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Coronavirus live blog, March 18, 2021: Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s introduced a ‘bridge’ phase that includes increasing capacity limits, business operations

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

News

5:55 p.m. Pritzker unveils reopening plan, vaccinations available for all over 16

Nearly a year after he issued his first stay-at-home order, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced his plan to reopen the state, a “bridge” phase that includes increasing capacity limits at places like museums and zoos but also sets thresholds for vaccinations and new COVID-19 caseloads as the state inches toward normalcy “with a dial-like approach.”

The governor also announced the expansion of coronavirus vaccine eligibility to all Illinois residents over 16 — except Chicagoans — starting April 12 along with the new “bridge” phase as part of his plan to reopen the state, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday.

“Although we still are in the midst of a global pandemic, the end seems truly to be in sight,” Pritzker said.

The bridge phase will allow for higher capacity limits at museums, zoos and spectator events as well as increased business operations, according to a news release announcing the plan.

To achieve that stage, the entire state must reach a 70% first-dose vaccination rate for residents 65 and over, maintain a 20% or lower ICU bed availability rate and hold steady on COVID-19 and COVID-like illness hospital admissions, mortality rate, and case rate over a 28-day monitoring period.

To reach the reopening phase, the state must reach a 50% vaccination rate for residents age 16 and over and meet the same metrics and rates required to enter the transition phase, over an additional 28-day period, the news release said.

The governor said Thursday Illinois will resume normal business operations “when at least 50% of our 16 and over population has received at least one dose.”

Read the full story from Rachel Hinton here.

4:25 p.m. Illinois’ coronavirus death toll surpasses 21,000 as pandemic wanes

Illinois’ COVID-19 death toll eclipsed 21,000 on Thursday, a sobering reminder that the virus is still ravaging families across Illinois even as vaccine supply improves and the state gradually prepares to reopen for business.

The latest 34 coronavirus deaths reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health included nine Cook County residents and raised the statewide pandemic total to 21,022. Another 2,265 deaths are considered to have been “probable,” untested cases.

Since a South Side woman became the state’s first known victim of COVID-19 a year ago, the virus has claimed an average of 58 Illinois lives every day.

But the daily death rate was almost triple that figure during the worst days of the crisis. Nearly 1,100 residents lost their battles with COVID-19 during the first week of December, amounting to roughly 156 deaths each day. That included the worst day of all with 238 coronavirus fatalities logged Dec. 2.

That was also the week before Illinois’ first coronavirus vaccine doses were administered. The death rate has shrunk by about 85% since then, with an average of 23 COVID-19 deaths per day over the past week.

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.

12:01 p.m. Pritzker to extend vaccine eligibility to all adult non-Chicagoans in state on April 12, sources say

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Major General Richard Neely walk to a press conference about the opening of the new COVID-19 mass vaccination site on the parking lot of the United Center in the Near West Side neighborhood, Tuesday morning, March 9, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker plans to expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility to all Illinois residents over 16 — except Chicagoans — starting April 12, and initiate a new “bridge” phase as part of his plan to reopen the state, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The governor is expected to make the announcement at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Thompson Center.

Chicago receives its own federal vaccine allotment and sets its own eligibility rules. City Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Wednesday that “most Chicagoans” could get in line for the vaccine by March 29, with an expansion to those over 16 with underlying conditions and targeted groups of essential workers.

Pritzker had already made a comparable expansion for the rest of the state last month. On April 12, the only requirement for the state’s non-Chicagoans will be that they be over the age of 16.

President Joe Biden last week urged states to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1, a deadline Pritzker predicted the state would beat.

The bridged reopening Pritzker is planning to announce on Thursday will allow for “a gradual increase in capacity limitations” as the state vaccinates more people and continues to monitor case numbers, one source said.

All of the state’s regions will move into the intermediate phase — there will be additional metrics to meet, involving new case numbers and the state’s positivity rate, to get to Phase 5, which is a full reopening, the source said. The state has been in Phase 4 since last summer.

