Here’s Tuesday’s news on how COVID-19 impacted Chicago and Illinois.
The Chicago Cubs are “in discussions with the city” about opening a mass-vaccination site “somewhere on the Wrigley Field campus,” team spokesman Julian Green said Tuesday.
Vaccine efforts in Chicago are ramping up. Here’s what we learned today in coronavirus-related news.
8:55 p.m. Wrigley Field could join United Center as mass vaccination site
Another Chicago sports mecca could soon join the United Center as a site for coronavirus vaccinations.
The Chicago Cubs are “in discussions with the city” about opening a mass-vaccination site “somewhere on the Wrigley Field campus,” team spokesman Julian Green said Tuesday.
Those shots won’t be administered on the field itself, Green said, but vaccinations could take place along the stadium’s inside concourses, in the outdoor plaza along the third-base line, in a players’ parking lot or in the Wrigley conference center.
“We want to be helpful,” Green said. “If we can assist by allowing the assets we have to be used as a site for a life-saving vaccine, we’d be honored to serve.”
Advocate Aurora Health is in line to operate the site, providing “clinical staffing and technical infrastructure,” if the city authorizes it and there are adequate vaccine supplies.
The health care provider would be “proud to partner on a possible Wrigley Field mass vaccination site,” said Advocate spokeswoman Brigid Sweeney.
7:05 p.m. Illinois smokers now prioritized for the coronavirus vaccine
Illinois smokers are now among the priority groups eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
As a part of the state’s vaccination schedule, residents with certain high-risk medical conditions — including smoking — are now able to get shots, along with seniors and medical and essential workers.
The move to Phase 1B+ went into effect Feb. 25. The expansion was done in order to “advance the state’s goal of equitable distribution” to communities of color, according to the Illinois Department of Health website.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, being a “current or former cigarette smoker” puts you at greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness.
CDC statistics show that 21% of Native Americans smoke, the highest level among demographic groups. Whites are next at 15.5%, followed by Blacks (14.9%), Hispanics (9%) and Asians (7%).
5 p.m. How soon can senior citizens sign up for vaccine appointments at United Center?
Senior citizens can start signing up Thursday for COVID-19 vaccine appointments at a new mass vaccination site poised to launch next week outside the United Center.
People 65 or older will be able to try to snag appointments online or by phone at 8:30 a.m. March 4, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday.
Appointments will open at 4 p.m. March 7 to other people eligible for shots under the state’s expanded Phase 1B pool of recipients, which includes residents 16 and older with chronic health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
More than 100,000 slots will be available to those seniors who are first in line when registration opens, according to Pritzker’s office.
Residents will be able to sign up at zocdoc.com/vaccine, or call (312) 746-4835.
“From the beginning, we have prioritized ensuring our seniors and vulnerable populations can receive the COVID-19 vaccine as quickly and equitably as possible, and I’m thrilled the United Center vaccine site will help deliver on those core goals,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “This site adds 6,000 doses per day to our growing statewide capacity and joins 15 state-supported mass vaccine sites now operating across Illinois.”
4:39 p.m. Biden vows enough vaccine for all US adults by end of May
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.
With the bolstered supply, Biden also announced he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritize vaccinating teachers, and said the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy program. He challenged states to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all teachers by the end of March as part of his administration’s efforts to reopen more schools across the nation.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said Biden, who likened the partnership between the two drug companies to the spirit of national cooperation during World War II.
The announcement comes as the White House looks to speed the production of the single-dose J&J vaccine and accelerate the nation’s plans to reach “herd immunity” in the U.S. and begin restoring normalcy after the pandemic. Biden noted that vaccine supply was only one bottleneck toward that goal, and that the new challenge will be injecting doses into arms as swiftly as possible.
To that end, the Biden administration told governors Tuesday to prepare for their supplies of vaccine to continue to climb over the coming weeks. Additional doses are also heading toward a federally backed program to administer doses in more accessible retail pharmacies.
Those pharmacies will be key in getting the vaccines into the arms of teachers, which will help reopen schools to better educate students who have been at risk at falling behind during the pandemic.
“Let’s treat in-person learning as the essential service that it is,” Biden said.
4:05 p.m. New program helps Chicagoans manage debt, find aid — and it’s free
Bread lines across the city grew as the pandemic triggered an economic downturn, but a new financial program hopes to ease the burden Chicagoans face.
