Coronavirus live blog, March 5, 2021: Over 1 million Illinois residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, March 5, 2021: Over 1 million Illinois residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19

About a fifth of all Illinois residents 16 or older have received at least one shot so far, and about 47% of people 65 or older have gotten a dose, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Those are good numbers, but the pandemic’s not over yet. Here are today’s coronavirus headlines.


News

8:45 p.m. One-day record of nearly 132K COVID-19 shots given as state launches media blitz

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Marzetta Rush, a cluster program special education teacher at Deneen School of Excellence, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in a vaccination site at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in the Stony Island Park neighborhood, Friday morning, March 5, 2021.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

After another record-setting COVID-19 vaccination day in Illinois, more than 3 million doses have been administered across the state and more than a million residents are now fully inoculated, public health officials announced Friday.

The 131,882 vaccinations performed Thursday topped the state’s previous one-day high of 130,021 on Feb. 25, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The state is now vaccinating an average of more than 83,000 people per day, but the 1,019,685 residents who have been fully vaccinated still only account for 8% of the population.

About a fifth of all residents 16 or older have received at least one shot so far, and about 47% of people 65 or older have gotten a dose, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

A total of 3,125,425 shots have gone into Illinois arms since December.

“That’s great progress, but there’s much more that needs to be done,” Pritzker said at a Far South Side vaccination site. “Even if we had enough doses today for everyone, we know that many people would still choose not to get vaccinated.”

That’s why the state is launching a $10 million public awareness campaign targeting “residents in the hardest-hit communities who are reluctant to take the vaccine,” according to the governor’s office.

Read Mitchell Armentrout’s full story here.


7:59 p.m. Brazil variant of COVID-19 surfaces in Illinois

Public health officials have identified Illinois’ first known case of a more infectious variant of COVID-19 that was first detected earlier this year in travelers from Brazil.

Northwestern University researchers found the so-called P.1 variant in a test sample from a Chicago resident who came down with the disease, city and state health officials announced Friday. The infected person told contact tracers they hadn’t recently traveled outside Illinois.

The P.1 strain was first found in Brazilian travelers who arrived in Tokyo in early January. It showed up in Minnesota later that month and has since been identified in several other states.

Experts say it spreads more easily than most of the “currently circulating” coronavirus strains, and some mutations “may affect the ability” of vaccines to neutralize it, though more studies are needed.

Reporter Mitch Armentrout has the full story.

3:40 p.m. City shuts down Old Town party with nearly 100 guests, cites 6 businesses for violating COVID-19 restrictions

City officials last weekend cited six businesses and shut down a large party at a home in Old Town for violating COVID-19 restrictions.

A residence in the 300 block of West North Avenue was hosting 97 people without social distancing or face coverings, according to a statement from the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

The establishment was issued a cease and desist order for operating without the required business licenses, BACP said.

Officials said they conducted 86 investigations from Feb. 25 to Feb. 28, resulting in citations to six businesses.

Read the full story here.

2:25 p.m. City launching new vaccination site for airport, transit workers and ride-hailing drivers

Public transit and airport employees will begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at a new site launching Friday at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport Hotel.

About 500 shots will be doled out per day to people who work at Midway and O’Hare, as well as the CTA, Metra and PACE, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Taxi drivers and those who work for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are eligible, too.

“These vaccines provide a source of optimism for a return to normal operations as we continue working to keep Chicago connected to the world throughout this pandemic,” Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee said in a statement. “Chicago’s transportation employees are crucial to our region’s infrastructure, and I’m proud to host a site that will help protect them from COVID-19 as efficiently and equitably as possible.”

First in line among those groups are first responders and security personnel, followed by workers who have direct contact with passengers, including flight crews, bus drivers and taxi drivers. Then come pilots, mechanics and all other airport employees.

Read Mitchell Armentrout’s full story here.

1:07 p.m. Midwestern universities announce plans to restore in-person learning this fall, return normalcy to campuses

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A pedestrian walks across DePaul University’s campus.

Tim Boyle/Sun-Times

Colleges and universities around the midwest are predicting the campus experience will be closer to normal this fall, with reopened residence halls, increased student activities and even face-to-face instruction for most classes after a year of largely remote learning.

DePaul University says it plans to offer a “full complement of in-person courses” after adopting a hybrid approach of mainly remote classes over the last several months to mitigate the spread of the virus. Nearby Marquette University in Milwaukee says it is planning a “return to a vast majority of classes meeting in-person.” Butler University, which attracts many Illinois students to Indianapolis, told prospective students this week its goal is “to fully restore the on-campus experience for students, faculty, and staff in summer and fall 2021.”

The University of Illinois-Chicago also expects to have students back on campus for in-person learning. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University and Loyola University of Chicago could follow suit, though they have yet to announce their tentative plans.

Those schools are among hundreds of universities nationwide making the call to more fully reopen campuses this fall, giving students better on-hands learning experiences while also providing much-needed financial relief for the institutions as college enrollment has plummeted over the last year.

Read Madeline Kenney’s full story here.

12:25 p.m. 65K counterfeit N95 masks seized at O’Hare Airport

Customs agents at O’Hare Airport this week seized a shipment of 65,000 counterfeit N95 masks purporting to be from the manufacturer 3M.

