The Rundown: Chicago hospitals are filling up

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: Chicago hospitals are filling up

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Hey there! It’s Friday, and shout out to the man living across the street who started up his motorcycle and rode it around in this bone-chilling cold. 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. There are only 97 intensive care beds available in Chicago, a city of 2.7 million people

The situation at Chicago’s hospitals is becoming more dire each day as the fast-spreading omicron variant is sending mostly unvaccinated residents to emergency rooms.

According to city data, about 90% of beds in intensive care units were unavailable as of yesterday. And about 84% of non-ICU beds were in use. The city is reporting a seven-day average of 104 hospitalizations per day. [COVID Dashboard]

Officials at Advocate Children’s Hospital say more children are coming in with severe cases of COVID-19 at the health provider’s locations in suburban Park Ridge and Oak Lawn.

As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, about “94% of Advocate’s pediatric COVID-19 patients have been unvaccinated, and many come from households where no one was vaccinated.” [Sun-Times]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today said children under the age of 4, who are not eligible for vaccines, appear to be behind the increase in pediatric cases.

But young children are still less likely to become severely ill and put on ventilators compared to adults, health experts say.

“We have not yet seen a signal that there is any increased severity in this age demographic,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director. [New York Times]

2. Classes are canceled on Monday for Chicago’s public schools unless an agreement is reached over the weekend

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said classes will be canceled on Monday unless city officials and the teachers union can reach a deal over the weekend on how to safely reopen classrooms.

Martinez said he is “cautiously optimistic that we’re making ground on the big issues.” [Chicago Tribune]

The sudden cancellation of classes this week is leaving many parents frustrated and divided over who to blame for the third standoff in three years between the city and the teachers union.

“I personally am done with CPS,” Vanessa Chavez, a parent of three children, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “And it’s not because of the Chicago public school system, it’s because of the Chicago Teachers Union.”

An online petition has emerged that demands the return to in-person learning. It had 2,746 signatures as of this morning.

Other parents say the school district is making a mistake by pushing to reopen classrooms amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases.

“If CPS continues to remain in-person, the number of cases will continue to rise without a doubt,” said parent Jazmin Cerda. [Sun-Times]

Meanwhile, Gov. JB Pritzker’s office says it has offered CPS “SHIELD tests, vaccination clinics and masks for the past several weeks,” reports Capitol Fax. The city has not taken up those offers. [Capitol Fax]

3. The U.S. added fewer jobs than expected in December

Employers only added 199,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department announced today, signaling a hiring slowdown that came before the nation felt the full impact of the omicron variant.

Economists were expecting about 400,000 jobs.

The lower than expected job growth does not appear to be tied to fewer opportunities. Last month began with a near-record number of 10.6 million job openings.

“Demand for workers, at least from the data on our platform, hasn’t dropped significantly because of the recent surge in cases,” said research director Nick Bunker of the Indeed Hiring Lab. “That could change fairly quickly, so it’s something we’ll be keeping an eye on.” [NPR]

4. Three white men who killed Ahmaud Arbery were sentenced to life in prison

A judge today sentenced Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, to life in prison without parole in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was chased and shot while jogging in Glynn County, Ga.

A third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, received a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

The case became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice after a video showing Arbery’s death surfaced online.

Defense attorneys argued their clients suspected Arbery was a burglar and they were acting in self-defense. Prosecutors said the men couldn’t claim self-defense because they started the confrontation. [NPR]

5. What exactly will the “new normal” look like?

Some big names in American medicine wrote opinion pieces this week urging the Biden administration to create an updated pandemic strategy addressing the “new normal” — that COVID-19 will not be wiped out.

They say vaccine mandates need to be more broadly implemented, especially for school children, and new benchmarks should be established for taking emergency actions. The health experts also say a surveillance system needs to be set up that helps determine when vaccinated Americans need another booster.

“We’re trying to take the next steps, to anticipate where we need to be in the next three to 12 months,” said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the experts and a previous adviser to former President Barack Obama. [Washington Post]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Conservative justices on the Supreme Court today appeared skeptical of the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test requirement for large companies. [NPR]
  • Here are some images from the unrest in Kazakhstan, where the authoritarian government is fighting to quash large public protests. [NPR]
  • Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win an Oscar for best actor, died at the age of 94. [NPR]
  • A bar in Wisconsin that let people buy drinks for Betty White will donate the money to charity. [NPR]

Oh, and one more thing …

Courthouse weddings have a lot going for them: They can be less stressful and less costly, take place in a smaller and more intimate setting, and are often steps away from great photo ops in historic locations.

My colleagues Araceli Gomez-Aldana, Manuel Martinez and Maggie Sivit spent a day in downtown Chicago at the Marriage and Civil Union Court, where they talked to couples getting hitched.

It’s a great, uplifting story to visit after a hectic week. [WBEZ]

Tell me something good …

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

Jean writes:

“Longing to see people smiling again.”

And Sandra writes:

“This should, with luck, be a banner year! My bid for a new condo was accepted on New Year’s Eve, so I am starting 2022 to be a first-time homeowner. This is particularly exciting for me as I am 60+ and have been a renter my whole life.

Most exciting is that the condo is right on the river — so my New Year’s resolution includes getting a kayak and birdwatching down the river!”

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

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