Coronavirus in Illinois updates: State’s positivity rate at level not seen since late January; CTU wants to delay CPS high school reopening; Chicago mayor expects ‘to see some summer festivals’

Chicago News

The latest tally of daily coronavirus cases and the statewide positivity rate for tests in Illinois rose to levels not seen since late January, public health officials reported.

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Despite a sharp rise in cases, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot again said on Wednesday that she expects to see a more normal summer in Chicago this year, including the possibility of summer festivals.

But, the mayor warned, “a lot of it’s going to depend on where we are in the arc of this virus.”

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CTU President Jesse Sharkey said that the union is concerned about the virus’ spread and wants CPS to hold off on bringing more students back. In response, CPS and city officials expressed frustration with the union and reinforced their return date.

Additionally, Lightfoot said on Tuesday that the city would meet President Joe Biden’s April 19 date to open vaccine eligibility to all adults. But, she also noted that the city lacks the necessary vaccines to deliver the shots then and called for more vaccine doses to be delivered to Chicago.

Here’s what’s happening Wednesday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area:

5:50 p.m.: Mass vaccination event at Naperville’s Mall of India gives 2,700 Johnson & Johnson shots in 8 hours

Christmas came early for Naperville resident Laura Giannone.

“It feels like Christmas Day,” she said. “Kids are back in school full time. It’s sunny. And I just got my shot.”

Giannone was among the 2,700 people who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine Wednesday at the currently vacant Sam’s Club building at 775 S. Route 59.

Naperville partnered with Jewel-Osco and the Mall of India to host the one-day mass vaccination event.

“Right there, baby,” Giannone said as she proudly rolled up the sleeve of her T-shirt to reveal a small bandage on her left shoulder.

Her T-shirt read “Do More of What Makes You Happy,” a fitting theme for the day given that the vaccine “absolutely” made her happy.

“One and done. It’s all good. I’ll take whatever. I think everybody feels that way,” Giannone said.

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5:40 p.m.: Public health official says Cook County ‘will not hesitate’ to impose further COVID-19 restrictions if suburban case numbers don’t improve

A Cook County public health leader said Wednesday there won’t be a return to past COVID-19 mitigations just yet in the suburbs, but an ongoing third wave of the virus warrants enough alarm to keep the possibility on the table.

Dr. Rachel Rubin, co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health that guides COVID-19 response in most of suburban Cook, said a future decision to clamp down on limits for gatherings and businesses depends on whether the current trends, which have her “extremely concerned,” continue.

“We are considering tightening up the required mitigations again if the trend continues, but we’re not taking such actions now. Not yet,” Rubin said on a call with reporters. “But if the trend continues in the wrong direction, we will not hesitate to tighten restrictions on gatherings, indoor or outdoors.”

Her warning follows a similar message she delivered over the weekend in which she said suburban Cook County might again see an indoor dining ban or the gathering limit curtailed from the current cap at 50% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. On Wednesday, she said future restrictions would more likely look like “mini-steps” such as gradually dialing back capacity until possibly reaching the previous Tier 1 stage, which limited indoor dining to 25 people total or 25% capacity, among other requirements.

Rubin said suburban Cook County has not yet met the state’s criteria for moving backward, and open intensive care unit beds remain above the 20% threshold of concern, but the region is “inching in that direction” regarding other factors.

3:40 p.m.: Gary’s new COVID-19 vaccination site is welcoming plenty of Illinois residents

Anna Harris was prepared to drive to Springfield, Illinois to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Harris, 57, of Calumet Park, Illinois, had been trying to book an appointment for a couple weeks once her age group became eligible in her home state. Because Chicago was not providing vaccines to anyone outside of the city limits, the nearest appointment she could find was at a downstate clinic, she said.

“In my little township, appointments go right like that,” Harris said, snapping her fingers. “All my surrounding little suburbs were out. I kept checking.”

When she found the appointment in Springfield, she booked it right away and was fully prepared to make the trip, which would take more than three hours each way, she said. Instead, after learning about the FEMA-run drive-thru COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic in Gary, she hopped on the website and made an appointment.

Harris was among the first to use the clinic Wednesday at Gary Roosevelt High School. The fully federally funded clinic is intended to provide access to people who do not have the ability to travel to a clinic, but it is also open to anyone regardless of where they live.

1:11 p.m.: Daily COVID-19 cases, positivity rate in Illinois reach levels not seen since late January

The latest tally of daily coronavirus cases and the statewide positivity rate for tests in Illinois rose to levels not seen since late January, public health officials reported.

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Officials reported 3,790 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, the highest count since 4,156 cases were reported Jan. 29. Wednesday’s cases resulted from a batch of 80,628 tests.

