Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot or other officials will be streamed in the video player above.
Hundreds of essential workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in Cook County hit the picket lines for a one-day strike on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Illinois plans to receive its first shipments of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine as well as additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, state officials say.
Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic across the state of Illinois today (Dec. 22):
US Postal Service Dealing with ‘Historic' Volume of Holiday Mail
If you mailed-out holiday gifts weeks ago thinking the packages would arrive in plenty of time for Christmas Day, you may want to check the status of the delivery.
The United State Postal Service said it is dealing with a historic record of holiday volume.
“This negative impact is compounded by the temporary employee shortage due to the COVID-19 surge, as well as ongoing capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving this historic volume of mail,” said USPS spokesperson Tim Norman.
The American Postal Workers Union said nearly 19,000 postal employees are currently in quarantine after either contracting, or being exposed to, the coronavirus.
“You have to understand that we’ve had people exposed to the virus. They’ve had childcare issues or they’re not able to come to work,” said APWU Local 1 Chicago president Keith Richardson.
Richardson said the postal workers are working with management to make sure that the packages and letters are delivered on time before the holidays.
The USPS said its 644,000 employees continue to work diligently to address issues and remain focused on delivering the holidays and beyond for the nation.
Phase 1A COVID-19 Vaccinations Could Last Through February: Arwady
Phase 1A of COVID-19 vaccinations could last through part of February, Chicago's top doctor announced Tuesday.
During a coronavirus briefing, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the initial groups will likely take through mid-February to vaccinate. She added that, for some, they will only have received the first dose of the two before the city begins vaccinating other populations.
"So while we are in Phase 1A, which again, is December, January, February, the focus is on health care workers and long term care facility residents," Arwady said. "We will be starting to stand up like I mentioned some of these larger points of dispensing, to be able to make sure that all healthcare workers are able to be vaccinated."
Arwady said the city will put up its first mass vaccination site next week, which will allow for health care workers to be more rapidly vaccinated.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who visited Illinois Tuesday to examine the state's vaccine rollout, said he hopes to have half the adult population nationwide vaccinated by the end of February.
U.S. Attorney's Office Warns of Potential Scams Related to COVID-19 Vaccine
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the northern district in Illinois is warning residents to be on the lookout for fraud schemes related to the release of new coronavirus vaccines.
In a press release Tuesday, residents were warned that scammers could potentially use a variety of tactics to steal money as vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and other companies potentially hit the market in coming weeks and months.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is saying that there isn’t a way for residents to “jump the line” for COVID-19 vaccines, warning against giving personal information out over the phone or online to unknown entities.
“Scammers often use telemarketing calls, text messages, social media postings and door-to-door visits to perpetrate fraud,” U.S. Attorney John Lausch Jr. said in a statement. “The fraudsters may falsely offer the vaccine or early access to it in exchange for money or personal identifying information, such as Social Security numbers or medical history.”
Residents are encouraged to contact their health care providers directly for information the vaccine, including when they will be eligible to receive it.
The office also offered several other tips for residents to help steer clear of scams related to the vaccine.
Who's Next in Line to Receive COVID-19 Vaccination in Illinois
Coronavirus vaccinations in Illinois have begun in accordance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state health officials said, starting with health care providers.
Based on data from the CDC, health care workers are in the 1A group, or of the first people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine statewide.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health website, the following groups of individuals will be prioritized in the initial phases of the vaccine rollout:
- Health care personnel and residents of long term care facilities
- Essential frontline workers, including first responders
- People with high risk medical conditions, as well as adults over 65 years of age
During the next vaccination phase, Phase 1B, first responders such as firefighters, police officers and teachers would likely receive the vaccine. Individuals in occupations such as corrections officers, U.S. postal workers, public transit workers and grocery store employees would likely also be next in line to receive a vaccination, according to CDC data.
Based on information from an Advisory Committee Immunization Practices meeting Sunday, essential workers and individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 with high-risk medical conditions could be next to receive the vaccine.
Any recommendations made by the ACIP must then be passed to the CDC for approval and official recommendations. As of Tuesday, the CDC has not officially said the order in which all vaccinations will occur, nor the timing.
Read more here.
2 Chicago Parties Shut Down by City, Including One Charging $100 Entry Fee
Chicago officials shut down two parties on the city's Near North Side over the weekend with dozens of people in attendance, including one that involved a $100 entry fee.
