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James B. McPherson Elementary School teachers stage a protest outside of the school while they remote teach on January 21, 2021.

Manuel Martinez

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: Will Teachers Strike In Chicago?

Good afternoon! It’s Monday, and I’ve hit the “pandemic wall,” where my brain feels like that time Vicki the robot from Small Wonder went nutzo. Here’s what you need to know today.

(By the way, if you’d like this emailed to your inbox, you can sign up here.)

1. Chicago faces the possibility of another teachers strike

Up to 67,000 eligible students were scheduled to return to classrooms today, but that didn’t happen because negotiations between Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union deteriorated over the weekend, with both sides not even meeting on Sunday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot pushed back the return to in-person learning to tomorrow, but a return to classrooms is far from certain. Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson said any teacher who didn’t report to schools today would be locked out of their virtual classrooms by the end of the day, a move that would trigger a teachers strike. [WBEZ]

Among the unresolved issues is who can continue working remotely. As WBEZ’s Sarah Karp reports, some teachers are concerned about working inside schools because someone in their family has a high risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19. [WBEZ]

Meanwhile in Europe, countries are moving in the opposite direction and closing schools over concerns of a more contagious coronavirus variant that was first discovered in the U.K. Chicago officials last month reported the city’s first case of that variant. [Washington Post]

2. Virus mutations raise the possibility of a longer pandemic

The world is racing against time to speed up vaccinations as coronavirus variants begin to quickly spread. Some health experts warn that if those variants are not contained, we will see a longer, and potentially deadlier, pandemic.

“The concern is whether it will be a year or three years until we can make enough vaccines against enough strains to get this under control,” Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Washington Post.

Some scientists say the situation is very hazy at the moment, with a mixture of good and bad news as they try to better understand the various strains. Health officials say vaccines will still likely work against the mutations, but they might not be as effective. And, like many other viruses, the coronavirus can only mutate so much before it weakens itself, scientists say.

But while many of the mutations do not appear to be more lethal, the exception is a strain first discovered in Britain last month. Scientists say that strain may be 30% more lethal, and some health experts believe it is on track to become the dominant strain in the U.S. [Washington Post]

Meanwhile, scientists are sounding alarms that more variants could emerge in poorer countries where vaccination efforts have struggled to get off the ground. [New York Times]

Here’s a guide from Scientific American about the different strains that have experts worried. [Scientific American]

3. Biden will meet with Republican senators to discuss pandemic relief

President Joe Biden and 10 Republican senators are expected to meet at the White House today to discuss the next stimulus plan. The group of centrist Republicans are pitching a $600 billion counterproposal to Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan.

The Republican proposal will likely be turned down by congressional Democrats, who are laying the groundwork to use a process known as budget reconciliation to approve Biden’s plan. That means Democrats would only need a simple, 51-vote majority in the Senate instead of 60 votes.

The GOP plan omits Biden’s increase to the federal minimum wage and scales down stimulus payments. [NPR]

Meanwhile, U.S. employment is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, according to a report released today by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. [AP]

4. What to know about the coup in Myanmar

Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s democratic government, arresting several civilian leaders, taking control of airports and shutting down internet and telephone networks. It is not exactly clear why the military decided to upset the country’s status quo right now and risk economic sanctions from the U.S., reports The Associated Press.

The country’s constitution, drafted by the military in 2008, allows the military to take over in times of emergency. Military-owned media in Myanmar said a one-year state of emergency was declared because of the pandemic and the government’s refusal to delay elections last November, which the military said was rigged but provided no real evidence.

Some experts say internal politics within the military may be a factor in the coup. Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military, was scheduled to retire this summer, but the state of emergency now prolongs his grip on power. [AP]

5. Chicago-area gun dealers say sales skyrocketed after the attack on the U.S. Capitol

Gun dealers told the Chicago Sun-Times they are selling more firearms after the attempted coup, and it comes after a marathon year for the industry.

According to the newspaper, Illinois State Police “reported 554,195 gun-transfer inquiries in 2020, compared to 385,770 in 2019 — an increase of nearly 44%.” Those numbers come from the process of beginning background checks on possible firearm buyers. They do not indicate the exact number of firearms bought because a single background check could include multiple guns.

It’s not clear how many guns were bought after Jan. 6, but previous records were reported in March as the pandemic began and in June during protests over the police killing of George Floyd. [Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • More protests are expected in Moscow for the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is jailed and faces years in prison. [AP]
  • Former President Donald Trump’s trade war with China cost the U.S. 245,000 jobs, a new study found. [Axios]
  • Chicago reported 51 homicides in January, the most recorded for the month in five years. [Chicago Tribune]
  • The city could be hit by an Arctic blast this weekend. [Block Club Chicago]

Oh, and one more thing …

Today’s the first day of February? I thought January would never end.

But that means we have about two weeks until Valentine’s Day. If you’re struggling for ideas of what to give that special person in your life, WBEZ is providing “Love Grams.” All you have to do is fill out the form in the link, and WBEZ will post a special message to your Valentine that’s recorded by someone from the station, including All Things Considered host Melba Lara.

But you’ll want to hurry up. The deadline is Feb. 5. [WBEZ]

Tell me something good ...

Speaking of Valentine’s Day, if you could date any fictional character, who would it be?

I know he probably smells like fish, but I’d go with Aquaman because I’d want to see him make a grilled cheese sandwich underwater.

Feel free to email me at or tweet me at @whuntah.

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