Led locally by Heartland Alliance in partnership with the city, the program connects residents with financial advisors to help manage expenses and find available federal or local aid.
The Financial Navigator program, launched in mid-February, is designed around a free 30-minute phone call that advises people on which bills to target and shows them how to maximize their income.
“We are helping people try and avoid eviction, avoid bankruptcy and get this city back on its feet,” said Barbara Martinez, manager of Heartland Alliance’s asset building program. “We are speaking with people who are behind on bills, utilities and rent, so our goal is to help them prioritize their expenses and which bills they should target.”
The nationwide initiative was launched by the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund — a philanthropic group based in New York. The fund has partnered with 31 cities and counties to create a database of local and national resources.
Martinez said there is no magic wand to make bills evaporate but steps can be taken to “knock out things little by little.”
2:19 p.m. Texas becomes biggest US state to lift COVID-19 mask mandate
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is lifting its mask mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday, making it the largest state to end an order intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 42,000 Texans.
The Republican governor has faced sharp criticism from his party over the mandate, which was imposed eight months ago, and other COVID-19 restrictions. It was only ever lightly enforced, even during the worst outbreaks of the pandemic.
Texas will also do away with limits on the number of diners that businesses can serve indoors, said Abbott, who made the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock.
The decision comes as governors across the U.S. have been easing coronavirus restrictions, despite warnings from health experts that the pandemic is far from over. Like the rest of the country, Texas has seen the number of cases and deaths plunge. Hospitalizations are at the lowest levels since October, and the seven-day rolling average of positive tests has dropped to about 7,600 cases, down from more than 10,000 in mid-February.
Only California and New York have reported more COVID-19 deaths than Texas.
“The fact that things are headed in the right direction doesn’t mean we have succeeded in eradicating the risk,” said Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology and director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
1:54 p.m. Every CPS student to get $450 for food through federal program that will benefit 1 million Illinois children
The family of every Chicago Public Schools student, regardless of income or citizenship status, is set to receive more than $450 in the mail this month — plus hundreds more next month — to support food expenses.
The benefits, which can be twice that amount or more for families with two or more kids in school, are funded through a federal pandemic relief program. In total, one million students throughout the state will qualify for similar benefits.
The program — Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, an offshoot of the EBT system — is intended to help students who usually receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch but who haven’t had access to in-school meals during the pandemic. Since CPS participates in a federal program that provides free lunch for all students in the district, every CPS student is eligible and will automatically receive the benefits in the mail.
P-EBT is specifically meant to replace the loss of in-school meals, so the fact that CPS and other districts have distributed meals to go at hundreds of schools during the pandemic has no impact on any district’s eligibility.
The first funds will be distributed in the first half of March with $6.82 loaded onto the cards for each school day through December that students were in remote learning — adding up to a little over $450 for CPS students. Another set of cards will be mailed in April with benefits for January through March, and families will receive a monthly benefit starting in May for the rest of the school year.
11:42 a.m. Victims of anti-Asian attacks reflect a year into pandemic
Nearly a year after they were almost stabbed to death inside a Midland, Texas, Sam’s Club, Bawi Cung and his two sons all have visible scars.
It’s the unseen ones though that are harder to get over. Cung can’t walk through any store without constantly looking in all directions. His 6-year-old son, who now can’t move one eyebrow, is afraid to sleep alone.
On a Saturday evening in March, when COVID-19 panic shopping gripped the nation, Cung was in search of rice at a cheaper price. The family was in the Sam’s Club meat section when Cung suddenly felt a punch to the back of his head. A man he didn’t know then slashed his face with a knife. The assailant left but soon returned to stab the boys. He wounded the 3-year-old in the back and slashed the 6-year-old from his right eye to a couple of inches past his right ear.
The grisly encounter brought home the dangerous climate Asian Americans have faced since the coronavirus entered the U.S., with racially motivated harassment and assaults occurring from coast to coast.
10:27 a.m. Lightfoot to loosen grip on restaurants and bars — again — to allow 50% capacity, trade group says
With vaccinations ramping up, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is once again loosening her grip on restaurants and bars, but not enough to satisfy the hard-hit industry.
According to Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia, the revised regulations will allow Chicago restaurants and bars to increase indoor capacity to 50% or 50 people, whichever is less. The current limit is 40%.
Bars and restaurants now forced to stop serving patrons at 11 p.m. can stay open until 1 a.m. It’s a vital lifeline to businesses that have been fighting for survival after twice being forced to close their dining rooms during the pandemic.
