Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Here’s what happened Jan. 26 with COVID-19 in the Chicago area

The Chicago Teachers Union is preparing to go on their second strike in less than two years, readying members to hit the picket lines if Chicago Public Schools locks them out of their online teaching platforms for refusing to comply with the district’s reopening plan.

In response, CPS said it is halting in-person classes at least on Wednesday for students who have already returned but is still aiming to reach a deal to bring elementary students back to schools on Monday.

Also on Tuesday, the city of Chicago canceled an unspecified number of vaccine appointments made by teachers who inadvertently signed up using a code meant for health care workers, sparking confusion as educators face mounting anxiety over trying to secure an inoculation.

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

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8:45 p.m.: COVID-19 remote learning quashes traditional snow day: ‘The luster has worn off’

Longtime Barrington School District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris looked back almost wistfully Tuesday at the pre-pandemic era, when declaring a snow day was a stressful, high-stakes decision.

“When you did call a snow day, it was not just school that was canceled, but all of the activities, like games and band concerts,” said Harris. Still, after more than 10 months on the front line of a contentious community debate about school reopenings, Harris was relieved to be spared one more battle this week.

Much to the chagrin of students eager to sleep late and spend the day with friends at the neighborhood sledding hill, the district’s school buildings were closed Tuesday but Harris did not declare an official snow day.

“After 10 months of COVID remote learning, we’re so prepared, and with inclement weather today, everyone was ready to take their classes or deliver their lessons from home,” Harris said.

Since its arrival last March, the pandemic has stolen countless cherished school traditions, from high school football games and senior prom to show choir competitions and kindergarten graduation ceremonies.

Those traditions, it is assumed, will return when the pandemic is over.

But as the many suburban Chicago school districts that have reopened for in-person instruction deftly pivoted to remote learning Tuesday, it raised the question: Could this mean the death of the traditional snow day?

“There’s kind of this nostalgia about the snow days we all had as students, but with COVID remote learning — it’s one more piece of life that the luster has worn off,” Plainfield School District 202 Superintendent Lane Abrell said.

6:05 p.m.: Illinois told to expect a boost in vaccine shipments as limited indoor dining returns to many suburbs

With Illinois in the first week of ramping up its COVID-19 immunization effort to include elderly residents and “essential” workers, state officials on Tuesday were told to expect a welcome boost in vaccine shipments.

In a phone call with the nation’s governors, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the Biden administration pledged to increase vaccine shipments to all 50 states starting next week, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement.

The state expects to get specifics in the coming days on how many more doses of the vaccines it will be receiving, she said.

The Biden administration also told state leaders it would purchase 200 million additional doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for summer delivery, Abudayyeh said.

Biden later publicly announced the increased vaccine shipments, which his administration said along with existing orders will be enough to administer the two required doses for 300 million people.

5:50 p.m.: Illinois tax revenue losses lower than expected during pandemic, U. of I. study finds

Illinois’ loss of tax revenue because of the pandemic was much lower than experts predicted in the spring when COVID-19 first took hold, but “tremendous uncertainties” persist moving forward, a University of Illinois study released Tuesday found.

The pandemic hit state tax revenues hard last spring when a widely restrictive stay-at-home order was in effect, but much of that early loss was recovered in subsequent months, according to the report from the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

The initial federal coronavirus relief package Congress approved in the spring sent billions of dollars streaming into Illinois’ economy through stimulus checks to individuals and Paycheck Protection Program loans to businesses, acting as a “catalyst for increased spending,” the study found.

Based on an analysis of state tax receipts through November, the study found that people “began to adapt their behavior” to what was allowed during the pandemic and “once retail establishments and restaurants began curbside pickup services, sales started to rise.”

“There was a steep fall in spending in most categories in April and May, then a recovery toward pre-COVID-19 levels. Spending has not recovered completely, but it is near what it likely would have been in the absence of COVID-19,” the authors wrote.

Despite their upbeat conclusion, the authors of the study warned there remains “more than a fair amount of uncertainty” because of the possibility of future coronavirus surges and the timeline for distributing vaccines.

5:50 p.m.: CPS halts in-person learning for students already back as
teachers strike looms

The Chicago Teachers Union is preparing to go on their second strike in less than two years, readying members to hit the picket lines if Chicago Public Schools locks them out of their online teaching platforms for refusing to comply with the district’s reopening plan.

In response, CPS said it is halting in-person classes at least on Wednesday for students who have already returned but is still aiming to reach a deal to bring elementary students back to schools on Monday.

“So it’s come to this,” the union wrote members. “Short of some late-breaking change, *all* CTU members will begin working remotely tomorrow… and if CPS retaliates against members for exercising their right to a safe workplace, *all* CTU members will stop working on Thursday and set up picket lines at their schools.”

While union leaders told members to stay tuned, CPS officials issued a warning.

“Despite CTU’s actions, and in accordance with our prior notices, we expect all pre-k, cluster program, and kindergarten through 8th grade teachers and staff to report for in-person work at their schools on January 27 unless they have been granted an accommodation to work remotely,” states an email from CPS to all staff.

