At the same time, the first group of Chicago Public Schools students and staff — prekindergarten and special education cluster programs — have returned to in-person classrooms on Thursday, a day after the Chicago Teachers Union approved a reopening deal.

In vaccine news, Illinois residents outside Cook County who are younger than 65 and have preexisting health conditions will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot beginning Feb. 25 under the current phase of the state’s vaccination effort, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday.

The move comes as the state struggles to vaccinate the roughly 3.2 million residents 65 and older and front-line essential workers who are already eligible under phase 1b of the vaccine distribution plan. Pritzker’s office could not say how many people the expanded eligibility will add to those in the lengthy line for a shot.

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

7 p.m. (update): Pritzker administration defends coronavirus vaccine rollout as local health leaders complain of poor communication

Frustrated over the rocky start of coronavirus vaccinations in Illinois, local health officials expressed dismay over the state’s oversight of the rollout Thursday to a panel of state lawmakers.

Public health officials in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration countered that the pace of vaccinations is picking up and will get even faster as more vaccine doses become available in coming weeks. They pleaded for patience and blamed the sluggish start on the lack of enough doses to meet the overwhelming demand.

But while acknowledging the supply problems, the local health officials said their efforts have been hampered by inconsistent and unclear communication from the state to both local health departments and the public.

“More vaccine can solve a problem, but we all need to be going on the same page,” Craig Beintema, public health administrator for the Stephenson County Health Department in north-central Illinois, said during a virtual meeting of the Senate Health Committee.

Beintema and some of his counterparts voiced frustration with the lack of advance notice from the Illinois Department of Public Health about how many doses of the vaccine they’ll receive each week.

They also questioned Pritzker’s recent decision to expand eligibility to people younger than 65 with certain health conditions beginning Feb. 25, even as the seniors and essential workers already eligible struggle to land appointments.

The Pritzker administration estimated the expansion would make an additional 3 million people eligible statewide to receive the vaccine.

Together with the health care workers who were first in line to receive the vaccine and the estimated 3.2 million front-line essential workers and residents 65 and older who became eligible under phase 1b of the state’s plan, the change would open vaccinations to roughly half of all Illinois residents.

6:30 p.m.: More vaccine doses heading to Illinois Walgreens stores through federal program. But for CVS, Jewel, Walmart? Not yet.

The federal government is sending additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines to pharmacies across the country, but in Illinois, those doses will only be available at Walgreens — not CVS Health, Mariano’s, Jewel-Osco or Walmart.

Walgreens expects to begin administering the extra doses Friday, in its Illinois stores in medically underserved and “socially vulnerable” areas. Walgreens anticipates initially receiving about 39,300 doses a week, which will be in addition to the doses it already receives through the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Other retail pharmacy chains in Illinois, including Mariano’s, Jewel-Osco and Walmart, are vaccinating people, and have been for weeks, but with doses obtained through health departments, not the federal program.

The extra doses going to Walgreens this week are part of the new federal retail pharmacy program, which the Biden administration announced last week. Nationwide, pharmacies expect to receive about 1 million extra doses this week through the program, with the number likely increasing over time as vaccine supply improves.

The program begins amid frustration in Illinois over demand for vaccines that far outstrips supply, leaving many people spending hours online trying to find appointments. Illinois is now vaccinating people ages 65 and older and front-line essential workers, including teachers and grocery store employees. Gov. J.B. Pritzker also announced Wednesday the state will allow people under 65 with certain health conditions to start receiving vaccines Feb. 25, though Chicago and suburban Cook County will not.

4:45 p.m.: Biden says US will have enough vaccine doses by the end of the summer to inoculate 300 million Americans

President Joe Biden visited some of the nation’s leading scientists on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 on Thursday, as he announced the U.S. will have enough supply of the vaccine by the end of the summer to inoculate 300 million Americans.

Biden toured the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the sprawling National Institutes of Health complex just outside Washington that created the COVID-19 vaccine now manufactured by Moderna and being rolled out in the U.S. and other countries. He was also set to address the agency’s team of researchers and scientists, who have investigated treatments for COVID-19 and other dangerous diseases.

The U.S. is on pace to exceed Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office, with more than 26 million shots delivered in his first three weeks. Meanwhile, Biden is moving to ease supply bottlenecks and ensure the nation has enough of the current two-dose vaccines to protect 300 million Americans.

Biden announced on Thursday that the U.S. had secured contractual commitments from Moderna and Pfizer to deliver the 600 million doses of vaccine by the end of July — more than a month earlier than initially anticipated.

