Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 11, 2021: Chicago’s stay-at-home advisory extended until Jan. 22, but schools are still exempt from order

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, Jan. 11, 2021: Chicago’s stay-at-home advisory extended until Jan. 22, but schools are still exempt from order

A small fraction of Chicago Public Schools children and teachers headed back to classrooms for the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

See how it went and more of the latest COVID-19 news from Chicago and around the state.


8:55 p.m. Chicago’s stay-at-home advisory extended until Jan. 22, but schools are still exempt from order

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a press conference at City Hall on Nov. 16, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

If Chicago Public Schools are safe enough to re-open for pre-K and special education students, why are the rest of us being advised to stay home through Jan. 22?

That was the question Monday as Mayor Lori Lightfoot touted the twice-delayed CPS reopening for roughly 77,000 students whose parents have “opted in,” instead of continuing to have their children learn remotely.

It seemed like a disconnect. The mayor insisted that it is not.

“Recall that, from the very beginning, schools were exempted from the stay-at-home advisory,” the mayor told reporters at a morning news conference.

Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady added: “If you look at the language of that stay-at-home advisory, it’s about essential. We specifically say people who are going to work, who are going to school or who are performing other essential activities should continue to do those. But if there are things that are not essential, we have asked people to limit that.”

Read the full story by Fran Spielman here.

5:10 p.m. Here’s what the 1st day back was like at one CPS school

A few students to a room. Drinking fountains covered in plastic. Spots on the floor to mark story-time seats. A sick room for those with virus symptoms.

About 6,000 kids went back to Chicago Public Schools classrooms Monday for the first time in 300 days, but it wasn’t school as usual for those students or their teachers.

The first sign of pandemic schooling came right at the door, when parents dropped off their little ones at Dawes Elementary in Ashburn. Temperature checks were taken in the hallway, before students entered the classrooms.

“Normally, we have a lot of tears,” said Dawes principal Mary Dixon. “We have the kids that are on the mom’s leg, and we let parents bring their child the first day into the classroom. Now they had to stand outside, call the child in, take the temperature and give the mom the OK to leave. So that was different, but they handled it.”

From there, students were sent to wash their hands. Teachers in one classroom squeezed soap into each student’s hands and walked them through how to properly scrub.

Read the full story from Nader Issa and Ashlee Rezin Garcia here.

4:03 p.m. Gorillas test positive for coronavirus at San Diego Zoo

SAN DIEGO — Several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for the coronavirus in what is believed to be the first known cases among such primates in the United States and possibly the world.

The park’s executive director, Lisa Peterson, told The Associated Press on Monday that eight gorillas that live together at the park are believed to have the virus and several have been coughing.

It appears the infection came from a member of the park’s wildlife care team who also tested positive for the virus but has been asymptomatic and wore a mask at all times around the gorillas. The park has been closed to the public since Dec. 6 as part of the state of California’s lockdown efforts to curb coronavirus cases.

Veterinarians are closely monitoring the gorillas and they will remain in their habitat at the park, north of San Diego, Peterson said. For now, they are being given vitamins, fluid and food but no specific treatment for the virus.

Read the full story here.

2:30 p.m. UN: Herd immunity unlikely for 2021 despite COVID-19 vaccines

The World Health Organization’s chief scientist warned that even as numerous countries start rolling out vaccination programs to stop COVID-19, herd immunity is highly unlikely this year.

At a media briefing on Monday, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said it was critical countries and their populations maintain strict social distancing and other outbreak control measures for the foreseeable future. In recent weeks, Britain, the U.S., France, Canada, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands and others have begun vaccinating millions of their citizens against the coronavirus.

“Even as vaccines start protecting the most vulnerable, we’re not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” Swaminathan said. “Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world.”

Scientists typically estimate that a vaccination rate of about 70% is needed for herd immunity, where entire populations are protected against a disease. But some fear that the extremely infectious nature of COVID-19 could require a significantly higher threshold.

Read the full story here.

1:20 p.m. Officials announce 53 coronavirus-related deaths and 4,776 new cases, but positivity rate fell slightly

State health officials reported 53 coronavirus-related deaths and 4,776 new cases Monday.

That brings the total death toll in Illinois to 17,627 since the start of the pandemic.

The seven-day statewide positivity rate, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, fell to 7.6% on Monday from 7.9% on Sunday, officials said. A week ago, the positivity rate was 8.6%.

