Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Here’s what’s happening Thursday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area

·8 min read

In-person classes in Chicago Public Schools are canceled again Thursday as the district tries to hammer out a deal with the teachers union to avoid a strike by employees who are refusing to return to schools.

CPS announced the decision Wednesday evening, making it the second day in a row that preschool and special education students who resumed in-person classes earlier this month were told to stay home.

Meanwhile, parents across the city were left bewildered at how tensions between the school district and teachers union over reopening schools escalated to this point.

Illinois health officials on Wednesday announced 3,751 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 81 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 1,112,181 and the statewide death toll to 18,964 since the start of the pandemic.

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

7 a.m.: New Illinois House Speaker Emanuel ‘Chris’ Welch signals pandemic housing, ethics, restorative justice are among legislative priorities

Newly inaugurated Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch has signaled some of his legislative priorities with the creation of special committees on ethics and elections, restorative justice, and housing and immigration.

“We want to continue to be the voice of the most vulnerable,” he said. “But I also think one of the things that we need to focus on is rebuilding trust in the legislature and the legislative process.”

Welch also canceled most scheduled House session days in February but did set one for Feb. 10, when representatives will vote on whether to allow them to work remotely.

Welch, of west suburban Hillside, made history earlier this month when he became the first Black Illinois House speaker and the first legislator other than Michael Madigan to lead the chamber in decades.

The special housing committee Welch created for the spring session will take up issues related to the pandemic.

“People are struggling during the pandemic; rental assistance is desperately needed. Mortgage assistance is desperately needed,” Welch said. “People are struggling and we’re going to find ways to help them.”

Read more here. —Jamie Munks

6 a.m.: Cook County Board to vote on suburban residential tenant, landlord ordinance strengthening renters’ rights

Cook County Board commissioners are set to vote Thursday on a proposed suburban residential tenant and landlord ordinance that was hailed by proponents as a victory for hundreds of thousands of renters without such protections but was condemned by real estate groups.

The legislation cements regulations for landlords throughout the county with the exceptions of Chicago, Evanston and Mount Prospect, which already have such codes. Should it pass, the entire county would have some form of an ordinance governing its leases starting in June.

During a Tuesday committee hearing, commissioners cheered on the ordinance’s expected approval as a relief for the renters they said have turned out in droves during the pandemic to seek help in fraught housing situations.

Their enthusiasm for the legislation was contrasted by gloom from Tom Benedetto, government affairs director at the Chicagoland Apartment Association, who spoke at the meeting. He said the ordinance, if passed, would cause landlords to be buried by excessive lawsuits and fines.

“Almost one year in (the pandemic), housing providers are at a financial breaking point,” Benedetto said. “This is pouring salt in the wound of housing providers. Make no mistake, the (ordinance) will come at a steep price for both tenants and landlords.”

Read more here. —Alice Yin

6 a.m.: Spring break plans abroad? Here’s how to get that COVID-19 test you’ll need to come back home.

With fears of more virulent COVID-19 variants spreading, governments across the world are tightening travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. This is true even in the face of the rollout of vaccines. In general, the best advice remains to avoid nonessential international travel, especially since many of these changes are impossible to predict in advance and people have gotten stuck.

But what if you have already made spring break reservations from, say, Chicago to Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean? Will you be able to get that required test easily and safely?

Effective with arrivals Tuesday, U.S. authorities required travelers to show a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a plane headed to the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says you need a viral test carried out within 72 hours of your flight and you must have documentation (paper or electronic) that you tested negative. Alternately, if you have recovered from a prior bout with COVID-19, you can show proof of that recovery in the form of a letter from a medical professional. Airlines are legally required to deny boarding to anyone who refuses to take such a test, or lacks the documentation at the check-in desk.

Both nucleic acid amplification tests (which are generally more accurate but take longer to process; includes PCR tests) and antigen tests are acceptable ways to meet this requirement. And if you are flying back to, say, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, you do not have to get the test from a government-approved list of providers, which is notably different from the more stringent requirements to enter the state of Hawaii.

Tests taken abroad are acceptable, since that would be the only way to fulfill the 72-hour requirement for most travelers.

Read more here. —Chris Jones

6 a.m.: Lake County Health Department vaccinating about 600 a day, could handle 1,000 a day if doses were available, director says

The Lake County Health Department will be vaccinating about 600 people a day in phase 1b by the end of this week, but could easily expand to 1,000 doses a day by next week, Executive Director Mark Pfister said Wednesday night during a board of health meeting.

The county is using its indoor fairgrounds exhibition hall to allow about 20 cars in at a time, keeping people in their cars for safety, but could expand that to about 80 cars at a time, Pfister told the county board of health Wednesday.

A major corporation Pfister did not name also will soon be able to vaccinate about 750 people a day, he said.

Also next week, two school districts will open buildings for the vaccination of teachers and staff at pre-kindergarten through 12thgrade schools, Pfister said.

”In the short term,” he said, “I’m less worried about having enough providers, but rather that we have enough vaccine.”

Phase 1b includes frontline essential workers and those over 65. Twenty-five percent of those vaccinated in Lake County do not live there, but work there. Pfister said it’s important to vaccinate both residents and visiting workers, to avoid having vaccinated residents working next to unvaccinated colleagues.

The county asked for $10 million from the state to fund vaccination efforts, but got $1.75 million, Pfister said, noting he brought up the discrepancy with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who toured the fairgrounds facility Wednesday.

The county has also asked for 140 National Guard members to help, including 80 vaccinators. Officials also plan to hire 20 people to handle phone calls, since the county is being flooded with about 3,000 calls and emails each day from people trying to get the vaccine.

”We’re in a very good place,” Pfister said. “We just need more people and more vaccine.” — Robert McCoppin

6 a.m.: Biden set to announce reopening of ACA health insurance markets

President Joe Biden is set to take his first steps to reverse Trump administration health care policies. The White House said Biden plans on Thursday to sign orders on a range of issues including getting more Americans covered and removing curbs on abortion counseling.

The most concrete short-term impact will come from Biden reopening HealthCare.gov insurance markets as coverage has shrunk in the economic turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic. Created under the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, also called “Obamacare,” the marketplaces offer taxpayer-subsidized coverage regardless of a person’s medical history, or preexisting conditions, including COVID-19.

That new three-month “special enrollment period” could begin as soon as Feb. 15, according to a White House summary.

Read more here. —Associated Press

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Here are some recent stories related to COVID-19

United Airlines shrinking HQ space in Willis Tower, in latest COVID-19 hit to downtown Chicago.

High school basketball to begin “ASAP,” the IHSA says, but not all regions are cleared to play.

Biden to reopen ACA insurance markets to aid those who need coverage during COVID-19 pandemic.

What ran through Fauci’s mind when Trump suggested injecting disinfectant?

10,000 CPS students who chose in-person option change their minds; racial disparities seen in attendance rates.

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