Toia said he understands the mayor’s decision to approach Chicago’s cautious reopening as if she’s “turning the dimmer switch” instead of flipping on the light switch.
He simply wants the mayor to turn that switch even faster — by increasing the capacity for each restaurant room or designated area separated by a plexiglass divider from 50 people to 100 or 150.
“You cannot do catering parties with more than 50 people. We’re moving into the spring time here. You’ve got a lot of communions, graduations, Bar Mitzvah’s, weddings,” Toia said.
“We would really like to see it get bumped up to 150 per room. But we understand we move in steps here. So, getting up to 100 would be better than 50.”
9:40 a.m. U of I rapid COVID test gains emergency use authorization
A rapid COVID-19 saliva test developed by researchers at the University of Illinois has gained emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, university officials announced Monday.
The test was developed not for individual use and will not be for sale on drugstore shelves, but was designed for large-scale use by universities, municipalities and companies to allow for constant testing, low positivity rates and the avoidance of shutdowns.
The University of Illinois rolled out the testing platform — known as covidSHIELD — on its Urbana-Champaign campus last year and kept positivity rates under 0.5%, allowing school officials to maintain in-person learning.
The University of Illinois set up testing stations around the campus and conducted more than a million tests. After a test subject “dribbled” saliva into a tube (no spitting to avoid aerosolizing the saliva), samples were shuttled to a lab via golf carts, according to Martin Burke, a chemistry professor who heads up the university’s SHIELD team.
Results were accessed via smartphone app within 24 hours and were necessary to gain access to campus buildings.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has allocated $20 million in federal COVID relief funding to make sure the testing platform is available to all 12 of the state’s universities and 48 community colleges.
University officials created two units to share the testing protocol: SHIELD Illinois, which focuses on expansion within the state, and Shield T3, a university-related organization deploying the saliva test outside of Illinois.
“Interest in Shield T3 and requests for our help have been pouring in from around the globe,” said Bill Jackson, interim executive director of the Discovery Partners Institute, who works closely with the separate Shield T3 unit. “This important step simplifies the process of setting up labs and gives our partners added assurance.”
- Illinois reported an additional 1,143 new COVID-19 cases Monday
- The state’s seven-day positivity rate stands at 2.4%, the lowest since June.
- The Illinois Department of Public Health also reported an additional 20 coronavirus-related deaths Monday.
Analysis & Commentary
5:12 p.m. Nationwide eviction moratorium, Arizona bar-closing order, had dubious legal bases
By the time he took office, President Joe Biden had abandoned his campaign promise to require that all Americans cover their faces in public, admitting that such an order was beyond his authority. But that concession did not stop the Biden administration from imposing a nationwide eviction moratorium with an equally dubious legal basis.
Last week a federal judge in Texas ruled that the Constitution does not give the federal government the power to decree that landlords across the country must house tenants who do not pay their rent. That case, along with a challenge to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s pandemic powers that the state Supreme Court will hear next Tuesday, is part of an overdue re-examination of the assumption that politicians can do whatever they deem necessary to fight COVID-19.
The eviction moratorium, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally issued in September, was renewed by Congress in December, and then extended again by the Biden administration. It is based on a breathtakingly broad reading of the CDC director’s authority to “take such measures” he “deems reasonably necessary” to stop the interstate spread of communicable diseases.
The CDC reasoned that evicted tenants might “become homeless” or “move into close quarters in shared housing,” thereby increasing the risk of virus transmission. That rationale suggests the CDC’s authority is vast, encompassing any policy that is plausibly related to disease control, including business closures and a national stay-at-home order as well as the face mask requirement that Biden ultimately decided could not be imposed by executive fiat.
9:46 a.m. How to end the confusion of COVID-19 vaccine appointment scheduling
If you’ve tried to get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, you know how frustrating the process can be. People are spending hours obsessively refreshing websites, hoping an appointment will open up somewhere. They scan Facebook groups for tips and insider information. One writer compared it to Soviet-style queues for cabbage.
The competition for slots will only worsen when the COVID-19 vaccination priority list opens to the broader public.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Much of this misery comes from poorly designed vaccine sign-up websites, but the problem is more fundamental.
As an expert in health care operations and vaccine supply chains, I have closely followed the difficulties in connecting COVID-19 vaccine doses with people. I believe the best solution to vaccine appointment scheduling lies in building a trustworthy one-stop preregistration system.