Meanwhile, capacity limits on a wide range of businesses and activities will be loosened Friday as the state enters the next-to-last phase of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s coronavirus reopening plan, the state confirmed Thursday.
Pritzker announced last week that the state was set to enter the bridge phase of his plan — the final step before all coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted — because bench marks showing the spread of COVID-19 had slowed and a large percentage of the population had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. If things stay on track, a full reopening is set for June 11.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday said people who are fully vaccinated will not count toward capacity limits in Chicago starting this weekend. Restaurants and bars will be allowed to seat more than 10 people if all patrons are vaccinated, the city announced.
Here’s what’s happening Thursday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area:
6:25 p.m. (update): Crowd limits eased, mask mandates likely next as Illinois enters next-to-last phase of COVID-19 reopening plan Friday
Life may start to feel closer to normal in Illinois beginning Friday, as more people are allowed into stadiums, amusement parks, restaurants and shops, and masks are expected to soon become optional in most situations for people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The move to the next-to-last phase of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s coronavirus reopening plan is a precursor to all restrictions being lifted, which could happen as soon as June 11. In addition to the looser guidelines of Pritzker’s bridge phase, officials offered some incentives for those who haven’t yet gotten their shots.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city on Friday would join the state in allowing restaurants, bars and other businesses not to count fully vaccinated customers against capacity limits. In addition, the Sox and Cubs will open sections of their ballparks to the fully inoculated that will raise the number of people able to attend games.
Finally, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines saying its OK for those who are two weeks past their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to ditch masks in most situations — indoors and out.
“Our fight to stay safe and to protect ourselves isn’t over, but with each day and with each dose, we move closer and closer to putting this pandemic to an end for ourselves, for our loved ones, for the world,” Pritzker said Thursday during a news conference at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, where he announced the amusement park is giving away 50,000 tickets as incentive for people to get vaccinated.
A Pritzker spokeswoman said the governor intends to revise his statewide mask mandate, which has been in place for more than a year, to align the new federal guidance, which the head of the CDC announced at a White House briefing.
“The governor believes firmly in following the science. … The scientists’ message is clear: if you are vaccinated, you can safely do much more,” spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement.
The city of Chicago will also “broadly” follow the CDC’s instructions, public health department spokesman Andrew Buchanan wrote in a statement, and new rules for businesses and other settings are forthcoming.
5:40 p.m.: Cook County commissioners weigh anti-retaliation law for workers getting the COVID-19 vaccine during work hours
A proposal that would ban employers from punishing workers for getting the COVID-19 vaccine during work hours, following a similar policy passed by the city of Chicago last month, was introduced before the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Thursday.
The plan was sponsored by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who touted the measure as a way to increase vaccination uptake. It was proposed half a year after shots first rolled out in Cook County and the U.S. and comes amid a push from public health officials to get vaccine stragglers inoculated from the deadly disease.
“Our goal is to try to ensure that absolutely everybody gets vaccinated who wishes to do so and to encourage people who are hesitant to get vaccinated,” Preckwinkle said in a call with reporters.
Under the proposal, employers must allow staff to get vaccinated on the clock without retaliation and would have to compensate them for their time, up to four hours per dose. The law would go into effect July 1 and would last until the Cook County Department of Public Health deems the threat of COVID-19 has subsided.
Retaliation that would be prohibited includes firing, denying a promotion, issuing negative evaluations or assigning undesirable work schedules in direct response to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Employees could not be required to use sick or vacation days to make up for missed work time, though they could request so if they wish, nor must they find a replacement for their shift, under the proposal.
5:25 p.m.: Report: Lollapalooza expected to return this summer for 4-day festival July 29-August 1
As the U.S. moves closer to reopening seemingly every day, it looks like a big step forward will come in mid-summer, when the Lollapalooza Festival will return to Chicago with a four-day event at its usual place and date range — Grant Park, July 29-August 1 — sources tell Variety. The city of Chicago gave the event the greenlight at near-to or -full-capacity, insiders report, and an official announcement, likely with headliners, is expected to come next week.
Reps for festival organizers C3 Presents declined Variety’s request for comment, although one told the Chicago Tribune late last month, “We are excited about the progress in Chicago as the city continues to reopen. We are in close contact with city and public health officials as we continue to plan for the festival and remain optimistic about Lollapalooza 2021 in Grant Park.” The festival’s website still has the 2020 dates and lineup posted.
