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Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Here’s what happened Dec. 15 with COVID-19 in the Chicago area

Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Here’s what happened Dec. 15 with COVID-19 in the Chicago area

Inoculations were given Tuesday morning at Loretto Hospital in the Austin community, where the death rate dwarfs the citywide average.

Vaccinations also began at a hospital in Peoria, with the governor in attendance. Vaccinations planned Tuesday for Edward Hospital in Naperville and Elmhurst Hospital were postponed at least until Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration said in documents posted online that its initial review confirmed the effectiveness and safety of a second vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, bringing the shot to the cusp of authorization.

Outside experts will offer their recommendation on that vaccine Thursday, with a final FDA decision expected soon thereafter.

Also on Tuesday, state officials announced 7,359 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 117 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 863,477 and the statewide death toll to 14,509 since the start of the pandemic.

Here’s what’s happening Tuesday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:

Table of Contents

7:37 p.m.: Illinois starts administering COVID-19 vaccine amid optimism and thoughts of the disease’s victims

As the first COVID-19 vaccine administered in Illinois was plunged into Dr. Marina Del Rios’ left arm Tuesday, she thought about all the people who didn’t live to see the historic day.

Her former patients. The health care workers who treated the virus and lost their lives because of it. The friend who died in the early days of the pandemic.

“I can’t give you a total number of the people I know who have died or lost loved ones. I’ve stopped counting,” said Del Rios, the social emergency medicine director at the University of Illinois Hospital. “You never want any lives to be lost, but so many at the same time weighs even heavier on you.”

Del Rios and four other health care workers received Chicago’s first COVID vaccinations Tuesday at Loretto Hospital, the first step in a national effort to blunt a pandemic that has killed 1.6 million people and sickened nearly 73 million worldwide. Five health care workers in Peoria were also given shots at an event attended by the governor. Read more here. — Jamie Munks, Stacy St. Clair, Dan Petrella, Lisa Schencker and Gregory Pratt

4:37 p.m.: Chicago travel order now only requires 10-day quarantine for ‘red’ tier states, which will no longer include Iowa

The city of Chicago moved more than a dozen states to its most severe travel order designation, but people returning from those areas only need to quarantine for 10 days now, officials announced Tuesday.

Regardless of category, people are urged to avoid non-essential travel and to follow standard COVID-19 mitigation practices such as wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, and social distancing,” the press release said.

As of Friday, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia will be bumped up to the red tier.

But Iowa is moving down to the “orange designation” that allows travelers to avoid the quarantine if they receive a negative test result before coming into the city.

That makes the total 31 red states and 17 orange states plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. New to the orange list will be Maine and Vermont. Only one state, Hawaii, remains “yellow,” meaning there are no additional testing or quarantine requirements.

Up until last month, any state averaging an infection rate higher than 15 daily cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period was added to the city’s list. Then the city revamped its travel order introduced during the Fourth of July weekend to require a quarantine only from people coming from red-tier states, or those with higher COVID-19 case rates than Chicago. The city is now at 60 cases per 100,000 residents.

Those coming from orange states, which have numbers between 15 cases-per-100,000 and Chicago’s rate of 60-per-100,000 should get a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 72 hours before arriving or quarantine for 10 days. Those coming from the one yellow state must only observe regular social distancing and mask rules.

The travel order is updated every two weeks and goes into effect the following Friday. Read more here. — Alice Yin

4:25 p.m.: Chicago Public Schools’ reopening plan uncertain as hearing on teachers union injunction request looms

Major decisions could be made about Chicago Public Schools this week related to its coronavirus response and plans to resume in-person learning.

The Chicago Board of Education is set to vote on extending its emergency COVID-19 spending authorization until March, allowing the district to take on costs tied to the pandemic without the usual approval process. So far, CPS reports it has spent about $132 million on coronavirus measures, including $68 million of the $75 million earmarked for emergencies. If approved by the board, the extension would give CPS three additional months to spend the remaining $7 million. Read more here. — Hannah Leone

(Updated) 4:04 p.m.: Second stimulus check updates: Talks escalate on long-delayed COVID-19 aid package, top lawmakers to meet

Talks on a long-delayed COVID-19 aid package intensified Tuesday as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi summoned other top congressional leaders for a potentially critical meeting.

Pelosi, D-Calif., spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for more than an hour, her office tweeted, and Mnuchin will join the make-or-break meeting of Capitol Hill’s “big four” leaders by phone.