As of Sunday night, 3,540 people were being treated in hospitals in Illinois for the coronavirus. Of those, 759 were in intensive care and 401 were on ventilators.

Read the full story by Stefano Esposito here.

12:50 p.m. Bulls vs. Celtics on Tuesday postponed because of COVID-19

The Tuesday night game between the Bulls and Celtics at the United Center was postponed, as the NBA was recently dealing with a spike in the number of players going into the league’s health and safety coronavirus protocol.

The announcement was made Monday afternoon, with the game between Dallas and New Orleans also cancelled for the time being.

It was the first Bulls game cancelled this season, and the first since last March when the NBA shut the entire league down. With good reason, as Boston had nine players unavailable with seven of them in the protocol.

Read the full story by Joe Cowley here.

12:05 p.m. US ramps up vaccinations to distribute more doses to Americans

The U.S. is entering the second month of the biggest vaccination effort in history with a major expansion of the campaign, opening football stadiums, major league ballparks, fairgrounds and convention centers to inoculate a larger and more diverse pool of people.

After a frustratingly slow rollout involving primarily health care workers and nursing home residents, states are moving on to the next phase before the first one is complete, making shots available to such groups as senior citizens, teachers, bus drivers, police officers, firefighters and people with underlying medical conditions.

“Every shot in the arm is a step closer to ending this pandemic,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

Read the full story here.

11 a.m. Germany’s BioNTech expects to produce 2 billion doses in 2021 with ramped-up manufacturing

Germany’s BioNTech, which developed the first COVID-19 vaccination on the market with American partner Pfizer, says it expects to produce 2 billion doses in 2021 with ramped-up manufacturing.

Company CEO and co-founder Ugur Sahin says with three manufacturing sites in the United States and three in Europe operating or coming online soon, it expects to approximately double the number of doses committed for this fiscal year.

The company said in a presentation Monday to the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that it is also looking to expand the people able to receive its vaccine to include pregnant women and children, among others.

As of Jan 10, the company says it has already shipped 32.9 million doses of its vaccine. The vaccine was 95% effective in trials.

The company’s vaccine currently has to be stored at extremely cold temperatures, making delivery to remote areas difficult. But the company says it’s working on a more stable version.

— Associated Press

9:15 a.m. Vaccine or not, Chicago hotels brace for rough start to 2021

Chicago is a great hotel town because it’s a great business meeting town.

The choices here for visitors are immense. In the days before COVID-19, you had your pick of history at the Palmer House, the old-money elegance of The Drake, the unapologetic luxury of the Peninsula, or the brash energy of newer and hipper lodging with the typical but wildly popular rooftop bar. Most are still open in a limited fashion.

With a downtown inventory of about 44,000 hotel rooms, Chicago offers incredible variety. Even the less preferred places have their uses. Want Michigan Avenue on a budget? Try the Congress Plaza Hotel. And you needn’t be a guest to get some benefits. Bill Kimpton, the late founder of the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, once recalled how as a young man working in Chicago he would duck into the dim lobby of the old Bismarck Hotel for a nap. Kimpton’s company eventually modernized the Bismarck and jazzed up the lobby.

It’s not weekend and holiday trippers or even drowsy locals who allow for all those choices. It’s business gatherings and conventions, a segment that’s been at a standstill since the start of the pandemic. It made for a lost year in the lodging trade for 2020, but this year may be worse for many owners.

With little cash coming in, many hotel owners are in default to creditors. Experts in the industry say bankers and other lenders to hotels are getting impatient as the pandemic stretches on. Beyond that, owners are faced with the prospect that meetings and conventions scheduled months from now will be canceled.

Read the complete story by David Roeder here.

8:30 a.m. COVID-19 vaccine rollout problems confirm health officials’ past warnings

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Public health officials sounded the alarm for months, complaining that they did not have enough support or money to get COVID-19 vaccines quickly into arms. Now the slower-than-expected start to the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history is proving them right.

As they work to ramp up the shots, state and local public health departments across the U.S. cite a variety of obstacles, most notably a lack of leadership from the federal government. Many officials worry that they are losing precious time at the height of the pandemic, and the delays could cost lives.

States lament a lack of clarity on how many doses they will receive and when. They say more resources should have been devoted to education campaigns to ease concerns among people leery of getting the shots. And although the federal government recently approved $8.7 billion for the vaccine effort, it will take time to reach places that could have used the money months ago to prepare to deliver shots more efficiently.

