Coronavirus live blog, April 12, 2021: Illinois’ 7-day positivity rate continues upward trend

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The state’s coronavirus caseload metrics continue trending in a worrisome direction as officials hurry to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Here’s the latest news from today.


TOP STORY: Illinois’ COVID-19 positivity rate jumps to highest level since late January; 2,433 new cases

Officials on Monday announced that Illinois’ coronavirus test positivity rate has reached its highest point since late January, when a previous surge in cases was tapering off.

The seven-day positivity rate — a crucial figure for measuring the virus’ spread — jumped to 4.4% and continued an incremental upward trend that could lead officials to again place stronger restrictions on businesses. The statewide positivity rate had dipped to 2.1% on March 13.

Chicago’s numbers are even more alarming. On Monday, the Chicago Department of Public Health reported that the city’s positivity rate now sits at 5.6% — up from 5.1% just a week earlier.

Last week, CPDH spokesman Andrew Buchanan said that figure and other important metrics, including case numbers and hospital data, would factor into any decision to implement stronger mitigations and restrictions, including barring fans from baseball games.

The World Health Organization has advised governments that test positivity rates should remain at or below 5% for 14 days before reopening.

Read the full story from Tom Schuba here.

6:25 p.m. Cook County to release 35,000 more vaccine appointments at 3 p.m. Tuesday

Cook County health officials will release 35,000 new appointments Tuesday afternoon for any individuals to receive a single dose or first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The appointments will be released online at 3 p.m. and will be available to any person 16 years old and up, according to a statement from Cook County Health.

This is the largest block of appointments released since the beginning of the vaccination rollout in January.

Appointments will be offered for all three currently approved vaccines; Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Read Sophie Sherry’s full story here.

6:07 p.m. Ceremony honors essential workers, Brown and Black communities affected by pandemic

“Taps” echoed across Daley Plaza Monday at a ceremony to remember the Black and Brown communities devastated during the pandemic, and the essential workers who put their lives on the line to keep others safe.

The bells of First United Methodist Church tolled during a moment of silence, followed by a performance of “Ave Maria,” and then a wreath was laid at the plaza’s eternal flame.

“As the coronavirus shut down the nation, our streets were silent, yet our essential workers continued to report to their jobs,” said Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez.

“Over the past year, death has hit hard in nearly every community, but the most affected have been our Latino neighborhoods — Brighton Park, Pilsen, Little Village, Hermosa, Humboldt Park, Belmont Cragin, Berwyn, and Cicero, just to name a few.”

This was partially due to a lack of inclusion, gaps in data collection, and segregation of social demographic information on the local and national level, she said.

Illinois Unidos, also known as the Illinois Latino COVID-19 Initiative, organized the ceremony.

Read Zinya Salfiti’s full story here.

4:50 p.m. Suit against COVID-wracked nursing home can continue despite Pritzker’s immunity order

A lawsuit against a west suburban nursing home where 12 people died last year from coronavirus can go forward despite Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order last year granting privately owned nursing homes broad protection against being sued over COVID-19 illnesses, a federal judge has ruled.

Westchester Health and Rehabilitation Center — which had 46 reported coronavirus cases last year — is being sued by the families of Rita Saunders and Lottie Smith, who contracted the virus while living there in March 2020.

Saunders, 64, was hospitalized March 23, 2020, and died about a week later.

Smith, 83, entered the hospital a day earlier and recovered. She says she suffered falls that the nursing home allowed to happen because she’d complained about conditions in the facility.

According to the lawsuit, Westchester knowingly exposed residents to employees who had tested positive for the coronavirus. The suit says nurses with symptoms of the illness were ordered to keep working, and the facility failed to provide them with personal protective equipment.

Westchester wanted a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit because the governor’s March 9, 2020, coronavirus disaster proclamation gave nursing homes immunity over negligence and didn’t create liability for “willful and wanton” misconduct.

But U.S. District Judge Manish Shah said the lawsuit can continue, quoting a Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found that “an immunity defense usually depends on the facts of the case.”

Read the full story from Frank Main here.

4:46 p.m. Luke Bryan tests positive for COVID-19, sidelined from ‘American Idol’

LOS ANGELES — Luke Bryan says he’s tested positive for COVID-19, which sidelined him from the season’s first live “American Idol” episode on ABC.

Paula Abdul, an original judge on the talent show when it aired on Fox, was announced as Bryan’s replacement for Monday’s show, joining Lionel Richie and Katy Perry on the panel.

“I’m sad to say I won’t be a part of tonight’s first live @AmericanIdol show,” Bryan tweeted earlier Monday. “I tested positive for COVID but I’m doing well and look forward to being back at it soon.”

Read the full story here.

2:23 p.m. CPS ‘firmly committed’ to reopening high schools next week despite CTU’s threat to stay remote


CTU members voted for high school teachers and staff to work remotely, starting Wednesday, if a reopening deal with Chicago Public Schools isn’t reached by then.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools officials say they are “firmly committed” to reopening high schools next week for the first time during the pandemic despite a plan by the Chicago Teachers Union to have high school teachers and staff work remotely Wednesday in an attempt to pressure the district into a reopening agreement.

