June 17, 2024


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COVID-19 in Illinois updates: Here’s what’s happening Monday

The new numbers come as Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday that Illinois is entering what could be “the most crucial month of this entire pandemic,” a period bookended by Thanksgiving and a string of December holidays traditionally marked by gatherings that carry the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney’s Ann Sather restaurant got a visit from city inspectors Monday because the alderman has been allowing people to eat inside the establishment in violation of city and state rules designed to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Tunney acknowledged diners have been eating inside his Belmont Avenue restaurant and called it an “error in judgment.”

Also on Monday, the administrator of the state-run veterans home in LaSalle was fired amid a deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 32 veterans who lived there since early November. In addition to the firing, the state agency placed the home’s nursing director on administrative leave pending an ongoing investigation.

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

Table of Contents

8 p.m.: CTU seeks legal action to stop ‘arbitrary’ CPS reopening plan

On decision day for parents and teachers of Chicago Public Schools students tapped to return for in-person classes in the new year, the Chicago Teachers Union announced it had filed a legal action seeking to prevent the district from moving forward with its reopening plan.

The plan would have students in prekindergarten and moderate to severe special education cluster programs return Jan. 11. Other students in kindergarten through eighth grade who are enrolled in elementary schools would return in a hybrid model Feb. 1.

Union leaders on Monday filed a motion for an injunction with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board against what they think are “arbitrary” reopening dates and are accusing CPS officials of “manipulating statistics to justify their decision.” The motion aims to prevent CPS from requiring in-person learning “until they have bargained in good faith” about that decision.

The labor relations board rejected a similar request last month, before CPS came out with hard reopening dates. During that hearing, board members discussed the possibility of reconsidering the case if the district set a date.

7:55 p.m.: Illinois to expand testing of prison workers as inmate deaths, infections surge

As the new COVID-19 surge continues racing through Illinois prisons, with a disturbing rise in inmate deaths in November plus the state’s first staff fatality, corrections officials said they will start to test all prison employees for the virus regardless of whether the workers have symptoms.

The testing will be rolled out in phases across the state, state officials said. The frequency will depend on the positivity rate of the county where the corrections facility is located but will be at least once a month, they said.

Advocates for prisoners rights, who have campaigned for more robust testing since August, are calling for a specific, expedited timeline for the testing to be implemented. They argue that the state’s delays have led to avoidable infections, noting that the latest data shows that COVID-19 has infiltrated prisons across Illinois, killing at least 50 inmates since March. Half of them have died since mid-October.

In addition to the statewide testing, the Illinois Department of Corrections said that beginning this week, it will test workers and inmates every three days at three downstate prisons where infections are on the rise: two men’s prisons in Dixon and Vandalia and Logan Correctional Center, a women’s prison in Lincoln.

About 100 inmates and 20 staff members at Logan are positive for the virus, with many others having recovered. The testing is expected to continue until no new cases are identified for two weeks.

Similar testing will occur at other prisons when an outbreak inside the facility is identified, officials said. The rest of the state’s nearly 30,000 prisoners will be tested only if they have symptoms or had a known exposure to the virus.

5:40 p.m.: Pritzker says next four weeks could be ‘the most crucial month of this entire pandemic’

Illinois is entering what could be “the most crucial month of this entire pandemic,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday, a period bookended by Thanksgiving and a string of December holidays traditionally marked by gatherings that carry the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Though the state has recently seen a slight decrease in the hospitalization rate for COVID-19, patients it’s still 14% higher than the spring peak during the initial surge of the pandemic.

“It’s likely too early for us to have yet seen the bulk of Thanksgiving-related hospitalizations. We’re now in our 11th day since Thanksgiving and we are four days out from Hanukkah and 18 days from Christmas, 19 days from Kwanzaa, 24 from New Year’s Eve,” Pritzker said Monday. “These next four weeks may be the most crucial month of this entire pandemic. We quite literally have very limited leeway in our hospital systems to manage another surge.”

4:35 p.m.: Waukegan stages COVID-conscious Christmas events: ‘We’re all in this together’

Surrounding and flanking the base of Waukegan’s municipal Christmas tree at Jack Benny Plaza Saturday were at least two dozen luminarias already aglow as local officials prepared for the annual tree-lighting festivities.

“They’re at City Hall too,” City Clerk Janet Kilkelly said of the luminarias.

