Chicago will keep the current indoor dining limits at restaurants in place even if the state allows the city to loosen capacity rules on Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. The mayor released a statement Friday lauding Chicago’s decreasing COVID-19 numbers, but said it is too soon to increase capacity at bars and restaurants

The move comes as the state announced 58,357 vaccines were administered in Illinois on Thursday, a record high for the third day in a row that brought the total number of doses administered to 887,845. The seven-day rolling average of vaccines administered daily is 38,738 doses.

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

8:30 p.m.: Health advocates urge Illinois to involve more pharmacies to help give COVID-19 vaccines at assisted living sites

Big chain pharmacies have administered the first round of vaccinations at skilled nursing homes in Illinois, but will take about two more weeks to serve assisted living sites — a delay that may prove fatal for some residents, public health advocates warn.

While a federal program depends on CVS and Walgreens drugstore chains to inject the vaccines, other states have found a way to speed up the process by involving other pharmacies that are already working with assisted living facilities in their communities, nursing home experts said. Some health advocates say Illinois should do likewise.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration indicated that the state is relying on the big chains to finish the first round of shots at assisted living sites by Feb. 15.

8 p.m.: CPS, teachers union negotiations stretch into Friday evening as strike looms

With the looming threat of a teachers strike, Chicago Public Schools officials and the teachers union have extended negotiations into Friday evening as they try to to reach an agreement to reopen schools Monday, when tens of thousands of students are due to return for the first time since March.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson first called a press conference for 5 p.m. for an “update on reopening.” But then it was postponed indefinitely “as the parties continue to negotiate.”

Roughly 67,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade are due to begin in-person classes on Monday.

Many parents have clamored for schools to reopen, citing the need to give families a choice and the negative effects that months of remote learning have had on many children. But the teachers union, many parents groups and local elected leaders have raised doubts that COVID-19 safeguards are adequate at all schools and have sought further delay in reopening them.

7:20 p.m.: Illinois expands options for dentists to administer COVID-19 shots as vaccination effort lags behind other states

As Illinois continues to lag behind many other states in the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations, state officials announced Wednesday that dentists will now be able to volunteer to administer shots at vaccination sites.

The move comes as the state announced 58,357 vaccines were administered in Illinois on Thursday, a record high for the third day in a row that brought the total number of doses administered to 887,845. The seven-day rolling average of vaccines administered daily is 38,738 doses.

But while Illinois may be setting records against its prior performance, even its improved numbers rank among the lowest in the country, based on a Tribune analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC computes key metrics, such as the rate of shots administered per 100,000 people. It’s a way to adjust for population differences when comparing states’ performances.

Averaging the past seven days’ growth in that metric, Illinois ranked 42nd among states and the District of Columbia. In essence, Illinois may be vaccinating people faster than ever, but so are other states, and most are picking up the pace faster than Illinois.

6 p.m.: McDonald’s to pay employees to get vaccinated

McDonald’s plans to give employees four hours of bonus pay to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the first major fast food employer to announce incentives to encourage inoculation.

The incentive is available to crew at corporate-owned McDonald’s in the U.S. About 5% of McDonald’s 14,000 U.S. restaurants are corporate-owned. Corporate employees who get vaccinated will get four hours added to their paid time off bank.

Other companies have announced similar perks. Dollar General, Aldi, Trader Joe’s and Darden Restaurants, owner of Olive Garden, are offering workers four hours of pay to get the two shots to achieve the best protection. Instacart has offered a $25 bonus for its shoppers and drivers.

Chicago-based McDonald’s, like most companies, does not plan to make vaccination mandatory.

3:49 p.m.: Indoor dining limits for Chicago restaurants will remain in place for now, Lightfoot says

Chicago will keep the current indoor dining limits at restaurants in place even if the state allows the city to loosen capacity rules on Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

The mayor released a statement Friday lauding Chicago’s decreasing COVID-19 numbers, but said it is too soon to increase capacity at bars and restaurants.

Under state rules, Chicago must reduce its test positivity rate to 6.5% or less for three consecutive days before it can use looser rules. Friday was the first day Chicago was under 6.5%, city officials said.

2:14 p.m.: Should we be wearing 2 masks instead of 1? Coronavirus questions answered.

Should we wear two masks instead of one? Do all Cook County ZIP codes work for the county’s vaccination program? How effective will the vaccines be on COVID-19 variants?

These are some of the many questions readers have sent us that we’ve put to health and science experts.

12:11 p.m.: 4,156 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 71 additional deaths reported

Officials also reported 111,057 new tests in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide rolling positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests was 4.3% for the period ending Thursday.

In addition, the state has, for a third day in a row, given a record high number of vaccinations, with 58,357 doses administered, according to a news release. IDPH also says a total of 887,845 vaccines have now been administered.

11:44 a.m.: Can the US keep COVID-19 variants in check? Here’s what it takes

The COVID-19 variants that have emerged in the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and now Southern California are eliciting two notably distinct responses from U.S. public health officials.

First, broad concern. A variant that wreaked havoc in the U.K., leading to a spike in cases and hospitalizations, is surfacing in a growing number of places in the U.S. Early this week, another worrisome variant seen in Brazil surfaced in Minnesota. And on Thursday, two cases of the South Africa variant were confirmed in South Carolina. If these or other strains significantly change the way the virus transmits and attacks the body, as scientists fear they might, they could cause yet another prolonged surge in illness and death in the U.S., even as cases have begun to plateau and vaccines are rolling out.

On the other hand, variants aren’t novel or even uncommon in viral illnesses. The viruses that trigger common colds and flus regularly evolve. Even if a mutated strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, makes it more contagious or makes people sicker, the basic public health response stays the same: Monitor the virus, and any mutations, as it moves across communities. Use masking, testing, physical distancing and quarantine to contain the spread.

