Coronavirus live blog, March 25, 2021: Lightfoot loosens outdoor dining restrictions

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SHARE Coronavirus live blog, March 25, 2021: Lightfoot loosens outdoor dining restrictions

The city took another step toward easing off outdoor dining restrictions Thursday as the controversy over vaccinations given out improperly by Loretto Hospital continues.

Read the latest from today below.


TOP STORY: Chicago eases outdoor dining restrictions; most indoor rules remain in place


Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday authorized bars, restaurants and outdoor performance venues to increase outdoor capacity even as she sounded the alarm about a troubling surge in coronavirus cases among young people.

The news arrived as Chicago’s coronavirus testing positivity rate took another troubling step up.

What Lightfoot calls an “alarming trend and uptick” reminiscent of the surge Chicago saw in October is concentrated among 18-to-39-year-olds living in North Side neighborhoods including Lincoln Park, Old Town, Old Irving, Dunning and Portage Park.

“This is a cohort that we’ve had varied challenges throughout the pandemic reaching. Young people. We were all young once. We all think we’re invincible. We never think something bad is going to happen to us. And the reality is that young people have gotten sick. Very sick. And young people have died from COVID,” Lightfoot said.

“We can’t do bar crawls. We can’t do mass events. And I’m concerned with spring break happening — both for colleges and schools — that this is a concerning trend,” the mayor said.

Tough as it is to break through, the city needs to “reach them where they are”—through “a tremendous amount of messaging through texting and social media.”

“We’re gonna continue to push to reach this group and say, `COVID is real. It has not gone away from our city. It’s still very much part of our present….The vaccines are obviously giving us a ray of light at the end of a very dark tunnel,” but it’s not time to let down your guard.

Read the full story from Fran Spielman and Mitchell Armentrout here.

4:33 p.m. California to open vaccinations to everyone 16 and older

SANTA ANA, Calif. — California is expanding its coronavirus vaccine eligibility to anyone 50 and over starting in April and anyone 16 and over on April 15.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that California expects to receive 2.5 million doses a week in the first half of April and more than 3 million a week in the second half of the month. That’s a big jump from the roughly 1.8 million doses a week the state currently gets.

“In just a few weeks, there’ll be no rules, no limitations, as it relates to the ability to get a vaccine administered,” Newsom said at a news conference in Orange County. “This state is going to come roaring back.”

The move comes as some California counties have veered away from the state’s vaccine eligibility criteria by opening up the shots for people with a broader range of medical conditions than those required in most places, and in some cases, at younger ages.

Newsom said the state will continue to target underserved communities by working with labor groups to reach essential workers and letting health providers target vaccinations by ZIP code.

California’s announcement comes as governors across the country have expanded eligibility for the vaccine as supplies have increased. Florida said Thursday it will open eligibility to anyone 18 and older on April 5, while New York has expanded eligibility to anyone 50 and up.

Read the full story here.

3:58 p.m. Lightfoot not satisfied with Loretto exec’s resignation

The resignation of the Loretto Hospital executive at the center of a coronavirus vaccination scandal hasn’t put out the political fire with Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Saying she knows of “at least one other story in the works” with potential to embarrass Loretto, Lightfoot demanded Thursday that the hospital hire an independent auditor to detect the problems that allowed its vaccination campaign to be hijacked by the politically connected and “come clean about it.”

The mayor seemed duly unimpressed that Anosh Ahmed, Loretto’s chief operating officer, had resigned after a week of revelations about what she called “misappropriated precious vaccine” at a West Side hospital whose “core responsibility” is serving low-income Black communities.

“They need to come clean about every instance in which vaccine has been committed to people that don’t fit into that West Side footprint and tell us about it. Audit, detect the problems and then, come clean about it,” Lightfoot said during a conference call with City Hall reporters.

“I’ve been reassured repeatedly that, ‘Oh, mayor. We’re doing that.’ But clearly, that’s not true. And so now, it feels like it’s death by a thousand cuts for them. My understanding is there’s at least one other story in the works. So they’ve got to take care of their business. They’ve got to do a fulsome audit. And they’ve got to own responsibility for what has happened. That has not happened yet.”

Read the full story from Fran Spielman here.

3:02 p.m. Biden doubles goal of COVID vaccines to 200 million doses

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden opened his first formal news conference Thursday with a nod toward the improving picture on battling the coronavirus, but he was immediately pressed on thorny issues, like immigration and voting rights, now testing his administration.

Biden doubled his original goal on COVID-19 vaccines by pledging that the nation will administer 200 million doses by the end of his first 100 days in office. The administration had met Biden’s initial goal of 100 million doses earlier this month — before even his 60th day in office — as the president pushes to defeat a pandemic that has killed more than 545,000 Americans and devastated the nation’s economy.

