Coronavirus live blog, March 31, 2021: Chicago sees COVID-19 hospitalizations jump 24% in last 3 weeks

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, March 31, 2021: Chicago sees COVID-19 hospitalizations jump 24% in last 3 weeks


8:56 p.m. Chicago sees ‘quantum leap’ in COVID-19 cases — widening Lightfoot-Pritzker split over vaccine plans


Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a West Pullman neighborhood news conference Wednesday morning.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Illinois’ COVID-19 uptick took another step up Wednesday as Chicago’s “quantum leap” in cases raised more concerns of a potential third surge of the virus, officials said.

Another 2,592 residents across the state were diagnosed with the virus among 77,727 tests, which lowered Illinois’ average positivity rate to 3.3%, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

But that key metric has shot up 57% overall in under three weeks, while COVID-19 hospitalizations have jumped 24% over the same time frame. More than 1,400 beds were occupied by coronavirus patients Tuesday night, the most the state’s hospitals have treated since Feb. 24.

The uptick has already pushed back Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to begin loosening more business restrictions, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said an even more concentrated spike in the city means additional reopenings won’t be happening in Chicago anytime soon.

Read the full story here.

7:33 p.m. Chicago Restaurants Coalition wants its workers prioritized for vaccination

The Chicago Restaurants Coalition on Wednesday called for restaurant workers to get vaccinated ahead of other workers eligible under Phase 1C of the vaccine rollout.

The coalition said as people return to restaurants to get back some sense of normalcy, restaurant workers will be at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus because they interact with customers who don’t wear masks while seated.

“Restaurants take on additional risks with their interactions with guests,” said Dan Conroe, marketing director of City Winery Chicago. “We’re behind the curve. When we requested this several weeks ago that would have been the time to prioritize them.”

The Chicago Department of Public Health said it is partnering with the Illinois Restaurant Association to host a series of vaccination events beginning in mid-April.

Reporter Zinya Salfiti has the full story.

1:04 p.m. Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine protects younger teens

Pfizer announced Wednesday that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12, a step toward possibly beginning shots in this age group before they head back to school in the fall.

Most COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out worldwide are for adults, who are at higher risk from the coronavirus. Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and older. But vaccinating children of all ages will be critical to stopping the pandemic — and helping schools, at least the upper grades, start to look a little more normal after months of disruption.

In a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, preliminary data showed there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared to 18 among those given dummy shots, Pfizer reported.

It’s a small study, that hasn’t yet been published, so another important piece of evidence is how well the shots revved up the kids’ immune systems. Researchers reported high levels of virus-fighting antibodies, somewhat higher than were seen in studies of young adults.

Read the full story here.

11:53 a.m. 26 Chicago restaurants chosen for DoorDash accelerator program

Geri Hernandez’s restaurant, Savory Crust Gourmet Empanadas, switched to solely takeout and delivery in October 2020 as the pandemic put a major strain on the costs of its branches in Morton Grove and Carol Stream.

As a small business “you’re hanging on a thread anyway,” said Hernandez, the CEO and co-founder. “When the pandemic hit, I thought we were done, that we were going to close. It was a scary time, scary for the whole year. Even now, you don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

Savory Crust is one of 26 Chicago-area restaurants picked to participate in DoorDash’s inaugural Main Street Strong Accelerator Program.

In all, 100 restaurants nationwide will receive a $20,000 grant, access to training support through an eight-week hands-on restaurant operator course that involves small business advising and mentorship, one-on-one financial, legal, and technological expert advice as well as free marketing and merchandising from DoorDash.

More than three-quarters of the Chicago-based restaurants picked for the program are owned by women, 92% by people of color and nearly 40% by immigrants.

Ms. B’s Kitchen & Catering owner and manager Tawanda Stange said she applied to the program for the financial assistance and the additional support services that come with the training, as well as access to the communities and networks of other restaurant owners participating.

“I was super excited. I’m still really excited. I really need this,” Stange said. “Just being involved in something like this will give me the extra push I need to take my business to another level, with confidence.”

Read the full story here.

10 a.m. City opening mass vaccination sites at Wrigley conference center, Chicago State


Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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 one already operating in a 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 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 later this week with additional appointments added each day.

Chicagoans also will be able to book appointments by phone; details on that process will be announced in the coming days. There will be no on-site registration.

Read the full story from Fran Spielman here.

9:50 a.m. Reopening retreat: State’s move into less restrictive ‘bridge phase’ pushed back as cases rise, hospital beds fill

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.

New Cases & Vaccination Numbers

Analysis & Commentary

9:52 a.m. I didn’t expect ‘doom’ to be so exhausting

“Impending doom.”

I read the words aloud to my wife.

“Now there’s a phrase that you just don’t see very much,” I continued. “I wonder if other things ‘impend.’ Or is it just doom?”

She started to read something on her phone. The winds buffeted the old house, which groaned like a clipper ship rounding the Horn Monday night, as we fished the internet for news which, despite an upswing in positive developments — vaccines rolling out more and more, weather improving, that ship stuck in the Suez Canal finally freed — suddenly seems grim.

“The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of ‘impending doom’ from a potential fourth surge of the pandemic,” I read. “CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, appeared to fight back tears as she pleaded with Americans to ‘hold on a little while longer’ and continue following public health advice, like wearing masks and social distancing, to curb the virus’s spread.”

When government officials start to cry, that’s usually bad, right? Despite everything that’s gone on for the past ... ah ... year plus, the people in charge do not generally weep.

Read the full column from Neil Steinberg here.

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