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

“Unlike two months ago, those vaccinations are available now,” Pritzker said during an appearance in Normal, Illinois. “If you want to get vaccinated, essentially over the next two weeks and beyond, you’re going to be able to raise your hand and go somewhere today to get vaccinated.”

The weekly average of COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Illinois continues to decline even as the supply of vaccines remains steady. Over the last seven days, an average of 97,434 vaccines were administered daily in Illinois, the lowest since an average of 99,936 cases was recorded for the week ending March 26.

Meanwhile, Officials on Thursday reported 3,394 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 38 additional fatalities.

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

12:45 p.m.: University of Illinois will end COVID-19 testing requirements for vaccinated students

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will waive weekly COVID-19 testing requirements for students and employees who can show they are fully vaccinated by the fall term.

The new policy, announced Thursday, will take effect no later than Aug, 23, the first day of the fall 2021 semester, but could be rolled out earlier during the summer, a university-wide email stated. Under the new rules, those who share proof of vaccination with the school, showing that two weeks have passed since receiving the final dose, will be exempt from the testing requirement and granted access to campus buildings.

“We are simply following science and CDC guidance, and we made clear that we will continue to adapt as necessary and appropriate,” spokeswoman Robin Kaler said in an email.

12:11 p.m.: 107,689 vaccine doses administered, 3,394 new cases and 38 deaths reported Thursday

Illinois public health officials on Thursday reported 3,394 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 38 additional deaths. That brings the state’s totals to 1,331,848 cases and 21,927 deaths.

There were 89,057 tests reported in the previous 24 hours and the seven-day statewide positivity rate as a percent of total test is 3.5%.

There were 107,689 doses of the vaccine were administered Wednesday and the seven-day rolling average of daily doses is 97,434.

11:58 a.m.: Chicago Teachers Union claims CPS went back on its promise to accommodate pregnant and nursing educators

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union claim the school district went back on its word by denying requests to work remotely while they’re nursing or have not found acceptable childcare that they say the district agreed to help facilitate.

Four educators — two who are nursing infants and two with older children without childcare that aligns with their mothers’ teaching schedules — spoke at a CTU-hosted news conference Thursday. They said that when the union was negotiating a return to in-person instruction with Chicago Public Schools, they had been assured they would be granted accommodation to remain at least partially remote to nurse. The union initially also had asked that teachers also be provided a schedule that would allow them to pick up their children from care providers without having to take unpaid personal time off work.

“This all comes as a really big surprise,” said Danielle Cain, a second and third grade teacher and mother to a young son born before the COVID-19 pandemic. “I feel like it’s unfair that I’m being forced to choose between my infant and the seven out of 18 students that I empower in my physical classroom.

Windy City Smokeout — a country music and barbecue festival scheduled for July outside the United Center — is slated to be the first street festival held in Chicago this year, city officials announced Thursday. Festival goers face new COVID-19 requirements at this year’s edition, which has expanded to a fourth day.

Up to 12,500 festivalgoers are expected each day to see Brett Eldredge, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, Jon Pardi and others perform at Windy City Smokeout, which is scheduled for July 8-11 in the United Center parking lot. All vendors, performers, ticket holders and staff will be required to be fully vaccinated, the city said in a news release.

10:33 a.m.: Chicago will reopen United Center, expand outdoor festivals, allow more people indoors as Mayor Lori Lightfoot eases COVID-19 restrictions

The city of Chicago is loosening up its pandemic rules including increased capacity for indoor events at the United Center and elsewhere, while allowing outdoor festivals and farmers markets to expand as part of a sweeping plan to reopen the economy to normal events, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday.

The United Center and other large indoor venues will be allowed to open at 25% capacity. Large indoor venues for meetings, conference rooms and conventions can now operate at the lesser of 25% capacity, or 250 people, the city said. Large houses of worship also will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity, the city said.

Lightfoot officials also announced that festivals and general admission outdoor events can now operate with 15 people per 1,000 square feet. Farmers markets and flea markets will be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity or 15 people per 1,000 square feet, the city said.

Lightfoot’s eased restrictions bring the city in line with state rules. The latest steps toward reopening come after the city postponed further moves due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. But the city said it feels confident making the moves due to improvements in metrics, including a decrease in the number of people testing positive for the virus, and continued vaccine distribution.

As part of the reopening plan announced Thursday, the Windy City Smokeout, scheduled for July 8-11, will be the first street festival to resume this year. Officials said they expect up to 12,500 people at the United Center per day and it will take place in the parking lot of the United Center.

9:35 a.m.: McDonald’s arches glitter as pandemic restrictions lift; chicken sandwich, spicy nuggets power sales

The bounce back for McDonald’s as restrictions were lifted across the U.S. was so strong in the first quarter that the company surpassed sales during the same period even in 2019, long before the pandemic broadsided the country.

McDonald’s revenue jumped 9% to $5.1 billion for the January-March period, better than most had expected.

Last year at this time stores were closing globally and the world sheltered from spiking COVID-19 infections, so an improvement in sales during the same stretch this year was expected. How easily it topped 2019′s first-quarter sales of $4.95 billion, however, was not.

U.S. same-store sales, or sales at locations open at least a year, rose 13.6% in the January-March period. Fewer diners visited, and many dining rooms remain closed. But those who did visit ordered more. McDonald’s said new products, including a crispy chicken sandwich and spicy nuggets, helped draw customers.

