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

People in Illinois under 65 who have preexisting health conditions will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot beginning Feb. 25 under the current phase of the state’s vaccination effort, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office said Wednesday.

The move comes as Illinois continues to struggle to quickly vaccinate the roughly 3.2 million residents 65 and over and front-line essential workers who are already eligible under phase 1b of the vaccine distribution plan.

Meanwhile, Chicago public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has warned the city could push back the start date for phase 1c if the federal government doesn’t send more doses. That phase is estimated to begin March 29.

Earlier on Wednesday, Illinois health officials announced 2,825 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 53 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 1,152,995 and the statewide death toll to 19,739.

State officials also said 62,923 vaccinations were administered Tuesday, bringing the state total to 1,480,079. The 7-day rolling daily average of administered vaccine doses is 55,135.

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

7:45 p.m.: CPS is about to reopen after a bitter union fight. Now the hard part begins.

Though Chicago Teachers Union members voted two-to-one in favor of a reopening deal with Chicago Public Schools, the union’s mood has been less than celebratory about the resumption of in-person classes on Thursday.

Many educators and parents still don’t trust the district with implementation and feel hard-fought wins should have been present to begin with.

“I think the real test of whether or not CTU was successful in negotiating a better plan is going to be whether or not we see more (students) return,” said James Klock, who teaches at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen. “… Now the safety committees, the mechanism by which this agreement is to be upheld, now those need to form immediately and start working to share power between administrators and educators.”

At Beasley Elementary in Washington Park, Principal Donnell Rader said he’s waiting on guidance from the district but has been in touch with a union representative eager to assemble a safety committee and feels well prepared to welcome students once again.

“We are excited about the opportunity to experience some semblance of normalcy,” Rader said. “We have been remote for almost a year now, so I’m happy to see staff coming back, happy to see students. Even though we have masks on, the physical person-to-person interaction is something that should not be overlooked.”

Principals have been in a tough situation, Rader said.

“I had to reassure my staff that, ‘Hey, I support you and the decision that you make, your fight,’” Rader said. “We talk about this too in meetings, that what you are fighting for I agree with, your fight is not against me, we all work for students and we are on the same page. But I was kind of caught in the middle of what was documented in the media as a crossfire.”

4:30 p.m.: Can’t find an N95 mask? This company has 30 million that it can’t sell.

A year into the pandemic, the disposable, virus-filtering N95 mask remains a coveted piece of protective gear. Continuing shortages have forced doctors and nurses to reuse their N95s, and ordinary Americans have scoured the internet — mostly in vain — to get them.

But Luis Arguello Jr. has plenty of N95s for sale — 30 million of them, in fact, which his family-run business, DemeTech, manufactured in its factories in Miami. He simply can’t seem to find buyers.

After the pandemic exposed a huge need for protective equipment, and China closed its inventory to the world, DemeTech, a medical suture maker, dived into the mask business. The company invested tens of millions of dollars in new machinery and then navigated a nine-month federal approval process that allows the masks to be marketed.

But demand is so slack that Arguello is preparing to lay off some of the 1,300 workers he had hired to ramp up production.

“It’s insane that we can’t get these masks to the people who desperately need them,” he said.

In one of the more confounding disconnects between the laws of supply and demand, many of the nearly two dozen small American companies that recently jumped into the business of making N95s are facing the abyss — unable to crack the market, despite vows from both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden to “Buy American” and buoy domestic production of essential medical gear.

12:30 p.m.: Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she’ll allow Chicago restaurants to serve more people starting Thursday

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she will allow Chicago bars and restaurants to expand the number of people they serve indoors.

But the city will continue to keep tighter restrictions on restaurants than the looser rules allowed elsewhere by the state.

Lightfoot’s plan, which will go into effect Thursday, will allow bars and restaurants to expand to 25% capacity or 50 people per room or floor. Currently, it’s a maximum of 25 people.

12:14 p.m.: Pritzker expands COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to residents with a range of preexisting health conditions

People under 65 who have preexisting health conditions will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot beginning Feb. 25 under the current phase of the state’s vaccination effort, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office said Wednesday.

