The Rundown: Three years into the pandemic

Plus, taking the Kennedy Expressway? Your commute could get worse. Here’s what you need to know today.

The Rundown: Three years into the pandemic

Plus, taking the Kennedy Expressway? Your commute could get worse. Here’s what you need to know today.

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Good afternoon! I went to the orchid show at the Chicago Botanic Garden yesterday, and it’s really neat if you haven’t seen it already. Anyway, here’s what you need to know today.

1. Three years into the pandemic, Illinois’ death toll nears 37,000

It’s so strange to think that three years ago today was when Gov. JB Pritzker signed a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It feels like a lifetime ago.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Illinois has reported more than 4 million cases and a death toll that is approaching 37,000 — roughly the equivalent of wiping out the population of Calumet City, reports my colleague Mitchell Armentrout.

“More than 20,000 people a day were testing positive, on average, at the height of the omicron variant surge in late 2021,” Armentrout writes.

Statistics don’t tell the whole story of the pandemic, but health experts say the data they’ve collected can give us insights into what to expect as we live with the virus permanently.

“This past winter shows we may be getting to a point where we can make it through a year without crushing the health care system,” said Dr. Arti Barnes, chief medical officer of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “That’s one of the first optimistic signs that we’re reaching a point where we’re starting to heal.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

2. Public schools are a key element to understanding Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson

Both men seeking to become Chicago’s next mayor have deep backgrounds in public education, so it’s almost impossible to tell their stories without mentioning schools, report my colleagues Nader Issa, Lauren FitzPatrick and Sarah Karp.

Paul Vallas “built a long career on pledges he could give children a better education by reforming low-performing schools in dramatic and controversial ways,” they write.

Meanwhile, Brandon Johnson “has spent his time organizing around better support for students and targeting the conditions around them in neighborhoods, decrying drastic reforms as disruptive to relationships kids need to succeed.”

At the heart of their different views on education is whether teachers and schools are primarily to blame for low performance or whether a lack of investment in schools and communities is the main driver. [WBEZ]

3. Construction begins tonight on the Kennedy Expressway, and it will likely wreak havoc on commutes

I’m sorry to be the bringer of bad news, but a three-year construction project begins today on the Kennedy Expressway, stretching from the junction with the Edens Expressway to Ohio Street, reports my colleague Ilana Arougheti.

“Stretches of the two inbound left lanes will be closed until July,” Arougheti writes. “Then, the work will shift and shut down stretches of the two right lanes until construction season ends in the fall.”

You should probably give yourself some extra time if you’re heading downtown tomorrow, said Maria Castaneda, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“Every day when you’re driving, you’re going to notice a change,” Castaneda said. “You’re going to notice that your available lanes are going to be less and less as we go each stage.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

4. So long, winter. We hardly knew ye.

Never in a million years did I think I would actually say this out loud, but I kinda missed being stuck inside and watching a winter storm layer the city in a couple inches of snow.

Today — on the first day of spring — my colleague Courtney Kueppers looks back at a winter so mild that we didn’t even have to use the dibs system to reserve a parking spot.

“Chicago’s snowy season got an early start this year, with the first flakes spotted at O’Hare Airport in October,” Kueppers writes. “But since then, the city has received just 19.7 inches of snowfall, according to weather service data. That’s more than 15 inches less than normal.”

So are milder winters the new norm for the Chicago area? Not exactly, says meteorologist Zachary Yack.

“There’s not any direct correlation between what happens one season compared to the next one,” Yack says. “This winter just happened to trend in this direction. Next year could either be similar or it could be completely different.” [WBEZ]

5. Here comes Pitchfork

The Smile, Big Thief and Bon Iver were announced as this year’s headliners at the Pitchfork Music Festival taking place July 21-23 in Union Park.

Festival tickets — three-day passes ($219) and single-day passes ($109) — are now on sale.

This year’s Pitchfork will mark the U.S. festival debut of The Smile, which is composed of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Tom Skinner.

You can find the complete lineup in the link, but other acts include Perfume Genius, King Krule and Kelela. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Meanwhile, Ayana Contreras over at WBEZ’s sister station, Vocalo, writes about some of the performances she is most looking forward to watching, including Koffee, Grace Ives and local favorite Ariel Zetina. [Vocalo]

Here’s what else is happening

  • The world will likely hit a catastrophic climate warming milestone within a decade, according to a U.N. report. [Washington Post]
  • A Lake in the Hills bakery will close after facing harassment and vandalism for hosting a drag performance. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Colorectal cancer is rising among Gen X, Y and Z. [NPR]
  • Whitney Young High School won its 20th straight state academic decathlon title. [Block Club Chicago]

Oh, and one more thing …

Did you know you can get a grant from the city to start an urban garden?

Block Club Chicago reports applications for the Community Growers Program are now available until April 1.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fragility of our food system and the inequities embedded within it,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “Through the Community Growers Program, we will enable us to use our urban agriculture to create a more equitable and resilient food system and supply food insecure residents with healthy and abundant options.” [Block Club Chicago]

Meanwhile, NPR has a nice step-by-step guide for creating a garden. [NPR]

Tell me something good …

My husband and I were just talking about how it feels like we’re in a golden age of hobbies. Seriously, some days I’m not even sure what to do because I have so many choices, from comic books to video games to painting.

So I’d like to know what hobbies make you happy and/or help relieve stress? I recently finished an amazing video game called Ghost of Tsushima, in which you play a samurai on a quest to liberate his island home from invading Mongols.

Feel free to email me, and your response might be shared in the newsletter this week.