The pace of injections could increase further if a third coronavirus vaccine from drugmaker Johnson & Johnson receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

1:38 p.m.: Chef discusses free meals delivered to hospital staffs

Personal chef Antonella Nicole Loiacono discusses how she prepares and delivers free meals to Chicago-area hospital staffs treating COVID-19 patients on Thursday’s episode of “The Drew Barrymore Show.”

”I’ve been a chef for about 16 years now. Once COVID hit, I just wanted to use my resources to see how I can give back, so I started with the hospitals,” Loiacono tells Barrymore.

Barrymore surprises Loiacono with a message from her favorite chef, Giada De Laurentiis, and a $10,000 donation from the Little Potato Company for her meal program. “The Drew Barrymore Show” airs at 2 p.m. weekdays on WBBM-Ch. 2.

12:57 p.m. Federal disaster teams called in to help with COVID-19 vaccination effort as Illinois surpasses 1.5 million inoculations; first South African variant identified in state

With the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Illinois now surpassing 1.5 million, the state requested Federal Disaster Survivor Assistance teams to help in community outreach at vaccination sites in two counties including Cook beginning this week, the Pritzker administration announced Thursday.

The teams are part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will be focused on local health departments that serve “underserved communities and vulnerable populations,” state public health officials said.

Also Thursday, the state said the first case of the coronavirus variant that originated South Africa has now been identified in Illinois. Previously, 22 cases of the variant from the United Kingdom had been identified in the state, public health officials reported. The strains are known to spread “more easily and quickly” than others.

The first of three Disaster Survivor Assistance teams, each comprised of eight people, will be deployed to St. Clair County this week. The two remaining groups will be deployed to Cook County.

Last week, the Illinois National Guard was called in to assist at vaccination sites opened at the East Side Health District in St. Clair County and Triton College in Cook County.

”Local health departments are on the front lines of this initiative and it is critical that we provide them any and all support they need,” Pritzker said in a statement.

The state administered 69,029 vaccinations on Wednesday, bringing the state total to 1,549,108. The number of Illinois residents who have been fully vaccinated — receiving both of the required two shots — reached 346,773.

12:06 p.m.: 2,838 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 102 additional deaths reported

Officials also reported 96,525 new tests in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide rolling positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests was 3.3% for the period ending Wednesday.

The 7-day rolling daily average of administered vaccine doses is 56,094, with 69,029 doses given on Wednesday. IDPH also says a total of 1,549,108 vaccines have now been administered.

9:26 a.m.: Cook County joins Chicago in rejecting Pritzker’s expansion of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to people with preexisting health conditions

Illinois residents outside Cook County who are younger than 65 and have preexisting health conditions will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot beginning Feb. 25 under the current phase of the state’s vaccination effort, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday.

The move comes as the state struggles to vaccinate the roughly 3.2 million residents 65 and older and front-line essential workers who are already eligible under phase 1b of the vaccine distribution plan. Pritzker’s office could not say how many people the expanded eligibility will add to those in the lengthy line for a shot.

Chicago, which is supplied with and distributes its own vaccine supply, quickly opted on Wednesday not to join the state in expanding the reach of phase 1b. Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, in a joint statement issued with Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday, said the county also would not expand eligibility.

9:14 a.m.: CDC says quarantine from COVID-19 exposure not necessary for vaccinated people

“Fully vaccinated persons who meet criteria will no longer be required to quarantine following an exposure to someone with COVID-19,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidance posted Wednesday on its website.

There was one caveat: At least two weeks must have passed since the second shot, because it takes that long to build full immunity. But the CDC says it’s not known how long protection lasts, so people who had their last shot three months ago or more should still quarantine if they are exposed or show symptoms, the agency added.

“This recommendation to waive quarantine for people with vaccine-derived immunity aligns with quarantine recommendations for those with natural immunity,” the CDC said. People who have been vaccinated should still watch for symptoms for 14 days after they have been exposed to someone who is infected, the agency added.

That doesn’t mean vaccinated people should stop practicing social distancing, the CDC noted.

Everyone, vaccinated or not, needs to follow all other precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, the agency said.

7:20 a.m.: Art Institute reopens Thursday, Garfield Park Conservatory announces reopening dates

The Chicago Park District on Wednesday started accepting reservations for people who live near the conservatory and members of the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, and will open up reservations for the general public starting Friday, according to a news release.