The move comes as the state continues to struggle to quickly vaccinate the roughly 3.2 million residents 65 and over and front-line essential workers who are already eligible under phase 1b of the vaccine distribution plan.

The state said it is following guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease control and prevention in opening up vaccination to people with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, heart conditions, compromised immune systems due to organ transplants, obesity, pregnancy, pulmonary disease and sickle cell disease.

The expansion includes people 16 and older who weren’t previously eligible under other categories.

The Pritzker administration said the expansion is possible due to increased, federal vaccine shipments to the state under the Biden administration and because Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine is on track for emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration as soon as the end of the month.

12:04 p.m.: 2,825 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 53 additional deaths reported

Illinois health officials on Wednesday announced 2,825 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 53 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 1,152,995 and the statewide death toll to 19,739 since the start of the pandemic.

Officials also reported 82,885 new tests in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide rolling positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests was 3.3% for the period ending Tuesday.

The 7-day rolling daily average of administered vaccine doses is 55,135, with 62,923 doses given on Tuesday. IDPH also says a total of 1,480,079 vaccines have now been administered.

11:48 a.m.: Cook County prosecutors officially informed they can sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations at McCormick Place

Cook County prosecutors were officially informed Wednesday that they can sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations at McCormick Place, since Illinois State Police have determined that they are eligible first responders.

An internal email obtained by the Tribune stressed that the State’s Attorney’s office “has had no role in determining who is eligible for vaccine receipt and this determination was made in the sole discretion of ISP,” and their office is not mandating the inoculations. But staffers who are required to work closely with the public and in person with other coworkers were encouraged to sign up.

Not all county offices apparently were included under the state police program, as the state’s attorney’s office wrote that they “have informed the other criminal justice stakeholders, such as our colleagues at the Public Defender’s Office, of this offering so that they may work with ISP to determine their eligibility and a timeline in which they may also be offered the vaccine.

11:28 a.m.: CDC study finds two masks are better than one in slowing the spread of coronavirus, but stopped short of recommending everyone double up

U.S. government researchers found that two masks are better than one in slowing coronavirus spread, but health officials stopped short of recommending that everyone double up.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday reported the results of a lab experiment that spaced two artificial heads 6 feet from each other and checked to see how many coronavirus-sized particles spewed by one were inhaled by the other.

The researchers found that wearing one mask — surgical or cloth — blocked around 40% of the particles coming toward the head that was breathing in. When a cloth mask was worn on top of a surgical mask, about 80% were blocked.

When both the exhaling and inhaling heads were double-masked, more than 95% of the particles were blocked, said the CDC’s Dr. John Brooks.

11:09 a.m.: Chicago public health commissioner says city could push back phase 1c vaccine start date if city doesn’t get more doses

Chicago public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has warned the city could push back the start date for vaccinating a broader range of residents if the federal government doesn’t send more doses.

“If we don’t get significantly more vaccine, like we’re anticipating, it’s possible we may have to push the date for 1C back, but at this point, we’re going with the projections,” Arwady said Tuesday.

City officials have for weeks emphasized that the vaccine supply so far remains limited. The city, like the rest of the country, remains in phase 1b of its vaccination program, which launched in December.

7:42 a.m.: With some Kane County deputies reluctant to get vaccine, Sheriff’s Office begins administering to judges, attorneys

The Kane County Sheriff’s Office is now administering COVID-19 vaccinations at its facility to law enforcement, judges, state’s attorneys and public defenders in the county.

The new clinic within the Sheriff’s Office opens at a time when some people in area law enforcement — who are eligible in Phase 1B of the vaccine’s rollout — are showing a reluctance to get the shot.

In Phase 1B, vaccines are available to seniors over age 65 and front-line workers such as teachers, first responders, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers and others.

Kane County Board member Jarret Sanchez, chairman of the board’s Public Health Committee that oversees the Kane County Health Department, said on Feb. 3 that about 50% of municipal police officers refused the vaccine when it was offered to them.

