COVID-19 in Illinois updates: Here’s what’s happening Monday

The change to the state mask mandate that went into effect more than a year ago comes after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out new guidelines Thursday that said people who are two weeks past their final coronavirus vaccine dose can safely resume most of their pre-pandemic activities without wearing a mask.

After Pritzker’s announcement, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday that the city needs more information before changing its rules on masks. Later, the city’s health department issued a statement saying that Chicago would “broadly align” with the state and CDC rules, but its more stringent masking requirements would remain in place for now. Officials said more details would be provided Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Illinois officials reported 946 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Illinois Monday, the lowest since 782 cases were reported March 15. Officials also reported six additional fatalities, the lowest count since five deaths were reported March 29.

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

6:20 p.m. (update): Pritzker says those who are fully vaccinated can drop masks in most situations, but Chicago maintaining status quo for now

The state is no longer requiring fully vaccinated people to wear face masks in most situations under rules Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued Monday, putting Illinois in line with new federal guidance that caught many by surprise last week.

The change to the state mask mandate that went into effect more than a year ago comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out new guidelines Thursday that said people who are two weeks past their final coronavirus vaccine dose can safely resume most of their pre-pandemic activities without wearing a mask.

The quick change in guidance from the federal government resulted in confusion over the weekend in Illinois as the Pritzker administration said the state’s rules would change but took a few days to make it official.

“One of the reasons that the CDC issued the rules as they did was the recognition that studies have now been done showing that if you’re vaccinated, you’re protected,” Pritzker said at an unrelated event Monday before the new rules were announced. “If you’re unvaccinated, you are not protected. So I encourage people who are unvaccinated still to wear their masks but to go get vaccinated because I think we all want to get past this we all would like to take off our masks.”

The potential for confusion remains — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday that the city needs more information before changing its rules on masks. Later, the city’s health department issued a statement saying that Chicago would “broadly align” with the state and CDC rules, but its more stringent masking requirements would remain in place for now. Officials said more details would be provided Tuesday.

5:35 p.m.: Chicago businesses scramble after CDC, Pritzker change mask-wearing rules. ‘There was no warning.’

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker eased statewide mask requirements on Monday, many businesses in Chicago, where the mask rule remains in place, were still scrambling to figure out how to respond to last week’s updated guidance from federal health officials.

Some businesses worried they would face more pushback from customers who took new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as permission to visit barefaced. Others were wary of prying into customers’ vaccination status.

“There was no warning, and it put us in a position where we had to plan for it immediately,” Julia Steiner, a bookseller at The Book Cellar in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, said shortly before the governor’s announcement.

After the CDC announced its guidance, The Book Cellar posted signs and messages on social media saying masks would be required until further notice. The store wanted to make sure everyone is able to browse, including kids who aren’t yet eligible and those with health conditions who can’t get the vaccine, Steiner said.

“You can’t tell on sight who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t,” Steiner said shortly before Pritzker’s announcement.

Pritzker’s order said businesses must ensure all visitors, including customers, who are not fully vaccinated can practice social distancing, “but if maintaining a six-foot social distance will not be possible at all times, encourage those visitors to wear face coverings.” The new rules take effect immediately.

3:25 p.m.: Javier Báez does a PSA for Walgreens to encourage getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Báez understands the power of his stardom and vibrant personality.

So Báez knows people will follow his lead, especially in his native Puerto Rico and Jacksonville, Fla., where he moved with his family as a young teen. That’s why Báez has teamed up with Walgreens’ “This is Our Shot” campaign to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and try to reach hard-hit communities.

Walgreens will be releasing the content featuring Báez in English and Spanish in the coming weeks. A commercial aired with musician John Legend last month to promote the benefits of being vaccinated.

“The people that maybe didn’t believe in it, I think they will,” Báez told the Tribune Monday. “And that’s what it’s all about. We’re trying to get more people into it and to get the vaccine to at least feel safe.

“We want to be safe out there. We obviously want to end this pandemic. The smart thing to do right now is to get vaccinated.”

3:05 p.m.: New coronavirus cases, deaths in Illinois dip to lowest levels in many weeks

Officials reported 946 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Illinois Monday, the lowest since 782 cases were reported March 15.

While case counts have been declining, the latest batch resulted from just 33,148 tests, well below the seven-day testing average of 60,895. In addition, COVID-19 data from the weekend tends to trend lower.

Nonetheless, the seven-day average of new cases is 1,487, the lowest since an average of 1,483 was reported July 31. The number had recently fallen as low as 1,511 in mid-March before the recent surge.

Officials also reported six additional fatalities, the lowest count since five deaths were reported March 29.