Conservatory alliance members and neighborhood residents will have the chance to start visiting the 112-year-old indoor garden Feb. 24, with the general public welcomed starting Feb. 27, according to the release.

The conservatory’s Spring Flower Show, “Saturation,” with a theme of showcasing all colors of the rainbow, also opens Feb. 27 and runs through May 9.

Those wishing to reserve a one-hour spot for up to five visitors at a time can check the conservatory’s website. Some smaller rooms at the conservatory will remain closed. More information can be obtained by calling 773-638-1766 or emailing visitors@garfieldpark.org.

7:07 a.m.: Indiana expanding COVID-19 vaccines to Hoosiers 60 and up

Indiana health officials will soon expand coronavirus vaccines to Hoosiers aged 60 to 65 as they continue to sidestep federal recommendations for vaccine rollout and delay the timeline for teachers and other essential workers to become eligible for COVID-19 shots.

The decrease in the age of eligibility will happen “as soon as possible,” once vaccine becomes available, the state health department’s chief medical officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver announced Wednesday.

Hoosiers aged 50 to 59, as well as those under age 50 who suffer from certain comorbidities, will be on deck, Weaver said, although there are no specific timelines in place for when new eligibility expansions will take effect.

7:01 a.m.: Dr. Fauci predicts ‘open season’ for COVID-19 vaccines by April

Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts by April it will be “open season” for vaccinations in the U.S., as supply boosts allow most people to get shots to protect against COVID-19.

Speaking to NBC’s “Today Show,” Fauci, who serves as science adviser to President joe Biden, says the rate of vaccinations will greatly accelerate in the coming months. He credits forthcoming deliveries of the two approved vaccines, the potential approval of a third and moves taken by the Biden administration to increase the nation’s capacity to deliver doses.

6 a.m.: Chicago-area Catholic school students exceed expectations on standardized assessments

Despite fears of students falling behind because of the COVID-19 pandemic, an assessment of nearly 7,400 students at Chicago-area Catholic schools found students, especially those from economically disadvantaged communities, exceeded expectations, officials said this week.

Of the 7,382 students who took the i-Ready exam in the fall of 2019 and fall of 2020, the majority in kindergarten through second grade, students performed on average at 105% of the expected learning growth in math, and at 130% in reading, said Jim Rigg, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic schools.

The pilot program, which aims to track student growth from year to year and is administered three times a year, tested around 17% of the 45,000 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade enrolled at 162 archdiocese-run Catholic schools in Cook and Lake counties, Rigg said.

While students in grades three through eight were slated to take the ACT Aspire test last spring, Rigg said those assessments were canceled after schools were closed in mid-March and students moved to online learning.

“I was uncertain what to expect, given the complexity of the pandemic, but I was delighted to see the results, and that students had grown by one grade level, and outperformed the national norms,” Rigg said.

6 a.m.: ‘We’re in survival mode,’ says Virtue’s Erick Williams. Here’s how Chicago’s Black-owned restaurants are faring during the pandemic.

Erick Williams, chef and owner at Virtue Restaurant in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

He adapted with curbside pickup and donated meals, plus collaborations ranging from an Italian beef sandwich to an acclaimed artist’s dinner. Now an old challenge has returned.

“The weather in Chicago can wreak havoc on the restaurant business, if not the community at large,” said Williams. “It’s the first quarter, which is historically challenging. We’re in survival mode.”

6 a.m.: Home Bodies: Take your fitness routine virtual in 2021. Watch our online video series and see which workouts work for you.

Perhaps the new year caught you off guard, and you’re just getting around to a resolution. Maybe you’re off to a good start and want to build on that. Or perhaps the thought of working out hasn’t crossed your pandemic-plagued mind in almost a year — and that’s perfectly OK.

Whatever your fitness goal, new virtual options are expanding the ways you can safely work out during the pandemic. They also allow you to log on from anywhere, meaning you could train with a Portuguese instructor one day and try out a local Zumba class the next.

The idea of online workouts wasn’t born from the pandemic; YouTube stars like Adriene Mishler of “Yoga with Adriene” have been posting workout videos for years, amassing millions of subscribers. But social distancing due to COVID-19 created a massive demand for safe ways to exercise.

This month, the Chicago Tribune will share stories from instructors offering a wide range of fitness options, from yoga and mixed martial arts to dance cardio and fitness for new moms at chicagotribune.com/lifestyles. Short sample workouts from each of them will provide an opportunity to test out new types of exercise for a routine tailored to any fitness goal.

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