At the same time, the district is asking students who have already returned to in-person learning to stay home Wednesday, when CTU members are expected to do the same.

5:15 p.m.: Chicago health department cancels vaccine appointments for some teachers who mistakenly signed up for slots meant for health care workers

The city of Chicago canceled an unspecified number of vaccine appointments made by teachers who inadvertently signed up using a code meant for health care workers, sparking confusion as educators face mounting anxiety over trying to secure an inoculation amid rising tensions between their union and the school district over returning to classrooms.

During a question-and-answer session on Tuesday, Chicago’s public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady was asked about reports of vaccinations for teachers being canceled. She replied there was a problem over the weekend regarding the city’s immunization sites that are currently only meant for non-hospital health care workers in phase 1a.

To sign up, employers at those health care settings must register for a code to give their staffers. The use of one code intended for home-based health care workers resulted in “thousands and thousands” more people signing up under it than expected, Arwady said. She noted that the people who did not qualify were truthful and indicated on the form that they are not health care workers.

“First, I really want to say we’re really glad people are wanting to get vaccinated, and I’m really glad people are being honest when they are filling out that form,” Arwady said. “I know everybody’s pretty anxious to get vaccine, but just the truth of the matter is if codes are shared in ways beyond what they’re meant to be, we then are not able to get those folks vaccinated.”

4:15 p.m.: Biden administration to boost vaccine supply, enough to protect ’300 million Americans by end of summer’

The Biden administration is boosting purchases of coronavirus vaccines to deliver enough to protect 300 million Americans by the end of the summer, as it surges deliveries to states for the next three weeks following complaints of shortages and inconsistent supplies.

President Joe Biden announced the surge in deliveries to states Tuesday, along with the news that the federal government is purchasing an additional 100 million doses each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines. With existing purchases, the White House expects to be able to deliver enough of the two-dose regimens to states to vaccinate 300 million people.

“This is enough vaccine to vaccinate 300 million Americans by end of summer, early fall,” Biden said, calling the push to increase supply a “wartime effort.”

The purchases from drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna come as the Biden administration is trying to ramp up vaccine production and states’ capacities to inject them into arms. Even more vaccine could be available if federal scientists approve a single-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to seek emergency authorization in the coming weeks.

Biden also announced a roughly 16% boost in deliveries to states over the coming weeks, amid complaints of shortages so severe that some vaccination sites around the U.S. had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments with people seeking their first shot.

Detailed figures posted on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website Tuesday showed that the government plans to make about 10.1 million first and second doses available next week, up from this week’s allotment of 8.6 million. The figures represent doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It was not immediately clear how long the surge of doses could be sustained.

4 p.m.: ‘It couldn’t have come at a better time:’ Park Ridge, Niles restaurant owners react as indoor dining is allowed to resume

After temporarily closing his Niles restaurant last November, Tom Konstantopoulos was flooded with phone calls from customers wondering when his doors would reopen.

“We’ve had thousands of calls; we maybe get 100 calls a day,” Konstantopoulos, owner of Omega Restaurant, said.

On Monday, Konstantopoulos could finally tell customers what he couldn’t say for nearly two months: Omega is open.

The restaurant, which prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, closed Nov. 29 due to the governor’s ban on indoor dining. That ban was lifted Jan. 23, with Chicago and suburban Cook County restaurants and bars allowed to provide indoor dining for the first time since late October with a 25% capa
city limit, among other restrictions.

3:50 p.m.: Pillars Health to give COVID vaccine in La Grange

Pillars Community Health will give COVID-19 vaccinations at its health center in La Grange.

Pillars President Angela Curran said the organization has completed the necessary registrations with the state and county health departments to become a vaccination site.

The La Grange Village Board Monday unanimously approved allowing Pillars to operate a temporary vaccine clinic on the first floor of its building at 27 Calendar Ave.

“Your reputation proceeds you,” Village Board member Beth Augustine told Pillars officials during the board’s Zoom meeting. Calling the nonprofit, “a fantastic organization,” Augustine said, “We are grateful for what you bring to the community.”

Pillars will have up to four vaccine stations open at once, which means the staff will be able to vaccinate about 12 people per hour, Curran said. The vaccinations will be given by appointment only during a four-hour period each day from Monday through Saturday. The time will depend on when staff and doses of the vaccine are available.

12:30 p.m.: No changes to Chicago travel order as all states except Hawaii remain under negative COVID-19 test or quarantine requirement

Travelers coming to Chicago from any state except Hawaii will continue to be subject to the city’s travel order restrictions, according to a Tuesday update.

The list of states will have no changes this week, meaning 48 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico are subject to the requirement that travelers from those locations must get a negative COVID-19 test up to 72 hour before arrival in Chicago or quarantine for 10 days. These states and territories make up the “orange” tier of the city’s travel order, which includes all areas with a rolling average over 15 daily cases per 100,000 residents.

The lone “yellow” tier state, Hawaii, is below that threshold and does not have any additional restrictions beyond routine social distancing measures.

