May 24, 2022

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

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Offering the promise of a summer resembling something close to normal, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that he will further ease coronavirus-related restrictions May 14 as a precursor to a full reopening as soon as June 11.

“The light that we can see at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter,” Pritzker said, though he cautioned that an unexpected resurgence of COVID-19 in the next few weeks still could delay the planned reopening.

Meanwhile, some Chicagoans aged 12 to 15 could be fully vaccinated by June, the city’s top health official said Thursday while predicting youths across the city could start getting their first Pfizer vaccine shot as soon as the day after the federal government gives its approval.

The city has been preparing hospitals, pharmacy chains and its own mass vaccination sites for when the Pfizer vaccine obtains emergency use authorization for 12 to 15-year-olds in the U.S., public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. That day could come next week, The Associated Press reported, with FDA approval likely coming next week and the CDC’s adoption of that recommendation anticipated soon after.

On Friday, Illinois public health officials reported 3,321 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 36 new deaths. That brings the state’s totals to 1,351,497 cases and 22,171 deaths. Officials also reported that there were 73,526 doses of the vaccine administered on Thursday. The seven-day rolling average of daily doses is 65,750.

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

7:45 p.m.: Chicago street vendor in ICU after contracting COVID-19 days before he was scheduled to get vaccine: ‘It’s the most vulnerable that keep getting infected’

All through 2020, Felipe Vallarta was hesitant to start selling his corn, tamales and churros at a busy intersection in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

Though he needed the money, Vallarta feared that he and his wife, who helps sell the Mexican snacks, would contract the coronavirus.

The couple decided to finally set up shop again in their usual spot in early March, “when things started to get better,” said Zenaida Castillo, Vallarta’s wife.

But just days before Felipon, as many of his loyal customers know him, was scheduled to get his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, he contracted the coronavirus. He’s now in critical condition in the intensive care unit at a Glenview hospital.

“Siento pura tristeza,” I feel pure sadness, said Castillo as she peeled a mango to prepare a fruit cocktail for a customer.

Even as vaccines become more easily available and Chicago moves toward opening up further, COVID-19 cases continue to hit low-income Latino and Black communities, said Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner.

The two communities continue to be the hardest hit by COVID-19 and also have the lowest vaccination rates in the city, despite efforts to boost inoculation numbers.

6:35 p.m.: Despite sharp drop in demand for shots, wheels keep turning on Chicago’s CTA COVID-19 vaccination bus

Carrie Travis had about 40 minutes to find a human home for two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine and one shot of Johnson & Johnson.

Standing on West North Avenue outside the Chicago Public Library’s North Austin branch parking lot, Travis, a registered nurse with the Chicago Department of Public Health, struck out more than not toward the end of a Friday afternoon vaccination event. She introduced herself to one man who kept walking with no attention paid toward the Chicago Transit Authority bus behind him that served as a makeshift “Vaccination Station.” Another said he already got vaccinated back in February.

And a manager at the barber shop next door said he wouldn’t have sent his employees home early had he known the event had Pfizer and not just J&J, as they wanted the vaccine but were wary of the latter brand following an 11-day pause last month because of extremely rare cases of blood clotting.

But by 1:40 p.m., with 20 minutes to spare, Travis found someone for each of the three leftover doses, which needed to be used that day because the vials were punctured. “No waste under my watch,” she said.

The final triumph happened when Wanda Dean, a 52-year-old Austin resident, was walking by the splashy blue-and-red bus that had its LED sign blinking, “Chicago is my kind of town.” Dean told Travis she already got her shot but then continued, “What do you have left?” When she heard there was Pfizer, Dean responded, “I’ll go get two people.” Then she walked home.

Just before the Vaccination Station’s 2 p.m. closing, Dean and her 82-year-old mother were seen in the distance forging their way across the sidewalk. They joined Dean’s 34-year-old daughter, who Dean also lives with and had told to go on ahead for a Pfizer shot.

“It wasn’t hard at all,” Dean said. “I was just hoping we didn’t run out of time.”

Dean was guiding her mother, who leaned on a stroller, readjusting it when needed to skate over the cracks. When they turned into the parking lot with the bus, staffers rushed over to support the 82-year-old and pulled up a chair with a blanket so that she didn’t have to step onboard the vehicle for a shot.

“They’re here,” Travis said. “What they do to get their shot. Look at that.”

Dean’s family was part of a small group of people who participated in the city’s weekly walk-in vaccination bus event at the Austin CPL parking lot. CDPH has been parking a decorated CTA bus with a full inoculation setup inside throughout neighborhoods with lower uptake of the vaccine, starting with a March 31 kickoff in South Shore that inoculated 98 residents. CDPH did not immediately respond to a request for totals from later vaccination bus events, though Friday’s site appeared much less trafficked.

