Illinois’ COVID-19 positivity rate creeps up again (LIVE UPDATES)

Jae C. Hong/AP Photo (file)

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Illinois’ positivity rate creeps up as coronavirus kills 106 more residents

Jae C. Hong/AP Photo (file)
Registered nurse Jana Kendall puts on her PPE before tending to a COVID-19 patient in an emergency room at a California hospital.

Illinois’ COVID-19 testing positivity rate inched upward for a third straight day Tuesday as state public health officials announced the virus has killed 106 additional residents and spread to 5,644 more.
The new cases were confirmed among 66,786 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, raising the state’s average positivity rate over the last week to 7.4%. That’s increased from 6.8% over the weekend, but is still down from over 10% this time last month.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team has warned of a potential increase in cases and positivity due to transmission at holiday gatherings, but it would take a few weeks for that to show up in the data, experts say.
Generally, though, the state’s key COVID-19 metrics have gradually improved since Thanksgiving following a record-breaking resurgence.
Read the full story here.

News
4:34 p.m. First reported U.S. case of COVID-19 variant found in Colorado
DENVER — The first reported U.S. case of the COVID-19 variant that’s been seen in the United Kingdom has been discovered in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday.
The coronavirus variant was found in a man in his 20s who is in isolation southeast of Denver and has no travel history, state health officials said.
The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed the virus variant, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified.
Scientists in the U.K. believe the new virus variant is more contagious than previously identified strains of the SARS-CoV-2. The vaccines being given now are thought to be effective against the variant, Colorado health officials said in a news release.
Public health officials are investigating other potential cases and performing contract tracing to determine the spread of the variant throughout the state.
Read the full story here.
4 p.m. City’s top public health official opens first mass vaccination site, gets jab herself
The city’s top public health official rolled up her sleeve for the coronavirus vaccine Tuesday as she opened Chicago’s first mass vaccination site at Malcolm X College.
“I’m wonderful!” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health, moments after getting the jab. “Honestly, can’t even feel it. I’m so pleased right now.”
The site is open by appointment only for health care workers who aren’t affiliated with a hospital. Initially, the Malcolm X site is expected to vaccinate “a few hundred” people each day, Arwady said. The vaccinations are free, she said.
Beginning in late February or early spring, older city residents — as well as corrections workers, educators, transit workers, grocery store employees — can expect to be offered the vaccine, Arwady said.
“Please note that we are working to roll out this vaccine as fast and as safely as we possibly can,” she said.
Read the full story from Stefano Esposito here.
2 p.m. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate GOP block Democrats’ push for $2K relief checks
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blocked Democrats’ push to immediately bring President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks up for a vote, saying the chamber would “begin a process” to address the issue.
Pressure is mounting on the Republican-led Senate to follow the House, which voted overwhelmingly on Monday to meet the president’s demand to increase the checks from $600 as the virus crisis worsens. A growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia, have said they will support the larger amount. But most GOP senators oppose more spending, even if they are also wary of bucking Trump.
The outcome is highly uncertain heading into the rare holiday-week session.
“There’s one question left today: Do Senate Republicans join with the rest of America in supporting $2,000 checks?” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said as he made a motion to vote.
Read the full story here.
1:49 p.m. CTA buses to offer free disposable masks
The Chicago Transit Authority plans to offer free disposable face masks on several city bus routes.
The pilot program will place mask dispensers at the front of nearly 200 buses on 20 different routes, the CTA said Tuesday.
Routes with high ridership were chosen for the program, including the #56 Milwaukee, #91 Austin and #77 Belmont buses.
Through the pilot program, the CTA hopes to learn about mask demand and possibly expand the dispensers to the rest of its 129 bus routes and rail stations. Riders are required by law to wear face masks on CTA property.
Read the full story from Sophie Sherry here.
12:56 p.m. Nearly a third of CPS staffers scheduled to return to schools next week asked to work from home or take leave — but most rejected
Most of the Chicago Public Schools teachers and staffers who are scheduled to return to classrooms next week for the first time in nine months haven’t raised any qualms about doing so with the district — but almost a third of them requested to work from home or take a leave of absence.
That’s according to data released by the district Tuesday on the 7,002 pre-kindergarten and special education cluster program employees who were asked to return to work Jan. 4 after the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic closure.
Two-thirds of those employees — 4,684 of them — didn’t ask for leave or accommodations.
Another 2,010 employees did apply to stay home or take leave. The district granted 861 of those requests and rejected 1,149 of them, or about 16% of all returning workers. An additional 308 requests are pending, according to CPS.
Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.
12 p.m. ‘Endlessly grateful’ local venue owners welcome COVID-19 relief funding: ‘Finally..a glimmer of light’
Live music venue owners and theaters, shuttered since March due to mandated pandemic shutdowns, are counting on their slice of $15 billion in funding allocated in Congress’ latest COVID-19 relief bill, which was signed into law Sunday night by President Donald Trump.
Venues in Chicago are competing with their counterparts across the country — from Broadway to Hollywood — for the bill’s Save Our Stages Act funding, which is seen by many in the industry as the light at the end of the tunnel for independently owned clubs, concert halls and theaters. Without these funds, it’s been estimated that nearly 90% of the country’s independent live music venues would close in the near future, leaving the state of music, tours and the industry at large in jeopardy.
“This has been an unsustainable predicament and position for any business, with no income, not a single ticket, not a single drink sold for 10 months. So that’s why the relief package is so important and why we are so appreciative and grateful it passed,” said Joe Shanahan, founder of Metro Chicago on the city’s North Side.
The $15 billion is intended to provide grants to, according to the legislation, “eligible live venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, live performing arts organization operators, museum operators, motion picture theater operators, or talent representatives who demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in revenues.”
Read the full story here.
10:40 a.m. 2 more Cook County court employees test positive for COVID-19
Two more employees of the Cook County Office of the Chief Judge tested positive for COVID-19.
One employee works at the adult probation department at the Skokie Courthouse, the chief judge’s office announced Tuesday.
The other employee works for the administrative staff at the Markham Courthouse.
Also, a resident of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total cases at the Near West Side facility to 93 staff members and 77 residents since the start of the pandemic, the office said.
Read the full story from David Struett here.