The statewide seven-day positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests is 2.4% for the third day in a row, the lowest since the same rate was reported March 18.

As of Sunday night, 1,512 people in Illinois were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 398 patients in intensive care units and 220 patients on ventilators. The seven-day average of total hospitalizations is 1,661, the lowest since an average of 1,637 was reported April 8.

The statewide death toll is 22,445, and the total number of known infections in Illinois since the start of the pandemic reached 1,367,214.

An additional 32,253 coronavirus vaccine doses were administered Wednesday, bringing the total to 10,407,841. Over the last seven days, the state reached an average of 61,275 vaccines administered daily, the lowest since an average of 61,132 was reported Feb. 17, when supplies of the vaccines were still well below demand.

The number of residents who have been fully vaccinated — receiving both of the required shots, or Johnson & Johnson’s single shot — reached 4,808,286, or 37.74% of the total population.

Officials also noted that more than 64% of those 18 and older have received at least one dose of a vaccine. President Joe Biden earlier this month set a national vaccination goal of having a shot in the arm of at least 70% of all adults by July 4.

3 p.m.: Pritzker says fully vaccinated people in Illinois no longer have to wear masks in most situations

Fully vaccinated people in Illinois will no longer be required to wear face coverings in most situations under new rules Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued Monday, putting the state in line with new federal guidance that caught many by surprise last week.

The change to the state mask mandate that went into effect more than a year ago comes after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out new guidelines Thursday that said people who are two weeks past their final coronavirus vaccine dose can safely resume most of their pre-pandemic activities without wearing a mask.

The quick change in guidance from the federal government was a cause for confusion over the weekend in Illinois as the Pritzker administration said the state’s rules would change but took a few days to make it official.

“One of the reasons that the CDC issued the rules as they did was the recognition that studies have now been done showing that if you’re vaccinated, you’re protected,” Pritzker said at an unrelated event Monday before the new rules were announced. “If you’re unvaccinated, you are not protected. So I encourage people who are unvaccinated still to wear their masks but to go get vaccinated because I think we all want to get past this we all would like to take off our masks.”

The state on Friday entered the next-to-last phase of Pritzker’s reopening plan, with increased capacity limits on a wide range of businesses and activities. If COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to hold steady or decline, the state will fully reopen on June 11.

Pritzker said he personally would “take it gently and carefully going forward” when it comes to wearing a mask himself.

“But I do think that the CDC guidelines are good ones, and we will follow them in Illinois,” he said.

1:45 p.m.: Will foreign language classes be a COVID-19 casualty? Some schools are reducing offerings in Latin, German and other tongues

When Barrington High School French teacher Kathryn Wolfkiel’s students returned to the classroom after months of COVID-19 remote learning, she quickly realized that mandatory mask-wearing would make speaking and comprehending the language très difficile.

“I ordered a bunch of masks online that have clear plastic over the mouth, so we’d be able to see each other speaking,” Wolfkiel, the head of the school’s world languages department. “I thought I’d give it a shot, but the new masks didn’t work, because the plastic got all steamed up, so they couldn’t see my mouth, and I couldn’t see theirs.”

Despite the challenges, she has found one silver lining: “It’s very difficult to mumble if you have a mask on,” she said, “so everyone needs to speak up and be a little bit more attentive.”

The pandemic doesn’t seem to have dimmed students’ interest in learning a foreign language, several Chicago-area educators told the Tribune.

But some say it has illuminated struggles for world language programs that surfaced long before schools shutdown in March 2020, in particular, a failure to interest enough students to offer entry-level courses in languages like Latin, German, Mandarin and Japanese.

12:37 p.m.: Cubs open a section for fully vaccinated fans — and offer free hots dogs if you get your shot by Wrigley — while the team remains under full COVID-19 protocols

The way it’s going, baseball will soon turn into two separate and equal entities — the Masks and the Mask Nots.

Teams with at least 85% of their Tier 1 members fully vaccinated will be apparent by the lack of mask-wearing personnel in their dugouts, and those under the 85% mark will stick out because the manager and his staff will still be wearing masks.

The Chicago Cubs are still part of the Masks despite early encouragement to get the vaccine from president Jed Hoyer and manager David Ross. The White Sox are now part of the Mask Nots, having proudly shed their dugout masks this weekend.

The Cubs also are offering a free hot dog and water or pop to ticket holders who get a vaccine shot at the American Airlines Conference Center in the building next to the ballpark. The offer is not applicable for second doses, however.

