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Coronavirus live blog, March 30, 2021: Pritzker’s ‘bridge phase’ put on hold as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rise

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

News

6:05 p.m. Reopening plans pushed back in Illinois as COVID-19 infections rise and hospital beds fill

Dr. Roy Werner, the medical director in the Department of Emergency Medicine, listens to a patient’s heart beat in the Emergency Department at Roseland Community Hospital in December, when Illinois was in the midst of its second viral surge. The state could be on the verge of yet another resurgence, officials warn.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Reopening plans are being pushed back in Illinois as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations rise yet again statewide, public health officials announced Tuesday.

With 70% of seniors vaccinated with at least one dose, the state had been on pace to see some business restrictions lifted this week under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “bridge phase” before a full reopening by May.

Not so anymore, as coronavirus cases mount and more people head to hospitals with the deadly respiratory disease. The governor’s intermediate reopening plan also required hospitalizations to “hold steady or decline over a 28-day monitoring period.”

That count has risen almost daily since hitting a one-year-low of 1,082 beds occupied by COVID-19 patients March 12. A total of 1,396 beds were taken up Monday night — the most since late February.

“As long as new hospital admissions continue to increase, the state will not advance to the Bridge Phase and on to Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan,” officials from the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a statement. “The number of cases of COVID-19 has seen an increasing trend as well. Health officials continue to urge all residents to continue to mask up, socially distance, and avoid crowds to reduce transmission and bring the metrics back in line to transition to the Bridge Phase.”

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.

5:30 p.m. City opening mass vaccination sites at Wrigley conference center, Chicago State

Chicago will open two new mass vaccination sites on Monday — one at Chicago State University, the other at a conference center adjacent to Wrigley Field.

The decision to open two more mass vaccination sites in addition to the United Center parking lot comes just one day after the city expanded vaccine eligibility to include all essential workers and adults with underlying medical conditions excluding smokers.

The Wrigley Field site will be at the American Airlines Conference Center at Gallagher Way, the open air plaza adjacent to the stadium. The Cubs play their home opener at Wrigley on Thursday.

It will be operated by Advocate Aurora Health and have the capacity to administer roughly 2,000 daily doses of the coronavirus vaccine by appointment only. Appointments will be posted on zocdoc.com/vaccine later this week with additional appointments added each day.

Reporter Fran Spielman has the full story.

3:03 p.m. Germany to restrict AstraZeneca use in under-60s over clots

German health officials agreed Tuesday to restrict the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in people under 60, amid fresh concern over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of those who received the shots.

Health Minister Jens Spahn and state officials agreed unanimously to only give the vaccine to people aged 60 or older, unless they belong to a high-risk category for serious illness from COVID-19 and have agreed with their doctor to take the vaccine despite the small risk of a serious side-effect.

The move follows the recommendations of Germany’s independent vaccine expert panel and comes after the country’s medical regulator released new data showing a rise in reported cases of an unusual form of blood clot in the head — known as sinus vein thrombosis — in recent recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The news is a further blow to the vaccine, which is critical to Europe’s immunization campaign and a linchpin in the global strategy to get shots to poorer countries. It comes less than two weeks after the EU drug regulator said the vaccine does not increase the overall incidence of blood clots following a similar scare.

Read the full report here.

1:16 p.m. New vaccination site will be dedicated to essential union workers

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday announced a new vaccination site in partnership with the Chicago Federation of Labor that will help get doses of COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of essential union workers.

Lightfoot said the site will be able to handle about 1,200 vaccinations weekly at first and can grow to 6,000 weekly as vaccine supply increases.

The announcement comes as the city expands eligibility requirements to what’s called Phase 1C. That expansion includes residents ages 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions, such as chronic kidney disease or cancer.

It also will allow vaccination for those working in construction, retail, restaurants and all other essential workers who had not previously been eligible.

“You all know this, but it bears repeating. Chicago is 100% a union town,” the mayor said in making the announcement at the vaccination site, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399, 2260 S. Grove St.

“It’s our union workers who make up the backbone of this city.”

Those wishing to be vaccinated at Local 399 must live or work in Chicago, hold a current union card or be a union retiree, and qualify under the city’s current eligibility criteria.

Read the full story from Manny Ramos here.

12:44 p.m. States struggle to get rent relief to tenants amid pandemic

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last July that New York would spend $100 million in federal coronavirus relief to help cash-strapped tenants pay months of back rent and avert evictions.

By the end of October, the state had doled out only about $40 million, reaching 15,000 of the nearly 100,000 people looking for help. More than 57,000 applicants were denied because of criteria set by lawmakers that many said was difficult to meet.

New York’s experience played out nationwide, with states failing to spend tens of millions of federal dollars aimed at helping renters avoid eviction. Burdensome requirements, poorly administered programs and landlords refusing to cooperate meant tens of thousands of tenants never got assistance. Some states also shifted funding away from rental relief, fearing they’d miss a year-end mandate to spend the money — a deadline that got extended.

The problem, housing advocates said, was that the federal government didn’t specifically earmark any of the coronavirus aid for rental relief, leaving states scrambling to set up programs with no guidance on how the money should be allocated. As much as $3.43 billion in federal aid was spent on rental assistance, according to National Low Income Housing Coalition. But advocates said more should have been done, given tenants faced as much as $34 billion in unpaid rent through January, according to a report released by the National Council of State Housing Agencies.

States’ rental relief programs “were a very mixed success. It was sort of a patchwork of programs,” Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in February. “There was a lot of experimentation — some successful, some not.”

Read the full story here.

9:32 a.m. Mayor’s plan for $1.8 billion in federal relief won’t go to City Council until May or June

Last month, a divided City Council authorized another round of federal coronavirus relief despite the political furor triggered by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to use $281.5 million from earlier funds to cover police payroll costs.

It looks like aldermen must wait a while for Round 2 of what is certain to be a battle royal over the $1.8 billion avalanche of federal money on its way to Chicago.

“I would expect that we probably won’t be taking a package to City Council [until] at the earliest, May, and it may not be ’til June,” the mayor said Monday.

Lightfoot’s timetable did not sit well with downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd).

“We need to have more involvement in the preparation of that package. Nobody wants a done deal dropped in our laps at the last minute and then say, ‘Take it or leave it. Vote it up or down,’” Hopkins said.

“All the aldermen I’ve talked to about this have expressed an interest in being involved in the prioritization of it. … There’s gonna be a healthy disagreement among the various caucuses within the City Council about what a top priority should be. But we should be a part of that debate.”

Read the full story from Fran Spielman here.


New Cases & Vaccination Numbers

  • The Chicago Department of Public Health reported 438 new confirmed cases, 3 deaths and a test positivity rate of 4%.
  • Another 110,211 shots went into arms on Saturday.
  • Over 6.2 million vaccine doses have been sent to providers in Illinois and more than 2 million residents have now been fully vaccinated, officials said.