4:15 p.m.: Chicagoans are flocking to restaurants and bars as COVID-19 restrictions loosen. That’s great for business, but it brings a host of new challenges.
Diners are back. And restaurants are struggling to keep up.
After months of industry anxiety about whether customers would return to eating out as the COVID-19 pandemic persisted, people are indeed filling booths and tables once more. Now comes the hard part: being open during the pandemic.
While many of the massive challenges of a year ago have been resolved — from understanding how to operate safely to securing hand sanitizer — a litany of unforeseen challenges has emerged in recent months that affects white-tablecloth destinations and charming neighborhood joints alike.
2:45 p.m.: Cubs and White Sox are cleared for 60% fan capacity in late May — and will have vaccinated-only sections for their next series
With more people getting the COVID-19 vaccine, the state and city are allowing the Chicago Cubs and White Sox to allow more than double the number of fans they admit into their respective ballparks beginning later this month.
Even before that change kicks in, the teams said Thursday that they will offer vaccinated-only sections — in the center-field bleachers of Wrigley Field and right-field corner of Guaranteed Rate Field’s lower bowl — on a trial basis beginning with their next series.
Fans with tickets in those area will be required to provide proof they’re fully vaccinated but will be relieved of the physical-distancing requirements enforced elsewhere in their respective ballparks.
The teams announced Thursday that, with the move into what’s called the bridge phase of pandemic safety protocols, they soon will be able to accommodate up to 60% of capacity at home games. That’s up from the 25% cap with which they began their seasons last month.
The new expanded-capacity limit is set to kick in with the arrival of the St. Louis Cardinals at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 24 for the White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field on May 28 for the Cubs.
1:40 p.m. (update): CDC relaxes guidelines on some indoor mask wearing for fully vaccinated people
In a striking move to send the country back toward pre-pandemic life, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday eased indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to safely stop wearing masks inside in most places.
The new guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues — even removing the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.
The CDC will also no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds. The announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, announced the new guidance on Thursday afternoon at a White House briefing, saying the long-awaited change is thanks to millions of people getting vaccinated — and based on the latest science about how well those shots are working.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities – large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
12:53 p.m.: Vaccinated people won’t count toward capacity limits for Chicago bars, restaurants starting Friday
People who are fully vaccinated will not count toward capacity limits in Chicago starting this weekend, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on Thursday.
Restaurants and bars will be allowed to seat more than 10 people if all patrons are vaccinated, the city announced.
Lightfoot cited declining and stable COVID-19 numbers for the move. Bars and restaurants will also be allowed to operate within their regular liquor license hours. Social events will be allowed to have 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors, and meetings, conferences, or conventions will have up to 1,000 people, the city said.
Bars that are otherwise able to open until 4:00 a.m. will be allowed to only if all patrons are fully vaccinated.
12:49 p.m.: Column: Lovely new program invites kids to make pandemic time capsules to be ‘buried’ for 5 years at iconic Chicago spots
A cool new program, conceived by two Chicago moms, aims to help kids make sense of what they lived through, even as they pave the way to help future generations better understand it.
Once Upon Our Time Capsule invites Chicago children to create time capsules that tell their pandemic story. More than a dozen community organizations are partnering on the project, including After School Matters, the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Housing Authority, Metropolitan Family Services and YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.
The Center for Childhood Resilience at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Children’s Theatre are helping shape curriculum for the program. Museums across the city, including the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the Chicago History Museum and the Adler Planetarium, are getting in on the action.
“We want it to feel like the summer of the Chicago child,” said Stephanie Hodges, who co-created Once Upon Our Time Capsule with her friend Stacey Gillett. Both women have young children and backgrounds in community development. They met through Hodges’ book club and, in true pandemic fashion, planned the whole thing mostly via Zoom.
The program works like this: Kids make a time capsule that captures a beginning (before COVID-19), a middle (during COVID-19) and an end (looking toward a brighter future). That story can be told through drawings, a comic book, a play, puppets.
They can make the time capsules at pop-up events, which will take place at the partnering museums and other locations throughout the summer. Or they can make them at home, with guidance on the Once Upon Our Time Capsule website (ourtimecapsule.org) or using their own imagination as their guide.