By Sunday afternoon, in an event that was not virtual, there were more than 6,300 similar luminarias spread over 11 square blocks of southeast Waukegan by Beacon Place volunteers to give people hope as they celebrate the holidays during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Sam Cunningham lit the 15-foot Douglas fir Saturday at a decorated Jack Benny Plaza in downtown Waukegan to officially start the holiday season in the city, with a few socially distanced onlookers as others watched it virtually on their electronic devices.

In an event which usually attracts hundreds, Josh Beadle, the executive director of Waukegan Main Street — who helped to organize the event — said it was necessary to make the event virtual this year. Cunningham said he hopes this will be the last time.

4:20 p.m.: Judge pointedly reminds Chicago police to wear masks as union accuses city of holding unsafe training sessions during pandemic

A federal judge told Chicago’s main police union on Monday that it needs to ensure its member officers are wearing face masks and maintaining safe social distances while on the job, in keeping with public health guidelines around COVID-19.

The pointed reminder from U.S. District Court Judge Robert Dow Jr., who is overseeing sweeping mandated department reforms, came after the Fraternal Order of Police filed a motion alleging the city was violating its own health guidelines. Officers have been put at risk when the Chicago Police Department conducted training sessions that included up to 50 people, the union alleged.

The union also accused the city of failing to provide enough protective equipment during those department meetings. In requesting a temporary restraining order, the FOP said that by allowing officers to become “superspreaders,” city officials were putting not only officers at risk, but also their families and residents of Chicago.

Dow instructed the city to respond by Thursday, outlining the precautions being taken to prevent the spread of the virus. But the judge concluded his order by reminding the FOP to look inward regarding the rules, citing evidence that officers on patrol are already not adhering to COVID-19 guidelines.

3:25 p.m.: With thousands still on waitlist, additional $7 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to go toward Cook County’s in-demand cash assistance program

Cook County officials on Monday reopened a cash assistance program for people who have lost wages or otherwise suffered financially after demand for the one-time $600 payment far exceeded expectations during the ongoing pandemic-induced recession.

From Monday to Friday of this week, suburban residents can once again apply for the county’s COVID-19 Resident Cash Assistance Program, which will directly transfer $600 to those who are eligible. Applications are available online at https://www.cookcountyil.gov/recovery.

2:30 p.m.: Administrator fired, nursing director placed on leave amid deadly coronavirus outbreak at Illinois veterans home in LaSalle

The administrator of the state-run veterans home in LaSalle was fired Monday amid a deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 32 veterans who lived there since early November.

Administrator Angela Mehlbrech was fired by the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and will be replaced on an interim basis by Anthony Vaughn, the agency’s acting assistant director and a 24-year Marine Corps veteran, the department said Monday.

In addition to firing Mehlbrech, the state agency placed the home’s nursing director, Jackie Cook, on administrative leave pending an ongoing investigation.

Department Director Linda Chapa LaVia wrote in a letter to staff at the home that they should not have contact with Mehlbrech or Cook without Vaughn signing off first.

“Staff are directed to not have any work-related contact with Ms. Angela Mehlbrech or Ms. Jackie Cook without the director approval of Mr. Vaughn,” Chapa LaVia wrote.

1:20 p.m.: Wrigleyville alderman allowed diners inside his restaurant in violation of COVID-19 rules, calls it an ‘error in judgment’

Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney’s Ann Sather restaurant got a visit from city inspectors Monday because the alderman has been allowing people to eat inside the establishment in violation of city and state rules designed to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Tunney, a key member of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s City Council leadership team as her hand-picked chair of the Zoning Committee, acknowledged diners have been eating inside his Belmont Avenue restaurant and called it an “error in judgment.”

“We’ve been sporadically letting some people in, regulars at the restaurant, to accommodate them from time to time,” Tunney said Monday. “It’s done. It will not continue, as of today.”

12:56 p.m.: Even before COVID-19, more than 100 people a day were leaving Chicago

Whether it’s wealthy people fleeing to their second homes or college students forced to move back in with their parents, the coronavirus has set off a great migration in the U.S. this year. But in many cases, it’s just amplifying trends that were already there.

New York City, for example, was losing 376 residents per day to domestic migration in 2019 — an increase of more than 100 per day from the previous year — before it became the epicenter of the country’s virus outbreak in March this year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest survey of population shifts.

