Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Here’s what happened March 4 with COVID-19 in the Chicago area

Registration for the United Center mass vaccination site began Thursday morning, and despite some early glitches, almost 28,000 seniors had registered by phone and online by midafternoon , officials said.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in an online question-and-answer session that there was a “huge rush of people” when registration first became available Thursday on the Zocdoc registration website.

The United Center site will be the biggest in the state. It will have a “soft opening” on March 9, Dan Shulman, a Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman, said. March 10 will be the first day the site will try to hit its goal of 6,000 vaccines per day. The site will be open seven days a week for eight weeks.

Additionally, Illinois readied two more mass COVID-19 vaccination sites to open Thursday. The sites at 1155 E. Oakton St. in Des Plaines and in downstate Quincy, together, are geared to give shots to up to 4,000 people a day once at full capacity, the state said. With those sites, the state has 18 state-supported mass vaccination sites.

Meanwhile, Illinois public health officials reported that 93,302 coronavirus vaccine doses were administered Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 2,993,543. The number of Illinois residents who have been fully vaccinated — receiving both of the required two shots — reached 952,141, or 7.47% of the total population.

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

8:10 p.m.: Will the world ever really get over COVID-19? What we learned from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s Chicago talk.

As the U.S. continues to ramp up vaccinations, Dr. Anthony Fauci discussed what the future holds for people who are vaccinated, whether COVID-19 worries will ever completely fade, and how divisiveness hurt efforts to fight the pandemic, at a virtual Chicago event Thursday.

Fauci spoke as he accepted an award from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy that’s given annually to an exceptional leader who has championed analytically rigorous, evidence-based approaches to policy.

(Updated): 5:30 p.m.: After initial glitches, thousands register for COVID-19 mass vaccination site at United Center, officials say

Registration for the United Center mass vaccination site began Thursday morning, and despite some early glitches, almost 28,000 seniors had registered by phone and online by midafternoon , officials said.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in an online question-and-answer session that there was a “huge rush of people” when registration first became available Thursday on the Zocdoc registration website.

“Some people weren’t able to get through immediately. Within 20 to 30 minutes, everything was up again and running smoothly,” she said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a news conference asked people to “be patient.”

Initial drive-thru appointments were all booked by Thursday morning, but walk-up appointments were still available, Arwady said.

The phone line for registration also “got a very big hit of calls” in the morning, and Arwady said she was aware that some people got busy signals. The call system can handle 600 calls at any one time.

4:30 p.m.: ‘A lot of relief’: Hundreds of Niles residents get COVID-19 vaccines at village-sponsored clinic

As he waited in the chilly air to receive his COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, Niles resident Bill Koller reflected on his hopes for post-vaccination life.

“I haven’t seen any family members in over a year,” the father of five and grandfather of five acknowledged. “I think once I get this (vaccine) yes, I will see them. I’m looking forward to that, having them all come to the house.”

It’s a simple wish, but one that can soon become a reality for Koller and others who were among the nearly 1,000 residents approved for the first of two Pfizer vaccines administered March 4 at the Niles Family Fitness Center.

The vaccine clinic, organized through a partnership between the village of Niles and Jewel-Osco, was opened to Niles residents ages 65 years and over.

“Everyone’s really happy, very thankful,” said Niles Acting Village Manager Hadley Skeffington-Vos of the mood inside the building, where approximately 40 people were being vaccinated every 15 minutes. “It’s nice to see the happy faces — and a lot of relief.”

3:40 p.m.: CPS proposes starting school early next year, citing ‘learning loss’ from COVID-19 disruptions

Chicago Public Schools is asking for public comment on a proposed academic calendar for the 2021-22 school year that would have classes start a week earlier than usual.

The public comment period opened Wednesday and ends March 17. The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to consider the new calendar at its meeting the following week.

A comment form the district is circulating does not seek to gauge approval through a yes or no question, but asks for an open-ended comment.

“CPS is proposing the 2021-22 school year begin a week earlier on August 30 instead of September 7, when school would traditionally resume,” according to the form. In turn, the 2022 summer break would start earlier, on June 14.

The form states the district believes the early start would “help minimize summer learning loss after an already disrupted 2020-21 school year.” Other reasons stated include additional time for high school students to prepare for high-stakes standardized tests such as the SAT.

After several delays and a fight with the Chicago Teachers Union, tens of thousands of CPS students in grades kindergarten through five began in-person classes this week, with sixth to eighth graders returning Monday. Most students whose families chose the in-person option are on a hybrid schedule of two days in school each week and three days of remote learning.

CPS still has no schedule for bringing high school students back into classrooms, but the district and CTU began meeting this week to negotiate their return.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson said Thursday she’s “incredibly optimistic” about negotiations, which have had a “very positive and productive” tone so far. The two parties have set a regular schedule for negotiations, Jackson added.

