Coronavirus live blog, March 24, 2021: Pritzker gets the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Illinois State Fairgrounds: ‘I feel great’

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, March 24, 2021: Pritzker gets the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Illinois State Fairgrounds: ‘I feel great’


6 p.m. Pritzker gets his COVID-19 shot: ‘I’m not asking you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself’

Barely a year after issuing a sweeping stay-at-home order for Illinois residents as COVID-19 turned life upside down across the state and beyond, Gov. J.B. Pritzker was vaccinated against the coronavirus on Wednesday, calling it a key step “back to normal life.”

The shot that went into the governor’s arm at the Illinois State Fairgrounds is among more than 5 million doled out statewide since December.

“I’m deeply, deeply grateful that so many of our residents have embraced this life-saving protection,” Pritzker said before getting his dose. “But I also want Illinoisans to know, especially those who may not yet feel confident enough to get vaccinated, that I’m not asking you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.

“I’m not a doctor, but I trust doctors, and thanks to the great work of our doctors, researchers, and public health scientists, these vaccines offer us all the fastest way back to normal life,” Pritzker said. “I’m so excited to get there and to protect my family, my friends and my co-workers.”

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.

3:22 p.m. Less than half of CPS students — including 1 in 3 high schoolers — choose 4th quarter in-person learning

Fewer than half of all CPS students and about one-third of high schoolers have chosen to return to their classrooms later this spring in their last opportunity to resume in-person learning before the fall, according to newly released district data.

The share of students opting to return has increased from the last time officials asked families, and now includes thousands of high school students for whom this was the first chance to make their preferences known.

In all, 121,000 students in all grades and programs said on a survey due this week that they’re interested in returning to school, CPS said. Another 136,500 opted to continue remote learning, and 20,700 students didn’t answer the survey and will default to virtual schooling.

Among special education cluster students and those in preschool through eighth grades, 95,000 kids — or 46% of the 205,600 in those programs and grades — chose to return. That’s up from 77,000 who originally opted in last time around — though that dropped to 60,000 by the time schools reopened earlier this month.

A little over 35% of high school students — 26,000 of 73,000 — opted to resume in-person learning, 45% chose to stay remote and about 20% didn’t respond to the survey, defaulting to remote learning. The district has set a “target” reopening date of April 19, but negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union are ongoing and that date hasn’t been solidified.

“These are all very hopeful trends for us,” Sherly Chavarria, CPS’ chief of teaching and learning, told the school board Wednesday.

“Too many students have not been well-served by remote learning, and that’s why we’ve been working night and day to offer an in-person option for our high school students.”

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

2:00 p.m. Brighter outlook for US as vaccinations rise and deaths fall

More than three months into the U.S. vaccination drive, many of the numbers paint an increasingly encouraging picture, with 70% of Americans 65 and older receiving at least one dose of the vaccine and COVID-19 deaths dipping below 1,000 a day on average for the first time since November.

Also, dozens of states have thrown open vaccinations to all adults or are planning to do so in a matter of weeks. And the White House said 27 million doses of both the one-shot and two-shot vaccines will be distributed next week, more than three times the number when President Joe Biden took office two months ago.

Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday he isn’t ready to declare victory.

“I’m often asked, are we turning the corner?” Fauci said at a White House briefing. “My response is really more like we are at the corner. Whether or not we’re going to be turning that corner still remains to be seen.”

What’s giving Fauci pause, he said, is that new cases remain at a stubbornly high level, at more than 50,000 per day.

Nonetheless, the outlook in the U.S. stands in stark contrast to the deteriorating situation in places like Brazil, which reported more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day for the first time Tuesday, and across Europe, where another wave of infections is leading to new lockdowns.

Read the full story here.

1:06 p.m. 6,000 CPS vaccines misallocated by clinic, city says: ‘This is completely unacceptable behavior’


Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

City officials are cutting off vaccine supply to a private clinic that was contracted to vaccinate Chicago Public Schools employees but “knowingly misallocated” 6,000 doses to people with no ties to the district, the Chicago Department of Public Health said Tuesday.

The leaders of Innovative Express Care took some of those vaccines that had been set aside for second doses for CPS employees and instead used them for first doses for non-CPS patients, officials alleged.

“This is completely unacceptable behavior,” the department said in a statement.

But the Lincoln Park-based clinic says it was following an “idealistic vision,” giving leftover doses to seniors, front-line essential workers and other qualified recipients.

“The decision by CDPH officials today leaves us bewildered, saddened, and frankly disappointed in our local government,” IEC leaders said in a statement. “CDPH officials never made it clear to us as a provider that we should be storing vaccines in a refrigerator for people awaiting second doses. Rather, we have been following the nation’s commitment to get as many vaccines in eligible patients’ arms, as quickly as possible.”