12:08 p.m.: New COVID-19 cases dip to 946, first time below 1,000 since March 15; 6 new deaths also reported Monday

Illinois public health officials on Monday reported 946 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths. That brings the state’s totals to 1,367,214 cases and 22,445 deaths. It was the first time fewer than 1,000 cases have been reported since March 15.

There were 33,148 tests reported in the previous 24 hours and the seven-day statewide positivity rate as a percent of total test is 2.4%.

There were 32,253 doses of the vaccine administered statewide on Sunday and the seven-day rolling average of daily doses is 61,275. The state said more than 64% of adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 37.7% of all eligible residents have been fully vaccinated.

11:50 a.m.: Indiana ending enhanced pandemic jobless aid next month

Indiana is dropping out of a federal program that provides an extra $300 in weekly payments to unemployed workers and other programs that expanded unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the decision Monday, saying the changes would take effect June 19. Holcomb signed an executive order last week that reinstates a requirement that those receiving unemployment benefits will again have to show they are actively searching for work as of June 1.

The changes come as many businesses blame the extra $300 weekly payment and the ease of obtaining unemployment benefits with making it more difficult to fill job openings.

At least a dozen other states led by Republican governors have already announced they will stop paying the extra $300 benefit as soon as June or July.

11 a.m.: Eviction moratorium aimed at helping renters during pandemic will end by August

The statewide eviction moratorium that’s been in place for more than a year to help renters affected by the coronavirus pandemic will be phased out by August, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday

The details on how moratorium will be phased out over the next few months will be provided at a later date, Pritzker said.

Pritzker made the announcement before signing a bill that establishes guidelines for how the state will distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in federal rental assistance.

Pitchfork Music Festival is set to return to Chicago in September with a female-powered lineup led by Erykah Badu, St. Vincent and Phoebe Bridgers, organizers announced Monday.

For entry this year, festivalgoers 12 years old and up will be required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within the past 24 hours for each day they attend. Masks must be worn in the Near West Side park, but they may be removed when eating and drinking. Organizers said they are “working closely with local health officials and will continue to update this policy” as government guidelines evolve with an increase in vaccinations and decrease in cases.

9:15 a.m.: Most US parents will get monthly checks of $250 or $300 per child, starting in July

The Treasury Department said Monday that 39 million families are set to receive monthly child payments beginning on July 15.

The payments are part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which expanded the child tax credit for one year and made it possible to pre-pay the benefits on a monthly basis. Nearly 88% of children are set to receive the benefits without their parents needing to take any additional action.

Qualified families will receive a payment of up to $300 per month for each child under 6 and up to $250 per month for children between the ages of 6 and 17. The child tax credit was previously capped at $2,000 and only paid out to families with income tax obligations after they filed with the IRS.

But for this year, couples earning $150,000 or less can receive the full payments on the 15th of each month, in most cases by direct deposit. The benefits total $3,600 annually for children under 6 and $3,000 for those who are older.

6:55 a.m.: Pritzker to highlight statewide ‘rental relief’ program in Chicago, Metro East and Springfield news conferences

Gov. J.B. Pritzker was scheduled to hold a series of news conferences Monday morning regarding what his office is calling “rental relief” for people in Chicago and two other metro areas in Illinois. You can watch the 9 a.m. one in Chicago live here.

Pritzker was to join elected officials and community members to announce what his office is calling “major rental relief” program.

About 17% of renters were behind in payments across the country earlier this spring, analyses found.

The Illinois Rental Payment Program, which begins accepting applications Monday, offers help for up to 15 months in payments, with individual help of up to $25,000, according to the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

When applications for the program are live, they’ll be on the housing authority’s website.

Check back for updates. — Chicago Tribune staff

6 a.m.: CTA and Metra riders are slowly returning. Here’s what they’re finding on trains and buses.

Riders are trickling back to buses and trains as more people get vaccinated and go back to restaurants, events and offices.

On weekdays, they’re finding open seats on trains and buses that once would have been standing room only and CTA trains that are noticeably cleaner. Mask-wearing, still required on CTA and Metra, is mixed: During recent trips by a Tribune reporter, on some train cars and buses every rider was masked, while on others and some ‘L’ platforms handfuls of unmasked customers could be found.

To woo back riders, CTA kicked off a marketing effort Friday that includes advertising, special events and new customer incentives. The “When you’re ready, we’re ready” campaign aims to provide information about mask requirements, cleaning efforts and investments in service and technology, such as an updated Ventra app.

CTA buses and trains are carrying more than 500,000 weekday riders, about one-third of their pre-pandemic levels, spokesman Brian Steele said. Ongoing improvements to the experience could help bring customers back, he said.

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