2:07 p.m.: Illinois nears 3 million vaccinations administered, but less than 8% of population has received both doses

Illinois public health officials reported that 93,302 coronavirus vaccine doses were administered Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 2,993,543.

The number of Illinois residents who have been fully vaccinated — receiving both of the required two shots — reached 952,141, or 7.47% of the total population.

Over the past seven days, an average of 78,942 vaccinations were administered daily.

Officials on Thursday also reported 1,740 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 42 additional fatalities. The total number of known infections in Illinois is 1,193,260 and the statewide death toll is 20,668.

Thursday’s new cases resulted from 73,990 tests. The seven-day statewide positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests was 2.4% — the lowest the state has seen since late June — for the sixth day in a row.

As of Wednesday night, 1,200 people in Illinois were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 260 patients in intensive care units. These numbers are at their lowest levels since the state began releasing hospitalization data in mid-April during the initial surge of the pandemic.

The state also reported 128 patients on ventilators. All three hospitalization metrics were near these levels during the pandemic’s previous low point in July.

2:01 p.m.: Doctors work to dispel COVID-19 vaccine misinformation: ‘There is no evidence that the vaccine can lead to loss of fertility’

Dr. Eve Feinberg proactively brings up the COVID-19 vaccine with patients who are hoping to get pregnant, in order to get ahead of misinformation about the inoculation.

Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron has written blog posts with headlines straight to the point, like “The COVID-19 vaccine won’t cause infertility.”

Doctors who specialize in pregnancy and fertility are coming out in full force against vaccine-related misinformation that falsely connects the vaccine and infertility, educating their patients of childbearing age and urging them to educate themselves with reliable sources.

“I very much feel as a physician, as a leader, we have to be vaccine ambassadors and educate the public,” said Feinberg, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern’s medical school. “We need to really dispel a lot of anti-vaccine propaganda out there.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists last month put out a statement assuring patients that “there is no evidence that the vaccine can lead to loss of fertility.”

1:50 p.m.: Chicago, no big St. Patrick’s Day parties this year, public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady implores city

While Chicago has seen its luck with coronavirus rates turn for the better in recent weeks, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations should stay muted this year, Chicago’s public health commissioner said Thursday.

The warning from Dr. Allison Arwady comes despite Chicago earlier in the week hitting its lowest seven-day positivity rate since the start of the pandemic and once again expanding indoor dining, with hope of more reopening moves to come. Still, that progress could vanish should revelers on March 17 shirk social distancing guidelines from public health officials, she said.

“Let me start by saying I was pleased to note that St Patrick’s Day is in the middle of the week this year,” Arwady said during an online question-and-answer session. “We are not at a point where we can start having major St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. We are just not.”

12:56 p.m.: With COVID-19 shots in short supply, some people are getting vaccinated with leftover doses that might otherwise be wasted

While taking her mother to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Gillian Malone unexpectedly lucked out and got a shot as well.

Her mom’s appointment was the last slot available at a local grocery store pharmacy. Another patient scheduled around the same time never showed up and couldn’t be reached by phone. So the mom asked the pharmacist if Malone — who didn’t have an appointment and would otherwise be ineligible under current vaccination guidelines — could get that dose, which would have expired within hours and could have gone to waste.

A few minutes later, 29-year-old Malone of the South Loop neighborhood received her first dose and booked an appointment for the booster shot.

“My mom always told me growing up that ‘nothing beats a failure but a try,’” she said. “Better in your arm than in the trash.”

With COVID-19 shots in finite supply — and a complicated and frustrating process to book limited appointments — some people are getting immunized because of no-show or canceled appointments, receiving leftover doses that would potentially be discarded.

12:07 p.m.: 1,740 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 42 additional deaths reported

Illinois health officials on Thursday announced 1,740 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 42 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known infections in Illinois to 1,193,260 and the statewide death toll to 20,668 since the start of the pandemic.

Officials also reported 73,990 new tests in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide test positivity rate was 2.9% for the period ending Wednesday.

The 7-day rolling daily average of administered vaccine doses is 78,942, with 93,302 doses given on Wednesday. Officials also say a total of 2,993,543 vaccines have now been administered.

11:36 a.m.: Lightfoot asks people registering for COVID-19 vaccine at United Center to ‘be patient’ after Zocdoc website hiccups Thursday morning

Registration for the United Center mass vaccination site opened Thursday morning, and at least 6,000 people have already registered by phone and online, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during an unrelated news conference after some issues with the Zocdoc registration website Thursday morning.

Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in an online question-and-answer session there was a “huge rush of people” when registration first became available Thursday.

”Some people weren’t able to get through immediately within 20 to 30 minutes everything was up again and running smoothly,” she said.

”I would ask people to be patient,” Lightfoot said. “It’s the first opportunity. I think we’ve got a lot of enthusiastic people. But we’ll get the folks, we just need them to be a little bit patient today as both the phone lines and the online platform process their applications.”

