Coronavirus live blog, March 26, 2021: Pritzker gives local health officials OK to vaccinate anyone 16 or older ‘at their immediate discretion’

Here’s Friday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois. Follow here for live updates.

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, March 26, 2021: Pritzker gives local health officials OK to vaccinate anyone 16 or older ‘at their immediate discretion’


9 p.m. Pritzker OKs expanded vaccine eligibility as COVID-19 positivity rises, deploying ‘all our resources to halt these upticks’

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens at a COVID-19 news conference in March.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Citing a “concerning possible trend” in rising COVID-19 infection rates statewide, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday deployed vaccination teams to five hard-hit counties in northwestern Illinois and authorized other local health departments to expand eligibility to get more shots into arms as quickly as possible. 

Public health officials say they’ve seen demand slow down in a number of counties, leaving appointments unfilled while the average statewide coronavirus testing positivity rate has increased by 38% in less than two weeks. 

That’s why the governor’s health team is allowing local health officials to start giving out doses to any resident 16 or older “at their immediate discretion,” according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. 

“Recent increases in hospital admissions and test positivity are concerning new developments and we don’t want to go down the same path we’ve seen before and experience a resurgence in the pandemic, which is why Gov. Pritzker directed us to use all our resources to halt these upticks,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. 

“We cannot move forward if our metrics are going backward. The vaccine will help get us to the end of the pandemic, but we need to continue to reduce spread of the virus by wearing a mask, avoiding large crowds, keeping six feet of distance, getting tested after seeing others, and getting vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said. 

Read the complete story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

6 p.m. State Sen. Lightford defends Loretto Hospital CEO Miller — as ousted COO Ahmed defends himself

SPRINGFIELD — State Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford on Friday defended George Miller, the CEO of Loretto Hospital, where the west suburban senator serves as a board member and is the namesake of its emergency department, built with state funds she helped secure.

Despite the swirling coronavirus vaccine scandal at the West Side hospital, Lightford said Miller is “one of our best presidents that we’ve had.”

Lightford’s show of support for Miller comes as ousted hospital executive Dr. Anosh Ahmed issued a statement saying he resigned as chief operating officer and chief financial officer this week “because I was becoming a distraction to the heroic work being performed by the nurses, doctors and staff throughout the pandemic.”

He maintains that “many” of the allegations against him were “inaccurate or patently false,” but he also admitted that only a quarter of those vaccinated at the hospital were residents of the Austin neighborhood the hospital serves.

Read the complete story by Andrew Sullender here.

5:15 p.m. The eviction moratorium is expiring. What will Biden do?

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration has less than a week to decide on extending the nationwide eviction moratorium, a measure that housing advocates say has helped keep most cash-strapped tenants across the country in their homes during the pandemic.

Housing advocates are confident the ban, due to expire March 31, will be extended for several months and possibly even strengthened. Still, they argue the existing moratorium hasn’t been a blanket protection and say thousands of families have been evicted for other reasons beyond nonpayment of rent.

“The key to restoring and strengthening our economy is defeating COVID-19. To do that, we must keep people safely housed as we work towards vaccinating more people. This is what the American Rescue Plan does,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in a statement. “But for now, an extension of the moratorium is clearly warranted until more people are vaccinated, more supportive housing programs come on line, and more help is deployed.”

The White House has indicated it is weighing an extension of the ban. The Department of Housing and Urban Development did not respond to a request for comment on the issue

Read the complete story here.

4 p.m. UN-backed program seeks US help because of vaccine supply woes

GENEVA — A leader of the U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines to needy people in low- and middle-income countries expressed disappointment on Friday about supply delays from a key Indian manufacturer, but says he hopes the United States can begin sharing shots soon.

Dr. Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said doses for health care workers and other high-risk groups in such countries to be delivered through the COVAX program will be set back weeks.

He was elaborating on an announcement a day earlier from Gavi and its partners that as many as 90 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India will be delayed through the end of April as India’s government grapples with a spike in infections.

“We are disappointed,” Berkley told The Associated Press. He said talks continued with India’s government and the SII “with the hope that we can get some of those doses freed up and be able to then move back into full-swing scale-up later, in perhaps May.”

Read the full story here.

2:30 p.m. Mexico complains of mask-less tourists, closes ruin site

MEXICO CITY — Authorities in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula complained Friday about tourists not wearing face masks, as Mexico braces for a surge of Easter Week visitors.

The acting police chief of the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo patrolled the streets of the resort of Tulum, reminding people to wear their masks and complaining about how few people did.

