The Rundown: Will Chicago avoid another COVID surge?

Dr. Allison Arwady
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks to reporters on March 24, 2020, in Chicago. Tyler LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool
Dr. Allison Arwady
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks to reporters on March 24, 2020, in Chicago. Tyler LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool

The Rundown: Will Chicago avoid another COVID surge?

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Hey there! It’s Friday and it looks like we might get a little break from the rain this weekend. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. COVID-19 cases are rising in Chicago, but the city’s top doctor doesn’t expect a huge BA.2 wave

Dr. Allison Arwady says Chicago may not see a major surge of COVID-19 cases from the BA.2 subvariant, which is even more contagious than the Omicron variant.

The city is reporting an average of 312 new cases per day — up 27% from last week — but that’s far from the nearly 7,000 new cases per day reported in early January during the Omicron surge. Arwady says BA.2 makes up about half of the current cases.

“Because we have been hit so hard with the original Omicron … we actually are more protected than some places against BA.2,” Arwady said. “The most important thing is to be vaccinated, especially in terms of preventing that severe illness.

“But with every passing day, I am more confident that in the very short term we will avoid a major increase like we saw with the Omicron surge.” [Block Club]

Other U.S. cities, including New York and Washington, D.C., have also seen a spike in cases over the past two weeks.

In New York, multiple theater shows have been canceled after members of their casts, including Macbeth star Daniel Craig, tested positive for the virus. Several politicians in Washington, D.C. are also testing positive this week after attending parties and events. [NY Times]

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court upheld President Joe Biden’s requirement that all federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court and ordered a lawsuit challenging the mandate be dismissed. [NPR]

2. A Russian rocket killed 50 people trying to evacuate Ukraine

At least 50 people, including five children, died after a Russian rocket hit a packed train station today in the eastern Ukraine city of Kramatorsk.

The station was full of people trying to flee the city at the government’s urging.

“This is an evil that has no limits,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. “If it is not punished, it will never stop.”

Ukraine says Russian troops have retreated from the capital region, regrouping in Belarus and will be moving into Eastern Ukraine soon. Regional authorities have been warning people in the Donbas and Kharkiv regions to evacuate, as they might not have a chance once Russia’s attacks begin. [NPR]

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted in an interview with Sky News that thousands of Russian troops have been killed. [NPR]

3. Chicago’s monuments panel suggests permanently sidelining Columbus statues

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s monuments panel recommended today that the city permanently sideline its Christopher Columbus statues in Grant and Arrigo parks. The group also recommended that the Balbo monument in Burnham Park be removed, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Lightfoot said last month that she “fully expects” Grant Park’s Columbus statue to be returned to its pedestal. But first the mayor wanted a security plan in place to prevent a repeat of the protest at the statue in July 2020.

Ald. Nick Sposato, 38th Ward, and Ron Onesti, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans, want Lightfoot to ignore the recommendations and honor her promise to return the Columbus statues to their pedestals. [Sun-Times]

4. Three visitors paid $55 million apiece for SpaceX to launch them to a space station

Three rich businessmen and their astronaut escort got launched to the International Space Station today for a weeklong stay at the world’s most expensive tourist destination.

SpaceX’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab included an American, a Canadian and an Israeli who run investment, real estate and other companies, the Associated Press reports.

For $55 million each, the visitors are getting the rocket ride, accommodations and all meals included.

“It was a hell of a ride and we’re looking forward to the next 10 days, former NASA astronaut and chaperone Micahel Lopez-Alegria told the AP about reaching orbit.

The launch was NASA’s first foray into hosting tourists at the space station after years of opposing visitors. Russia, however, has been hosting tourists at the space station — and the Mir station before that — for decades. A Russian movie crew flew up last fall, and a Japanese fashion tycoon and his assistant followed shortly after. [AP]

5. A Chicago ad agency came up with Yellowstone’s idea to sell park passes for 2172

Yellowstone National Park wanted a way to honor its 150th anniversary while preserving the park for generations to come. And a local ad agency, Havas Chicago, came up with an unusual idea that looks to the future.

Those who donate $1,500 will receive an “Inheritance Pass,” which offers two entry passes: one that has to be used at least once this year and another that can only be redeemed 150 years from now.

“Our goal is always to bring ideas to clients that you don’t even have to sell. They sell themselves,” Myra Nussbaum, Havas Chicago’s president and chief creative officer, told WBEZ.

The money raised through sales will go toward projects such as trail improvements, education, native fish conservation and scientific studies.

And don’t worry about keeping track of the pass for 150 years; Yellowstone Forever’s website says it will keep a record of all Inheritance Pass owners. [WBEZ]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson spoke at the White House today after yesterday’s historic Supreme Court confirmation. [NPR]

  • Two men were acquitted in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. [NPR]

  • The Weeknd and Doja Cat are the top finalists in the 2022 Billboard Music Awards with 17 and 14 nominations, respectively. [AP]

  • Will Smith was banned from the Oscars for 10 years for slapping Chris Rock. [NPR]

Oh, and one more thing …

EXPO Chicago will welcome more than 140 art exhibitors to Navy Pier this weekend.

The Midwest’s largest art fair takes a village to set up, and WBEZ chronicled the bustling preparation before the event opened to the public.

Watch a 60-second timelapse as workers unpack crates, unwrap precious paintings from cocoons of cellophane and carefully hang the works to be seen in-person for the first time since the pandemic arrived.

One of those pieces is the hard-to-miss, three-dimensional peacock by artist Ebony G. Patterson, complete with a sparkling tapestry tail.

“The fair touches a broader ecosystem,” said Tony Karman, the president and director who founded EXPO Chicago a decade ago. “It touches our cultural community, even the city’s reputation.” [WBEZ]

Tell me something good …

What are you planting in your garden or windowsill pots this spring?

Lisa writes:

“A lot more dill! Last summer we were able to watch black swallowtail butterflies emerge from cocoons after discovering the caterpillars on our dill plants! We watched the whole process after seeing the butterflies land to lay the eggs. We were actually late for a wedding with one because we noticed in the morning that the process was starting for the butterfly to come out! couldn’t miss that! And we live in the city, which makes this little bit of nature more sweet.”

And speaking of plants, if you become a WBEZ member, you can get a pothos houseplant.

— Bianca Cseke