Initial drive-thru appointments were all booked by Thursday morning but walk-up appointments were still available, Arwady said.

11:04 a.m.: About 40,000 people just lost unemployment benefits in Illinois. Here’s why, and who will lose them next.

Roughly 40,000 self-employed workers in Illinois have lost access to jobless aid after a federal extension ended last month, and more could lose benefits soon.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security announced Wednesday that an improvement in the state’s unemployment rate triggered an end to seven weeks of extended benefits for recipients of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Those affected include gig workers and people who are unable to work because of certain health or financial consequences caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

People who had been collecting benefits under the extension received their last payments the week of Feb. 21, said Kristin Richards, acting director for the state’s unemployment agency.

11:02 a.m.: White House says COVID-19 relief checks will go to roughly 98% of households who got December payment

Roughly 98% of U.S. households that received a COVID-19 relief check in December will also qualify for the next round of payments being championed by President Joe Biden, according to a White House official.

Biden has said that Americans were promised $2,000 in direct checks, but only $600 was approved in December. The president views that promise as a cornerstone of his $1.9 trillion relief package pending in the Senate. His proposal offers $1,400 in additional payments that would quickly phase out based on income, so that money is better aimed at the middle class and poor.

Under the current Senate bill, the Biden administration estimates that 158.5 million households will receive direct payments, according to the White House official who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations. The official stressed that almost everyone gets a check twice as large as in December, although 3.5 million households that received some payment from the $900 billion December package would no longer qualify.

9:32 a.m.: When will children be able to get COVID-19 vaccines? Teens over 16 can get shots as soon as they’re eligible.

When will children be able to get COVID-19 vaccines?

It depends on the child’s age, but some teenagers could be rolling up their sleeves before too long.

The Pfizer vaccine already is cleared for use starting at age 16. That means some high schoolers could get in line for those shots whenever they become eligible in their area, either because of a medical condition or once availability opens up.

9:18 a.m.: Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Indianapolis will allow a limited number of fans

The Big Ten men’s and women’s tournaments in Indianapolis will allow a limited amount of fans to attend this season, the conference announced Thursday.

Fans have not been admitted to games this year at full capacity in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Big Ten men’s tournament, which runs March 10-14, will allow 8,000 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the women’s tournament, which takes place March 9-13, will admit 2,500 at the smaller Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The conference said it received approval from the Marion County Health Department, and the decision was voted on by Big Ten Conference Directors of Athletics and the Council of President and Chancellors.

9:15 a.m.: Some people are having delayed, but apparently harmless, skin reactions to first dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Some people are having delayed reactions to their first dose of a COVID vaccine, with their arms turning red, sore, itchy and swollen a week or so after the shot.

The reactions, although unpleasant, appear to be harmless. But the angry-looking skin condition can be mistaken for an infection, according to a letter published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. The doctors said they wanted to share information about the cases to help prevent the needless use of antibiotics and to ease patients’ worries and reassure them that they can safely get their second vaccine shot.

8:33 a.m.: Can you stop wearing masks after getting a COVID-19 vaccine? Sorry, not just yet, experts say.

With 50 million Americans immunized against the coronavirus, and millions more joining the ranks every day, the urgent question on many minds is: When can I throw away my mask?

It’s a deeper question than it seems — about a return to normalcy, about how soon vaccinated Americans can hug loved ones, get together with friends, and go to concerts, shopping malls and restaurants without feeling threatened by the coronavirus.

Certainly many state officials are ready. On Tuesday, Texas lifted its mask mandate, along with all restrictions on businesses, and Mississippi quickly followed suit. Governors in both states cited declining infection rates and rising numbers of citizens getting vaccinated.

But the pandemic is not yet over, and scientists are counseling patience.

6 a.m.: As COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Chicago’s hard-hit Latino communities, hope is revived but outreach to skeptics still needed

It was not even 2 a.m. when people began to line up outside a Little Village church Sunday in hopes of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

By 8 a.m., dozens of umbrellas lined more than four blocks in one of the Chicago neighborhoods hardest hit by the coronavirus as people waited their turn, a turn many of them had thought would never come.

By the end of the day, more than 1,000 residents, the majority Latinos — many people gave up their spot for their parents and grandparents — received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Despite efforts by the city to make the shots available to every resident of areas most affected by the virus, regardless of whether they meet other standards to be vaccinated, some Latinos are still having trouble getting the vaccine while those in other hard-hit communities continue to wait for it.

Community leaders say hesitancy about the vaccine plays a role in keeping some Latinos from getting inoculated even where it is available. But language and technology barriers also are discouraging people from seeking an appointment or even learning more about the vaccine.

Recently, a group of more than 40 community organizations called on the Chicago Department of Public Health to expand its initiative for high-risk neighborhoods to more communities and improve its approach to reaching Spanish-speaking Latinos as well as Black residents.

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