6 p.m. Rising COVID-19 cases prevent further reopening despite surge in vaccination rates
More than 6 million COVID-19 vaccinations have now gone into Illinois arms, public health officials announced Friday.
The state passed that mark almost four months into the unprecedented inoculation effort as 124,870 shots were administered Thursday.
From the 6,043,292 total vaccinations performed since mid-December, only about 2.3 million residents have been fully immunized — about 17.8% of the population, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
But more than 70% of the state’s seniors have gotten at least one dose, a benchmark that would have allowed for additional business restrictions to loosen under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “bridge phase” plan to a full reopening.
That plan was thrown up in the air this week as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations trend back upward across Illinois — and especially in Chicago.
5:45 p.m. Toughest ticket in Chicago? Finding a spot at Easter Sunday Mass
Easter is Sunday, one of the biggest days of the year for Christians.
Churches are usually packed with parishioners who would be squeezed into pews shoulder to shoulder. Those who couldn’t find a seat would stand in the back or attend an overflow Mass.
But this year with limited capacities, Easter Sunday Mass is the toughest ticket in town.
Coronavirus restrictions have limited churches to 20% capacity. With more people who have been vaccinated, there has been an influx of those wanting to attend in-person. But on Easter, those opportunities are limited.
4:20 p.m. March hiring accelerated to 916K, yet many jobs remain lost
America’s employers unleashed a burst of hiring in March, adding 916,000 jobs in a sign that a sustained recovery from the pandemic recession is taking hold as vaccinations accelerate, stimulus checks flow through the economy and businesses increasingly reopen.
The March increase — the most since August — was nearly double February’s gain of 468,000, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate declined from 6.2% to 6%.
Even with last month’s robust increase, the economy remains more than 8 million jobs short of the number it had before the pandemic erupted a little over a year ago. But with the recovery widely expected to strengthen, many forecasters predict enough hiring in the coming months to recover nearly all those lost jobs by year’s end.
Regaining all those jobs, though, will be a daunting task.
3:30 p.m. Pilsen church celebrates scaled-down living way of the cross
Isaac Bucio marched in tattered, bloodstained robes with a massive wooden cross on his back for St. Procopius Catholic Church’s annual Via Crucis event Friday.
His fellow actors whipped him lightly with a rope covered in fake blood as a procession followed in prayer down Racine Avenue in Pilsen.
Via Crucis, which means Stations of the Cross in Spanish, was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Rev. Adan Sandoval was grateful the church could hold the Good Friday procession again even though the crowd was half of its usual throng of “thousands.” Those who couldn’t be there live, could watch the event virtually.
2:05 p.m. Chicago launching CTA vaccination bus
Chicago public health officials launched a new mobile COVID-19 vaccination program Wednesday using a CTA bus to reach seniors in areas with low vaccination rates.
The “Protect Chicago” vaccination bus made its first stop at Atlas Senior Center, 1767 E. 79th St., and inoculated 98 residents, according to a statement from the city.
The pilot program was created by the Chicago Department of Public Health in partnership with the CTA in an effort to prioritize seniors in zip codes with low vaccination rates, the statement said.
Family members, neighbors, or friends of area seniors who live in an eligible zip code, are also able to get a shot if they help a senior register for their vaccination, the statement said.
The city is currently planning future events and locations for the vaccination bus.
1 p.m. Entire Mets-Nationals series postponed after positive COVID-19 tests
WASHINGTON — The entire season-opening three-game series between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets was called off on Friday after three players for the 2019 World Series champions tested positive for COVID-19.
The Nationals announced the postponement of games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Nationals Park, saying the decision was “due to continued follow-up testing and contact tracing involving members of the Nationals organization.”
The Opening Day game in Washington on Thursday night already had been put off, just hours before it was supposed to begin, with Max Scherzer pitching for the Nationals against Jacob deGrom of the Mets in a matchup between the recipients of a combined five Cy Young Awards.
At least three Nationals players have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
12:05 p.m. Dutch temporarily halt AstraZeneca shots for under-60s
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch government said Friday it is temporarily halting AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccinations for people under 60 following reports of very small number of people suffering unusual blood clots after receiving the shot.
The Dutch decision comes three days after authorities in Germany also stopped using the AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the under-60s, citing fresh concerns over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of those who received the shots.
