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Coronavirus live blog, March 4, 2021: High demand leads to rocky start for vaccine appointments at the United Center

Here’s Thursday’s news on how COVID-19 impacted Chicago and Illinois.

Coronvairus vaccine appointments at the new United Center mass vaccination site opened up for Illinois senior citizens Thursday. So how’d it go?

Read on to find out this and other COVID-related headlines.


News

8:55 p.m. Residents encounter problems trying to book vaccine appointments at the United Center

An aerial photo shot with a drone shows a COVID-19 vaccination center in a parking lot of the United Center.
Getty

Alicia Martinez spent 1 1⁄2 hours on hold Thursday trying to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for her partner at the United Center.

Then, at last, a human voice answered. Martinez had just finished giving the woman on the line her partner’s date of birth when she got disconnected.

“I was angry, I was upset. I was everything,” said Martinez, who is 67 and lives in Berwyn.

Martinez wasn’t alone in her frustration — a fact city officials acknowledged Thursday as they began to book appointments for what is by far the largest mass vaccination site in town.

“Some people weren’t able to get through immediately, a sign of how much demand there is for appointments,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, during a COVID-19 Q&A on Facebook Live.

Read Stefano Esposito and Tom Schuba’s full story here.


6:10 p.m. Pritzker unveils COVID-19 pilot program to get vaccine to overlooked areas: ‘It truly can’t come soon enough’

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that his administration will partner with hospitals and health care centers in targeted areas for a COVID-19 vaccine pilot program in order to better reach underserved communities across the state who have “too often been denied health care that should be their right.”

Five federally qualified health centers and four safety net hospitals scattered around the state were chosen for the pilot program, including facilities in the south, north and western suburbs.

Pritzker unveiled the new partnership Thursday at one of the southern Illinois locations, Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville, which has been ranked the poorest city in the state — and the nation — in previous years.

“We have to meet people where they are, in the ways that will truly earn their trust,” Pritzker said. “We also want to be sure that we’re getting vaccines to Black and Brown people who have, too often, been denied health care that should be their right.”

Reporter Rachel Hinton has the full story.

10:08 a.m. CTU president Sharkey ‘confident’ high school reopening deal can be reached, but warns schools won’t look the same

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said Wednesday that he’s confident an agreement can be reached with Chicago Public Schools officials to reopen the city’s high schools.

The union leader warned of more complexities with older grades that could take time to sort out, and he stressed high schools won’t look nearly the same as pre-pandemic times. But he sees a path to a deal in bargaining that started Wednesday.

“I am confident that we can be delivering in-person education for folks in high school,” Sharkey said in an interview. “I do not know exactly what that will look like. I know that we have to keep safety in mind.

“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t look like what high school looked like before the pandemic,” he said. “There’s a bunch of things about high school that make it more challenging than elementary schools. Which is a reason why across the country so few high schools have actually reopened. Even places that ran school all fall, like New York, haven’t reopened high schools.”

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

9:04 a.m. Couple struggles to hold on to eatery — their story, that of Small Business America one year into COVID-19

The Instagram post caught the eye of an editor: “Should we FIGHT or LET COVID win?!”

It was by Urban Grill Chicago, a tiny, fast-food eatery at 1132 W. Wilson, in Uptown.

“Hello everyone, It’s owners Brittany and Marcus! We pray everyone is staying safe and healthy. Brittany and I have went back and forth on what we should do,” the post began.

“This has been a trying year for a lot of us but we’ve all accomplished some great things in such a short amount of time since the opening of Urban Grill Chicago (1 year and 1 month ago) !! We wanted to be a change, a little ray of sunshine in our little 4 walls in the uptown community and a figure to let black/brown kids or any kids know you can own something and call it yours!”

“Brittany and I have 2 choices. Fight for URBAN GRILL CHICAGO ... or let covid win! Let us know what we should do?!”

Read the full story from Maudlyne Ihejirika here.


New Cases

  • More than 900,000 Illinois residents have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, public health officials announced Wednesday.
  • Officials reported 2,104 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed among 80,854 tests to keep the average statewide positivity rate at an eight-month low of 2.4%.