Latest coronavirus news for January 3, 2021: Live updates

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32 aldermen ‘deeply concerned’ with CPS’ reopening plans as some teachers refuse to return

An empty hallway inside Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior Academy of Social Justice in Englewood.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union said Sunday that many of its members expected back to school Monday are telling principals they will teach only remotely, as a majority of Chicago aldermen said in a letter to the mayor they are “deeply concerned” with the reopening plans.

The moves mark an escalation of the months-long campaign by CTU for a safe reopening and further complicates plans of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson to start bringing back some teachers and students on Monday.

Also Sunday, a majority of Chicago’s City Council wrote a letter to Lightfoot and Jackson to say they are “deeply concerned” with Chicago Public Schools’ scheduled reopening this month, expressing doubt in the racial equity and health and safety aspects of the city’s plan.

The 32 aldermen laid out nine steps the city should take as it looks to send students and staff back to classrooms, and urged the mayor and school district to collaborate with the teachers union over its concerns.

At least 5,800 employees are scheduled to return to their schools Monday for the first time since the pandemic began, with another 861 granted medical leaves and about 300 requests still pending, according to CPS. The educators work in preschool and special education cluster programs, whose students are set to return Jan. 11. Thousands more are set to return Jan. 25 ahead of a Feb. 1 reopening for K-8 schools.

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.


News

3:35 p.m. 81 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Illinois

The coronavirus has killed an additional 81 people in Illinois and infected another 4,469, state health officials announced Sunday.

That brings the state’s pandemic death toll to 16,755.

Of Sunday’s fatalities, 62 were reported in the Chicago area and included a Cook County man in his 30s.

The new cases were detected among the latest batch of 45,465 tests processed by the Illinois Department of Public Health in the last day, which is the smallest batch processed in a 24-hour span since Oct. 5. Over the last two weeks, the state has averaged nearly 75,000 tests each day.

The state’s seven-day positivity rate — a figure experts use to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading — remains at 8.3%, snapping a six-day streak of the state seeing that figure rise. That number has increased 1 1⁄2 percentage points over the last week since it checked in at 6.8% last Sunday, which was the lowest it had been since Oct. 29. Still, that number remains well below a late fall high of 13% during the height of the state’s record-breaking coronavirus resurgence.

Read the full story from Madeline Kenney here.

2 p.m. Frustrations of a CPS special ed parent: ‘Why are other kids reading and not my son?’

Nancy Curran points out teachers on the screen as her son Oliver Curran identifies them during a remote learning session in December.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Oliver Curran loves to talk. To him, watching news about politics or chatting with his mom is more fun than playing with toy trucks.

As much as he loves talking, Oliver, 12, can’t read, his mother, Nancy Curran, said. Curran brought her concern to Oliver’s special education team at Coonley Elementary School in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood, but instructors told her Oliver just needed more time, she said.

That was more than a year ago, Curran said.

Now, with Oliver attending school virtually due to the pandemic, Curran has noticed other students are already reading in her son’s seventh-grade class of fellow special education students.

“Why are other kids reading and not my son?” said Curran, of Streeterville. “I’m very concerned about that, and I’m not really being taken seriously.”

Remote learning has opened a window for parents to peer into their students’ classrooms, which was difficult to do before the coronavirus pandemic. At Chicago Public Schools, some parents of children with disabilities say they are disheartened by services they believe fail to meet students’ needs and are upset by the low expectations some educators have for their children.

Read the full story from Clare Proctor here.

11:36 a.m. U.S. ramps up COVID-19 vaccinations after slow start, Fauci says

The U.S. ramped up COVID-19 vaccinations in the past few days after a slower-than-expected start, bringing to 4 million the number of Americans who have received shots, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

The government’s top infectious-disease expert also said on ABC’s “This Week” that President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to administer 100 million shots of the vaccine within his first 100 days in office is achievable.

And he rejected President Donald Trump’s false claim on Twitter that coronavirus deaths and cases in the U.S. have been greatly exaggerated.

“All you need to do … is go into the trenches, go into the hospitals, go into the intensive care units and see what is happening. Those are real numbers, real people and real deaths,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The U.S. death toll has climbed past 350,000, the most of any country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, while more than 20 million people nationwide have been infected. States have reported record numbers of cases over the past few days, and funeral homes in Southern California are being inundated with bodies.

Read the full story here.

10:21 a.m. UK warns of more lockdown measures as new coronavirus variant spurs outbreak

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Sunday that more onerous lockdown restrictions in England are likely as the country reels from a new coronavirus variant that has pushed infection rates to their highest recorded levels.

Johnson, though, insisted he has “no doubt” that schools are safe and urged parents to send their children back into the classroom in areas of England where they can. Unions representing teachers have called for schools to turn to remote learning for at least a couple of weeks more due to the new variant, which scientists have said is up to 70% more contagious.

The U.K. is in the midst of an acute outbreak, recording more than 50,000 new coronavirus infections a day over the past six days. On Sunday, it notched up another 54,990 cases, down slightly from the previous day’s a daily record of 57,725. The country also recorded another 454 virus-related deaths to take the total to 75,024. According to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the U.K. is alternating with Italy as the worst-hit European nation.

“We are entirely reconciled to do what it takes to get the virus under control, that may involve tougher measures in the weeks ahead,” Johnson said in an interview with the BBC. “Obviously there are a range of tougher measures that we would have to consider.”

Read the full story here.

10 a.m. Coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations down, but positivity rate up to start new year

Public health officials on Saturday announced 29 more Illinois deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 while the virus has spread to an additional 4,762 people.

That’s the lowest coronavirus death count reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health in a single day since Nov. 13, and a far cry from the statewide average of 111 deaths per day over the last two weeks.

Twelve Chicago-area residents were among the latest victims, including a Cook County man in his 50s.

The new caseload was also well below the state’s average of 5,785 per day over the last two weeks, but that’s mostly because laboratories have been processing far fewer tests over the holidays.

The cases were detected among 61,987 tests submitted New Year’s Day — compared to the recent daily average of about 77,000 — which raised the statewide average positivity rate over the last week to 8.3%.

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.


Analysis & Commentary

10 a.m. Young or old, COVID-19 took them too soon in 2020

We wish Samuel Linares could have been with us longer. Chef Linares owned La Casa de Samuel, a highly praised restaurant in Little Village, having worked his way up and honed his skills in some of the finest restaurants in Mexico.

We wish Leroy Hearon were still here, too. Lt. Hearon was a Chicago firefighter who loved to tango. He traveled the world just to dance.

And we sure wish Flossie Lee Bournes were still with us. Ms. Bournes was a nurse who cared for victims of AIDS in the early days of that health crisis, back when AIDS frightened people so much that families sometimes abandoned those who had the disease.

Why did Ms. Bournes take the risk?

“The Lord knew where I was supposed to be,” she would often say. “Here — taking care of his children.”

Mr. Linares, Lt. Hearon and Ms. Bournes are among the more than 8,000 people in Cook County who died in 2020 of COVID-19, and among the more than 16,000 people in Illinois who died of the disease. They were older, for the most part, but engaged in life, and there is every reason to believe they might still be with us had it not been for the coronavirus.

They left us too soon because we, as a society, did too little to contain COVID-19.

Read the full editorial from the CST Editoral Board here.



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