“It is regrettable to see how undisciplined things have become,” said Lucio Hernández Gutiérrez. “It was truly frustrating to see hundreds of people walking around without face masks,” noting that tourists were the worst offenders.

“It really is embarrassing that we have to get to this point, of asking people (to wear masks), when we should be conscious of the risks we face,” he said.

Federal authorities have decided to close the Chichén Itzá Maya ruin site in neighboring Yucatan state from April 1-4 to avoid the possible spread of coronavirus. The sprawling temple complex is Mexico’s second most-visited archaeological site, and usually draws about 1.8 million visitors per year.

Read the complete story here.

1 p.m. Lightfoot hopes to spark CPS student engagement over virtual spring break in ‘Spring Forward’ initiative

To help engage students over Chicago Public Schools’ spring break next week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is launching a week-long series of events called “Spring Forward.”

The campaign, which lasts from Saturday to April 3, involves physical activities, community service events, a virtual college fair and a virtual “Know Your Rights” workshop, the mayor’s office said in a statement.

Residents can visit starting Saturday for more information.

The campaign is part of Lightfoot and her wife Amy Ashleman’s “My CHI. My Future” initiative, a multi-year project designed to connect youth across the city to out-of-school experiences.

Read the complete story here.

12:05 p.m. Chicago has few reports of anti-Asian attacks, but there are efforts to boost reporting, awareness

As the coronavirus pandemic gripped the Chicago area last March, Inhe Choi already was hearing about Asians and Asian Americans encountering racism on the CTA and at grocery stores.

People including some of her own relatives told her of being screamed at while riding public transportation or shopping, said Choi, executive director of the HANA Center.

Now, the killings of six women of Asian descent in a mass shooting in Atlanta has heightened concerns about racism that Asian communities face.

The number of reported hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans remains low in Chicago, but that could be in part because of a reluctance to report racism or harassment, advocates say.

Read the complete story by Elvia Malagón here.

10:15 a.m. Nurses fight conspiracy theories along with coronavirus

Los Angeles emergency room nurse Sandra Younan spent the last year juggling long hours as she watched many patients struggle with the coronavirus and some die.

Then there were the patients who claimed the virus was fake or coughed in her face, ignoring mask rules. One man stormed out of the hospital after a positive COVID-19 test, refusing to believe it was accurate.

“You have patients that are literally dying, and then you have patients that are denying the disease,” she said. “You try to educate and you try to educate, but then you just hit a wall.”

Read the full story here.

9 a.m. Chicago eases outdoor dining restrictions; most indoor rules remain in place

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday authorized bars, restaurants and outdoor performance venues to increase outdoor capacity even as she sounded the alarm about a troubling surge in coronavirus cases among young people.

The news arrived as Chicago’s coronavirus testing positivity rate took another troubling step up.

What Lightfoot calls an “alarming trend and uptick” reminiscent of the surge Chicago saw in October is concentrated among 18-to-39-year-olds living in North Side neighborhoods including Lincoln Park, Old Town, Old Irving, Dunning and Portage Park.

Read the full story from Fran Spielman and Mitchell Armentrout here.

New Cases & Vaccination Numbers

  • About 14% of Illinois’ 12.7 million residents have been fully vaccinated.
  • The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 2,793 new COVID-19 cases — the most in a day since Feb. 11 — detected among 79,381 tests.

Analysis & Commentary

10 a.m. Loretto board can’t afford to duck its responsibility to hold wayward execs accountable

The longer the top executives at Loretto Hospital hang on, the more negative stories are going to come out about how this safety-net hospital is being run.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford knows this.

He resigned from the hospital’s board of directors Tuesday, citing his disappointment with the “reprimands” handed down to CEO George Miller and COO Dr. Anosh Ahmed, for the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination scandal.

“The reason I stepped away was to make sure the hospital regains its confidence that may have been lost, and focus on the community,” Ford told me in a telephone conversation.

“I’m very concerned about the fact that the first doses have been taken away and there are thousands of people that got their first dose and are waiting on their second dose. People are now confused,” he said.

On Wednesday, the board of trustees accepted the resignation of Ahmed, its COO and CFO.

Chairman Edward Hogan thanked Ahmed for his contributions and vowed the board “would continue to investigate any and all deviations from the rules and regulations guiding their vaccination policy.”

“If our review should uncover anything further that indicates our processes were compromised, there will be additional consequences imposed on those responsible for these actions,” Hogan said in a news release.

Read the full column from Mary Mitchell here.

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