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

Illinois expects to begin administering an average of 100,000 doses per day by mid-March, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said after touring a vaccination site in West Peoria on Wednesday. He said the increase is based on “public commitments from the White House and from vaccine manufacturers.”

The governor’s comments came as Illinois health officials reported that 55,947 vaccine doses were administered Tuesday, reaching a statewide total of 2,310,929. The number of Illinois residents who have been fully vaccinated reached 619,480, or 4.86% of the total population, health officials said.

State officials also announced 2,022 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 44 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 1,179,342 and the statewide death toll to 20,374.

Meanwhile, some Chicago Public Schools parents spoke out Wednesday against the district’s reopening plan in front of City Hall and planned to present a bundle of demands to Mayor Lori Lightfoot before the Board of Education meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, CPS CEO Janice Jackson presented a strong front to continue reopening schools, next for high school students. She said the district expects to meet with CTU officials this week to discuss a path forward.

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

4:50 p.m.: Chicago police official resigns amid investigation of bar party that led to citations for COVID-19 safety violations

A high-ranking Chicago police official resigned from the department Wednesday, weeks after an investigation began into a bar party allegedly held for him which led to the business being cited for violating COVID-19 safety measures.

James R. Sanchez stepped down as the Chicago police’s deputy director of gang investigations, officials said. He was rehired by the department as a civilian late last year to lead the unit after retiring in the fall as its commander.

A department spokesman confirmed Sanchez’s resignation on Wednesday but didn’t give a reason for it. Sanchez could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sanchez’s departure comes during an ongoing investigation by the department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs into a Jan. 7 gathering at Guide’s Sports Club, 5544 S. Archer Ave. on the Southwest Side. The bar was ticketed after city officials learned more than 40 people, a maskless group that apparently included Chicago police officers, gathered in the bar’s back room, according to city records.

The investigations included an anonymous allegation that the gathering was held for Sanchez.

4:40 p.m.: Chicago hospital cited by feds for COVID-19-related safety issues

Community First Medical Center in Portage Park is contesting a citation and $13,494 penalty issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in December related to COVID-19 safety.

OSHA inspectors found that the hospital did not develop and implement a written respiratory protection program in the time period they were examining. They also found that the hospital did not perform tests from June 9 to July 28 to make sure all the types of respirators that employees used on the job correctly fit their faces.

The hospital declined to comment on the citation Wednesday because it is contesting it, Gus Lopez, hospital vice president of human resources and labor relations, said in an email.

3:03 p.m.: PPP changes already helping small minority-owned Chicago businesses land loans

When President Joe Biden announced changes this week to the Paycheck Protection Program designed to provide more equitable relief to smaller and minority-owned businesses, the benefits quickly made a difference for Barbara Wright.

A high school teacher whose $30,000-a-year side gig as a Lyft driver was stalled by the pandemic, Wright learned Tuesday she was now eligible for a $6,336 forgivable PPP loan — a nearly sixfold increase over the $1,085 she received through the program last year.

“I’m glad somebody saw the light somewhere,” said Wright, 59, who lives in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. “I’m not ungrateful, but the $1,000 didn’t go very far.”

2:09 p.m.: As Illinois surpasses 2.3M COVID-19 vaccinations, Gov. J.B. Pritzker says Illinois expects 100K daily doses by next month

llinois administered 55,947 coronavirus vaccine doses Tuesday, reaching a statewide total of 2,310,929, public health officials reported Wednesday.

The number of Illinois residents who have been fully vaccinated — receiving both of the required two shots — reached 619,480, or 4.86% of the total population, health officials said.Illinois expects to begin administering an average of 100,000 doses per day by mid-March, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said after touring a vaccination site in West Peoria on Wednesday. He said the increase is based on “public commitments from the White House and from vaccine manufacturers.”

1:36 p.m.: Are car insurance rates still too high? New lawsuits allege COVID-19 discounts didn’t offer ‘any meaningful relief.’

Class-action lawsuits were filed in Nevada against 10 major auto insurance companies Tuesday, contending that the companies charged excessive insurance premiums during the pandemic by failing to account for a drop in driving and crashes.

The lawsuits acknowledge that some insurers provided discounts over the emptier roads and drop in accidents and claims, but the discounts did not offer “any meaningful relief that actually reflects the reduction in cars on the road and reduced driving during the pandemic,” according to the court filings. The rates that were charged violate state law against excessive premiums, the lawsuits contend.

12:13 p.m.: 2,022 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 44 additional deaths reported

Illinois health officials on Wednesday announced 2,022 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 44 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 1,179,342 and the statewide death toll to 20,374 since the start of the pandemic.

