Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot or other officials will be streamed in the video player above.
Monday marks the deadline for Chicago Public Schools parents to submit their preference on whether they plan to allow their children back in classrooms when in-person learning begins in January.
Meanwhile, state health officials have given more specifics on their plan to roll out the coronavirus vaccine once it receives FDA approval.
Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic across the state of Illinois today (Dec. 7):
COVID-19 by the Numbers: Coronavirus Metrics From Each of Illinois' Healthcare Regions
Coronavirus metrics continue to be a mixed bag across the state, with some regions moving in the right direction in several key areas, while others continue to monitor limited hospital bed availability and other challenges.
Here are the latest numbers from around the state.
Arlington Heights School Board Votes to Keep Students on Hybrid-Learning Plan
Reflecting a divided community, the school board in Arlington Heights’ District 25 voted against moving students to full-time remote learning, meaning that many will remain in school on a hybrid model.
The news comes after Dr. Lori Bein, superintendent of schools, recommended that students temporarily move to full-time remote learning amid a spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Illinois.
The decision to continue hybrid learning came on a razor-thin 4-to-3 vote, but not all parents are on board with the decision.
Pritzker Says Next 4 Weeks Could Be 'Most Crucial Month' of Entire Coronavirus Pandemic
The next four weeks could be the "most crucial month of this entire pandemic," Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday, warning that the state may not yet have seen the post-Thanksgiving surge health officials warned was possible.
Pritzker said that while he is hopeful a recent improvement in COVID-19 statistics in the state will continue, "the numbers still have a long way to go to move away from what could reasonably be called the 'danger zone.'" He warned that a "surge within the surge" remains possible.
"We are now on our 11th day since Thanksgiving, and we are four days out from
Hanukkah, 18 from Christmas, 19 from Kwanzaa and 24 from New Year’s
Eve," Pritzker said during his daily coronavirus briefing.
"We quite literally have very limited leeway in our hospital systems to manage another surge," he added.
‘It's Likely Too Early' to See Full Impact of Thanksgiving on COVID-19 Metrics, Pritzker Says
While some coronavirus metrics in the state of Illinois are beginning to trend downward, including positivity rates and hospitalizations, Gov. J.B. Pritzker says that it is “too early” to know whether the Thanksgiving holiday had an effect on those statistics.
Speaking at his daily coronavirus press briefing on Monday, Pritzker says that although the state is nearly two weeks beyond Thanksgiving, the typical incubation time for coronavirus, the state is not out of the woods yet in terms of a potential upswing in cases, hospitalizations or deaths related to the holiday.
“It’s likely too early for us to have yet seen the bulk of Thanksgiving-related hospitalizations yet,” Pritzker said.
Even with recent declines in the number of patients hospitalized because of the virus, Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike both say that the hospitalization numbers in the state remain 14% higher than what the state saw during the spring peak of the virus, and that any surge in cases from Thanksgiving could have a huge impact on bed availability.
“So far, we haven’t seen our positivity rate start to creep back up, which is a good sign, but we also haven’t seen it substantially fall – not a good sign,” Pritzker said. “It may be that our mitigations are working to offset the expected surge in cases. But we won’t know that for sure for at least two more weeks.”
Director of LaSalle Veterans' Home Terminated, Nursing Director Placed on Leave Amid COVID-19 Outbreak
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration announced the firing of Angela Mehlbrech, the director of the LaSalle Veterans’ Home where 32 veterans have died after testing positive for coronavirus since early November.
The director of nursing at the facility has also been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation into how the home handled an outbreak of the virus.
According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, 209 individuals have been diagnosed with coronavirus at the facility since the pandemic began.
During a daily coronavirus press conference Monday, the governor said that 39 of the facility's 96 residents have active cases of coronavirus, along with 21 staff members.
Mehlbrech’s termination was announced in a press release Monday, amid a growing number of investigations and inquiries into the facility’s handling of coronavirus.