But while Biden had held off on holding his first news conference so he could use it to celebrate progress against the pandemic and passage of a giant COVID-19 relief package, he was quickly pressed at the question-and-answer session about all sorts of other challenges that have cropped up along the way.

A pair of mass shootings, rising international tensions, early signs of intraparty divisions and increasing numbers of migrants crossing the southern border are all confronting a West Wing known for its message discipline.

“I am going to deal with all of those problems,” Biden pledged.

Read the full story here.

2:02 p.m. Less than half of CPS students — including 1 in 3 high schoolers — choose 4th quarter in-person learning


An empty hallway is seen at Edward K. Duke Ellington Elementary School in the South Austin neighborhood earlier this year.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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.

Those modest return rates come despite the share of students opting to return increasing from the last time officials asked families, and now including 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 returned earlier 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.

“These are all very hopeful trends for us,” Sherly Chavarria, CPS’ chief of teaching and learning, said at Wednesday’s virtual Board of Education meeting.

“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.”

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. Tens of thousands of those students have already been in classes. About 77,000 initially opted in last time around — though that dropped to 60,000 by the time K-8 schools reopened earlier this month.

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

11:14 a.m. The reality of work-at-home Zoom fatigue and how to combat it

Chances are, if you’re someone who began working at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, you’ve found yourself sitting on a Zoom video call when you didn’t want to be on camera.

People have been voicing their frustrations with video conferences on social media throughout the pandemic. Writer Roxane Gay tweeted, “I miss calls where I don’t need to show my face. It doesn’t need to be a Zoom. It just doesn’t.”

There are even web tools, like Zoom Escaper, that allow users to self-sabotage their call, giving them the perfect excuse to leave their virtual meeting.

Melissa Dowd, a therapist at virtual mental health and primary care company PlushCare, says it’s normal for people to feel an “added pressure” to be in front of the camera throughout the day.

“Unlike in-person meetings where the focus might be on one speaker, during Zoom calls everyone is looking at everyone,” she says. “This can be intimidating for some people and cause social anxiety.”

Amy Nicole Baker, professor and assistant chair of psychology and sociology at the University of New Haven, says this blurring of work and home boundaries is one reason it’s important to disengage from video when you can.

“People need time to disengage from work, it is healthy, it actually makes you more productive and actually improves worker well-being,” she says. “The assumption that we’re working from home on Zoom and we’re available any time encroaches on that ability to disengage, and I think that may be part of the reason we’re seeing such Zoom fatigue.”

Read the full story here.

9:42 a.m. Loretto Hospital executive resigns in wake of COVID-19 vaccination scandal

Anosh Ahmed, the Loretto Hospital executive at the center of a series of COVID-19 vaccination controversies, has resigned, the hospital’s board announced Wednesday night.

The board said it is continuing its investigation into actions taken by Dr. Ahmed, Loretto’s chief operating officer, and Chief Executive Officer George Miller, after a series of reports that hospital executives had taken city-supplied vaccine and used it to inoculate people at the Trump Tower downtown and at other locations, rather than use it for residents of the Austin community that Loretto serves. In some of the cases, the hospital gave shots to those who were not eligible.

“If our review should uncover anything further that indicates our processes were compromised, there will be additional consequences imposed on those responsible for these actions,” Chairman Edward Hogan said in a statement.

Before his resignation, Ahmed had been reprimanded by the hospital and given a 60-day suspension, a source told Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell on Wednesday.

Read the full story from Brett Chase here.

New Cases & Vaccination Numbers

  • About 14% of Illinois’ 12.7 million residents have been fully vaccinated.
  • The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 2,793 new COVID-19 cases — the most in a day since Feb. 11 — detected among 79,381 tests.

Analysis & Commentary

9:44 a.m. Loretto board can’t afford to duck its responsibility to hold wayward execs accountable

The longer the top executives at Loretto Hospital hang on, the more negative stories are going to come out about how this safety-net hospital is being run.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford knows this.

He resigned from the hospital’s board of directors Tuesday, citing his disappointment with the “reprimands” handed down to CEO George Miller and COO Dr. Anosh Ahmed, for the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination scandal.

“The reason I stepped away was to make sure the hospital regains its confidence that may have been lost, and focus on the community,” Ford told me in a telephone conversation.

“I’m very concerned about the fact that the first doses have been taken away and there are thousands of people that got their first dose and are waiting on their second dose. People are now confused,” he said.

On Wednesday, the board of trustees accepted the resignation of Ahmed, its COO and CFO.

Chairman Edward Hogan thanked Ahmed for his contributions and vowed the board “would continue to investigate any and all deviations from the rules and regulations guiding their vaccination policy.”

“If our review should uncover anything further that indicates our processes were compromised, there will be additional consequences imposed on those responsible for these actions,” Hogan said in a news release.

Read the full column from Mary Mitchell here.

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