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Coronavirus live blog, March 15, 2021: Phase 1B doesn’t include restaurant workers, owners want employees to be prioritized

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

While food service workers are slated to be eligible for vaccination in Phase 1C starting March 29, restaurant owners rare pushing for the city to expedite vaccines for employees.

Read the biggest news from today below.

News

TOP STORY: Restaurant owners want city to expedite vaccines for their employees

People eat outside Bub City in River North, Saturday afternoon, March 13, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

With Phase 1B of Illinois’ vaccine rollout underway, restaurant owners are advocating for their employees to be prioritized for the shot.

The Chicago Restaurants Coalition demanded the city expedite vaccines for at least four employees per restaurant at a Monday news conference. Food service workers are slated to become eligible for Phase 1C of Illinois’ rollout plan, set for March 29.

“Chicago’s 7,300 restaurants are absolutely essential to our city’s economic survival,” coalition coordinator Roger Romanelli said. “It’s critical to look at restaurants as integral to our daily lives.”

Though restaurant employees can’t get vaccinated yet, Romanelli said his group is hoping the city expands their definition of an “essential worker” to include those at restaurants. The 1B category includes grocery store workers, food manufacturers and food distributors, but not food servers.

Read the full story here.

7:16 p.m. Health Officials: Nearly 9 percent of suburban Cook County residents have been fully vaccinated

In suburban Cook County, 199,501 people — 8.8 percent of residents — have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as of March 12, health officials said in a Monday town hall.

Data show 409,108 suburban Cook County residents — 18 percent of the population — have had at least one vaccine dose.

Second dose appointments represent 75 percent of all vaccines this week at Cook County Health (CCH) sites.

In efforts to expand capacities and “ensure an equitable distribution of vaccine in vulnerable communities,” CCH has opened dozens of points of distribution (PODs) across Chicago and the suburbs.

As of March 12, 24,063 and 48,599 first- and second-dose vaccines have been administered total at Cook County Health’s Chicago and suburban PODs, respectively.

Read the full story here.

4:51 p.m. 1 bar cited for not following COVID protocols amid St. Pat’s festivities

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago has been named the best city to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day twice in the last three years. But without the hoopla of the annual parade and pub crawls, Saturday was fairly tame, and the city found that many places adhered to COVID-19 regulations.

After conducting 40 investigations and observing an additional 49 businesses, city inspectors cited only one place — Clutch Bar, located in River North — on Saturday for violating COVID-19 restrictions, according to Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

Clutch Bar was issued two citations Saturday for operating over capacity, allowing more than six people to a table and having tables within six-feet of one another, BACP said Sunday.

The two citations can lead to fines of up to $10,500 in total.

Overall, though, BACP said it found a “very high level” of compliance in regards to establishments following COVID-19 regulations.

Last week, Chicago’s liquor control commission put bars and restaurants on notice heading into the usually wild weekend, reminding them of their responsibilities to prevent crowds from gathering and violating capacity restrictions and COVID safety protocols.

Read the full story from Madeline Kenney here.

3:13 p.m. VP Harris, Jill Biden hit the road to promote relief plan

President Joe Biden kicked off the White House’s effort to highlight the benefits of his huge COVID relief plan Monday, declaring that “hope is here in real and tangible ways” as his administration began fanning out across the country to promote the new spending.

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses have begun an ambitious, cross-country tour this week to promote the $1.9 trillion plan as a way to battle the coronavirus and boost the economy. The road show — dubbed the “Help is here” tour by the White House — began Monday with Harris heading to a COVID-19 vaccination site and a culinary academy in Las Vegas and first lady Jill Biden touring a New Jersey elementary school.

The president will hit the road later in the week — Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Georgia with Harris on Friday — but he stayed at the White House on Monday to declare that the bill will help put “shots in arms and money in pockets. That’s important.”

Hours earlier, Air Force Two lifted off from Joint Base Andrews and headed west to Nevada, and Harris will also make a stop the following day in Denver to meet with small-business owners. Wednesday sees Jill Biden in Concord, New Hampshire, and Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The stops at vaccination sites, businesses, schools and more are meant to educate the public about different aspects of the giant American Rescue Plan and how the administration says it will help people get to the other side of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the full story here.

1:36 p.m. Extent of COVID-19 vaccine waste remains largely unknown

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As millions continue to wait their turn for the COVID-19 vaccine, small but steady amounts of the precious doses have gone to waste across the country.

It’s a heartbreaking reality that experts acknowledged was always likely to occur. Thousands of shots have been wasted in Tennessee, Florida, Ohio and many other states. The reasons vary from shoddy record-keeping to accidentally trashing hundreds of shots. However, pinning down just how many of the life-saving vials have been tossed remains largely unknown despite assurance from many local officials the number remains low.

To be sure, waste is common in global inoculation campaigns, with millions of doses of flu shots trashed each year. By one World Health Organization estimate, as many as half of vaccines in previous campaigns worldwide have been thrown away because they were mishandled, unclaimed or expired.

By comparison, waste of the COVID-19 vaccine appears to be quite small, though the U.S. government has yet to release numbers shedding insight on its extent. Officials have promised that may change soon as more data is collected from the states.

