Coronavirus live blog, March 7, 2021: Illinois sees smallest daily caseload and single-day death toll in months

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

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Officials announces changes to who’s eligible for vaccines at United Center in an attempt to make distribution more equitable

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Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

With Illinois’ historic vaccine rollout expected to kick into overdrive this week thanks to the United Center being used as the city’s largest mass vaccination site, officials on Sunday announced major changes to who’s eligible to receive shots at the Near West Side arena in an attempt to ensure doses are equitably available to the communities most impacted by the pandemic.

Starting Sunday at 4 p.m., anyone who lives in Chicago and is eligible to receive the vaccine under Phase 1B+ of the state’s distribution plan will be able to register for appointments at the United Center. This includes anyone 18 and over with underlying health conditions, as well as people 65 and older.

Officials are also setting aside appointments for Chicago residents who live in areas hardest hit by the virus and have experienced the highest rates of severe illness and death; appointments are also being set aside for community-based organizations targeting their outreach to special populations in Chicago, including people with disabilities.

Meanwhile, residents outside of Cook County will no longer be eligible for appointments at the United Center site. These decisions were made under FEMA guidance to ensure more equitable distribution of the vaccine.

Officials targeted the United Center to be a mass vaccination center for its proximity to the most vulnerable communities in the city, but more than half of the appointments snatched up over the last three days were made by people outside Chicago.

Early data indicated that only 40% of the more than 40,000 seniors who had signed up for appointments at the United Center since Thursday morning were Chicago residents.

“Equity is central to our COVID-19 strategy, and as we strive to vaccinate the entire city, our commitment to equity is more important than ever,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement..

Read the full story from Madeline Kenney here.


News

4:56 p.m. Senate passes Biden’s $1.9T coronavirus relief bill

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President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House, Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Washington.

AP Photos

WASHINGTON — An exhausted Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Saturday as President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies notched a victory they called crucial for hoisting the country out of the pandemic and economic doldrums.

After laboring all night on a mountain of amendments — nearly all from Republicans and rejected — bleary-eyed senators approved the sprawling package on a 50-49 party-line vote. That sets up final congressional approval by the House next week so lawmakers can whisk it to Biden for his signature.

The huge measure — its total spending is nearly one-tenth the size of the entire U.S. economy — is Biden’s biggest early priority. It stands as his formula for addressing the deadly virus and a limping economy, twin crises that have afflicted the country for a year.

“This nation has suffered too much for much too long,” Biden told reporters at the White House after the vote. “And everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation, and put us in a better position to prevail.”

Saturday’s vote was also a crucial political moment for Biden and Democrats, who need nothing short of party unanimity in a 50-50 Senate they run with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. They have a slim 10-vote House edge.

Not a single Republican backed the bill in the Senate or when it initially passed the House, underscoring the barbed partisan environment that’s so far characterizing the early days of Biden’s presidency.

A small but pivotal band of moderate Democrats leveraged changes in the legislation that incensed progressives, not making it any easier for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to guide the measure through the House. But rejection of their first, signature bill was not an option for Democrats, who face two years of trying to run Congress with virtually no room for error.

“They feel like we do, we have to get this done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the House. He said he’d spoken to Pelosi about the Senate’s changes and added, “It’s not going to be everything everyone wants. No bill is.”

Read the full story here.

12:15 p.m. Source: Pedro Strop away from Cubs after violating COVID-19 protocols

Right-hander Pedro Strop is away from the Cubs after violating COVID-19 protocols, according to a source. Strop will now have to isolate from the team before he is allowed to resume baseball activities at the team’s complex.

Strop was tagged in a post with Cleveland outfielder Franmil Reyes, who is also away from the team due to violating protocols, without masks in a public place. The post has since been deleted.

The Cubs didn’t have a COVID-19 protocol violation last season and were one of just eight teams who didn’t have a single player test positive for the virus during the season. Left-hander Kyle Ryan was placed on the COVID-19 list earlier this spring.

Read the full story from Russell Dorsey here.

9:19 a.m. Pritzker on losing streak with party leadership and tax battles, but COVID-19 likely to be game changer — or ender

Chalk up another loss on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s political scoreboard.

The latest defeat — backing the losing candidate in the race to succeed Mike Madigan as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois — has some on the sidelines questioning whether the billionaire governor is headed for a game-ending loss next year.

“It’s nice to have money, but you’ve got to make that money work for you, and you have to get some wins,” said one Illinois Democrat, who asked to remain anonymous. “He needed that win [Wednesday] night. … That never would have happened on Madigan’s watch.”

Pritzker hasn’t officially said whether he’s seeking reelection, but some Democrats see the losses, namely the thwarted move to a graduated income tax and the Wednesday night defeat, as troubling signs as he potentially gears up for a bid for a second term.

But the real game changer, of course, could be COVID-19 — and whether the governor’s response is seen as a grand slam or the final out.

The latest political hit for the governor came Wednesday, when U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly was narrowly elected Illinois Democratic chair by the 36 men and women who make up the state party’s central committee, beating Ald. Michelle Harris, 51.7% to 48.3%.

Pritzker backed the South Side alderman, and committee members said he personally lobbied on her behalf.

“I’m not going to pull any punches, and say it felt good — it’s disappointing,” said Quentin Fulks, the head of Pritzker’s political operation. “We had a preferred candidate, and they didn’t win, but at the end of the day, we are all Democrats, and the party did end up with a Black woman as chair and we are looking forward to a successful 2022 and electing Democrats up and down the ballot all across the state.”

Read the full story from Rachel Hinton here.


New Cases

  • Officials reported 2,565 new cases were diagnosed among 79,248 tests, to raise Illinois’ average positivity rate slightly to 2.4%.
  • The state also logged another 50 COVID-19 deaths, including that of a Cook County man in his 30s.

Analysis & Commentary

10:54 a.m. COVID grief: ‘Did he know I loved him?’

He liked cats and bullfights, served in the Illinois National Guard during the Vietnam War and once ran a goat farm in Arizona. He taught computer programming and worked in the reptile house of the Lincoln Park Zoo.

He was varied and contradictory, as people often are, the good ones anyway, and after he died in January of COVID-19, his wife of 40 years grasped at the air where he had been. Part of that process was to write to me. There was guilt. For nearly a year, the couple lived like monks in a cell, going out only for doctor’s visits. She thinks that’s what killed him.

“I am sure I was exposed in the waiting room of a medical office, and I brought it home,” she wrote.

Yes, he was high risk: Type A blood, overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure. Lots of people fit that description. It doesn’t mean you deserve to die.

He went to the hospital, stayed two days, but was sent home over her objection.

“I wanted him to stay,” she wrote. “Just over 24 hours later, I found him on the floor, nearly unconscious, and he was transported to the hospital by ambulance again. This time he had a pulmonary embolism and hypoxia. Three days later he was on a ventilator, and one system after another began to fail. He was removed from machines, and he died.”

Read the full column from Neil Steinberg here.

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