Restaurant companies with drive-thrus, such as McDonald’s, escaped the worst of the economic damage over the past year because they could continue to sell food even during the worst stretches of the pandemic. The Chicago company has drive-thru windows at nearly all U.S. stores and two-thirds of stores in its biggest European markets. And at least 30,000 stores worldwide now offer delivery.

9:33 a.m.: October taco lunch at Naperville warehouse leads to 23 COVID cases, one death and an OSHA fine

An employee at a Naperville warehouse brought in restaurant tacos for an office lunch on a Friday in late October. Less than three weeks later, 23 workers had COVID-19 and one had died.

This week, Midwest Warehouse and Distribution System was cited for a serious violation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for allegedly failing to take immediate steps to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. The company faces a $12,288 workplace safety fine.

“This case is a tragic reminder of the importance of fully implementing coronavirus prevention measures that include wearing face coverings, physically distancing and quarantining workers who exhibit symptoms to protect other workers from coronavirus exposure,” Jake Scott, OHSA area director, said in a news release Tuesday.

The 39-year-old logistics company, headquartered in Woodridge with 500 employees and more than a dozen Chicago-area warehouses, plans to contest the fine at an upcoming OSHA hearing, according to Aaron Gelb, a Chicago-based attorney representing Midwest Warehouse.

8:38 a.m.: To mask up outdoors or not? Some Chicagoans welcoming loosened CDC rules, others find it harder to let go of a new habit

America and masks have had a complicated relationship during this pandemic, even in the places where state officials haven’t tried to turn the featherweight little face-hole blockers into symbols of an oppressive government.

But a semi-random sampling of Chicagoans this week after the Centers for Disease Control officially OK’d maskelessness under certain conditions found a populace that’s happy to have some reins removed but still pretty amenable to the idea of covering up for the sake of themselves and others — you know, the way doctors have done for decades.

“I’m vaccinated and I’m wearing a mask even outside,” pronounced Alan Singleton as he loaded his clubs into the truck after finishing a round of golf at the city’s West Side Columbus Park course Tuesday afternoon.

A big reason for that is “my wife’s a nurse and a paranoid schizophrenic,” the telecommunications manager said, with only a touch of hyperbole.

Moreover, his extended family was hit hard by COVID-19, the Austin resident said, and he has to weigh the caution born of that personal experience against the freedom offered by the new CDC guidelines, issued Tuesday.

6 a.m.: Indiana watching counties near Michigan for COVID-19 risk

The counties near Indiana’s border with Michigan are showing persistent risk of coronavirus spread, with top state health officials saying Wednesday they were trying to turn around declining COVID-19 vaccination rates.

The State Department of Health’s weekly tracking map updated Wednesday showed four of the five Indiana counties that border Michigan with orange risk — the second highest of the four ratings. Two other nearby counties also have orange ratings, while 10 more northern Indiana counties have the next-highest yellow rating.

Indiana officials have been watching those northern counties because Michigan has posted more new COVID-19 cases than any other state in the country over the past two weeks. Those infections could continue to spread among unvaccinated people with so much travel between the two states, health officials said.

When most of the U.S. went into lockdown over a year ago, some speculated that confining couples to their homes — with little to entertain them beyond Netflix — would lead to a lot of baby-making. But the statistics suggest the opposite happened.

Births have fallen dramatically in many states during the coronavirus outbreak, according to an Associated Press analysis of preliminary data from half the country.

The COVID-19 baby boom appears to be a baby bust.

Nationally, even before the epidemic, the number of babies born in the U.S. was falling, dropping by less than 1% a year over the past decade as many women postponed motherhood and had smaller families.

But data from 25 states suggests a much steeper decline in 2020 and into 2021, as the virus upended society and killed over a half-million Americans.

Births for all of 2020 were down 4.3% from 2019, the data indicates. More tellingly, births in December 2020 and in January and February 2021 — nine months or more after the spring 2020 lockdowns — were down 6.5%, 9.3% and 10% respectively, compared with the same months a year earlier.

December, January and February together had about 41,000 fewer births than the same three-month span a year earlier. That’s an 8% decline.

“When there’s a crisis, I don’t think people are thinking about reproduction,” said Dr. John Santelli, a Columbia University professor of population and family health who reviewed the AP’s analysis.

The analysis included 24 states that provided data on births to residents. Joining them in the analysis was California, the most populous state, which provided data on all births that happened in the state, including among visitors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to provide a national picture later this year. But the data for the 25 states is not expected to change substantially; preliminary birth numbers usually end up being pretty close to the final counts, experts say.

North Central College in Naperville has announced it will hold four outdoor, limited-capacity graduation ceremonies May 8-9 to honor this year’s graduates and those in the class of 2020.

Breaking from the virtual commencements it held last year, North Central is planning events that will comply with COVID-19 safety protocols, a school news release said. There will be reduced seating capacity at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium, physical distancing between attendees and required face coverings.

“After hosting a virtual graduation last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this spring North Central College graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 will get the opportunity they’ve been waiting for: To walk across the stage in front of their family and friends,” the release said.

It is expected 270 members of last year’s graduating class and 614 students receiving graduate and undergraduate degrees this year will participate in one of the four ceremonies.

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