2:40 p.m.: Teachers look back on the year of pandemic educating, from virtual learning to fights over reopening schools

When Roberto Clemente High School English teacher Mueze Bawany received an email from Chicago Public Schools with a certificate for Teacher Appreciation Week attached, his first reaction was, “Is this from one of my students trying to prank me?”

The digital accolade was legit — a small gesture of gratitude for a teacher who, like his peers across the nation, has endured the unprecedented and inordinately grueling experience of trying to educate students during a pandemic.

Bawany said he doesn’t need any extra praise. He’d prefer the shout-outs be extended to his students at the West Town high school and their families.

“Every day, I hear from students who want to make it to my class but they couldn’t, because their dad has COVID, or they can’t get out of their shift at the grocery store and they need to work to help support their families,” Bawany said. “Every day, I wake up and think, this is a miracle, that I work at a job where I’m caring for people’s most prized possessions, their children.”

Of course, there were times during this most difficult of school years that some teachers didn’t feel enthusiastic or appreciated.

Forced to shift abruptly to remote instruction at the onset of the pandemic, teachers were bombarded with criticism about the inadequacies of virtual learning. While coping with their own fears about safety, they witnessed angry parents marching past school buildings and demanding the return of in-person instruction as the virus continued to rage. Some endured the decisions of ambitious administrators and school boards who insisted teachers provide remote lessons from empty classrooms, long before the return of students.

Now, with the end of the turbulent school year in sight, most Illinois schools having finally welcomed students back into the classroom at least part-time. And many teachers, while weary, are looking back on the year with a sense of pride and accomplishment, and a note of optimism.

2:30 p.m.: Would you rent a car from a stranger? With rental prices sky high, car sharing companies get a boost.

A Memorial Day trip to hike and bike at Mississippi Palisades State Park seemed like an easy pandemic getaway — until Autumn Wolfer tried to book a rental car to drive there.

Including insurance, some rental car companies wanted as much as $900, she said.

So Wolfer, 43, of Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, checked out Turo, a car sharing company that lets people rent from individuals rather than companies like Hertz and Avis. Renting a 2020 Chevrolet Equinox from someone in Wicker Park cost just $250, she said.

“We’re paying $50 for the campsite. Paying $900 for the car just seemed kind of silly,” she said.

Rental car companies that sold hundreds of thousands of vehicles when the COVID-19 pandemic kept people home are now struggling to bring in enough new cars, leading to higher-than-usual prices and, in some destinations, limited options. For travelers, that means planning ahead or considering alternative options, from renting a stranger’s vehicle through a car sharing service to driving a U-Haul.

1:20 p.m.: More than 100 in quarantine after four COVID-19 cases at River Forest school

After receiving confirmation of several cases of COVID-19 at Roosevelt Middle School, officials at River Forest District 90 have asked more than 100 people to quarantine.

Students and staff at Roosevelt, 7560 Oak Ave., returned to full in-person learning on April 26. Since that time, the district has learned of four confirmed cases of COVID-19, which has required 128 people associated with the school to quarantine.

Officials did not say whether the confirmed cases were students, staff or a combination of both.

12:10 p.m.: 73,526 vaccine doses administered, 3,321 new cases and 36 additional deaths reported Friday

Illinois public health officials on Friday reported 3,321 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 36 new deaths. That brings the state’s totals to 1,351,497 cases and 22,171 deaths.

There were 101,005 tests reported in the previous 24 hours and the seven-day statewide positivity rate as a percent of total test fell to 3.1{9f8850bc8f664a2ac1fdee25ffd85a3cdac362824700ab0655dbcffd0add5cb2} as of Thursday.

There were 73,526 doses of the vaccine reported administered on Thursday. The seven-day rolling average of daily doses is 65,750.

8:30 a.m.: US unemployment rises to 6.1{9f8850bc8f664a2ac1fdee25ffd85a3cdac362824700ab0655dbcffd0add5cb2} as hiring slows, workers scarce

America’s employers added just 266,000 jobs last month, sharply lower than in March and a sign that some businesses are struggling to find enough workers as the economic recovery strengthens.

With viral cases declining and states and localities easing restrictions, businesses have added jobs for four straight months, the Labor Department said Friday. Still, the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.1{9f8850bc8f664a2ac1fdee25ffd85a3cdac362824700ab0655dbcffd0add5cb2} from 6{9f8850bc8f664a2ac1fdee25ffd85a3cdac362824700ab0655dbcffd0add5cb2} in March.

At the same time, optimism about the economic recovery is growing. Many Americans are flush with cash after having received $1,400 federal relief checks, along with savings they have built up after cutting back on travel, entertainment and dining out over the past year. Millions of consumers have begun spending their extra cash on restaurant meals, airline tickets, road trips and new cars and homes.