Acting Assistant Director Anthony Vaughn, a 24-year Marine veteran, will serve as acting director at the facility.
Read more here.
Ald. Tunney Admits Allowing 'Regular Diners' Inside Restaurant Despite COVID Restrictions
Ald. Tom Tunney admitted Monday that he has allowed "regular diners" inside his Chicago restaurant to eat in violation of the statewide coronavirus mitigations that suspended indoor dining.
“On a sporadic basis, we have allowed a very limited number of our regular diners to eat inside the restaurant while observing social distancing and mask-wearing rules," Tunney, chairman of the City Council's Zoning Committee and owner of the Ann Sather Restaurant, said in a statement to NBC 5.
Tunney called the move an "error in judgement" and said it "won't happen again."
On Monday, a car from City’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection could be seen parked outside the Lakeview location, at 909 W. Belmont Ave.
Reports first surfaced about diners being allowed inside Tunney's Ann Sather restaurant after a post by Second City Cop, an opinionated blog related to police issues, wrote about a "tip" on a so-called speakeasy restaurant.
The post called the restaurant "Stan Rather" and said guests who asked for a special "VIP" room could be granted access to dining indoors. It included photos of diners inside along with a dated newspaper from Thursday.
"Our COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions apply to every single individual and establishment in Chicago so that we can further ensure the health and safety of our residents," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. "Any business found in violation of these guidelines has been and will be held fully accountable. No exceptions."
Illinois Reports 8,691 New Cases of Coronavirus, 90 Additional Deaths Monday
Illinois health officials reported 8,691 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases and 90 additional deaths Monday.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Monday's new cases bring the state’s total to 796,264 since the start of the pandemic, with 13,343 total fatalities.
The state returned 77,569 new tests to state laboratories in the last 24 hours. In total, 11,178,783 tests have been performed since the pandemic began.
Illinois health officials reported a 10.3% seven-day positivity rate, based on the latest data from IDPH.
As of midnight, 5,190 coronavirus patients are hospitalized in the state. Of those patients, 1,123 are currently in intensive care units, and 648 are on ventilators.
Monday Marks Deadline for Chicago Public Schools Parents to Submit Decision on Return to Classrooms
Monday marks the deadline for Chicago Public Schools parents to submit their preference on whether they plan to allow their children back in classrooms when in-person learning begins in January.
Parents must submit the "learning preference form" by Monday, the district says, noting that parents who are undecided should select in-person learning and can change their decision later. But parents who choose to continue remote learning will not have the option to participate in in-person instruction until April, according to CPS.
The form is to allow the district to prepare for the number of students and staff returning to schools, CPS says. In-person instruction is scheduled to begin Jan. 11 for pre-K students and students enrolled in cluster programs. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade are slated to return Feb. 1.
Chicago Public Schools announced plans last month to resume in-person learning early next year, citing a “low incidence” of school-based transmission of coronavirus.
The plans were released on the same day that Illinois health officials issued new mitigation rules, stopping indoor sports and ordering the closure of casinos and museums. The new rules also come with restrictions on gathering sizes, but the mitigation strategies do not involve any change to school policies, which are being left up to individual boards of education around the state.
In their email explaining the new policy, CPS officials insist that in-person learning will ensure equitable access to instruction, and that the highest-need learners, as well as many children whose parents are essential workers, need support from safely opened schools.
The Chicago Teachers Union immediately criticized the district's proposal, saying that the decision to re-open schools was made without input from critical stakeholders, and suggested that the move was made based on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s political agenda, not on feedback from experts.
“Today’s announcement appears to be based on the mayor’s political agenda, because it sure isn’t based on science,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. “Just unilaterally picking an arbitrary date in the future and hoping everything works out is a recipe for disaster.”
CPS officials insist that their decision to resume in-person learning is based on data that shows the incidence of transmission of the virus is low in classrooms and school settings.
Officials say the district will require face coverings, use of learning pods, daily temperature and health screenings and extra deep cleaning and sanitation practices, among other safety protocols.
