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Coronavirus live blog, March 8, 2021: How the coronavirus pandemic has affected high schoolers’ mental health

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

News

9:10 p.m. Student mental health struggles intensify as high schools remain closed year into pandemic

Sara Cawley, 16, a junior at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, created a Google classroom for the school’s Positive Mental Health Association, a club she founded to allow students to talk about mental health.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

When the coronavirus pandemic first closed schools last year, one Chicago mother watched as her son — then a freshman at a public school on the North Side — became hyper-focused on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily briefings, spurring disappointment every time he announced a delay in reopening schools.

As Chicago Public Schools remained closed for the rest of the year and did not reopen in the fall, the mother said her son’s anxiety and depression manifested more severely as he became too angry to function.

He remains “emotionally miserable,” said the woman, who asked not to be named. “He’s in therapy, he’s taking medication. This has never been true before.”

High school students in CPS still have no idea when they will return in person this school year, even as kindergarten through fifth graders returned to classrooms last week and 6-8 graders return Monday. CPS officials on Friday said high school students could opt-in for in-person learning possibly later this spring, but no deal has been reached with the Chicago Teachers Union, and no details of how schools would look if they open their doors have been released.

Now nearing a year of schools being closed, students are suffering from more intense symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, according to mental health experts.

Nationwide, the number of children’s mental health-related emergency department visits increased steadily from April to October 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For children ages 12-17, the number of visits increased by 31% compared to 2019.

At Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, from September 2020 to January 2021, the rate of emergency department visits for mental health concerns doubled compared to the year before, rising from 2.4% to 4.2% of all cases. While the pandemic more than halved the number of emergency room visits overall, the number of mental health visits remained about the same as the prior year.

Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, an emergency room physician at Lurie, said although there was a hesitancy to visit the emergency room during the pandemic, mental health concerns for some children were so high that families deemed the risk necessary.

Keep reading Clare Proctor’s story here.

4:06 p.m. Fully vaccinated people can gather without masks, CDC says

NEW YORK — Fully vaccinated Americans can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing, according to long-awaited guidance from federal health officials.

The recommendations also say that vaccinated people can come together in the same way — in a single household — with people considered at low-risk for severe disease, such as in the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy children and grandchildren.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the guidance Monday.

The guidance is designed to address a growing demand, as more adults have been getting vaccinated and wondering if it gives them greater freedom to visit family members, travel, or do other things like they did before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world last year.

“With more and more people vaccinated each day, we are starting to turn a corner,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Read the full story here.

12:51 p.m. Health officials report 1,182 new COVID-19 cases, 5 deaths

Illinois public health officials announced 1,182 new cases of the coronavirus Monday as well as five deaths — the lowest daily fatality count in nearly six months.

The new cases come from a batch of 39,636 tests. As of Sunday night, 1,178 people with COVID-19 were reported to be in the hospital. Of that number, 266 patients were in intensive care units throughout the state; 118 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.

The state’s preliminary seven-day statewide case positivity is 2.3%.

The last time the state saw a daily death toll this low was Sept. 14, when the state logged five deaths. Illinois hasn’t seen a single-digit daily death rate since early Oct. 11, when health officials announced nine deaths.

The deaths reported Monday bring the state’s total COVID-19 toll to 20,767 people.

Health officials also reported 3.38 million vaccines have been administered so far, with an average of of 90,135 doses administered daily in the past seven days, slightly less than the 93,183 rolling average of shots reported Sunday.

Read the full story from Rachel Hinton here.

1:07 p.m. CPS welcomes back middle school students Monday

Chicago Public Schools reached a milestone of sorts Monday, with all elementary school grades open districtwide for in-person learning — even though most parents continued to keep their kids at home in remote learning.

The district welcomed back sixth through eighth grade students Monday.

“It never gets old seeing kids come back to school — some of them excited, some of them not so excited about it. But at the end of the day, we know it’s the best place for them,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, speaking to reporters outside Robert J. Richardson Middle School, 6018 S. Karlov.

Just before Jackson spoke, students lined up — socially distanced — outside the school, as a staff member with a laptop quizzed them about any recent sickness and out-of-state travel, among other questions.

Staff at Richardson were expecting 185 out of 1,083 students to return for the current quarter.

Overall, about 18,500 students in sixth to eighth grades were expected to return to their classrooms Monday. That’s on top of the 37,000 K-5 students that went back last week. About 145,000 elementary students will continue learning remotely through at least April.

Jackson said that, to date, CPS has offered coronavirus vaccinations to about 25,000 school employees — about 60% of the total.

She said the district has received many questions about the levels of in-person staffing.

“After one week of instruction with K-5 back last week, we don’t have any reports of widespread staffing shortages,” she said.

Read the full story from Stefano Esposito here.

11:45 a.m. Fully vaccinated people can gather without masks, CDC says

Fully vaccinated Americans can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing, according to long-awaited guidance from federal health officials.

The recommendations also say that vaccinated people can come together in the same way — in a single household — with people considered at low-risk for severe disease, such as in the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy children and grandchildren.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the guidance Monday.

The guidance is designed to address a growing demand, as more adults have been getting vaccinated and wondering if it gives them greater freedom to visit family members, travel, or do other things like they did before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world last year.

Read the full story here.

11:10 a.m. Sox, Cubs, can have fans attend games, mayor says

The Cubs and Sox will play before real fans, instead of cardboard cut-outs.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave both teams the go-ahead to sell 20% of the seats at Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field citing the “remarkable” progress Chicago has made toward containing the coronavirus and vaccinating its residents.

“As a diehard sports fan myself, I’m personally excited to have Chicago take its first, cautious steps toward safely reopening our beloved baseball stadiums to fans this season,” Lightfoot, a Sox season ticket holder, was quoted as saying in a press release.

“We’re able to do that thanks to the commitment of our city’s two great baseball franchises who continue to work in close partnership with Chicago’s public health officials to find solutions that are not only safe, but offer a path forward toward safely increasing stadium capacity as we move closer into our COVID-19 recovery.”

Guaranteed Rate has a seating capacity of 40,000. The city’s gradual reopening plan will limit the crowd to 8,122 fans with at least six feet between parties, starting with the home opener on April 8.

Wrigley Field has a capacity crowd of 41,374. There a 20% rule will allow the Cubs to sell 8,274 seats, beginning with the home opener on April 1.

The reopening of both ballparks will start at 20% “with additional restrictions and potentially open to more fans as vaccination and recovery efforts continue,” City Hall said.

Get the full story from Fran Spielman here.

9:50 a.m. Polar Plunge goes virtual amid COVID-19

Every year for the last two decades, thousands of people ascend to North Avenue to dive into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan to raise money for Special Olympics Chicago and Special Children’s Charities.

In 2020, nearly 5,000 people charged into the lake, raising a record-setting $2.2 million during what turned out to be one of the last major events in the city to take place before the pandemic uprooted life as we knew it.

But that wasn’t the case this year. Like so many other traditions, this year’s Polar Plunge was forced to take place virtually, with Sunday marking the final day of the weeklong event.

Many participants got creative with the reimagined Polar Plunge.

Some still made the trip to the lakefront to take a dip in Lake Michigan, while another group constructed a homemade dunk tank that they set up in an alleyway. On Saturday, students and teachers at St. Patrick High School hosted a fun-filled event outside on the school’s football field and raised about $10,700.

Find out how others participated in the Polar Plunge this year.


New cases