The fake hospital-grade masks, in high demand amid the coronavirus pandemic, could’ve been worth over $400,000, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Steven Bansbach said in a statement.

The shipment was en route from Columbia to a company in Virginia.

Customs agents on Monday noticed an “unfamiliar chemical smell” coming from the masks and grammatical errors on the packaging, Bansbach said.

The shipment was seized for infringing the copyrights of 3M and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Read the full story here.

10:03 a.m. 13 questions with CPS CEO Janice Jackson a week after schools reopen

With nearly a week in the books for Chicago Public Schools’ long-awaited reopening, schools chief Janice Jackson sat for a one-on-one interview with the Sun-Times covering a wide range of topics. The conversation took place Thursday at Kershaw Elementary in Englewood.

Sun-Times:How has the first week of reopening gone? Has it lived up to your expectations?

Jackson:I’m happy with the first week. Of course, I’m excited that we’re back. I think that the fact that we’re starting with a phased-in approach, a smaller group of students, is allowing for a successful transition for our principals. A lot of people are nervous about the return to school, implementing the protocols. And so I think it’s easier when you come back with a smaller group of students to really get the rhythm. So I haven’t heard major concerns. Every school opening you have to deal with logistical things here and there, but overall it has met my expectations.

Want to keep reading? Here’s the full transcript.

8:29 a.m. Army deploying 200 soldiers to support United Center vaccination site

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates once referred to the Army’s 101stAirborne Division as “the tip of the spear” in Afghanistan.

But starting Friday, 200 soldiers from the light infantry division known commonly as the “Screaming Eagles” will be the tip of the syringe in Chicago’s fight against COVID-19.

The troops are being deployed to support the mass vaccination site at the United Center that’s expected to start administering shots Tuesday, according to a news release from the 101stAirborne Division. The soldiers, who are assigned to the 426thBrigade Support Batallion’s 1stBrigade Combat Team, are part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s COVID-19 response operation.

“The 101st has a long history of answering our nation’s call, which at times has been to support civil authority here within the U.S.,” said Lt. Col. Derek Di Bello, battalion commander. “It is a mission we will take on with the same focus and energy that we would any task given to us.”

The reinforcements were requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is managing the vaccination site with help from the Defense Department and state and local officials. The soldiers join 139 others already assisting the federal vaccination in Orlando, Florida.

Read Tom Schuba’s full story here.


New cases

  • The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,442 new cases of the disease were diagnosed among 103,336 tests Thursday, meaning only 1.4% of tests came back positive. That’s the lowest one-day positivity rate the state has ever reported since COVID-19 surfaced here over a year ago.
  • Illinois’ seven-day average positivity rate is also hovering near an all-time low of 2.2%, as is the state’s nightly COVID-19 hospitalization rate with 1,166 beds occupied as of Thursday night.
  • The state also reported 33 more coronavirus deaths, including that of a Cook County man in his 40s. But the average daily death rate of 35 per day has fallen about 38% over the past month.

Analysis and commentary

7:44 a.m. ‘Life goes on even without the people you care about’ and other reflections on a year unlike any other

I think about the many families I have written about in the past year who paid the ultimate price during the pandemic: losing a loved one. In hopes of finding some wisdom gained from their experience, I checked back with some of those families over the past few days.

Like the relatives of Irvin Kaage Jr. and his wife Muriel Kaage, whose family-operated newsstand is an Edison Park landmark. Like many COVID-19 victims, they were elderly. He was 92. She was 90. At the time they fell ill, both lived at an assisted-living facility in Park Ridge.

What made their deaths resonate was their enduring love story that began on a bus ride downtown and ended with them dying within 36 hours of each other in April, just two months after their 70th anniversary. Even at the end, “They couldn’t be apart,” their son Irv Kaage III said then.

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Muriel and Irv Kaage Jr. at his 90th birthday party. They died in quarantine at an assisted-living facility, deprived of face-to-face contact with their children and grandchildren.

Provided

Close to a year later, Kaage choked up all over again talking about his parents’ funeral procession, when neighbors lined the 7300 block of North Olcott Avenue, where the Kaages had long lived, paying their respects even though many did not know the couple.

The son said that, until then, the Kaage family worried their popular parents “weren’t going to get their due” because of the COVID restrictions that limited funerals to immediate family. But an outpouring of affection from the community filled the void.

Until we experience it ourselves, some assume the death of a parent who has lived a long, good life somehow is easier to accept. Maybe. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Kaage said his sister Patricia, who used to talk with her mother several times a day, reminisces about her. “She’ll say, ‘I miss them so much,’” Kaage said.

As he looks back at their deaths, Kaage believes the cruelest aspect of the pandemic is that it isolated people like his parents right in their hour of greatest need, at a time all they wanted was to see their loved ones.

Quarantined in their assisted-living facility, the Kaages were deprived of face-to-face contact with their children and grandchildren. “They couldn’t understand it,” their son said.

“When you’re older like that, you realize that what’s most important in your life is your family,” he said. “The elderly were deprived of that.”

Read Mark Brown’s full column, which includes more interviews with families that have lost loved ones during the pandemic, here.

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