11:31 a.m.: How worried should you be about missing your last routine mammogram or colonoscopy due to COVID-19 fears?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans have stayed away from doctors and hospitals for fear of being exposed to a virus that’s far more dangerous than whatever else ails them. Like other nonessential doctor visits, routine screening tests for cancer have crashed.

One nationwide study found that tests for breast, cervical and colon cancer were down over 86% in March 2020 compared to before the pandemic. Screening rebounded in June but remained about one-third lower than before.

11:30 a.m.: Third stimulus check updates: President Biden taking ‘creative steps’ to push for $1.9 trillion aid plan

Republican lawmakers are balking at the cost of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue plan — but the Biden team is trying to convince the country that the cost is a bargain compared to the potential damage to the world’s largest economy.

Biden hammered the message at a Friday meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

“We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much,” Biden said. “The risk is not doing enough.”

Yellen reversed his statement to make the same point.

“The price of doing nothing is much higher than the price of doing something and doing something big,” she said. “We need to act now.”

10:50 a.m.: Pregnant women get conflicting advice on COVID-19 vaccines

Pregnant women looking for guidance on COVID-19 vaccines are facing the kind of confusion that has dogged the pandemic from the start: The world’s leading public health organizations — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization — are offering contradictory advice.

Neither organization explicitly forbids or encourages immunizing pregnant women. But weighing the same limited studies, they provide different recommendations.

The CDC’s advisory committee urged pregnant women to consult their doctors before rolling up their sleeves — a decision applauded by several women’s health organizations because it kept decision making in the hands of the expectant mothers.

10:45 a.m.: How the coronavirus turns the body against itself

The coronavirus can warp the body’s defenses in many ways — disarming the body’s early warning systems, for example, or causing immune cells to misfire. But a spate of new studies suggests another insidious consequence: The infection can trigger the production of antibodies that mistakenly attack the patient’s own tissues instead of the virus.

The latest report, published online this week, suggests that so-called autoantibodies can persist months after the infection has resolved, perhaps causing irreparable harm. If other studies confirm the finding, it may explain some of the lingering symptoms in people who have recovered from COVID-19. The syndrome, sometimes referred to as long COVID, can include dementia, “brain fog” and joint pain.

8:33 a.m.: How do I schedule a second COVID-19 vaccine shot? Why hasn’t my health system contacted me yet? Common Illinois vaccine questions answered.

The first official week of COVID-19 vaccinations for seniors and essential workers in Illinois has sparked mixed emotions and many questions about the process of getting vaccinated.

The vast majority of Illinois seniors and front-line essential workers who are eligible for vaccinations under the phase that started Monday have not yet received shots. Supply remains extremely limited.

But some of those who did get vaccinated reported problems scheduling a second shot. Others worried that a blizzard would keep them from their appointments. Many of those who have yet to be vaccinated are wondering why their health systems haven’t yet invited them to be inoculated.

The Tribune reached out to retail pharmacies, health systems and the Cook County Department of Public Health to get answers to those questions, and others, about getting vaccinated.

6:45 a.m.: City, CPS, CTU allies in dispute over in-person learning to discuss return to school

A Chicago faith group and parents were scheduled Friday morning to discuss their wish to keep children in remote learning, just before the city’s health commissioner and Chicago Public Schools leaders were to talk about the district’s plan to return to in-person instruction.

Arise Chicago, which describes itself as a “leader in the faith-labor movement” and works for equity in labor apprenticeship programs, was scheduled to hold a news conference with CPS parents who want “to continue remote learning keep Chicago Public Schools children, families, teachers and staff safe,” according to a news release.

Meanwhile, Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner, and CPS health chief Dr. Kenneth Fox were scheduled later in the morning to talk about the district’s plan for what CPS says is its plan for a return to in-person learning, which CPS has scheduled to start rolling out Monday.

Check back for updates. — Chicago Tribune staff

6:10 a.m.: Unemployment up statewide in 2020, with near 1 million false unemployment claims

As the COVID-19 pandemic carries on, new job numbers show how much the fallout from the virus has affected Illinois’ workers.

Unemployment is up in all areas of Illinois, including the city of Springfield. Numbers released Thursday by the Illinois Department of Employment Security found unemployment rose by four points between December 2019 and December 2020, to 7.5%.

In the Springfield metropolitan area, unemployment was up two and a half points over the same period, to 6.3%.

The state and Springfield area also took hits on the number of nonfarm jobs. The Springfield area lost 5,800 nonfarm jobs in 2020, bringing the total number of these jobs to 103,400, down from 109,200. In total, Illinois lost 419,100 in 2020, or 7.3% of the nonfarm jobs in the state at the end of 2019.

The Chicago region took the hardest hit, with a rise in unemployment during 2020 by 5.9 points to 8.7%, which is also the highest unemployment rate of any Illinois region.

The Quad Cities region fared the best, with unemployment rising by .7 points in 2020. The Champaign-Urbana area has the lowest unemployment rate in the state, however, at a rate of 5%.

“As Illinois works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic with the ongoing vaccine rollout, IDES remains committed to supporting displaced workers and families by offering support and services to those who need it,” said Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes in a statement.

On the ground, the situation got worse for people needing assistance as IDES was overwhelmed by the volume of claims. Millions of Illinois workers were left to go weeks without being able to contact someone for help or get answers about their claims.

The department’s volume of requests was also complicated by fraudulent claims, with many people who didn’t need unemployment benefits receiving aid. IDES has received 962,000 false unemployment claims since March. — Ben Szalinski The State Journal-Register, via Tribune Content Agency

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