Chicago moves to Phase 4, eases restrictions for restaurants, theaters, United Center (LIVE UPDATES)Sun-Times staffon April 29, 2021 at 4:16 pm

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Here’s the latest news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.


Fans allowed at Bulls, Blackhawks games as Chicago continues to ease restrictions

Sun-Times Media
The Bulls and Blackhawks have been playing before empty stands at the United Center during the pandemic.

With two million vaccine doses administered and health metrics improving, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is reopening Chicago a little bit more — this time to let restaurants and theaters serve more patrons and allow fans inside the United Center for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The new Phase Four rules, effective immediately, allow the Bulls and Blackhawks to close their seasons before roughly 5,250 fans per game — 25% of the United Center’s capacity.

The Blackhawks play at home Thursday and Saturday against the Florida Panthers, then finish their regular-season home schedule with two games in May. The Bulls have a home game Friday, the first of six regular-season games left.

That 25% rule also applies to Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field and Soldier Field, an increase from the current 20%. The 25% also includes churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship.

Restaurants and bars can increase indoor capacity to 50% or 100 people, whichever is less. The cap had been 50% or 50 people.

Meetings, conferences and conventions held at large indoor venues like McCormick Place now can operate at 25% capacity or 250 people, whichever is less.

Festivals and, what the city calls “general admission outdoor spectator events” get the green light to welcome 15 people for every 1,000 square feet.

The same rules apply to flea markets, which can operate at 25% capacity.

Fran Spielman has the full story here.


11:09 a.m. 1 in 5 high schools students absent from class, CPS data shows

Almost one in five Chicago Public Schools high schoolers was absent last week regardless of whether they signed up for in-person learning or chose to stay remote, according to district data released Wednesday.

The new attendance figures come as officials celebrate the reopening of all CPS high schools last week, a milestone reached after long negotiations with the teachers union and after 13 months of closures because of COVID-19.

District leaders have said offering in-person classes is the first step to recovering from the pandemic, but they’ll face challenges in the months ahead in reengaging students who haven’t had consistent or quality access to education.

Districtwide, including elementary schools, “we are continuing to see the majority of our students learning virtually, with an overall attendance rate of 89.5%,” Bogdana Chkoumbova, CPS’ chief of school management, said at Wednesday’s virtual Board of Education meeting.

Keeping with trends throughout this school year, Black students and children experiencing homelessness have had the highest absentee rates, largely because those populations have been most impacted by the various barriers to learning during the pandemic.

Nader Issa has the full story here.

10:28 a.m. Fans should still take precautions when attending sporting events

Is it safe to go to big sporting events during the pandemic?

Not yet, but there are ways to make it safer if you go.

“Yelling, chanting, hugging and generally pouring out our sports enthusiasm is still not the safest activity,” noted Jennifer Dowd, associate professor of population health at University of Oxford and chief scientific officer of Dear Pandemic, a website that offers expert opinions.

If you do decide to go to a game, outdoor stadiums are safer than indoor arenas, which won’t be as well ventilated. Venues that limit attendance and require masks are safer as well. Some teams are requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for the coronavirus.

Once at the stadium, avoid indoor bars, restaurants and box seating, Dowd said. “Spaces that are indoors with lots of people eating and drinking without masks are still among the riskiest,” she said.

Read the full story here.

9:37 a.m. CPS to allow in-person graduations for class of 2021

Large commencements with hundreds of cheering parents, siblings and grandparents might not return for some time, but this year’s 8th graders and high school seniors will be able to take part in more traditional ceremonies than last year.

Both indoor and outdoor graduations and other end-of-year events can be held this spring with some capacity restrictions, Chicago Public Schools officials announced at Wednesday’s virtual Board of Education meeting.

“As we look for ways to honor our graduates after what’s been a very difficult year, the district developed a plan to celebrate graduates while ensuring the safety of each school community,” Bogdana Chkoumbova, CPS’ chief of school management, told the school board.

“Schools will have the option to hold indoor, outdoor or virtual graduation events where students can obtain their diplomas and take pictures in their caps and gowns,” Chkoumbova said. “Graduations can either be social events, where mingling can occur, or spectator events that are ticketed and seated with no mingling.”

Read Nader Issa’s full story here.

8:12 a.m. Outdoor mask guidance echoes what many Americans already do

In the small Nebraska town of Oxford, the school district dropped its mask mandate last month in what was a fairly straight-forward decision: Cases were down dramatically, and it didn’t bother local officials that their move flouted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Those federal mask guidelines just didn’t seem to fit local conditions well in the town of about 800 people where hardly anyone wears a mask.

“We haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to what is going on at the federal level — mainly what is coming out through the state,” Southern Valley Superintendent Bryce Jorgensen said. “You just can’t compare Chicago to Oxford, Nebraska. Things are just different.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers. And those who are unvaccinated can go outside without masks in some situations, too.

For most of the past year, the CDC had been advising Americans to wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of one another.

The decision marked the U.S. government’s latest step toward normalcy, but came as much of the country already had moved on from mask rules. The CDC essentially endorsed what many Americans have already been doing.

Read the full story here.

New cases and vaccination rates

  • Officials on Wednesday reported 2,728 new cases of the disease were diagnosed among 87,698 tests to lower the average statewide positivity rate to 3.4%. After a monthlong spike in cases, that number is back down to its lowest point since the end of March.
  • The virus killed 33 more residents, including a Cook County woman in her 20s.
  • Illinois’ COVID-19 death toll is up to 21,891 among the 1.3 million-plus residents who have tested positive since March 2020.
  • The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 106,173 doses were administered Tuesday, lowering the state’s average to 100,823 shots per day over the last week.
  • That rate has steadily fallen since hitting an all-time high of nearly 133,000 on April 12. Now it’s on pace to fall below 100,000 this week for the first time since March 26.

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