The Rundown: Americans can soon order free COVID-19 tests

covid testing
People line up to take a COVID-19 test at a free testing site in Chicago, on Dec. 30, 2021. Nam Y. Huh / AP Photo
covid testing
People line up to take a COVID-19 test at a free testing site in Chicago, on Dec. 30, 2021. Nam Y. Huh / AP Photo

The Rundown: Americans can soon order free COVID-19 tests

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Hey there! It’s Friday, and I’ve been nervous all day. I haven’t seen the finale of “Station Eleven” and have avoided spoilers so far. 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. It could take at least a week for Americans to get free at-home COVID-19 tests

Amid a surge of COVID-19 cases that has driven up demand for tests, the Biden administration announced today that Americans can begin ordering free at-home COVID-19 tests starting Jan. 19, reports NPR.

Households can order up to four tests through COVIDTests.gov.

But the White House said tests will ship within 7-12 days of ordering, meaning most Americans won’t receive them until the end of January. In some parts of the country, that could be well after the peak of the current omicron wave. [NPR]

In Cook County, deaths from COVID-19 have reached their highest weekly number since December of 2020. [WBEZ]

Meanwhile, my friends over at the Chicago Sun-Times have an easy-to-read report that dispels some myths surrounding the fast-spreading omicron variant, such as the notion that because omicron is mild, it’s not that bad.

“You may be lucky and not have a severe case, and the odds of that are good if you’re young, healthy and vaccinated,” said Dr. Mark Loafman with Cook County Health. “But we see lots of people, mostly unvaccinated, who are sick for three to four weeks in the hospital, followed by the unknowns of long COVID, which is still being studied. It’s not safe.” [Sun-Times]

2. Russia has deployed saboteurs into Ukraine to provide a pretext for an invasion, U.S. says

The Biden administration says Russia is plotting a “false flag” operation inside Ukraine that Moscow could use to justify an invasion, reports The Washington Post.

“The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy-forces,” said a U.S. official.

The invasion could take place between mid-January and mid-February, the official added. The White House and its European allies have vowed to place significant sanctions on Russia if it goes to war with Ukraine. [WaPo]

Ukraine this week was hit by a massive and ominous cyberattack that targeted government websites, warning people to “be afraid and expect the worst.” [NPR]

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tells NPR that the U.S. is “fully prepared” and is planning “things that we have not done in the past” in the event of a Russian invasion. [NPR]

Blinken did not elaborate, but The New York Times reported this week that the U.S. may support insurgents in Ukraine if a Russian invasion occurs, reviving “the specter of a new Cold War.” [NYT]

3. Democrats are pushing for more pandemic aid

Federal lawmakers are currently negotiating over a new spending plan to prevent a government shutdown on Feb. 18.

And Democrats are hoping to include another round of pandemic relief in the plan, reports The Washington Post.

The talks have just started, but among the ideas being floated are “ways to boost testing, expand the availability of vaccines, invest in therapeutics and shore up any small businesses that still need financial help,” the newspaper reports.

Some Democrats also want to provide aid to families, especially ones who are out of work because of the highly contagious omicron variant. [Washington Post]

These discussions are happening as the child tax credit comes to an end. The credit was part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, and researchers say it helped reduce child poverty. [AP]

4. Fact-checking Lightfoot’s claims of what is helping fuel Chicago’s surge in violence

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her allies have partially blamed a spike in violence on defendants who are on electronic monitoring while awaiting trial.

The Chicago Tribune reports the mayor’s claims, and the statistics she points to, are “misleading — and some are simply inaccurate.”

In a recent letter requesting a moratorium on electronic monitoring in Cook County, Lightfoot wrote that 15 defendants were arrested and charged with murder while wearing ankle bracelets.

“But in at least five of those cases, the homicides actually occurred before the defendant” was on electronic monitoring, the Trib reports. “And in at least one of the 15 cases, the defendant was not actually charged with murder at all.” [Chicago Tribune]

5. The feds secretly videotaped Chicago Ald. Ed Burke in his City Hall office

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Ald. Ed Burke “was videotaped inside his City Hall offices as part of the blockbuster investigation that led to his federal racketeering indictment nearly three years ago,” according to court records made public today.

Burke, the longest serving member of the City Council, is accused by federal prosecutors of abusing his power to enrich himself.

The video allegedly shows Burke, in a meeting, saying, “I’m of the belief that if you get help from somebody to get some work that they’re entitled to share in it, and it’s just up to us to figure out a way that it can be done so that there’s no pitfalls, legally,” according to court documents.

A trial for Burke still has not been set nearly three years after his racketeering indictment. [Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Some late breaking news: Jason Van Dyke will be released from prison on Feb. 3. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Chicago stores are exploiting a loophole to sell a synthetic, cannabis-like compound that is three times stronger than weed. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Some Chicago parents are considering Catholic schools after the recent standoff that closed public schools. [Chicago Tribune]
  • A copy of Action Comics No. 1 sold for more than $3.1 million, the fourth largest sum for a comic book. [Hollywood Reporter]

Oh, and one more thing …

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling stressed out this week, and I was off Monday and Tuesday. And it feels like I haven’t seen the sun in a month.

As if someone was reading my mind, Curious City has a great episode out today about how to cope with yet another pandemic winter. One of the suggestions is light therapy, and I’m totally installing something like this in my home office. [WBEZ]

Tell me something good …

Libby and I need some new artists to listen to while we write the newsletter. Who do you recommend and why?

Nick writes:

“Check out Chicago artist Mia Joy. Her album Spirit Tamer has been making waves and she is booked to tour with Sharon Van Etten in April.”

And Matt Scutchfield writes:

“For new music, I’d strongly suggest The Punch Brothers. They’re a phenomenal group of virtuosos, including a MacArthur winner. They’ve got a new album out Friday, and will be in Chicago at The Vic on the 27th. I’m not seeing much live music right now during the surge, but, for this group, I’ll be there!”

Thanks for all the responses this week. I’m sorry I couldn’t share them all, but it was nice hearing from y’all!

I’ll see y’all on Tuesday.