The shrinking of New York would be significantly faster without international arrivals. Last year, almost 60,000 cross-border migrants moved there (only Miami had more) while 200,000 residents left.

Los Angeles and Chicago were among other cities to see daily departures in triple digits last year. Both have been losing population since 2017. That’s at least somewhat at odds with a widespread COVID-19 narrative that portrays cities booming at the expense of small towns until the pandemic struck.

12:03 p.m.: 8,691 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 90 additional deaths reported

Illinois health officials on Monday announced 8,691 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 90 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 796,264 and the statewide death toll to 13,343 since the start of the pandemic. Officials also reported 77,569 new tests in the last 24 hours.

The seven-day statewide rolling positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests was 10.3% for the period ending Sunday.

10:42 a.m.: Millions of hungry Americans turn to food banks for the 1st time: ‘This is a hard thing to accept that you have to do this’

The deadly pandemic that tore through the nation’s heartland struck just as Aaron Crawford was in a moment of crisis. He was looking for work, his wife needed surgery, then the virus began eating away at her work hours and her paycheck.

The Crawfords had no savings, mounting bills and a growing dread: What if they ran out of food? The couple had two boys, 5 and 10, and boxes of macaroni and cheese from the dollar store could go only so far.

A 37-year-old Navy vet, Crawford saw himself as self-reliant. Asking for food made him uncomfortable. “I felt like I was a failure,” he says. “It’s this whole stigma … this mindset that you’re this guy who can’t provide for his family, that you’re a deadbeat.”

Hunger is a harsh reality in the richest country in the world. Even during times of prosperity, schools hand out millions of hot meals a day to children, and desperate elderly Americans are sometimes forced to choose between medicine and food.

Now, in the pandemic of 2020, with illness, job loss and business closures, millions more Americans are worried about empty refrigerators and barren cupboards.

10 a.m.: Better order those gifts now. Retailers are warning of shipping delays as millions shop online. Here’s what to know.

This isn’t the year to procrastinate on your online holiday shopping.

Retailers are warning that orders could take longer than usual to arrive because consumers are increasingly buying everyday essentials and holiday gifts online.

Shipping companies like UPS and FedEx say they have been handling package volumes usually seen during the height of the holidays all year as people shop online to avoid trips to stores during the pandemic.

9:52 a.m.: CDC’s ‘stay home’ advice is more terrible news for airlines

American Airlines says the rise in COVID-19 cases and a growing number of travel restrictions leading into the Thanksgiving holiday is slowing demand for travel and will push its daily losses to the higher end of previous expectations.

In an investor update released Friday morning, American said its daily cash burn will come in at the high end of its $25 million to $30 million day forecast for the fourth quarter, a time period that airlines had hoped would result in renewed confidence in the pandemic-weary sector.

But with new COVID-19 cases growing to more than 1.1 million in the U.S. in the last seven days, according to government data, airlines are warning that their financial recovery won’t be as robust heading into the winter months.

8:27 a.m.: ‘What are we going to do when we lose the unemployment money?’ Millions fear cutoff of US jobless aid

Tina Morton recently faced a choice: Pay bills — or buy a birthday gift for a child? Derrisa Green is falling further behind on rent. Sylvia Soliz has had her electricity cut off.

Unemployment has forced aching decisions on millions of Americans and their families in the face of a rampaging viral pandemic that has closed shops and restaurants, paralyzed travel and left millions jobless for months. Now, their predicaments stand to grow bleaker yet if Congress fails to extend two unemployment programs that are set to expire the day after Christmas.

If no agreement is reached in negotiations taking place on Capitol Hill, more than 9 million people will lose federal jobless aid that averages about $320 a week and that typically serves as their only source of income.

7:45 a.m.: Lawmakers say COVID-19 relief bill won’t offer $1,200 checks direct payments to most Americans

With time running out, lawmakers on Sunday closed in on a proposed COVID-19 relief bill that would provide roughly $300 in extra federal weekly unemployment benefits but not another round of $1,200 in direct payments to most Americans, leaving that issue for President-elect Joe Biden to wrestle over with a new Congress next year.

The $908 billion aid package to be released Monday would be attached to a larger year-end spending bill needed to avert a government shutdown this coming weekend.