The city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection said two illegal parties with over 50 guests were shut down Sunday morning.
The first was located at 409 W. Huron St. and involved roughly 66 people in a fourth floor commercial space, authorities said.
"The establishment was charged $100 at the door and serving alcohol, with a DJ providing entertainment," BACP said in a statement.
Officials said those in attendance were not social distancing and were not wearing face coverings. The establishment was cited for violating the city's COVID-19 restrictions and for "unlicensed activity." The location was also ordered to close by the Department of Buildings "for hazardous and dangerous conditions."
Authorities also said 83 people were discovered in an "illegal, unlicensed event in a residential apartment" at 107 W. Hubbard St. Again, no face coverings were worn and no social distancing was witnessed. Guests were also charged an entrance fee and a DJ was playing, officials said.
The person leasing the apartment was cited for violating restrictions and unlicensed activity and was also cited by the Department of Buildings "for hazardous and dangerous conditions," according to BACP.
Six other businesses were cited since Friday for allowing indoor dining or drinking. They include Wood on Halsted Street, Firewater Saloon on Oliphant Street, Ted's Cocktail Lounge on Madison Avenue, New China Buffet on Madison Avenue, Labriola Cafe on Michigan Avenue and Creative Kids Zone on Easy 71st Street.
US Surgeon General Says New Coronavirus Variant in UK May Already Be in US
A newly detected coronavirus variant spreading around the United Kingdom could already be circulating in the U.S., Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Tuesday.
Speaking in Chicago, Adams said the variant sparking concern in the UK has already been detected in multiple countries and has been circulating for weeks, possibly even months.
"This variant is already in at least three to four other countries, it's been identified," Adams said alongside Illinois' and Chicago's top public health officials. "This variant has also been around actually for several weeks to months in other places and so there's a chance that the variant is already here. What we need to emphasize to people is that the United States is connected to the rest of the world whether we want it to be or not and the most important thing that we can do is double down on our public health measures."
Adams stressed that SARS-coV-2, which causes COVID-19, has already mutated over 20 times this year alone. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the new version's "rapid change from being a rare strain to becoming a common strain has concerned scientists in the UK."
"There is no indication thus far that this new variant will be resistant to vaccines," Adams said, adding however that "there may be a day when we do have a variant that doesn't respond to these vaccines and that's OK too because that's what happens with seasonal flu."
Adams said the greater concern comes ahead of the holidays this week and next.
"My level of concern about this is not so much about the variant, it is about the fact that we need people to be particularly cautious this holiday season about taking safety measures because even if this viral variant does turn out to be more contagious, it doesn't change," Adams said. "It only emphasizes further the important of washing our hands, wearing our masks, watching our distance and waiting to gather."
Illinois Reports 6,239 New Coronavirus Cases, 116 Additional Deaths Tuesday
Illinois health officials reported 6,239 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, along with 116 additional deaths attributed to the virus.
According to the latest numbers from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois now has 911,308 probable or confirmed cases of coronavirus during the pandemic.
Tuesday's 116 additional fatalities bring the state to 15,414 deaths as a result of the pandemic, with another 1,257 deaths classified as “probable” COVID-19-related fatalities, according to IDPH data.
Over the last 24 hours, 84,764 test specimens were returned to state laboratories, according to IDPH data.
In all, 12,605,743 tests have been performed in the state since the pandemic began.
The state's positivity rate for tests sat at 9% while the positivity rate for cases was 7.4%. Both numbers mark a decline from one day earlier.
The state saw its hospitalization numbers increase slightly Tuesday, with 4,571 patients hospitalized, 981 of which are currently in intensive care units and 557 on ventilators.
U.S. Surgeon General to Visit Chicago, Discuss Vaccine Rollout
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams is scheduled to visit Chicago Tuesday, stopping at Saint Anthony's Hospital during the morning hours with the city's and state's top doctors, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. There, he will discuss the vaccine rollout plan and observe vaccinations.
Adams, Ezike and Arwady are expected to address the media at 2 p.m. from the James R. Thompson Center. Watch it live in the player above.
Hundreds of Cook County Health Care, Sheriff's Office Employees to Strike
Hundreds of essential workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in Cook County plan to strike Tuesday.
SEIU Local 73 - the union representing Cook County health technicians, service and maintenance workers, as well as employees of the clerk’s office and sheriff’s office - said in a statement Friday that its members would be holding a one-day strike, alleging that county officials have "refused to set bargaining dates… and walked out on negotiations" for nearly three months.