Such complaints have become a common refrain in a nation where public health officials have been left largely on their own to solve complex problems.

Read the full story here.

7:30 a.m. Illinois’ pandemic death toll surpasses 17,500

State health officials on Sunday reported an additional 81 coronavirus-related deaths, bringing Illinois’ pandemic death toll to 17,574.

Cook County accounted for nearly three-quarters of Sunday’s reported fatalities. In total, 59 of the 81 deaths were reported in the Chicago area, including a Cook County man and woman in their 30s.

Illinois has logged more than 1,000 COVID-related deaths in January alone, averaging about 108 fatalities each day this month. That’s down from the first 10 days in December, when the state was averaging 159 deaths a day.

State health officials also announced 4,711 new and probable coronavirus cases, which were found in the latest batch of 77,775 tests reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health in the last day.

That lowered the statewide seven-day positivity rate to 7.9% — a slight decline from last Sunday when that figure, which experts use to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading in the state, was 8.3%.

Read the full story from Madeline Kenney here.

7 a.m. House lawmakers may have been exposed to COVID-19 during violent Capitol riot

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers may have been exposed to someone testing positive for COVID-19 while they sheltered at an undisclosed location during the Capitol siege by a violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump.

The Capitol’s attending physician notified all lawmakers Sunday of the virus exposure and urged them to be tested. The infected individual was not named.

Dr. Brian Moynihan wrote that “many members of the House community were in protective isolation in the large room — some for several hours” on Wednesday. He said “individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection.”

Dozens of lawmakers were whisked to the secure location after pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol that day, breaking through barricades to roam the halls and offices and ransacking the building.

Some members of Congress huddled for hours in the large room, while others were there for a shorter period.

Read the full story here.

New Cases

Analysis and commentary

5:21 p.m. CPS and CTU, time to act like adults and stop fighting over school reopening

On Monday, the Illinois Senate repealed a decades-old bill that limited the issues that the Chicago Teachers Union can bargain over, thus expanding the union’s bargaining rights at an important time. If Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the repeal this week, it could further escalate the battle between Chicago Public Schools and the CTU.

For months, Chicago’s news has been filled with the very public battle around reopening our schools. Instead of coming together to fight the spread of COVID-19 and develop a safe, equitable way to ensure all children are healthy and learning together, our leaders have fought each other. We’re watching that fight become increasingly, dangerously polarized.

If the leaders of our school district and teachers’ union continue on this path, no one wins. Students, families, and educators will almost certainly lose.

Read the full commentary from Stacy Moore, a former Chicago teacher and the current Executive Director of Educators for Excellence-Chicago, a teacher-led advocacy organization.

9:30 a.m. A pandemic is no time for Legislature to vote on an elected Chicago school board and union rights

Legislation is rushing through Springfield that would dramatically change how Chicago’s public schools are run — and not for the better.

Lawmakers absolutely must hit the pause button.

In fairness to Chicago’s schoolchildren, parents and teachers — and out of respect for an honest and open legislative process — the Illinois Senate should postpone votes on House Bill 2267, which would create a 21-member elected School Board, and HB 2275, which would repeal a law limiting the bargaining rights of the Chicago Teachers Union.

What exactly is the rush?

Right now, during a brief, busy and chaotic lame-duck session of the Illinois Legislature — and in the midst of a public health crisis that threatens the reopening of the schools this week and has emotions running high — is utterly the wrong time to decide on such sweeping legislation.

Read the full editorial by the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board

7:30 a.m. COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for state workers who care for high-risk people

The first round of the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine was administered to residents and employees of Illinois veterans’ homes in late December, but data shows that the number of caregivers vaccinated is worrisome.

Seventy-four percent of residents in the homes have been vaccinated — that’s 95% of residents in Anna, 90% in Manteno and Quincy, and 71% in LaSalle — according to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. However, the people charged with providing care to our most vulnerable residents have been vaccinated in much lower percentages. Only 40% of the staff throughout Illinois have received the vaccine as of Dec. 31.

After waiting more than nine excruciating months for a vaccine, that is unacceptable. We believe the vaccine should be a mandatory condition of employment in all facilities in the state that care for high-risk individuals, especially the elderly. The only temporary exception would be for those who recently had COVID-19 or currently have it.

Read the full editorial here.

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