7 a.m.: A graphic artist from Evanston used pandemic slowdown to expand his hot sauce business while giving back to the community

Verzell James, a graphic artist from Evanston, has long had a passion for hot sauce.

But when things slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to shift his passion into a full-fledged business.

Now, James, 59, is reaching out to restaurants and stores to see who might be interested in carrying his small-batch hot sauce, called Awe-Sauce.

James has made hot sauce in his spare time since 1994, the spring after he first moved to Evanston. He and his wife had a small patch of lawn behind their house and they didn’t feel like lugging the lawn mower up and down from the basement storage room.

So, they started growing peppers and experimenting with recipes.

But it wasn’t until the start of the pandemic last year that he decided to really see who might enjoy his blends of heat and flavor.

“When COVID hit it actually slowed the world down enough for me to catch up,” said James, a graphic artist and writer who owns and operates his own business, JAM Graphics and Publishing.

Now, James said, he’s driving all over the Chicago area, handing out five-packs of his most popular varieties and talking to business owners about working with him.

“If I talk to them now, when it’s time for them to open up fully then they’ll have Awe-Sauce on the table,” he said.

6 a.m.: Violations of ICE detention standards found at southern Illinois jail

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s office detailed several violations at a southern Illinois jail that houses Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, according to a report released Thursday.

An inspection of the Pulaski County Jail revealed the facility didn’t consistently enforce the use of facial coverings, social distancing and other precautions that would have mitigated the spread of COVID-19. Between February 2020 and February 2021, the jail had 111 cases of COVID-19.

The Ullin facility had an average daily population of 107 detainees at the time of the inspection, with a maximum capacity of 216 inmates, according to the report. At the time of the inspection, the jail housed about 113 detainees.

In its report, the inspector general’s office noted the jail did not have procedures in place for chronic care nor did it conduct routine wellness checks of detainees held in segregation. The failure to have a color-coded visual identification system based on the criminal history of detainees cause the housing of a detainee with significant criminal history with detainees with no criminal histories. The mistake was revealed to jail officials by an inmate.

The inspector general also noted ICE did not specify times for staff to visit detainees and could not provide documentation that it completed facility visits with detainees during the pandemic.

The inspection of the Pulaski County Jail was conducted through the viewing of surveillance video from areas within the facility including housing units and of specific use of force incidents involving detainees. In addition, ICE personnel, jail officials and detainees were questioned by investigators by telephone and video conferencing.

In its report, the inspector general’s office noted ICE has agreed to five recommendations designed to mitigate all the problems pointed out in the report.

Pulaski County Sheriff Randy Kern was unavailable for comment when his office was contacted by The Associated Press.

—Associated Press staff

6 a.m.: Police from around Illinois gather to commemorate officers who have died

After a difficult year for Illinois police, officers from around the state gathered at the Illinois Police Officers Memorial outside the state Capitol on Thursday to remember those who died in the line of duty.

Sixteen Illinois officers were killed in the line of duty between 2019 and 2020. COVID-19 killed several of those officers in 2020. In 2019, multiple officers were killed in traffic accidents or by gunfire. Six other officers who lost their lives in previous years also were honored.

“I wanted to say how happy I am to be here. But that seems inappropriate to use that word. I’d be really happy if we didn’t need to be here today. If there were no more names to be added to the wall,” said Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs.

This was the first time the ceremony was held at the memorial since it was renovated. In addition to a statue with the names of Illinois’ line of duty deaths surrounding it, a wall with various inscriptions and a thin blue line on the ground was added.

The memorial ceremony has been annually since the early 1990s. Among the new names being added to the memorial are McHenry County Deputy Jacob Keltner and Fulton County Deputy Troy Chisum. Keltner was shot and killed in March 2019 while executing a search warrant in Rockford. Chisum was shot responding to a disturbance call in June 2019.

6 a.m.: Will County hires former census worker to be equity director for COVID-19 vaccinations

Will County’s new vaccine equity manager is hopeful her work with the U.S. Census Bureau and reaching out to “hard to reach” communities will become a foundation in the county’s vaccination efforts.

Vinita Voss joined the Will County Health Department this week in the newly created post. Voss most recently worked as a health equity manager for the Spanish Community Center in Joliet and was a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, focused on reaching out to traditionally undercounted communities in Will County.

”We have a wonderful foundation and framework that we built from the census,” she said.She said “trusted messengers” such as community based organizations and churches will play a key role in the county’s vaccination efforts in the Black and Latino communities.

Voss’ hiring comes months after a coalition of community based organizations released a letter criticizing the Will County Health Department’s handling of the vaccination roll out. The coalition, which included the Spanish Community Center, lobbied for changes including the hiring of a vaccine equity manager.

Read more here. —Alicia Fabbre, Daily Southtown

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