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The seven-day statewide positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests is 4.1%, the highest since a rate of 4.3% was reported the week ending Jan. 28.

1:01 p.m.: University of Notre Dame will require COVID-19 vaccines for all students next fall

The University of Notre Dame will require all students to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in order to enroll in classes next school year.

12:28 p.m. (updated): Teachers union wants to delay high school reopening, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot counters there’s ‘no basis’ for waiting despite rise in city COVID-19 cases

The Chicago Teachers Union is asking Chicago Public Schools to delay reopening high schools and provide vaccines to eligible students and families, even as the two sides attempt to negotiate an agreement to bring high school students back this month.

CPS has set a target return date of April 19 for high school students, who have been learning remotely for more than a year. That date marks the beginning of the district’s fourth academic quarter and is also when more elementary students will be able to resume in-person classes.

Referencing newer COVID-19 variants and increasing case counts in cities including Chicago, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said that the union is concerned about the virus’ spread and wants CPS to hold off on bringing more students in.

Wednesday morning, CPS and city officials expressed frustration with the union and reinforced their return date.

12:09 p.m.: 3,790 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 28 additional deaths reported

Illinois health officials on Wednesday announced 3,790 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 28 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 1,265,457 and the statewide death toll to 21,423 since the start of the pandemic.

Officials also reported 80,628 new tests in the last 24 hours. The statewide positivity rate for cases is 4.1%.

The 7-day daily average of administered vaccine doses is 107,302, with 139,724 doses given on Tuesday. IDPH says reporting by some providers may be delayed. Officials also say a total of 6,552,982 vaccines have now been administered.

—Chicago Tribune staff

11:51 a.m.: Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she expects ‘to see some summer festivals’ this year

Despite a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, Mayor Lori Lightfoot again said on Wednesday that she expects to see a more normal summer in Chicago this year than what the city experienced in 2020 including the possibility of summer festivals.

”I expect to see some summer festivals. Yes planning is underway as you might imagine, logistics, booking, ticketing takes a lot of advanced lead time,” Lightfoot said. “We’re not ready to announce those plans yet, but I expect that as I’ve said many times, summer of 2021 will look more like 2019 and less like 2020.”

But, the mayor warned, “a lot of it’s going to depend on where we are in the arc of this virus.”

7:21 a.m.: Mass COVID-19 vaccination site opens today in Elgin

The Kane County Health Department is partnering with Elgin and the Cook County Health Department to open a mass COVID-19 vaccination site Wednesday at the city’s Eastside Recreation Center on East Chicago Street.

Finding an Elgin-area location for a vaccine distribution center has been a goal of Kane County Board Chairman Corinne Pierog because of its accessibility to large Hispanic and Black populutions, which have been more adversely affected by the pandemic.

Registration for appointments started Tuesday. The days and hours of operation at the center, 1080 E. Chicago St., will be coordinated by the city based on vaccine availability but the goal is for it to be open six days a week, officials said.

6:45 a.m.: Mercury Theater Chicago will open again on the Southport Corridor with a new artistic director

Its demise greatly exaggerated, Chicago’s briefly shuttered Mercury Theater is to rise again on the Southport Corridor.

In June, the building’s owner and main creative force, L. Walter Stearns, announced the closure of his jewelbox theater complex, which comprises of a roughly 300-seat mainstage, a flexible cabaret space and a restaurant space, citing fiscal fallout from the pandemic. He laid off all his staffers, put up a goodbye-and-thank you message on his marquee and said that the building, located at 3745 N. Southport Ave., was henceforth up for sale.

Ten months later, Stearns says he has changed his mind.

Instead of closing the theater, he has made plans instead to hire a new artistic director, Christopher Chase Carter.

“This has been a year of ups and downs,” Stearns said. “We announced our permanent closure because we had nowhere else to go at that moment. Our industry had been completely decimated.”

Since then, he said, some public funding has been made available to arts venues and, despite many parties interested in the building, an attractive and well-located property, Stearns has decided he wants to continue operations himself.

6 a.m.: As more schools reopen, large numbers of students in US still learning at home, survey shows

Large numbers of students are not returning to the classroom even as more schools reopen for full-time, in-person learning, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Biden administration.

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The findings reflect a nation that has been locked in debate over the safety of reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic. Even as national COVID-19 rates continued to ebb in February, key measures around reopening schools barely budged.

Nearly 46% of public schools offered five days a week of in-person to all students in February, according to the survey, but just 34% of students were learning full-time in the classroom. The gap was most pronounced among older K-12 students, with just 29% of eighth graders getting five days a week of learning at school.

There were early signs of a shift, however, with more eighth grade students moving from fully remote to hybrid learning.

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