In the interim, state health agencies are much more inclined to tout how fast they’ve administered the shots while keeping mum on the number of doses that end up in the trash.

Ohio’s Department of Health resisted the use of the term “wasted” when asked by The Associated Press for a total number of tossed doses. Instead a spokesperson for the agency said that the state tracks “unusable” vaccines reported by state providers.

“With 3.2 million doses administered as of March 9, 2021, the 3,396 unusable doses reported by state providers make up about 0.1% of the doses administered — less than the CDC expectation of 5% of unusable doses,” Alicia Shoults, an Ohio Department of Health spokesperson, said in an email.

Read the full story here.

1:09 p.m. Major European nations suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Germany, France and Italy on Monday became the latest countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and European regulators have said there is no evidence the shot is to blame.

Germany’s health minister said the decision was taken on the advice of the country’s vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation into seven reported cases of clots in the brains of people who had been vaccinated.

“Today’s decision is a purely precautionary measure,” Jens Spahn said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his country would likewise suspend shots at least until Tuesday afternoon, when the European Union’s drug regulatory agency will weigh in on the vaccine. He said France hopes to resume using the formula soon.

Italy’s medicines regulator also announced a precautionary, temporary ban.

AstraZeneca said on its website that there have been 37 reports of blood clots out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the 27-country European Union and Britain. The drugmaker said there is no evidence the vaccine carries an increased risk of clots.

In fact, it said the incidence of clots is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar to that of other licensed COVID-19 vaccines.

Read the full story here.

12:30 p.m. Vaccine reluctance in Cook County prompts new advertising campaign

Cook County has launched a new COVID-19 vaccine campaign, based in part on a survey showing that 46% of African-American residents say they likely would not get the shot or were unsure about getting it.

“The ‘My Shot’ campaign speaks directly to these individuals who need to hear from their neighbors about the safety of these shots and the importance of making the choice to get vaccinated,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Monday during a Facebook Live event.

The campaign drew on responses from about 1,100 Cook County residents surveyed earlier this year. Among other things, it found that, overall, 32% of respondents were hesitant about getting the vaccine. Broken down by race, 46% of Black and 35% of Latino residents “probably would not, definitely would not or were unsure if they would get the vaccine.”

Read the full story from Stefano Esposito here.

9:33 a.m. Nurses battle misinformation, conspiracy theories and coronavirus

Los Angeles emergency room nurse Sandra Younan spent the last year juggling long hours as she watched many patients struggle with the coronavirus and some die.

Then there were the patients who claimed the virus was fake or coughed in her face, ignoring mask rules. One man stormed out of the hospital after a positive COVID-19 test, refusing to believe it was accurate.

“You have patients that are literally dying, and then you have patients that are denying the disease,” she said. “You try to educate and you try to educate, but then you just hit a wall.”

Bogus claims about the virus, masks and vaccines have exploded since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic a year ago. Journalists, public health officials and tech companies have tried to push back against the falsehoods, but much of the job of correcting misinformation has fallen to the world’s front-line medical workers.

In Germany, a video clip showing a nurse using an empty syringe while practicing vaccinations traveled widely online as purported evidence that COVID-19 is fake. Doctors in Afghanistan reported patients telling them COVID-19 was created by the U.S. and China to reduce the world population. In Bolivia, medical workers had to care for five people who ingested a toxic bleaching agent falsely touted as a COVID-19 cure.

Younan, 27, says her friends used to describe her as the “chillest person ever,” but now she deals with crushing anxiety.

“My life is being a nurse, so I don’t care if you’re really sick, you throw up on me, whatever,” Younan said. “But when you know what you’re doing is wrong, and I’m asking you repeatedly to please wear your mask to protect me, and you’re still not doing it, it’s like you have no regard for anybody but yourself. And that’s why this virus is spreading. It just makes you lose hope.”

Read the full story here.


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Analysis & Commentary

9:30 a.m. Finally! The hunt for COVID-19 vaccine appointments obsessed my family for weeks

This might more appropriately be titled, “Vaccine Chronicles,” as the hunt for an open appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine has consumed my family for two months.

Vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge among a segment of the African American community — individuals in my immediate family included — based on the Tuskegee Experiment and America’s past history of racism within its health care system.

But another segment of the African American community has frantically grasped, with the rest of the world, for this lifeline that promises a return to some normalcy.

Every day, my family texts and emails about which members are eligible in the vaccine’s phased rollout.

Every day, we’ve shared with each other the latest distribution venue offered by the state, Cook County or city of Chicago.

Every day, there is the surfing of designated websites and calling of phone numbers, each of us armed with every family member’s pertinent information, as we fight through the busy phone lines and constant online response of “No Appointments Available.”

Phase 1A, of course, began Dec. 15, 2020, encompassing health care workers, nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Phase 1B, targeting those 65 and older, non-health care residential settings, and frontline essential workers, opened Jan. 25.

Phase 1B Plus opened statewide Feb. 25 — targeting individuals with underlying health conditions. But in Chicago, the larger population with underlying health conditions, and non-frontline essential workers, won’t be looped in until Phase 1C opens March 29.

Like so many families nationwide, mine was pummeled by the invisible and highly contagious coronavirus outbreak, declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

Read the full story from Maudlyne Ihejirika here.