School-based staff members will be tested regularly through a surveillance testing plan, according to CPS.
Daughter Shares Heartbreak After Losing Both Parents to COVID-19
Erica Lopez says her parents' deaths marked an ending to a beautiful love story.
Her father, Guadalupe “Lupe” Lopez, and mother, Maria Lopez, had been together for 36 years. They passed away from COVID-19 just two weeks apart.
"My mom and dad loved each other," Erica Lopez said. "They were so much in love, and...honestly I have peace in my heart to know they are together, and I think just one couldn’t live without the other."
Erica Lopez told NBC 5 Saturday that following her parents' deaths, she's been trying to stay strong for her family.
"It’s just honestly a nightmare I feel like my body can’t wake up from...a bad dream or something," she said.
Just days after a funeral procession for her father, who was a longtime Chicago 911 dispatcher, Erica Lopez received a phone call from doctors that her mother wasn't going to make it.
"She actually died pretty much the exact same reason like my dad. They both had their kidneys failed. They both had brain bleeds, and their heart just stopped," Erica Lopez said.
Doctors thought Maria Lopez's condition was improving, but a month after a testing positive for the virus and being in the hospital, she died on Friday.
Erica Lopez said her mother loved celebrating Christmas and was so excited to spend it with her new grandson.
"She ordered a dish towel that said 'happy, nice being a grandma,'" Erica Lopez said. "She’s never going to get to hang [to] that dish towel."
Erica said Saturday that she hopes that by sharing her story with the public, people will take the coronavirus seriously.
"I don’t wish this pain on anyone," she said. "I just wish people would respect the virus, respect the rules of the virus to stay alive because my parents tried so hard."
Former State Sen. Martin Sandoval Dies After COVID-19 Diagnosis
Former Illinois State Sen. Martin Sandoval, who pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges earlier this year and had agreed to cooperate with federal investigations, has passed away after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Sandoval, 56, passed away after he was hospitalized due to the illness, his attorney told the Chicago Tribune.
“While he may have strayed from the standard he set for himself, he was making a genuine effort to make amends for his mistakes through his cooperation and its ongoing investigation,” attorney Dylan Smith told the paper.
Sandoval was first elected to the Illinois State Senate in 2003, eventually ascending to a leadership role as the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
In Sept. 2019, Sandoval’s offices at the state capitol and in Cicero were raided by federal agents. Shortly after the raids, Sandoval announced his resignation from his chairmanship of the committee, then announced he would resign from the Senate.
Sandoval later pleaded guilty to federal bribery and tax charges, reaching a cooperation agreement with the United States government in connection with the case.
People Under the Age of 18 May Not Receive Early Doses of Coronavirus Vaccine: Ezike
Preliminary doses of the coronavirus vaccine may not be given to people under the age of 18, Illinois' top doctor said Friday.
"I will put the caveat that at this point, we know that this vaccine might be for 18 and over until we hear otherwise," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. "So there are still many moving parts to the plan."
Her comments echo those made by Dr. Jose Romero, the chair of the CDC's Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices. Romero said Friday he hopes to see trials testing COVID-19 vaccines in young children beginning in the second quarter of 2021. If the vaccines prove to be safe and effective, children under the age of 18 could get their shots in the second half of next year, he said.
"I don't think we're going to see it in the first half of this coming year," he said during an interview on MSNBC, adding that kids could still get a vaccine before the fall semester. "We need to see how the studies progress. We need to see that data in order to make sure that it is safe and effective in children."
A vaccine cannot be distributed to children until it's been rigorously tested in children in clinical trials.
Pfizer, which submitted an emergency use application to the Food and Drug Administration for its coronavirus vaccine on Nov. 20, is already testing kids 12 and older.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC on Monday that the company expects to test its vaccine on children between the ages of 11 and 17 later this year, but he added that testing on children under the age of 11 won't begin until sometime next year.
Illinois Slated to Get 109K Doses of Pfizer's Vaccine if Approved – Here's Where it Will Go
Illinois will receive 109,000 initial doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine following the vaccine's approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday.