The uptick in activity could be a sign that an agreement is near, though COVID-19 relief talks have been notoriously difficult. Read more here. — Associated Press

3:12 p.m.: Evanston and Skokie health departments wait for call on COVID-19 vaccines: ‘It’s like the bat phone. If it rings, then you go and get it.’

Public health officials in Evanston and Skokie are waiting for the call that doses of the much anticipated COVID-19 vaccine are ready for pick up.

For now, local officials are preparing for that call to come and expect that it could be sometime this week. Other details, like where they will be sent to retrieve it, are also up in the air, said Greg Olsen, public health manager for the city of Evanston. Read more here. — Genevieve Bookwalter, Pioneer Press

1:35p.m.: Pritzker calls vaccinations in Peoria ‘a beginning for the state of Illinois’

Gov. J.B. Pritzker called Tuesday’s vaccinations in Peoria “a beginning for the state of Illinois.”

He also discussed security precautions for the state’s vaccine supply. The Illinois State Police and local law enforcement are working “to make sure that at every step of the way these vaccines are protected once they arrive in the state” and are distributed to the places where they will be administered, Pritzker said.

“I met with the state troopers that were at the (Strategic National Stockpile) yesterday and they escort these vaccines as they move from the SNS to these regional hospitals that also have ultracold storage,” Pritzker said. “And then local law enforcement typically are accompanying the local health departments as they pick up the vaccines.”

Pritzker said the OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria was chosen to receive the first vaccines for the state’s event in part because the state’s strategic national stockpile is “nearby, and so this made it more convenient.” The state has not disclosed the exact location, citing security reasons.

It wasn’t clear how many vaccinations would be administered across the state on Tuesday, but the state and the city of Chicago received vaccine shipments, and additional shipments are expected to arrive at four county health departments this week.

The state’s top public health official, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said 96 hospitals in Illinois will be administering vaccines this week. The hospitals are associated with the 50 counties in the state with the highest per capita death rates, the metric Pritzker’s administration chose for distributing the state’s initial shipment to frontline health care workers.

Some rural counties without hospitals are on the list, while the counties where designated vaccine downstate distribution hubs are located in Peoria, Springfield and Champaign initially were not. But the state updated its plan to include hospitals where people from those rural counties would be most likely to go.

“That’s just for this week, and of course there will be subsequent pushes every single week,” Ezike said Tuesday. “By next week all hospitals will be engaged in the effort. This is just the beginning. Patience will be the name of the game but we will get this out to all of our workers in the health care setting.”

Ezike said the state is likely to spend most of next year on its vaccination efforts, and acknowledged not everyone will be initially eager to get a shot.

“I do imagine that as with any kind of activity that you’re trying to take on, there will be early adopters, there will be never adopters, there will be late adopters and there will be people in the middle,” she said.

“I know these people are helping for some of those later or middle adopters to say ‘Hey, I see someone who looks just like me, who does the same work do, is from my community that’s getting this done, that’s from my state,’ ” she said. “And so I imagine that there will be a big push toward later, maybe in the spring… And so there might be a big surge of people wanting the vaccine a little bit later, but I still think there are adequate numbers of people now, so this will be a continual process for much of 2021.”

The Pfizer vaccine requires two shots, the initial one and a booster about three weeks later. Ezike said those who received their first doses will not be “appropriately covered, or immune from the single shot.”

“We don’t have actual data to say what happens if you don’t get that second because the plan is to have that booster after 21 days,” Ezike said. “It’s an important step but there’s still absolutely another step as well as the continued mitigations that have to continue. I hope that all the people who are watching this have confidence that this is a vaccine that they should take as well.”

12:20 p.m.: Fourth person to receive vaccine in Peoria said she felt ‘awesome’ afterwards

Evelyn Tatum, the fourth person to receive the vaccine in Peoria, said she felt “awesome” afterwards, but that she will continue to operate as she has been to this point in the pandemic.

“I’ll be wearing my mask until I’m told I can take it off,” Tatum said. “And I will just be so happy. I will be so happy.”

“It’s been something. It really has been something, working with all this,” she said. “I’ve been here since the beginning, I’ve been through it all, never took any time off. I just wear what I have to wear, my PPE, and just went on with my life and my job. It really didn’t change much of anything, I just did what I had to do. I’m a healthy woman, and as long as I follow the rules, anybody follows the rules, you’ll be OK. I’m a big believer in that.”