Officials also reported 82,976 new tests in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide test positivity rate was 2.8% for the period ending Tuesday.

12:12 p.m.: A Chicago gym spurred outbreak of 55 COVID-19 cases after infected patrons attended indoor workouts last summer, CDC says. Mask use was ‘infrequent.’

A Chicago gym spurred an outbreak of at least 55 COVID-19 cases over the summer after infected people attended indoor high-intensity exercise classes — including several who had already tested positive for the virus, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Wednesday.

Infrequent mask use also likely contributed to the superspreader event, which occurred over about a week of multiple high-intensity exercise classes, the study said.

Two of the patrons who caught COVID-19 visited the emergency room, and one was hospitalized for eight days. No deaths were reported from any of the cases linked to the gym.

11:38 a.m.: As parents push demands, CPS says it aims to reopen high schools before year’s end, while teachers union laments ‘inhumane’ negotiations: ‘We need to do better’

Chicago Public Schools parents spoke out against the district’s reopening plan Wednesday morning in front of City Hall and planned to present a bundle of demands to Mayor Lori Lightfoot before the Board of Education meeting.

Raise Your Hand, who started an online petition outlining what it calls its “TLC demands” — short for trust, learning and care — wants to be brought to the table as CPS officials proceed with the next phase of their reopening plan on Monday. That is when kindergarten through fifth graders who opted for in-person learning will return to classrooms, with sixth- through eighth graders returning on March 8.

That’s the schedule to which CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union agreed following a protracted fight over reopening schools that led to several delays and brought the district to a brink of a second teachers strike in less than a year and a half. But some parents both for and against reopening have said they felt their own perspectives have been lost in the talks, which will now turn to when high schools will reopen.

7:33 a.m.: Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine safe to use, about 66% effective, FDA says

Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine protects against COVID-19, according to an analysis by U.S. regulators Wednesday that sets the stage for a final decision on a new and easier-to-use shot to help tame the pandemic.

The Food and Drug Administration’s scientists confirmed that overall the vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19. The agency also said J&J’s shot — one that could help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two — is safe to use.

That’s just one step in the FDA’s evaluation of a third vaccine option for the U.S. On Friday, the agency’s independent advisers will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the long-anticipated shot. Armed with that advice, FDA is expected to make a final decision within days.

7:05 a.m.: Cook County Health system making first-dose appointments available at noon Wednesday

The Cook County Health system was scheduled to make available at noon Wednesday 5,000 first-dose appointments for later this week at two county-run mass vaccinations sites, according to a release.

The appointments that will be released Wednesday are at Triton College in River Grove and and South Suburban College in South Holland, for people eligible under phase 1a or 1b of the state’s vaccine distribution plan. Only about 20% of appointments this week are for first doses, with the rest reserved for people getting their second doses, according to the release.

People covered under 1b include people “65 and older and essential workers such as first responders, manufacturing employees and grocery store personnel,” according to the release. About 600,000 suburban residents “are eligible for vaccine under Phase 1b,” but supply is limited.

The health system has vaccinated more than 113,000 people so far, according to the release.

More than 80% of this week’s appointments at Cook County Health sites are second dose appointments.

Any eligible suburban residents can make an appointment online at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov or by calling 833-308-1988 between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Cook County Department of Public Health also is distributing vaccines through private partners, such as Jewel-Osco, Mariano’s, Walgreens and other health centers. More vaccination sits can be found at the state health department’s website.

6 a.m.: Chicago homes with elbow room and outdoor spaces to cure cramped, snowy winter woes are in high demand during pandemic

Record-setting snowfall and bitter cold days will pass eventually, allowing cramped, housebound Chicagoans to stretch their legs in the open outdoors once again.

One major motivator for home buyers this season is getting more space to do so in the second spring of the COVID-19 pandemic than the first, Chicago-area real estate agents say.

Despite the pandemic’s economic downturn, the real estate market has remained largely impervious, leading to a frenzy of home buying in the Chicago area. Some have moved up their plans to enter the market while interest rates remain low. Many are decamping for the suburbs, and sales throughout the Chicago area are up compared to prepandemic years.

In the Chicago metropolitan area, home sales were up 8.8% in 2020 compared to the year prior, with the spring shutdown tempering the impact of the surge in the latter half of the year, according to the Illinois Realtors association. Chicago sales decreased slightly in 2020, but were up 14% in January compared to January 2020.

As shifting lifestyles increase the need for hybrid spaces, home offices and space to spread out, the demand for larger homes on lots larger than the standard 25 feet by 125 feet has increased, as buyers look for outdoor spaces and other features that will make time at home vastly more enjoyable.

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