Idealistic or not, the city said it was “reclaiming all vaccine distributed and stored at IEC,” and is arranging new providers for the teachers and other CPS employees who were scheduled for first or second doses through the clinic.

Read more from Mitchell Armentrout and Nader Issa here.

12:09 p.m. Homeschooling doubled from pandemic’s start to last fall

ORLANDO, Fla. — The rate of households homeschooling their children doubled from the start of the pandemic last spring to the start of the new school year last September, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report released this week.

Last spring, about 5.4% of all U.S. households with school-aged children were homeschooling them, but that figure rose to 11% by last fall, according to the bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

The survey purposefully asked the question in a way to clarify that it was inquiring about genuine homeschooling and not virtual learning through a public or private school, the Census Bureau said.

Before the pandemic, household homeschooling rates had remained steady at around 3.3% through the past several years.

“It’s clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children,” the report said.

Nearly half of the nation’s elementary schools were open for full-time classroom learning as of last month, but the share of students learning in-person has varied greatly by region and by race, with most nonwhite students learning entirely online, according to results released Wednesday from a national survey conducted by the Biden administration.

Like the school openings, homeschooling differed by race and region, with the report attributing variations to local rates of coronavirus infections and local decisions about how school was being conducted during the pandemic.

Black households saw the largest jump in rates of homeschooling, going from 3.3% in the spring to 16.1% in the fall. The rate for Hispanic households of any race went from 6.2% to 12.1%. It went from 4.9% to 8.8% for Asian households, and from 5.7% to 9.7% for non-Hispanic white households.

Read the full story here.

10:43 a.m. Lightfoot proposes anti-retaliation ordinance for employees getting COVID-19 vaccine

Chicago employees who take time off to get the coronavirus vaccine would be shielded from retaliation — and employers who require it must compensate workers for up to two hours per dose — under a mayoral protection plan proposed Wednesday.

During the early days of the pandemic, the City Council moved to protect employees from retaliation for absences tied to the coronavirus.

The earlier anti-retaliation ordinance prevented employers from firing, suspending, transferring or reducing the pay of workers who stay home because they have COVID-19 symptoms, have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus, or their business is deemed nonessential by statewide stay-at-home order.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced a new anti-retaliation ordinance — this time aimed at employers who dare to penalize workers for taking time off to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The new ordinance would prohibit Chicago employers from taking “any adverse action — including termination demotion, layoff or punitive schedule changes” — against employees who take time off to get vaccinated.

If an employee has paid sick leave or time accrued, employers would be required to let them use that time to get vaccinated. And if the employer makes it a requirement for workers to get the coronavirus vaccine, employees must be compensated for the time taken “if it is during a shift, up to two hours per dose.”

Read the full story from Fran Spielman here.

9:19 a.m. Chicago Loop Alliance plans to increase pedestrian traffic with summer programs

As the weather has begun warming up and more Chicagoans get vaccinated for COVID-19, pedestrian traffic to the Loop has been on the rise.

To capitalize on this, the Chicago Loop Alliance announced in its annual meeting Tuesday that it would be introducing several events as part of their Back In The Loop program to accelerate the economic recovery of the Loop.

“Because of the pandemic, a lot of people are not visiting, for either business or leisure,“ CLA president and CEO Michael Edwards said. “Our arts and culture community has been devastated.”

In the meeting, which was held both remotely and in-person for a limited number of seats, CLA discussed its plans for three major cultural programs to bring foot traffic back downtown — a self-guided mural walk, a weekly event called Sundays on State and pop-up activations at retail locations that have become vacant since the pandemic.

The mural walk, which is being created by the Chicago Loop Alliance, will take pedestrians to over 20 murals in the Loop area in “reasonable” walking time, according to CLA planning director Kalindi Parikh.

The group is in the early stages of planning Sundays on State, an event that will shut off State Street traffic from Lake Street to Madison Street for outdoor performances and outdoor recreation to encourage pedestrians to shop in the Loop. Sundays on State will take place in July, August and September from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Parikh said plans were subject to change based on public health guidance as CLA gets closer to summer.

Read the full story from Zac Clingenpeel here.

New Cases & Vaccination Numbers

  • The Illinois Department of Public Health reported Tuesday that 1,832 new cases of the disease were diagnosed among 49,739 tests.
  • Officials also reported 13 more coronavirus deaths on Tuesday.
  • A total of 70,252 COVID-19 shots went into arms statewide Monday.
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