the Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which said other citations were handed to bars, restaurants and businesses that failed to enforce social distancing or mask requirements.

Overall, an agency spokesperson said in a statement, “the vast majority of Chicago businesses are complying with the capacity regulations.”

Read the full story by David Struett here.

8 a.m. Cook County to release 20,000 suburban vaccine appointments Friday

A person receives the Moderna vaccine in Chicago.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Cook County health officials announced Thursday that the county will be releasing 20,000 appointments for eligible recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine Friday.

At noon Friday, Cook County residents included in Phase 1A and Phase 1B of the state vaccination program will be able to sign up for 20,000 first-dose appointments at:

  • Tinley Park Convention Center, 18451 Convention Center Dr., Tinley Park;
  • Triton College, 2000 5th Ave., River Grove;
  • South Suburban College, 15800 State St., South Holland; and
  • North Riverside Health Center, 1800 S Harlem Ave., North Riverside.; and
  • An undisclosed site in Des Plaines.

Appointments can be made at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov or by calling 833-308-1988 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Check your vaccine eligibility here.

Read Sam Kelly’s story here.

7:52 a.m. A year of COVID deaths: How the virus spread into every corner of Cook County

When the coronavirus first hit Chicago and Cook County last spring, Black residents bore the brunt of the surging death toll.

But over the past year, as Cook County deaths have climbed toward 10,000, the virus has wreaked havoc in nearly every corner of the region. Low-income communities of all ethnicities have been hit especially hard, from the heavily Hispanic neighborhoods around Cicero to majority-white areas like Niles and Oak Lawn.

Early pandemic hot spots like South Shore have been surpassed by communities like Cicero, where two low-rated nursing homes and a profusion of multifamily apartment buildings have led to consistently high death rates, according to interviews with public health experts and government officials and an analysis of Cook County death data and medical records by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation’s Documenting COVID-19 project.

Keep reading this investigation from Kyra Senese and Eric Fan, reporters for the Brown Institute for Media Innovation’s Documenting COVID-19 project, here.


New cases


Analysis and commentary

1:45 p.m. Daylight saving time could be especially hard this weekend because of COVID-19 sleep loss

The clock springs forward one hour on Sunday morning, March 14 for most people in the United States. That is not an appealing thought for those who have suffered sleep problems because of the pandemic.

Sleep this past year has been affected by a variety of factors, including anxiety, inconsistent schedules and increased screen time. This affects our health, as getting adequate sleep is important to assure our immune system can fend off and fight infections.

Even before the pandemic, about 40% of adults — 50 to 70 million Americans — got less than the recommended minimum seven hours per night.

And, many researchers were already concerned about how the twice-a-year switch affects our body’s physiology. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the largest scientific organization that studies sleep, in October 2020 suggested nixing daylight saving time and moving to a year-round fixed time. That way, our internal circadian clocks would not be misaligned for half the year. And it would eliminate the safety risk from sleep loss when transitioning to daylight saving time.

Read the full column by Michael S. Jaffee, a neurologist at the University of Florida.

8:05 a.m. Even medical staff worry about taking vaccine

Ashley Thornton, a staffing coordinator for the emergency department at Roseland Community Hospital.
Mengshin Lin/Sun-Times

Ashley Thornton can get the COVID vaccine any time she wants it. But she doesn’t want it, at least not yet.

“I’m apprehensive to get the vaccine,” she said. Why? Bad experience with vaccines, for starters.

“Out of everyone, I’m the person who gets the flu from the flu shot,” said Thornton, staffing coordinator for the emergency department at Roseland Community Hospital, where more than half of the staff — 57% — have declined the vaccine that many nationwide are clamoring for.

This is not uncommon, but repeated at hospitals and medical facilities; only 56% of staff at Mount Sinai have gotten a vaccine shot. A Centers for Disease Control study found 77.8% of residents in nursing homes took the vaccine, while the proportion of vaccinated staff is less than half that — 37.5%.

Thornton is troubled by how quickly the vaccines were developed. “I just think it hasn’t been out long enough for the proper tests and protocols to be done before I inject that into my body,” she said.

And there is another reason. “Honestly, people of color are more apprehensive because of the Tuskegee experiment,” she said.

Read Neil Steinberg’s full column here.