12:15 p.m.: 7,359 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 117 additional deaths reported

Illinois health officials on Tuesday announced 7,359 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 117 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 863,477 and the statewide death toll to 14,509 since the start of the pandemic.

Officials also reported 92,922 new tests in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide rolling positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests was 8.6% for the period ending Monday.

11:57 a.m.: Certified nursing assistant first to receive a shot in Peoria

Chemica Jones, 41, a certified nursing assistant at OSF HealthCare St. Francis Medical Center was the first to receive a shot in Peoria.

Jones works with COVID patients “on a day to day basis,” she said in an interview after receiving the first dose of the state’s vaccine supply.

“At first I was a little nervous but once I got here, and realized ‘OK Chemica you’re here to do your part, this is what you were put here for,’” Jones said. “I just want to do my part for my community, for my family, just make sure I keep everyone safe. I know people are optimistic about the vaccine but it’s OK to be nervous. It’s okay to be scared, but once you get it you’ll realize It made a difference. I’m stopping the spread of the virus.’”

Also vaccinated in Peoria were Juan Fernandez, a transporter, Doug Meyer, a respiratory therapist, Evelyn Tatum, who works in Environmental Services at the medical center and Victor Chan, chief of Emergency Services at OSF HealthCare St. Francis Medical Center.

11:42 a.m.: Peoria health workers first to get vaccines from Illinois’ supply

Five health care workers in Peoria were the first to receive the state of Illinois’ share of the coronavirus vaccine shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike looking on at OSF St. Francis, Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center in Peoria.

“I think everyone has reason to be excited that we are at the beginning of the end,” Ezike said after the shots had been administered.

11:05 a.m.: Chicago administers first doses of coronavirus vaccines

Five frontline medical workers received the vaccine against COVID-19 in Chicago, marking an important milestone in the fight against coronavirus.

“What we just witnessed is history in the making,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a ceremony at Loretto Hospital in the city’s hard-hit Austin neighborhood.

The first person to receive the vaccine was Dr. Marina Del Rios, from the University of Illinois health system.

Chicago public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady led a small ceremony for five recipients where she emphasized the vaccine’s safety and discussed the process used to store it. Officials gave five doses to start, because that’s how many are in a vial, she said.

After the first vaccination, the room applauded.

Mark Hooks, an emergency department nurse at Loretto, was the third person — and first Illinois man — to receive the vaccination. In April, he told the Tribune about the grueling decision to isolate himself from his two school-age daughters was the hardest part of his job.

Though Hooks joined them for socially distant activities such as bike riding and street hockey, there were no meals shared, no watching movies together on the couch.

“There is a lot of Zoom and a lot of Houseparty, but it’s just not the same,” he said. “Even harder than being scared about coming to work every day is not being able to be with them.”

Read more here. — Gregory Pratt, Stacy St. Clair

11:01 a.m.: Busting COVID-19 vaccine myths

If you want an idea of the conspiracy theories that hang over COVID-19 vaccines, there’s no better summation than a 40-second TikTok video posted in October by a performer named Taylor Rousseau.

As a melodramatic song plays, Rousseau, young, blonde and elaborately mascaraed, silently portrays a woman beaten to death for refusing to take a vaccine that contains a microchip carrying the mark of the beast. At the end, she enters a heavenly skyscape emblazoned with the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The video has been seen more than 680,000 times, garnered 47,000 likes and, despite thousands of mocking comments (“Ma’am, this is a CVS”), earned plenty of positive reviews.

“This is so incredibly powerful,” one viewer wrote.

Therein lies a challenge for public health officials trying to convince a wary portion of the public that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Phony assertions have circulated for months on social media, joining a current of anti-vaccine sentiment that has grown stronger over the last 20 years.

A poll released last week showed that only 47% of Americans plan to get the vaccine. Those who didn’t want it mostly said they were concerned about side effects and the development and approval process, though the poll didn’t ask about many widely circulating myths. As the rollout begins, there are common myths about the COVID-19 vaccine and what experts have to say about them.

You can read about them here. —John Keilman

9:25 a.m.: COVID-19 vaccine administration delayed at Naperville’s Edward Hospital

Naperville’s Edward Hospital has delayed administration of COVID-19 vaccines because delivery of the doses to the hospital was pushed back, a hospital spokesman said.

The hospital is now anticipating receiving the vaccines Wednesday.

The Edward-Elmhurst Health System, which also includes Elmhurst Hospital, had planned to begin administering the vaccines to employees Tuesday. This morning, spokesman Keith Hartenberger said administration had been delayed at both hospitals.