12:29 p.m.: CDC to relax guidelines on some indoor mask wearing for fully vaccinated people
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday will ease indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to safely stop wearing masks inside in most places, according to a person briefed on the announcement.
The new guidance will still call for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but could ease restrictions for reopening workplaces and schools.
It will also no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds. The announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.
The eased guidance comes two weeks after the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in all settings and outdoors in large crowds.
12:16 p.m.: Takeout 25 has saved local restaurants in Oak Park. Now it’s flexing its spending muscle across the Chicago Avenue border, in Austin.
As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on last fall, Ravi Parakkat watched tensions rise in his community between restaurant owners desperate for revenue and officials trying to keep people from congregating indoors.
A potential solution hit him: Why not formalize the idea of ordering takeout, something people were doing already, and turn it into not only a means to a meal but a kind of civic salvation?
He launched Takeout 25 Oak Park, founded on sweat equity and some simple math: If enough people would commit to spending $25 weekly on to-go dining, labeled the “Carry Out to Carry On pledge,” they could keep local restaurants alive.
This calorie-based booster club has been a runaway success. Back-of-the-envelope calculations by Parakkat, an engineer, business consultant and, now, newly elected member of the Oak Park Village Board, suggest people participating in the ad hoc program have spent some $3 million on dining in the last handful of months.
Publicity and word-of-mouth led to localized versions of the readily shared, not-for-profit concept springing up around Chicagoland, including in Elmhurst and Villa Park, and the nation, from Palo Alto, California, to Sunnyside, Queens, in New York City.
And now Takeout 25 is taking perhaps its boldest step yet, at least for an Oak Park community that is sometimes reluctant to visit the Chicago neighborhood immediately to the east, across Austin Boulevard.
12:12 p.m.: 68,035 vaccine doses administered, 1,918 new cases and 35 deaths reported Thursday
Illinois public health officials on Thursday reported 1,918 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths. That brings the state’s totals to 1,361,666 cases and 22,320 deaths.
There were 88,682 tests reported in the previous 24 hours and the seven-day statewide positivity rate as a percent of total test is 2.7%.
There were 68,035 doses of the vaccine administered Wednesday and the seven-day rolling average of daily doses is 76,082. Officials said 62% of adults in Illinois have received at least one dose of a vaccine. —Chicago Tribune staff
12:01 p.m.: Children 12 to 15 begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations in Chicagoland. ‘I want him to hug me without being afraid.’
Thursday marked the first day that children ages 12 to 15 could receive the vaccine in the Chicago area, days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use for the tweens and teens.
The vaccine also received approval from an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Full CDC approval was granted Wednesday.
Parents flocked to area vaccination sites on Thursday with their eligible children after government-run vaccination sites and other providers spent recent days gearing up.
State-run mass vaccination sites and other facilities already stocked with the Pfizer vaccine were prepared to begin administering doses to 12- to 15-year-olds “immediately,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted late Wednesday afternoon.
Last week, state officials said they are working with pediatricians to begin administering the vaccine. Schools also are eligible to partner with local health departments to offer vaccination clinics, state officials said, as is the case for upcoming pop-up events with Chicago Public Schools.
11:58 a.m.: Gov. J.B. Pritzker confirms Illinois will enter next-to-last phase of COVID-19 reopening plan Friday
Capacity limits on a wide range of businesses and activities will be loosened Friday as the state enters the next-to-last phase of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s coronavirus reopening plan, the state confirmed Thursday.
Pritzker announced last week that the state was set to enter the bridge phase of his plan — the final step before all coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted — because bench marks showing the spread of COVID-19 had slowed and a large percentage of the population had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
If things stay on track, a full reopening is set for June 11. Mask requirements would remain in place until federal health officials give the OK to lift them.
11:24 a.m.: Bears coach Matt Nagy won’t be in person for start of rookie minicamp with Justin Fields because of a COVID-19 close contact
Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy will participate virtually at the start of rookie minicamp this weekend after he was deemed a close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, a source said Thursday.
Nagy will participate virtually until he is cleared, the source said, confirming an NFL Network report. Nagy is awaiting his second COVID-19 vaccination shot.
11:22 a.m.: National teachers union leader urges full reopening of schools in fall: ‘Conditions have changed’
The president of the American Federation of Teachers called Thursday for a full return to in-person learning in the fall, saying the union is “all in” on bringing students back to the classroom.
In prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press, Randi Weingarten says the wide availability of vaccines and a new infusion of federal education money have removed many obstacles that prevented schools from opening.
“Conditions have changed,” Weingarten says in remarks for an address on social media. “We can and we must reopen schools in the fall for in-person teaching, learning and support. And keep them open. Fully and safely, five days a week.”
If local unions heed her call, it would be seen as a major stride in the effort to reopen schools. Teachers unions have been blamed for slowing the process with demands for a variety of safety measures. Teachers in some districts have refused to return until ventilations systems are updated, virus tests are given and all teachers are vaccinated.
8:43 a.m.: Waukegan school board president’s top priority is a return to normalcy
Waukegan Community School Unit District 60 Board of Education President Brandon Ewing said his top priority in the months ahead will be helping things in the district return to normal after more than a year of disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Before dealing with any academic deficiencies which arose over the past year, Ewing said the district must tend to the students’ social and emotional needs. He feels they first need to be in the right place emotionally after a year of learning primarily through a computer screen, isolated physically from classmates and teachers.
”What our students have been through is transformative,” he said. “Some have lost grandparents and great grandparents to COVID. Most have experienced loss in some way. Their lives have been anything but normal. We have to embrace our students and address these issues so we can get back to educating students.”
6 a.m.: As Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s two-year anniversary approaches, top-level vacancies are mounting: ‘This has been a very tough year, I think, on a lot of people’
At least a dozen top people in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration have resigned or said they’re on their way out since late last year. Several positions have remained unfilled for weeks or months.
Whether the changes and lingering vacancies have been due to the stress of running the city during the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor’s notoriously abrasive leadership style or her thin government resume leaving her without a ready pool of qualified contacts to tap for administration jobs, observers said it’s important to have capable people filling even lower-profile behind-the-scenes posts to keep the city running smoothly.
City Hall jobs are hard even during normal circumstances, and the pressure intensified the past year with the onset of the pandemic, followed by bouts of civil unrest. Some of the departures are part of the natural rhythm within a mayoral term, which Lightfoot alluded to during a recent news conference.
“This has been a very tough year, I think, on a lot of people,” Lightfoot said. “We’re coming up to the two-year anniversary, and I think a lot of people are taking stock of where they are.”
Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, said pandemic stresses also have made it harder to lure strong candidates. But he said doing so is a key responsibility for the mayor, and the recent spate of vacancies “is a concern.”
“You set yourself up for failure as an administration if you can’t attract and retain top people,” Hopkins said.
6 a.m.: Pfizer shots open to Hoosiers 12 and up starting Thursday
Eager to raise Indiana’s lagging vaccination rate, state health officials have announced that residents aged 12 and older will be eligible to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine beginning Thursday.
The state announcement, which came in tandem with a federal vaccine advisory Wednesday, offers hope that the next school year will present a return to normal, although State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box noted that the state has no plans to mandate the vaccine for anyone, including students.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 30 Indiana counties were without Pfizer vaccine sites, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state health department’s chief medical officer. Health departments in those counties are expected to receive doses Thursday.
“We all want that normalcy, and the best way to get there is to increase the number of people who are fully vaccinated,” Weaver said.
Indiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are declining following a spike in late April, although the number of admissions each day is still more than 100, Box said.
6 a.m.: Indiana hospital showed ‘lack of empathy and compassion’ in Black doctor’s care, but treatment didn’t contribute to her death, investigation finds
n outside investigation into the death of a Black doctor while she battled COVID-19 has found that the treatment she received at a suburban Indianapolis hospital did not contribute to her death, its parent organization said Wednesday.
However, the review by a panel of six outside experts concluded Dr. Susan Moore suffered from a lack of cultural competence on the part of those treating her at IU Health North in Carmel, parent IU Health said.
IU Health in its statement acknowledged a “lack of empathy and compassion” was shown in the delivery of her care.
Moore, 52, a family medicine physician who had practiced in Indiana since 2009, died Dec. 20, about two weeks after she was released from IU Health North and then admitted to a different hospital.
In a Dec. 4 Facebook post, she said she had to repeatedly ask for medication, scans and routine checks while admitted to IU Health North. She said a white doctor in particular seemingly dismissed her pain, and she said she didn’t trust the hospital.
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