Kane County Board member Ken Shepro, who works as an attorney for the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District, said many younger firefighters are declining the vaccine.

6 a.m.: Chicago Teachers Union approves school reopening framework, CPS in-person classes resume Thursday: ‘We got what we were able to take’

Chicago Teachers Union members have voted two-to-one in favor of a reopening deal with Chicago Public Schools, signaling that in-person classes can resume Thursday as planned.

The union’s 25,000 members had through 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to vote on proposed framework after its 600-member House of Delegates on Monday decided to put the decision in members’ hands. Now ratified, it is a binding agreement between CTU and CPS.

The union swiftly certified the results, with more than 20,000 members voting. More than two-thirds voted yes, while nearly a third voted no, and only a simple majority was needed to pass. The number of yes votes accounts for close to 55% of total membership.

In a letter to members, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the plan represents where the parties should have started months ago.

“We did not get what we wanted or what we deserved,” Sharkey said. “We got what we were able to take. CTU members fought hard and sacrificed for this, so we have to protect and use it.”

Cheryl Judice, center, wife of the late Hecky Powell, stands with her daughter Gigi Powell, left, and sister-in-law Patsy Powell outside Hecky's Barbecue in Evanston on Feb. 3, 2021.

Cheryl Judice, center, wife of the late Hecky Powell, stands with her daughter Gigi Powell, left, and sister-in-law Patsy Powell outside Hecky’s Barbecue in Evanston on Feb. 3, 2021. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

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6 a.m.: Hecky’s Barbecue keeps going: ‘We know we’re an institution in Evanston and we want to live up to that reputation’

Hecky Powell believed in divine order, as does his wife Cheryl Judice, owner of Hecky’s Barbecue. They opened the restaurant almost 40 years ago in Evanston, just north of Chicago.

“My husband was quite a force in the community,” said Judice, a sociologist and author. “He was always called the unofficial mayor of Evanston, but his real goal was to operate our business pretty much as a social service for many years.”

A lifelong champion and challenger of the progressive suburb north of the city, Powell died at 71 last May of COVID-19 complications.

“His death will always be aligned with COVID, but my husband had been the recipient of a living donor liver transplant in 2011,” said Judice. “He was doing just fine with that, but over the last year I had noticed a decline in his health. When COVID hit, that just took him out much more quickly.”

He was the face of the business. She had always worked in the background, handling its finances, taxes and accounting. Those are her forte, she said.

“It’s not as if I’ve stepped into something I don’t know about,” said Judice. “The only thing that I didn’t really know about was the day-to-day operations of the business.”

Hecky’s still has familiar faces. General manager Floyd Johnson started as a dishwasher two weeks after the restaurant opened. Assistant manager Aracely Rodriguez has worked behind the counter about a dozen years. Daughter Gigi Powell is in the restaurant almost all the time. Sister-in-law Patsy Powell returned last summer to where she worked with her brother in the ’80s.

“We’ve always been carryout,” said Judice. “So we didn’t have to make any adjustments for dining in, because that was never an option. We added curbside pickup for people who didn’t want to come in. Even with the pandemic, quite frankly we have done well.”

5 a.m.: East St. Louis schools aim for in-person learning next month

East St. Louis public school students are slated to return to the classroom next month, nearly a year after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the district, officials announced Tuesday.

District 189 officials have tentatively scheduled pre-school and elementary school students to return to in-person learning on March 2. However, remote learning will remain an option for families. District officials say the return to the classroom for middle and high school students will be scheduled after assessing how the transition for younger students go.

There was no school for the district’s approximately 5,200 students on Tuesday, so teachers could receive the first dose of the vaccination, according to District 189 spokesman Sydney Stigge-Kaufman. Because the second dose is supposed to be delivered 21 days after the first, the March 2 start date could be pushed back slightly, depending on when vaccines available for staff.

Nearly 600 District 189 teachers and staff members are scheduled to be vaccinated this week, according to officials.

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