“Our members have put their lives on the line to keep Cook County functioning,” SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said. “The complete lack of respect by Toni Preckwinkle and the managers under her supervision is shocking."
The workers include employees who work at Stroger Hospital as well as Cermak and Provident hospitals that are part of the Cook County Health System.
"We have respiratory therapists and healthcare workers working to save lives," Palmer continued. "We have election workers who made sure the presidential election ran smoothly. We have custodians sanitizing courthouses and public offices to keep people safe. We have office workers at the County jail, a hotspot for COVID, coming in every day. The least Preckwinkle could do is respect, protect, and pay these essential workers by bargaining in good faith and providing pandemic pay to all essential workers."
The union said its members want pandemic pay for essential workers, including an additional $5 an hour for all workers caring for coronavirus patients or in COVID-19 units, remote work where possible and personal protective equipment where it isn't, among other items.
A spokesman for Cook County Board President Preckwinkle said in a statement that contingency plans were in place "to ensure services are not disrupted" during the strike.
Illinois Expects to Receive Moderna, More Doses of Pfizer Vaccine This Week
Illinois plans to receive its first shipments of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine as well as additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, state officials said Monday.
Last week, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker expressed concern about reduced shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, saying that the state had been informed the federal government was anticipating a reduction of nearly 50% in the number of doses it was able to deliver to states in the following two weeks.
Army General Gustave Perna, the COO of Operation Warp Speed, said officials were working hard to provide accurate numbers to states, but that he was forced to lower allocations of the vaccine because of limits in the amount of “releasable doses."
As of Monday, more than 63,000 Illinoisans had received the first doses of the vaccine, according to a spokesman for Gov. Pritzker. The provided number does not include vaccinations in the city of Chicago.
Unlike the first doses of Pfizer's vaccine, which were sent to Illinois' Strategic National Stockpile and then distributed to hospitals, the doses expected in the coming days will be directly shipped to hospitals.
Approximately 60,450 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are slated to be delivered Tuesday and Wednesday, the governor's office stated. A large portion of the aforementioned doses will be allocated to long-term care facilities, and will be administered by Walgreens and CVS through a federal partnership.
Those vaccinations will begin the week of Dec. 28, state officials said.
The remaning 20,000 doses will be directly shipped to hospitals with ultra-cold storage, which is necessary for the Pfizer vaccine, and will be given to health care workers.
Approximately 174,000 doses of Moderna's vaccine are expected to be delivered to hospitals on a rolling basis starting Wednesday and Thursday.
On Sunday, U.S. Marshals escorted the first vials of the Moderna vaccine from a Mississippi warehouse to the FedEx Corporate Headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee, where the vials were distributed. The first vials headed to 4,000 destinations nationwide.
Small Businesses React to New Coronavirus Relief Bill
Lightfoot Says Chicago Following News of New Coronavirus Strain in UK ‘Very, Very Closely'
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city's health department is following news of a new and potentially more contagious strain of coronavirus in the United Kingdom "very, very closely."
Lightfoot said the city has been monitoring the latest development prior to current reporting and said the city is prepared to "take all action that's necessary."
"We are following this very closely, we're digging down," Lightfoot said during an unrelated press conference Monday. "I don't think we know enough yet about what this potential new strain is, how it's transmitted, but believe me, we are following very closely, and we will take all action that's necessary to protect the public."
So far, British Airways will require travelers to test negative for the coronavirus before boarding flights bound for New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. Cuomo said at a press briefing that he also asked Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic to abide by the same requirements.
Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for the U.S. government’s COVID-19 vaccine effort, said scientists are still working to confirm whether the virus strain in the United Kingdom spreads more easily.
Although that could be why it has become more prevalent in the U.K., Slaoui said in a briefing with reporters Monday that another possible explanation is that “seeding happened in the shadows” before scientists started looking for it.
Animal studies are needed to confirm that the strain spreads more easily. Slaoui said that process takes several weeks.
In the meantime, he said there is no evidence the variant causes more severe disease or is more deadly. He also said the expectation is that vaccines would still be effective against the virus strain, but that scientists are working to confirm that.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner and a board member of Pfizer, told CNBC Monday that the evidence does suggest the new variant transmits more easily. But, he cautioned, "it doesn't seem to have mutated the surface proteins of the virus in a way that they would slip past our vaccines or prior immunity. In fact, we don't think that that's the case."
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