When it does receive the vaccines, the system expects to receive 3,900 doses, which it will split evenly between employees at Edward and Elmhurst hospitals. Frontline workers caring for patients with COVID-19 and emergency department employees will receive priority for the vaccine, though it will be available to all employees, Hartenberger has said.

The first shipment will cover employees’ first doses. A required second dose will be provided from later shipments.

Read more here. —Sarah Freishtat, Naperville Sun

7:15 a.m.: First COVID-19 vaccines administered in Chicago to be given at Loretto Hospital in Austin neighborhood, vaccinations also slated for other state hotspots

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady will join hospital officials at the Loretto Hospital in the Austin neighborhood Tuesday morning to witness the ceremonial first COVID-19 vaccination in Chicago.

The event, coming a day after many states began administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, will be livestreamed on local news sites and the mayor’s Facebook page. It wasn’t clear how many people will receive the first vaccines at Loretto. Chicago had been scheduled to receive 23,000 doses of the vaccine this week, reserved for medical workers and at-risk residents of longterm care facilities.

The Austin neighborhood’s COVID-19 death and case rate far outstrip the city’s average. Vaccinations also were slated to begin Tuesday at hospitals in Naperville, Elmhurst and Peoria.— Chicago Tribune staff

5 a.m.: Illinois schools have tallied more than 160 outbreaks of COVID-19. But what happens when they occur, and who decides if a school should close?

After a string of COVID-19 cases were reported at The School of Saints Faith, Hope and Charity in Winnetka last month, school officials dutifully notified the Cook County Department of Public Health and were soon delivered some troubling news.

The Roman Catholic elementary school had met the criteria for an outbreak, thrusting a thorny health and safety decision into the hands of the principal and the Archdiocese of Chicago about whether to halt in-person instruction.

“We decided to immediately pivot to e-learning for a temporary period, because first and foremost is the safety of our students and staff, and we just didn’t want to take the risk,” said Justin Lombardo, the leader of the archdiocese’s COVID-19 task force, who said students have been back in the classroom at the North Shore school since Nov. 30.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 163 such school-based outbreaks have been reviewed in the state, including nine reported Friday by the Illinois Department of Public Health. But while the state is now posting such numbers online — and health departments are assisting schools with surveillance of cases, contact tracing and guidance — it still falls to school officials to make the biggest decision: Does the school need to shut down again?

Read more here. — Karen Ann Cullotta

5 a.m.: Hope at a historic moment: First COVID-19 vaccinations scheduled to be given in Illinois on Tuesday

The first COVID-19 vaccinations in Illinois are scheduled to be administered Tuesday, bringing a sense of hope along with the most significant action yet to blunt a pandemic that has killed more than 14,000 people statewide.

Amid a massive distribution effort that will take several days to reach medical centers in more than four dozen counties, Chicago selected a hospital in one of its hardest-hit neighborhoods to administer the city’s first shot. The vaccination will be given Tuesday morning at Loretto Hospital in the Austin community, where the death rate dwarfs the citywide average.

“The Loretto Hospital and our colleagues at safety net hospitals across the city have been in the trenches of Chicago’s battle against COVID since day one,” Loretto President and CEO George Miller said. “We are honored to play a part in this historic moment, on behalf of all the front-line health care providers, our heroes, and our brothers and sisters so disproportionately impacted by this pandemic. We look forward to turning this corner, together.”

The vaccinations also were slated to begin Tuesday at hospitals in Naperville, Elmhurst and Peoria.

Read the full story here. — Dan Petrella, Sarah Freishtat, Stacy St. Clair, Lisa Schencker, Lisa Donovan, Gregory Pratt And Jamie Munks

A wrestling tournament featuring several Midwestern teams in Lynwood over the weekend, is being investigated by Cook County officials and got the attention of Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Cook County spokesman Don Bolger said the village of Lynwood has cited the Ho-Chunk Nation Southland Center for hosting the King of the Ring Christmas Bash Saturday and Sunday, which brought hundreds of grapplers from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and other states. Bolger said that the village did not specify which violations were cited and Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams did not return calls seeking comment.

Pritzker, who spent a good chunk of his news conference Monday giving details about the COVID-19 vaccine, commented about the tournament.

”I would just say putting parents, teachers and coaches and the kids in danger is a terrible idea,” Pritzker said. “Especially when we are experiencing a number of deaths per day in the United States that is equivalent to a 9/11 every day.”

Read more here. — Daily Southtown

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