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Coronavirus live blog, March 23, 2021: COVID-19 cases ticking back up across Chicago

Here’s Tuesday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois. Follow here for live updates.

News

6:05 p.m. Spring looking like fall? COVID-19 cases creeping up, despite vaccine ramp-up: ‘We are worried about this’

Infections have increased about 23% in Chicago over the past week, mostly among people age 18 to 40, according to city Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

COVID-19 cases are ticking back upward across Chicago and the rest of Illinois even as vaccine supply improves, the top doctors from the city and state warned Tuesday.

Infections have increased about 23% in Chicago over the past week, mostly among people age 18 to 40, according to city Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

That’s the same trend Arwady’s team saw in October, before a record-breaking resurgence that saw Chicago suffer its worst days of the pandemic.

“We are worried about this,” Arwady said during an online Q&A. “We’ll be in good shape this summer, but I am really worried about this next four to eight weeks. … We are not at a point where we can assume that most people have started to get some protection from the vaccine.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,832 new cases of the disease were diagnosed statewide among 49,739 tests.

Keep reading Mitchell Armentrout’s story here.

4:58 p.m. Tourism groups push U.S. government to eliminate COVID travel restrictions

Airlines and other tourism-related businesses are pushing the White House to draw up a plan in the next five weeks to boost international travel and eliminate restrictions that were imposed early in the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to the White House, more than two dozen groups say they want people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to be exempt from testing requirements before entering the United States.

They also want the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to say that vaccinated people can travel safely.

The groups say those and other steps will speed up the recovery of the travel and airline industries, which have been devastated by a plunge in travel during the pandemic.

U.S. air travel already is picking up. But passenger traffic is still below 2019 levels.

The organizations calling for relaxing international restrictions include the chief trade group for the nation’s largest carriers, Airlines for America, the U.S. Travel Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They have set a May 1 target for the government “to partner with us” on a plan to rescind year-old restrictions on international travel.

The groups cited the recent decline in reported new cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States. Nearly 45 million Americans, more than 13% of the population, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to CDC figures.

“The time to plan for and chart a defined roadmap to reopen international travel is now,” they wrote in a letter to White House virus-response coordinator Jeffrey Zients.

Read the full story here.

2:00 p.m. More than 1,000 Illinois prisoners to be released under COVID-19 lawsuit settlement

More than 1,000 prisoners in Illinois are set to be released after a lawsuit settlement aimed at protecting medically vulnerable prisoners from COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Corrections will identify medically vulnerable and elderly prisoners eligible for early release or electronic home monitoring.

Additionally, the Corrections Department will give credit for good behavior to prisoners within nine months of their release date. Up to 60 days will be given in the next month to prisoners deemed low and medium risk, the settlement states.

That will result in the immediate release of over 1,000 prisoners, according to the Uptown People’s Law Center.

Civil rights lawyers filed a federal suit in April 2020 arguing the risk of spreading COVID-19 in prisons poses “catastrophic consequences” for prisoners, staff and the communities and hospitals that serve them.

Read the full story from Sophie Sherry here.

1:38 p.m. Chicago won’t open a 24-hour vaccination site yet, Arwady says

Chicago public health officials said they have no plans to open a vaccination site that would be open 24 hours a day — as some other cities have done.

At a press conference on the city’s vaccination efforts, officials were asked about the possibility of opening an around-the-clock center to speed up vaccines and increase accessibility for essential workers. Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the main focus right now is increasing vaccine supply.

“At this point, there’s not plans for a 24-hour situation,” Arwady said “We’ll see what the demand looks like and we’ll see what the vaccine supply looks like.”

Chicago is set to expand vaccine eligibility next Monday to additional essential workers like those in food service and hospitality, as well as those over 16 years old with underlying health conditions. Since the start of the vaccine rollout, the city has prioritized healthcare and the first group of essential workers, according to Arwady.

“We’re always interested in new ideas, but we’ve been very focused here,” Arwady said “So, we’ll keep prioritizing those workers and we’ll see if they are more creative things we need to do to reach them.”

Read the full story from Sophie Sherry here.

11:51 a.m. DoorDash now offering delivery of at-home COVID-19 tests to Chicagoans, with quick turnaround time for results

DoorDash has started offering its Chicago users same-day delivery on at-home COVID-19 test kits with quick turnaround times for results.

Through a partnership with Vault Health and Everlywell, two digital health companies, DoorDash users will be able to get a saliva or nasal swab test kit delivered to their doorstep and mail in their kit directly to a lab, receiving results in 24-48 hours, DoorDash said.

The Vault Health saliva test kit is $109 and the Everlywell nasal swab test kit is $119. Both may be reimbursed through insurance, according to the company. Both versions have been approved by the FDA for emergency use.

Read Grace Asiegbu’s full story here.

9:30 a.m. State Rep. LaShawn Ford resigns from Loretto Hospital board over vaccine flap

State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford has resigned from the board of trustees at Loretto Hospital over how it handled revelations of improperly providing vaccinations to people not yet eligible for the shots.

“I am very disappointed with the recent developments at The Loretto Hospital regarding its use of coronavirus vaccine entrusted to the hospital,” Ford said in a statement issued Tuesday morning.

“Yesterday, I submitted my resignation to The Loretto Hospital’s Board Chairman Edward Hogan because I strongly disagreed with how the reprimand of the hospital leadership was handled. As the state representative for the hospital and as a resident in its service area, I will continue to fight for resources for The Loretto Hospital, a safety-net hospital in the Austin community.”

The hospital’s CEO George Miller and COO Dr. Anosh Ahmed have come under fire in recent days after revelations the hospital improperly provided vaccinations to workers at Trump Tower, where Ahmed lives; at a suburban church that Miller is a member of; and a luxury watch shop on the Gold Coast where Ahmed shops.

Read the full story from Mitch Dudek here.


New cases and vaccination numbers


Analysis and commentary

10:45 a.m. Here’s to ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for hotels and restaurants socked by COVID-19 restrictions

It’s no surprise the state’s latest jobs figures show the leisure and hospitality industry took quite a wallop last year, given the clamp that COVID-19 restrictions and quarantines put on the entire economy.

Still, the raw numbers released this month by the Illinois Department of Employment Security are nonetheless sobering: The number of jobs in the industry statewide plummeted from 628,000 in January 2020 to 412,000 now.

The plunge took 216,000 jobs with it. No other employment sector in the state suffered as much.

But we’re hoping three developments this month can provide a lifeline to the struggling industry: federal aid to restaurants and bars as part of the latest $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package; Illinois’ expansion of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include food and beverage workers; and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to gradually reopen the state’s economy, beginning next month, as more people are vaccinated.

“Our industry has been decimated,” Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia told us. “But we’re starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel.”

Read the full editorial here.