Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Chicago expands vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older; 65,233 vaccine doses, 1,959 new cases and 22 deaths reported Monday

High school students on Monday returned to in-person classrooms in Chicago for the first time in more than a year. The Chicago Teachers Union voted to approve a plan to reopen high schools, the union said Sunday, three days after the deal was approved overwhelmingly by the CTU’s House of Delegates.

Roughly 36% of high school students had indicated in surveys CPS released in late March that they want to return to buildings.

The rest of the state opened eligibility everyone 16 and over on April 12, but Chicago, which gets its vaccine supply separately from the state, held back, citing limited vaccine supply.

Officials reported 1,959 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 Monday. The cases resulted from 47,506 tests. The seven-day statewide positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests is 4% as of Sunday, dipping slightly from last week’s high of 4.4%.

An additional 65,233 coronavirus vaccine doses were administered Sunday, bringing the statewide total to 8,119,867, public health officials reported. Over the last seven days, the state reached a record average of 125,212 vaccines administered daily.

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

5 p.m.: University of Chicago links COVID-19 outbreak to spring break travel and student gatherings as school expands stay-at-home directive

The University of Chicago is extending a stay-at-home directive into a second week for residence hall students and requiring off-campus undergraduates to follow the precautions because of a recent COVID-19 surge likely propelled by new strains of the virus.

The university, located in Hyde Park, has recorded 209 new infections since March 26, with a record high of 97 new cases in the first week of April. All classes will be held remotely through Wednesday, and in-person research is suspended.

University leaders initially attributed the surge to off-campus fraternity parties but have since detailed additional possible sources for the outbreak. The university first enacted a seven-day clamp-down April 8 but only for students living on campus. The directive was extended once before on April 14.

“Although our initial investigation suggested that the cases began with one or more parties, further study by (the Chicago Department of Public Health) and UChicago indicates that there are multiple clusters, starting with individuals who were unknowingly infected over break,” the university said in a campus message Friday. “There was subsequent spread among students in smaller gatherings as well as larger parties.”

“This is not just due to one party over the Easter weekend,” said Dr. Emily Landon, an epidemiologist at UChicago Medicine, during a video for students. “This is actually probably seven different introductions of the virus into the community from individuals who traveled over spring break.” The university held spring break the week of March 22.

4:45 p.m.: 150+ students and staff at Hinsdale High School District 86 in quarantine due to close contact rules

Hinsdale High School District 86 announced Friday that 155 students and staff members across the district are in quarantine due to close contact rules and quarantine guidelines established by the DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). It is the highest total they’ve had in this category since November.

According to Superintendent Tammy Prentiss, they had a few people test positive on the track team at Hinsdale Central and the baseball team at Hinsdale South. The entire track team and baseball team had to be quarantined, and because of the close contact rules, the numbers add up to over 100 people that have to quarantine for 14 days.

“Close contact” is defined as anyone (with or without a face mask) who was within 6 feet of a confirmed case of COVID-19 (with or without a face mask) for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour window during the infectious period.

“You also have to look at their academic schedules so there might have been students in the classroom that were impacted by the close contact rule as well,” Prentiss said. “The sheer number of positive cases has not gone up dramatically.”

It’s not clear how many of the students that had to quarantine due to contact tracing are in either full-time remote or full-time in-person cohorts. But Prentiss has as idea.

“Based on the phone calls I received, I’d say the majority were in-person students,” she said.

2:15 p.m.: Illinois close to having 50% of residents 16 and older vaccinated, but ongoing third COVID-19 surge will put a hold on any reopening plans

Nearly 50% of Illinois residents 16 and older have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, putting the state inches from a milestone that could have triggered a full reopening under the plan Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced one month ago.

But rising hospitalizations and cases, along with the looming threat of COVID-19 variants, are holding the state back from loosening restrictions.

Pritzker’s plan was previously delayed in late March when 70% of those 65 and older had received at least one dose. That mark was supposed to kick off a “bridge” phase that would precede a full-scale reopening, allowing a wide range of businesses to open their doors to more customers.

In addition to the vaccination levels, Pritzker’s plan required a sustained decline in new cases and hospitalizations before the rules could be loosened, and that has not happened.

Over the last month, cases, hospital admissions and the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals have risen statewide.

12:22 p.m.: Jitters, excitement and elbow bumps as CPS high schools reopen after 13-month shutdown: ‘This is long overdue — the first day of school in April’

Just 40 minutes before in-person classes started Monday morning for the first time in more than a year at Chicago’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School, Caleb Fulton was the only student outside the building’s main entrance in North Kenwood.

The freshman from Auburn Gresham said he has the “slightest bit of anxiety” — not because of the pandemic, but because this is only his second time being at the high school.

“I woke up and thought, ‘This is a dream,’” said Caleb, 15. “This is a new experience for me… hopefully it’s the same as middle school.”

Caleb said he’s grown accustomed to online learning, but when the chance arose to attend in-person classes, he said he “had to get out of the house.”

He was among thousands of high school students in Chicago Public Schools who resumed in-person classes Monday, one day after the Chicago Teachers Union announced its membership voted in favor of a high school reopening agreement that includes a program to aid students 16 and older and their families in scheduling coronavirus vaccinations. Earlier in the year, prior to the reopening of elementary buildings, the CTU nearly went on strike as it bargained for additional protections for staff and students.

CPS high schools — which have more complex schedules and where students are in an age range that has seen a recent rise in positivity rates — were the last in CPS to reopen, with most students having last had in-person classes in March 2020.