The cash payments were popular when they were first distributed after the pandemic hit, and Biden on Friday had expressed hope that a second wave might come after weekend negotiations.

But senators involved in the talks said the checks won’t be included as part of the compromise, even as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and others said that could cause them to oppose the measure.

7:05 a.m.: Red Cross appeals for blood donations as COVID-19 cases surge

The Red Cross and other blood donation organizations often have difficulty bringing in enough blood donations during the winter holidays, but as coronavirus cases surge, the Red Cross says this year, it’s even more crucial people to donate blood and platelets.

The Red Cross is appealing to anyone who feels well enough to do so to donate blood.

“Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, more than 1 million blood transfusions will be given in the United States. Donations of all blood types are needed to ensure hospital shelves remain stocked to meet patient blood needs.”

The need for what’s known as convalescent plasma from people who have recovered from the coronavirus, used to treat people with COVID-19, is especially high now, according to the Red Cross. So the agency is testing all blood donations for coronavirus antibodies, to see if donors “may now help current coronavirus patients in need of convalescent plasma transfusions,” according to the agency.

People can arrange to donate blood, plasma or platelets by making an appointment through the Red Cross Blood Donor App, on the website RedCrossBlood.org, by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device, according to the release.

For a list of blood drives, check the agency’s website.

Anyone who donates between Dec. and Jan. 4 will receive a free long-sleeve Red Cross T-shirt, “while supplies last,” according to the Red Cross.

6:55 a.m.: Cook County to announce extension of resident cash assistance program

Cook County Board President Preckwinkle, other county officials and representatives from restaurant and retail groups were scheduled to announce Monday an extension of the county’s coronavirus cash assistance program.

The COVID-19 Resident Cash Assistance Program, announced in November, originally included $2.1 million in federal coronavirus funds to give suburban Cook County residents one-time cash payments of $600. The original program had been expected to serve about 3,000 people.

Officials were scheduled to discuss the program at a news conference Monday afternoon at the Cook County Building.

6 a.m.: Vaccine shortages have led to theft, smuggling and doses going to the famous instead of the needy. Will it happen again with COVID-19?

Sixteen years ago, in the middle of a wretched Chicago Bears season, a scandal erupted at Halas Hall that had nothing to do with inept quarterbacking or sketchy play calling — but like the Bears’ misery, it remains relevant today.

An acute shortage of influenza vaccine gripped the country in the fall of 2004, forcing the elderly to wait in hourslong lines for a dose, often without success. The scarcity became such a hot political issue that both President Bush and his election challenger, John Kerry, forswore flu shots until the crisis eased.

But even as Illinois flu clinics closed for want of the vaccine, the Bears obtained shots through their prescribing physician and offered them to players — young men in superb physical condition who fell far outside the rationing guidelines established by federal health officials.

The uproar in Lake Forest was just one small part of a national ruckus over the vaccine that lasted for months. Along with cries of unfairness came reports of more sinister matters such as theft, smuggling and price gouging.

As America prepares to distribute another scarce vaccine, some are wary that history could repeat. Interpol is warning that criminals are scheming to intercept COVID-19 vaccines, and federal officials have raised concerns about counterfeit doses — the scenario that most worries Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“My biggest fear is not so much that too many celebrities will get it first,” he said. “Tragically, that’s going to happen. I just hope there’s not a lot of it. My biggest fear is the black market and the false market. I’m concerned about people fraudulently selling vaccine and people being defrauded by (phony promises).”

6 a.m.: It’s not just COVID-19 that’s closing schools — it’s a lack of substitute teachers. The shortage has reached crisis levels in some districts.

A nationwide shortage of substitute teachers was a chronic problem long before the arrival of the pandemic. But now, a dearth of available subs across the Chicago area has reached a crisis level at many school districts, where the roster of educators available to step in when teachers are absent has dwindled precipitously at a time of unprecedented need for their services.

Indeed, the prospect of working as a substitute as the virus continues to rage has discouraged the squad of loyal retired teachers and part-timers who often fill the ranks. Many have told school district officials that the potential health risks are not worth the extra income. That’s happened as the number of teachers and other school employees in quarantine is spiking alongside the latest surge of the virus, only pushing the demand higher.

In response, some districts are stepping up their substitute recruitment efforts to preserve in-person instruction. But others are concluding that remote learning, with all of its flaws, is perhaps the best option, at least until early 2021.

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