Pritzker said Wednesday, saying he expects to unveil a plan this week that is “not only healthy for everybody, but also good for the economy.”

Part of the challenge to lifting restrictions will be handling threats posed by newer, faster spreading coronavirus variants — but the governor suggested that was not an insurmountable hurdle to reopening.

“Let me be clear to everybody,” the governor said at a news conference in downstate Decatur. “I am more optimistic today than I have ever been throughout this pandemic, about where we are going and getting to the end of the pandemic.”

Read the full story here.

11:37 a.m. Who deserves credit? Biden leans into pandemic politics

WASHINGTON — In President Joe Biden’s war against the coronavirus, former President Donald Trump hardly exists.

The Democratic president ignored Trump in his first prime-time address to the nation, aside from a brief indirect jab. It was the same when Biden kicked off a national tour in Pennsylvania on Tuesday to promote the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Now, as his administration is on the cusp of delivering on his promise of administering 100 million doses of vaccine in his first 100 days, Biden is in no rush to share the credit.

The truth is that both Biden and Trump deserve some credit, though Biden stands to benefit from being in power during the nation’s emergence from the pandemic. In the president’s telling, the United States’ surging vaccination rate, economic recovery and the hope slowly spreading across the nation belong to him and his party alone.

On Thursday afternoon, Biden is set to provide an update on the state of the vaccination campaign, with what is expected to be an early victory lap on reaching the milestone more than a month before he promised. While the official figures won’t be reported for days, the 100 millionth dose is likely to be administered on Thursday — his 58th day in office.

The president’s approach represents a determination to shape how voters — and history — will remember the story of America’s comeback from the worst health and economic crises in generations. In the short term, the debate will help decide whether Democrats will continue to control Congress after next year’s midterm elections. And in the longer term, each president’s legacy is at stake.

For now, the fight is framed by conflicting realities.

Read the full story here.

9:47 a.m. Trump Tower vaccine fiasco ‘absolutely can never be repeated,’ Lightfoot says

A “disappointed” Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday chastised executives at The Loretto Hospital who approved a round of COVID-19 vaccinations for employees of the tony Trump International Hotel & Tower last week even though they weren’t eligible to get the coveted shots.

The CEO of the Austin neighborhood hospital — which the mayor chose as the site of the city’s first-ever vaccine dose as a show of commitment to equitable vaccine distribution in low-income communities of color — has said “we were mistaken” in letting the 72 hotel workers jump to the front of the line.

Lightfoot called it a blunder that “can never be repeated.”

“Of course I was disappointed to hear about it. … Loretto has been a tremendous partner with the city,” Lightfoot said during a news conference announcing the city’s plan to expand eligibility — including to hospitality workers — on March 29.

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout and Brett Chase here.


New Cases & Vaccination Numbers


Analysis & Commentary

3:00 p.m. Most of American Rescue Plan Act is only tenuously related to pandemic

The “recovery rebates” that Americans began receiving this week supposedly have something to do with the economic damage caused by COVID-19 and the control measures it inspired. But like most of the so-called American Rescue Plan Act, these payments, which account for more than a fifth of the bill’s $1.9 trillion price tag, are only tenuously related to the pandemic.

The Democrats who championed the law hope those bribes will buy them votes in the midterm elections. But you really should be thanking your children and grandchildren, because they will ultimately pick up the tab for this package and the rest of the $5 trillion spending binge that Congress claimed was justified by a public health emergency.

Individuals with adjusted gross incomes of up to $75,000 will get $1,400, while married couples earning up to $150,000 will get $2,800, plus $1,400 for each dependent. That amounts to $5,600 for a four-person family, on top of the $5,800 that such households received under the coronavirus relief packages that Congress approved in March and December.

Congress distributed that money without regard to whether the recipients had suffered pandemic-related economic distress. A Pew Research Center survey conducted last August suggests that most of them have not: 42% of respondents said they or someone in their households had lost jobs or income due to COVID-19, less than half the 85 % of Americans who are expected to receive the latest round of payments.

Read the full column here.