12:12 p.m.: 65,233 vaccine doses, 1,959 new cases and 22 deaths reported Monday

Illinois public health officials Monday reported 1,959 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, and 22 additional deaths. That brings the state’s totals to 1,304,200 cases and 21,685 deaths overall.

There were 47,506 tests reported in the previous 24 hours. The seven-day positivity rate as a percent of total tests is 4.0%.

There were 65,233 doses of the coronavirus vaccine administered Sunday. The seven-day rolling average of daily doses is 125,212.

Officials said that 53% of those 18 years and older and 50% of those 16 years and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. Vaccine eligibility was opened to those 16 and over statewide on April 12, except for Chicago, which widened access on Monday.

11:58 a.m.: Chatham Studio Movie Grill closes for good, leaving Chicago’s South Side with limited options

With the permanent closing of the Chatham Studio Movie Grill, Chicago’s South Side has lost 14 more movie screens.

The complex, at 210 W. 87th St., just off the Dan Ryan Expressway, underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2017. The theaters went dark in March 2020, as theaters did worldwide, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last summer, the theater’s parking lot served as a COVID-19 testing site.

The weekly Chicago Crusader reported the theater’s closing April 17, quoting an unnamed theater manager who said he received word five months ago about the Studio Movie Grill (SMG) chain’s plans not to reopen the Chatham theaters.

The Studio Movie Grill in Wheaton remains the sole Illinois location — one, currently, of 20 left across eight states — in the SMG company. SMG declared Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy last year.

The closing of the Chatham theaters leaves South Side residents with severely limited moviegoing options. The nearest theaters currently open, or with a fighting chance to reopen, are the AMC Ford City 14, near Midway International Airport, and, further south, the AMC Chicago Ridge 6.

More people were diagnosed with COVID-19 during the past seven days than any other week since the start of the pandemic — topping 5.2 million globally — with the worst outbreaks accelerating in many countries that are ill-equipped to deal with them.

The worrisome trend, just days after the world surpassed 3 million deaths, comes as countries are rolling out vaccinations in an effort to get the virus under control. The data from Johns Hopkins University showing a 12% increase in infections from a week earlier casts doubt on the hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight.

The weekly increase surpassed the previous high set in mid-December. While infection rates have largely slowed in the U.S. and U.K., countries in the developing world — India and Brazil in particular — are shouldering surging caseloads.

The global death toll is also resuming momentum. Daily fatalities have averaged near 12,000 over the past week, up from just over 8,600 in the week ended March 14 when fatalities had started to slow.

Illinois’ Agriculture Director said plans are underway for a state fair in Southern Illinois after the annual event in Du Quoin was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Director Jerry Costello said the manager of the Du Quoin State Fair and his team are “going full-bore just like they would any other year,” the Benton News reported. The fair is scheduled for Aug. 27 to Sept. 6.

Other events also are being planned. They include the Street Machine Nationals, which is scheduled for June 4-6.

“The fairgrounds, and the fair, it is such an economic engine for southern Illinois,” Costello added.

Costello, a former state legislator who is from southern Illinois, said Gov. J.B. Pritzker is also eager to see the return of both the fair in Du Quoin and the Illinois State Fair, which is scheduled for Aug. 12 to 22 at the fairgrounds in Springfield.

Costello said people may notice some changes at this year’s fair compared to past years, particularly at concerts and Grandstand events that typically “pack in a lot of people.”

Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi said he’s working with the department to “make this fair work” because of its importance to the city and the region.

“But I think people will come back,” he said. “I think they are dying to get out.” — Associated Press

6 a.m.: Hundreds of CPS students and staff are in quarantine, but as high schools reopen, COVID-19 cases remain isolated in the district so far

Starting with the district’s first COVID-19 case at Vaughn Occupational High School, at least 1,097 adults and 140 students who tested positive for the virus were present in CPS schools while they could have been contagious, according to district data.

While a significant majority of cases in CPS have been isolated, state contact tracing data places schools at the top of the list for potential exposure location, followed by business or retail settings, then restaurants or bars.

Outside Chicago, as of Sunday, the state was reporting 21 school outbreaks of five or more cases, including six involving at least 11 cases. A dozen outbreaks were sourced to sports, eight to classrooms and one to non-sports activities. In CPS, the number of weekly cases has risen sharply in the two weeks since spring break, surpassing 80 for the first time since numbers peaked in November. Unlike the fall, however, more than one-third of recent cases have been students, and last week saw the highest number of student cases yet.

Nearly all of the student cases in CPS have occurred since preschool and special education programs returned briefly in January. They reverted to remote learning while CPS and CTU bargained a reopening agreement, under which elementary students started returning in waves in February.

The Margarita European Inn in Evanston which is used to house homeless families seen here on April 9, 2021. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

6 a.m.: How the pandemic produced a surprising silver lining in the fight against homelessness

When COVID-19 halted the world a little more than a year ago, one group of people appeared to be particularly vulnerable to this new, little-understood coronavirus: the homeless.

Often suffering from poor health and packed head-to-foot in shelters — known as congregate housing — homeless individuals were one of several groups of people who, it was feared, would be decimated by the spread of COVID-19.

While those experiencing homelessness did suffer COVID’s aggressive spread initially, a silver lining has emerged out of the deadly pandemic. Hotels, abandoned by business travelers and tourists, were used to house people who would otherwise be sleeping in congregate shelters or on pads arranged on the floor of a church basement. Social service agencies, doctors and those who stayed in the hotels are now calling it a game-changing model for how to stabilize people experiencing homelessness and get them into permanent housing and off the street for good.

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