9:42 a.m. Shedd penguins’ field trips bring a little joy to the world
Like other major cultural institutions in Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium closed to the public more than once during the coronavirus pandemic.
And since people couldn’t get inside the Shedd, the Shedd reached out to the people — with some little, waddling ambassadors.
The Shedd’s first penguins arrived in 1991 with the opening of the Oceanarium. Since then, they’ve visited other exhibits in the aquarium. But the birds’ first offsite trip came in June, to the Field Museum, which was still closed to the public at the time.
Video of the penguins pacing past Sue the T. Rex was a hit online.
After that, Shedd trainers took the Magellanic and Rockhopper penguins to a few other famous Chicago sites. They needed the exercise, after all, and the sites were empty, or nearly.
Read the full story from Grace Asiegbu here.
6:02 a.m. House votes to increase COVID checks to $2K
The House voted overwhelmingly Monday to increase COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000, meeting President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger payments and sending the bill to the GOP-controlled Senate, where the outcome is uncertain.
Democrats led passage, 275-134, their majority favoring additional assistance, but dozens of Republicans joined in approval. Congress had settled on smaller $600 payments in a compromise over the big year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law. Democrats favored higher payments, but Trump’s push put his GOP allies in a difficult spot.
The vote deeply divided Republicans who mostly resist more spending. But many House Republicans joined in support, preferring to link with Democrats rather than buck the outgoing president. Senators were set to return to session Tuesday, forced to consider the measure.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared, “Republicans have a choice: Vote for this legislation or vote to deny the American people” the assistance she said they need during the pandemic.
Read more here.

New cases

Illinois reported 105 deaths from the coronavirus and 4,453 new confirmed and probable cases of the virus Monday. The death toll rose to 16,074 since the pandemic began nine months ago.
With two new cases reported, a total of 230 employees of the Cook County Office of the Chief Judge have tested positive for COVID-19, out of about 2,600 total staff members.
As of Saturday night, 4,083 people were hospitalized in Illinois with COVID-19, with 905 of those patients in intensive-care units and 497 on ventilators, officials said.

Analysis & Commentary
7:34 a.m. Did I purposely declutter my social circle?
Verena Graupmann, associate professor of psychological science at DePaul University, has been researching how social distancing in the United States and Germany affects an individual’s self-esteem and their sense of belonging and meaning.
“Part of this is natural and we are all getting used to the situation. We want to reach out to the people we know and love,” Graupmann said. “In the beginning, we were all reaching out to our people but many of us have been working from home and are on Zoom or phone meetings all day, so it’s overwhelming. I imagine there is a bit of fatigue with virtual calls.”
I can relate. I’ve lost count of my virtual calls over these last nine months. I cringe at the thought of scheduling a Zoom meeting.
“Social distancing is forcing us to be selective of who we spend our time with, and it is almost making us more mindful about your life and who you want in it,” Graupmann said. “It is almost like an antidote for social media. We are usually over-included in people’s lives and we know too many people that it’s hard to keep track of.”
Read the full column from Manny Ramos here.

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