Earlier Friday, a Dutch organization that monitors vaccine side effects said it had received five reports of blood clots with low blood plate counts following vaccinations. All the cases occurred between seven and 10 days after the vaccinations and all the people affected were women aged between 25 and 65 years.
The organization said in the period when the five cases were reported, some 400,000 people were vaccinated in the Netherlands with the AstraZeneca shot.
11:20 a.m. Christians mark Good Friday amid lingering virus woes
JERUSALEM — Christians in the Holy Land are marking Good Friday this year amid signs the coronavirus crisis is winding down, with religious sites open to limited numbers of faithful but none of the mass pilgrimages usually seen in the Holy Week leading up to Easter.
The virus is still raging in the Philippines, France, Brazil and other predominantly Christian countries, where worshippers are marking a second annual Holy Week under various movement restrictions amid outbreaks fanned by more contagious strains.
Last year, Jerusalem was under a strict lockdown, with sacred rites observed by small groups of priests, often behind closed doors. It was a stark departure from past years, when tens of thousands of pilgrims would descend on the city’s holy sites.
10:35 a.m. Fully vaccinated against COVID-19? CDC says it’s OK to resume travel, but still wear a mask
Add travel to the activities vaccinated Americans can enjoy again, according to new U.S. guidance issued Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward.
Previously, the agency had cautioned against unnecessary travel even for vaccinated people, but noted that it would update its guidance as more people got vaccinated and evidence mounted about the protection the shots provide.
9:33 a.m. Black ministers to air Easter video message urging faithful to get vaccinated
Receive Christ ... and a vaccine.
It’s the gist of a message Black religious leaders hope to convey in short videos that will air during Easter services to congregants of about 500 churches, reaching as many as 1 million people in the Chicago area.
The fete will be accomplished by airing the pro-vaccine videos to churchgoers in pews and those watching services that will be livestreamed on the internet.
Bishop Simon Gordon, who heads Triedstone Full Gospel Baptist Church in the East Beverly neighborhood, said he boiled down his message to congregants to an easy choice.
“It’s either a vaccine or a ventilator,” he said at a news conference Thursday held at a church in the South Loop.
According to city data, Black residents make up 30% of the city’s population but only about 20% of people who’ve been vaccinated.
New cases and vaccination numbers
- The city’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate is at 4.6% — its highest point since the first week of February — while an average of 519 residents are testing positive each day. That figure has jumped 41% in a week.
- The uptick is happening across the rest of the state, too. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 3,526 new cases on Thursday, the highest one-day case tally since Feb. 5. The statewide positivity is as high as it’s been since then, too, at 3.5%.
- Hospitalizations continue to rise, a trend that has pushed back Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan. A total of 1,411 beds were occupied by coronavirus patients Wednesday night.
- Officials also reported 25 more COVID-19 deaths, including that of a man in his 30s from downstate Madison County, near St. Louis.
- Illinois’ death toll is up to 21,326, among almost 1.3 million residents who have been infected over the past year. About 2.2 million have been fully vaccinated.
- With 116,551 shots going into arms Wednesday, the state is vaccinating an average of 109,073 people per day.
Analysis and commentary
8:39 a.m. Baked goods manage to outlive coronavirus
Marc Becker is a baker, the son of a baker, and the grandson of a baker. Baking is his life. When he moved his Leonard’s Bakery — named for his father — from Chicago to Northbrook in 1987 he was 28 years old. Last spring, when COVID-19 struck, he was 61.
A lifetime worth of almond horns, poppyseed cookies, onion bagels and cinnamon rugelach, of customers and suppliers and days that start at 3:30 a.m. Then it just stopped. Leonard’s was a small space; behind the counters was hard for two clerks to pass each other. In the spring of 2020, the pandemic was new and surging. He shut the bakery down for five weeks.
His friends and family urged him to reopen. So he gave it a try. That lasted another two weeks. “Then I said, ‘This is it. I’m done,” Becker recalled Wednesday. “I don’t want to be under these conditions.”
“I felt like I’m going to hell every day,” he said. “I used to go to work and have the best time of my life. I loved it. Now I hated, hated, hated it.”
That was clear. I happened to go to Leonard’s just before it closed for good. Usually, I’d chat with Marc. But with social distancing, a line out the door, there wasn’t time. Becker seemed frazzled, anxious. He was worried about his employees. “For all these people to get sick?” he said. “The customers.”