States learned only this week how many doses to expect and when, and received guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that health care workers and nursing home patients get the first doses.
Previously, Illinois officials were told the state would receive approximately 400,000 doses of the vaccine, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Adhering to CDC recommendations, Pritzker emphasized Friday that Illinois will first vaccinate the state's 650,000 front line health care workers and 110,000 adults who live in settings such as long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
The vaccine will first be distributed to health care workers in the 50 counties with the highest death rates per capita, according to state officials.
"...This will not be a quick process," Pritzker said. "With the two-dose timeline, no single person will even be fully vaccinated by Christmas, and it will likely be months before people with low risk factors for COVID-19 see their first dose."
If the Pfizer vaccine receives federal approval on Dec. 10, the date of a key CDC meeting, Pritzker said, Illinois is set to see the 109,000 doses "sometime during the week after next."
A total of 23,000 doses would be given directly to the city of Chicago while the remaining 86,000 would be distributed to communities across Illinois.
Chicago, and other major cities such as New York and Los Angeles, will receive direct supplies of the vaccine.
"There will be shipments of more and more vaccines each week following that first shipment’s arrival," Pritzker said. "So although the numbers now may seem small relative to our population, those numbers will increase over the subsequent weeks and months."
It will take weeks to months before many of the nation’s most vulnerable residents can be immunized, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Thursday. Until then, Americans should not hold indoor gatherings with people they don’t live with or take off their masks when they’re outdoors, and should continue to keep their distance from others and wash their hands, she said.
Pfizer is still seeking emergency use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The pharmaceutical giant completed its phase three trial and found the vaccine to be 95% percent.
Which 50 Illinois Counties Will First Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine
The initial delivery of vaccines to prevent COVID-19 in Illinois will be distributed among the 50 counties with the highest death rates per capita, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday.
“The very first vaccinations will be dedicated to hospitals and health care workers in the 50 counties with the highest death rates per capita,” Pritzker said at his daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago. “Some quick math will tell you that it’s going to take multiple weeks of distribution to even get our health care workers their first of the two doses that they require, while also getting to the long-term care facility residents.”
Which 10 Hospitals Will Distribute First Round of COVID-19 Vaccines
Illinois' 10 Regional Hospital Coordinating Centers will serve as distribution centers for the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, officials said Friday.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the first shipment of vaccines will be received by the IDPH directly from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state agency has 20 ultra-cold freezers to house the doses, the doctor added.
The doses will be sent to the Regional Hospital Coordinating Centers, and from there will be distributed to the 50 counties with the highest death rates per capita.
The counties' health departments will receive the vaccine from the designated hospitals, Ezike said.
Illinois' Regional Hospital Coordinating Centers are listed below:
- Region 1 - Rockford Memorial Hospital - Rockford
- Region 2 - OSF St. Francis Medical Center - Peoria
- Region 3 - St. John's Hospital - Springfield
- Region 4 - Memorial Hospital - Belleville
- Region 5 - SIH Memorial Hospital of Carbondale - Carbondale
- Region 6 - Carle Foundation Hospital - Urbana
- Region 7 - Advocate Christ Medical Center - Oak Lawn
- Region 8 - Loyola University Medical Center - Maywood
- Region 9 - Advocate Sherman Medical Center - Elgin
- Region 10 - Northshore Highland Park Hospital - Highland Park
Loyola University Chicago to Use COVID-19 Saliva Test Following Spring Reopening
With classes being held remotely, the campus of Loyola University Chicago has been quiet recently.
But in the spring, Loyola said up to 10% percent of undergraduate courses will be offered in person. The university wants to make sure everyone on campus is safe and healthy, which is why students will be tested weekly for COVID-19.
"I think it's great," Dalfiume said. "I personally wished they would have done it this semester, because I know a lot of people are worried about going home to their parents and stuff."
