The Rundown: Omicron may disrupt Chicago schools

CPS
A prekindergarten student at Dawes Elementary School watches a teacher on Jan. 11, 2021. Manuel Martinez
CPS
A prekindergarten student at Dawes Elementary School watches a teacher on Jan. 11, 2021. Manuel Martinez

The Rundown: Omicron may disrupt Chicago schools

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Hey there! It’s Monday, and it’s Hunter! I’m back from vacation and ready to take on the new year, though my optimism for 2022 is somewhat asymptomatic. 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 teachers will consider a walkout this week as pressure mounts for schools to go remote

Students at Chicago’s public schools returned to classrooms today after a two-week winter break that coincided with a record surge in COVID-19 infections.

And the Chicago Teachers Union will take a series of votes tomorrow that could result in a walkout beginning Wednesday, setting up another showdown between the union and the school district.

School district officials insist in-person learning is still safe. An estimated 150,000 tests were sent to students before the winter break, but many parents were notified that a number of tests could not be processed due to “weather and holiday-related shipping issues.” [WBEZ]

The testing snafu raises questions about whether Chicago Public Schools can successfully implement the “test to stay” strategy unveiled last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This plan, aimed at keeping schools open and adding clarity on when kids should quarantine, says students who were potentially exposed could remain in school so long as they test negative. [Washington Post]

Meanwhile, many public schools, including ones in Milwaukee, have shifted back to remote learning after the winter break. [New York Times]

2. Fauci says hospitalizations, not case counts, are the best way to track omicron’s impact

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said he is more concerned about omicron’s threat to hospitals than record high case counts.

“As you get further on and the infections become less severe, it is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalizations as opposed to the total number of cases,” Fauci said over the weekend on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. [Washington Post]

In Chicago, only about 12% of intensive care beds are available, according to data posted online by the city as of yesterday. The city is averaging 98 hospitalizations a day due to COVID-19, up 38% from the previous week. [COVID Dashboard]

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration today authorized booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children as young as 12. [AP]

3. As Jan. 6 anniversary nears, 6 in 10 Americans say democracy is in crisis

Sixty-four percent of Americans believe U.S. democracy is “in crisis and at risk of failing,” according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll.

The survey also found that two-thirds of Republicans believe false and disproven claims that former President Donald Trump lost last year’s election because of widespread voting fraud.

“There is really a sort of dual reality through which partisans are approaching not only what happened a year ago on Jan. 6, but also generally with our presidential election and our democracy,” said Mallory Newall, a vice president at Ipsos, which conducted the poll. [NPR]

Meanwhile, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol faces “a series of difficult questions, including how forcefully to flex its subpoena power and whether the Supreme Court will stymie a major element of its inquiry,” reports The New York Times. [NYT]

4. One of the most high-profile GOP primary races is taking place in downstate Illinois

Former President Donald Trump over the weekend endorsed U.S. Rep. Mary Miller as he looks to “spark intra-party primaries in order to increase the numbers of Trump-loyal MAGA Republicans in the House in advance of his anticipated 2024 White House comeback bid,” reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

Miller announced she will challenge Rep. Rodney Davis in the Republican primary for the newly drawn 15th congressional district. Miller faced a public uproar when, during a Jan. 6 rally before the attack on the U.S. Capitol, she said “Hitler was right on one thing.” She later apologized.

Miller is a friend of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has embraced disinformation surrounding the pandemic and conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. [Sun-Times]

Twitter recently banned Greene for “repeated violations of our COVID-19 misinformation policy.” [NPR]

5. A Chicago carjacker provides insights on why the city is seeing a spike in auto thefts

Who is the best expert on carjackings? A carjacker, and the Chicago Sun-Times interviewed one to gain a better understanding of what’s fueling the rise in auto thefts and which vehicles are being targeted.

The carjacker, who is only described as in his 30s and with a record of convictions, said the main reason behind the wave of thefts is drive-by shootings. He also said carjackers are increasingly stealing vehicles for parts to sell on the black market.

When it comes to vehicles, the man said young carjackers target vehicles nicknamed “the fast s***.” That includes Jeep Cherokee models like SRTs and Trackhawks, Dodge Challengers and Chargers with Hellcat engines, and Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes, the newspaper reports. [Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • New York’s attorney general recently subpoenaed former President Trump and his two eldest children. [AP]
  • The president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police tested positive for COVID-19. [Sun-Times]
  • Experts say more smart technology is needed in the Great Lakes to monitor climate change. [WBEZ]
  • Here are seven great moments from Betty White, who died last week at age 99. [Washington Post]

Oh, and one more thing …

Ted Lasso is out, and Sarah Sherman is in. That’s according to The Washington Post, which has an entertaining list of what should stay in 2021 and what is in for the new year. [Washington Post]

Speaking of last year, The New York Times has the “great news quiz of 2021.” Surprisingly, I remembered a lot about the past year even though I always lose my phone, keys and track of time. [NYT]

Tell me something good …

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

Aside from some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, I’m hoping to possibly have a honeymoon after two years of marriage. My husband and I got hitched on Oct. 31, 2019, in the basement of City Hall during the tail end of a teachers strike. The closest we got to a honeymoon, in retrospect, was celebrating Valentine’s Day at White Castle right before March of 2020.

Feel free to email me at therundown@wbez.org or tweet me at @whuntah, and your responses might be shared here this week.

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