Officials have said the order is meant to educate residents and have not strictly enforced it. And no matter where travelers are coming from, orange or yellow states, they should adhere to public health guidelines that have been in place since the pandemic started, officials said. That is despite Chicago reopening indoor dining among other loosening restrictions this weekend under the state’s COVID-19 mitigation plan.

12:15 p.m.: 3,667 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 87 additional deaths reported

Illinois health officials on Tuesday announced 3,667 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 87 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 1,108,430 and the statewide death toll to 18,883 since the start of the pandemic.

Officials also reported 69,285 new tests in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide rolling positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests was 4.6% for the period ending Monday.

11:17 a.m.: City shuts down gallery hosting a private party during Chicago’s first weekend reopened for indoor business

The Drip G (5529 W. Chicago Ave.), which is licensed as an art gallery, was issued a cease and desist order after allowing 79 people to eat and drink indoors without social distancing, according a statement from the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

The business, which does not have a retail food, liquor or public place of amusement license, hosted an event with a cover charge and a DJ that had “crowded drinking (and) dancing onsite,” BACP said.

Under current regulations, events at 25% capacity, or 25 people, can resume so long as patrons are seated while eating and drinking and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between tables.

It was the only violation of COVID-19 restrictions found during 69 investigations Saturday and Sunday, BACP said.

10:10 a.m.: Limited indoor dining now allowed in four suburban counties including DuPage and Lake

Limited indoor dining is now allowed in four suburban counties under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 reopening plan, state public health officials announced Tuesday.

DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties all advanced Tuesday to a less restrictive tier of rules after the regions met state-set COVID-19 bench marks.

Indoor service is allowed at establishments that serve food, with a capacity limit of 25% of room capacity or a total of 25 people, whichever is less. The state guidance also calls for tables to be spaced six feet apart, and for all bar and restaurant patrons to be seated at tables — no sitting, standing or ordering at a bar.

The looser restrictions also allow events, including weddings and funerals, with limits set at lesser of 25% capacity or 25 people.

9:48 a.m.: Elgin’s U-46 teachers union continues to fear return to school, wants more data on COVID safety measures

The Elgin Teachers Association president told the District U-46 School Board Monday that teachers remain fearful of returning to the classroom and want detailed information on COVID-19 safety measures released to them.

Among Barbara Bettis’ requests on behalf of the union was data on contract tracing, exact numbers on the each school’s hybrid program enrollment and proof that classrooms are being adequately cleaned.

”Not having this clearly defined and communicated at this time adds to the distrust of the current
safety situation,” Bettis said. “This also adds to the stressors of teachers being in buildings and the perspective by teachers that the safety plan is not complete.”

Faculty members are also concerned some families are not completing the self-certification process in which they check their children for coronavirus symptoms before sending them to school, she said.

8:26 a.m.: Wisconsin Senate to vote on repealing governor’s mask mandate

The Wisconsin Senate planned to vote Tuesday on repealing Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate, while it remained unclear whether the Assembly would follow suit as required to undo the order.

A joint resolution cosponsored by 29 Republicans in the Legislature was up for approval in the Senate. It was the only item on the Senate’s agenda for Tuesday.

Assembly Republican leaders have not yet said whether the resolution repealing the mask order will get a vote in that chamber. It must pass both the Senate and Assembly in order to repeal Evers’ public health emergency and the mask mandate, slated to run until March 20, that is tied to that order.

Wisconsin has had a statewide mask mandate since August. If the state ordered is repealed, local orders in place in many of the state’s most populated areas, including Milwaukee and Madison, would remain in effect.

The Assembly on Tuesday was also taking up a COVID-19 response bill already passed by the Senate that Evers supports. The Assembly was expected to make changes to the bill, which would then send it back to the Senate. —Associated Press

7:23 a.m.: DuPage County’s COVID-19 testing site in Wheaton closed for the day due to snow; Villa Park facility open

The DuPage County Health Department announced that because of the heavy snowfall, its COVID-19 testing site near County Farm and Manchester roads in Wheaton would be closed on Tuesday. The department’s testing site at the Odeum Expo Center, at 1033 N. Villa Ave. in Villa Park, will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The Wheaton facility is scheduled to reopen at 7 a.m. on Wednesday. —Chicago Tribune staff

7:15 a.m.: New Trier High School to double capacity of in-person learning, but officials say attendance unlikely to hit 50%

Despite the launch of an expanded reopening at New Trier High School this week, officials say they expect in-person student attendance to fall below the 50% threshold allowed under the new COVID-19 hybrid plan.

The start of New Trier’s 50% Hybrid Model, which was expected to begin on Tuesday, the first day of the second semester, will allow students with last names starting with A-K to attend in-person classes every week on Tuesday and Wednesday, while those with last names starting with L-Z will attend school in person on Thursday and Friday, officials said.

Among the myriad reasons student attendance was lower than the 25% capacity limit in the one-track model is some students who signed up for the hybrid model decided to take their classes online, without going through the formal process of declaring themselves all-remote, New Trier spokeswoman Niki Dizon said.

The lower than anticipated in-person student attendance is also due to some students self-quarantining after traveling during winter break, Dizon said.

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