Loyola is partnering with SHIELD Illinois to administer the saliva-based COVID-19 testing method, which was was developed by the University of Illinois. Undergraduate students at Loyola will have to take the saliva test twice a week.
Faculty, staff and graduate students will be tested once a week.
If students choose not to comply, Loyola said they won't have access to campus buildings, and their ID cards will be deactivated. In order to reactivate the cards, students must receive two negative test results.
The saliva testing at Loyola begins on Jan. 11. The testing method developed by the University of Illinois has been adopted by 10 universities in other states, including Indiana, Wyoming and Wisconsin.
Suburban Hotel That Hosted Large Wedding Issued 2 ‘COVID-19 Mitigation Citations'
A north suburban hotel that hosted a large indoor wedding reception received multiple "COVID-19 mitigation citations" for allowing the event, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health.
The department said Friday that the Hilton Chicago/Northbrook, as well as the onsite Allguaer’s on the Riverfront restaurant received the following "notices of violation":
· A Facility Order to Disperse, for Non-Compliance with 2020-01 Cook County Department of Public Health COVID-19 Mitigation Order, based on observed violations made Thursday, December 3, 2020 by CCDPH during the course of an inspection, as well as based on observed violations identified in the media video captured the evening of Wednesday, December 2, 2020; and
· A Facility Notice of Non-Compliance, for Non-Compliance with COVID-19 Regulations from the Illinois Department of Public Health (77 Ill. Admin. Code 690.50), based on observed violations made Thursday, December 3, 2020 by CCDPH during the course of an inspection, as well as based on observed violations identified in the media video captured the evening of Wednesday, December 2, 2020.
“The hotel, restaurant, bride, groom, caterer and guests were all reckless and irresponsible. This event was in violation of the current COVID-19 Mitigation order and should not have taken place,” Cook County Health Department Co-Lead and Senior Medical Officer Rachel Rubin said in a statement. “I sincerely hope no one becomes sick or dies as a result of this event. All who were in attendance should quarantine for a minimum of 10 days and get tested to keep from spreading COVID to the greater community.”
Rubin said Thursday an investigation was underway at the hotel to determine if other events took place recently and to obtain a guest list from the wedding, which took place Wednesday night at the Hilton Chicago/Northbrook, located at 2855 Milwaukee Ave. in Prospect Heights.
The violation notices serve as a "warning."
"CCDPH will closely monitor the Hilton Chicago/Northbrook hotel and onsite Allgauer’s on the Riverfront restaurant. Additional reports of non-compliance could result in further actions being taken," the department stated.
Rubin said the newlyweds and attendees won't be cited for the event because "we don't cite individuals for their behavior."
"This event should not have happened," Rubin said. "It's put a lot of individuals in danger. I don't even know where to begin. This is the kind of thing that we've been trying to avoid and educate the community about since day one."
Video taken from outside the hotel showed the bride and groom entering a luxury car for what appeared to be a send-off from the reception as a large crowd gathered nearby, waving to the couple, with few members of the group wearing masks and no social distancing in place.
A spokesperson for Hilton said in a statement that the hotel is independently operated but the company was "shocked" by the event and contacted its ownership.
“The safety and wellbeing of our guests and Team Members has always been and remains our top priority," the statement from Hilton reads. "We were shocked to learn that one of our independently owned and operated hotels chose to host an event that disregarded both local regulations and Hilton's brand standards. We immediately connected with the hotel’s ownership to understand the facts and are now addressing our expectations with them directly."
"Hilton prides itself on having industry-leading cleaning and event protocols to protect our guests and Team Members during the COVID-19 pandemic. This incident is not representative of our portfolio of hotels and the extraordinary levels of hospitality offered by our hard-working Team Members every day," the spokesperson added.
The owners of the hotel did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Health officials urged anyone who attended the event to quarantine, saying "there are going to be at least a few people at that wedding who were COVID positive and didn't realize it."
"People weren't wearing masks and were crowded together," Rubin said, noting the reception posed a "significant risk" and could become a super spreader event.