The district has held “productive discussions with CTU leadership to ensure a smooth transition back for our students and staff,” and the two sides are working to reach an agreement “as soon as possible,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson and the district’s education chief, LaTanya McDade, wrote in a letter to high school families Monday.

“Over the weekend we made progress on a number of areas and have general alignment on topics including the scheduling models schools will use and safety protocols to keep students and staff safe in high school buildings,” they wrote.

“We have also agreed that high school staff will be able to work on Wednesdays, which is a remote day for all students, and we will work to support vaccinations for students when they are eligible and doses are available.”

The union’s House of Delegates, however, “told the leadership of the CTU in no uncertain terms that we’re not simply reopening schools without more progress at the bargaining table and without a return agreement in high schools,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey told reporters during a virtual news conference Monday.

Read Nader Issa’s full story here.

1:42 p.m. Muslims navigate restrictions in the second pandemic Ramadan

CAIRO — For Ramadan this year, Magdy Hafez has been longing to reclaim a cherished ritual: performing the nighttime group prayers called taraweeh at the mosque once again.

Last year, the coronavirus upended the 68-year-old Egyptian’s routine of going to the mosque to perform those prayers, traditional during Islam’s holiest month. The pandemic had disrupted Islamic worship the world over, including in Egypt where mosques were closed to worshippers last Ramadan.

“I have been going to the mosque for 40 years so it was definitely a very, very, difficult thing,” he said. “But our religion orders us to protect one another.”

Still, “It’s a whole other feeling, and the spirituality in Ramadan is like nothing else.”

Egypt has since allowed most mosques to reopen for Friday communal prayers and for this Ramadan it will let them hold taraweeh, also with precautions, including shortening its duration.

Read the full story here.

12:35 p.m. US colleges divided over requiring student vaccinations

BOSTON — U.S. colleges hoping for a return to normalcy next fall are weighing how far they should go in urging students to get the COVID-19 vaccine, including whether they should — or legally can — require it.

Universities including Rutgers, Brown, Cornell and Northeastern recently told students they must get vaccinated before returning to campus next fall. They hope to achieve herd immunity on campus, which they say would allow them to loosen spacing restrictions in classrooms and dorms.

But some colleges are leaving the decision to students, and others believe they can’t legally require vaccinations. At Virginia Tech, officials determined that they can’t because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only allowed the emergency use of the vaccines and hasn’t given them its full approval.

The question looms large as more colleges plan to shift back from remote to in-person instruction. Many schools have launched vaccination blitzes to get students immunized before they leave for the summer. At some schools, the added requirement is meant to encourage holdouts and to build confidence that students and faculty will be safe on campus.

“It takes away any ambiguity about whether individuals should be vaccinated,” said Kenneth Henderson, the chancellor of Northeastern University in Boston. “It also provides a level of confidence for the entire community that we are taking all appropriate measures.”

Read the full story here.

9:14 a.m. CTU members vote to work remotely starting Wednesday if high school reopening agreement isn’t reached

With thousands of high school students expected to return to the classroom next week for the first time in over a year, the Chicago Teachers Union is putting pressure on Chicago Public Schools to finalize a reopening agreement early this week.

CTU members Sunday voted for high school teachers and staff to work remotely, starting Wednesday, if a reopening deal with Chicago Public Schools isn’t reached by then, the union said in a statement.

CPS officials have directed 5,350 high school teachers to return to buildings Monday with or without an agreement in preparation for about 26,000 students in grades 9-12 to resume in-person learning next week.

Teachers and staff are planning to honor that request and report in-person Monday and Tuesday while CPS and CTU officials work to solidify a final high school reopening agreement, sources said. That means that staff will be present when juniors at some high schools are scheduled to take the SAT in person Tuesday.

But if a deal isn’t struck or there isn’t “adequate movement at the table” by Wednesday, high school teachers and staff will begin to work remotely, the union said.

Keep reading the story from Nader Issa and Madeline Kenney here.

8:21 a.m. After Kamala Harris visit, business jumps at Brown Sugar Bakery on Chicago’s South Side


Vice President Kamala Harris chats with the staff of Brown Sugar Bakery as she receives a piece of German Chocolate Cake on April 6.


Since Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Brown Sugar Bakery on the South Side last Tuesday to throw a spotlight on small Black female-owned businesses, in-store retail sales jumped 21% overall and online sales increased 88%, according to owner Stephanie Hart.

Harris made a brief stop outside the bakery at 328 E. 75th en route back to Midway Airport after she toured a COVID-19 vaccination center at 2260 S. Grove St., organized by the Chicago Federation of Labor.

She picked up a slice of German chocolate cake – her favorite – and the bakery staff presented her with two trays of caramel, strawberry and lemon cupcakes.

Something meaningful happened as a result of those few minutes. It resulted in a real time positive economic impact for a business that had to shut down for a few months last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read Lynn Sweet’s full story here.

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