WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: 90,000 COVID-19 Deaths Predicted In Coming Weeks

COVID-19 test
A first responder is tested for COVID-19 at a drive through testing facility in Chicago. Illinois National Guard/Associated Press
COVID-19 test
A first responder is tested for COVID-19 at a drive through testing facility in Chicago. Illinois National Guard/Associated Press

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: 90,000 COVID-19 Deaths Predicted In Coming Weeks

Hi! It’s Wednesday, and I’ve resorted to watching hedgehogs “running” obstacle courses to pass the time. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. White House projects up to 90,000 more COVID-19 deaths in U.S. over the next 4 weeks

The Biden administration today held its first COVID-19 science briefing, where doctors said the total U.S. death toll could surpass 500,000 lives lost over the next month.

The virtual press briefing “marked a sharp contrast from what had become the Trump show, in the last administration, when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation,” reports The Associated Press.

Jeff Zients, the Biden administration’s coordinator for pandemic response, repeatedly said today that the federal government has depleted its stockpile of vaccines and the administration is seeking to speed up production.

Zients’ comments come a day after Biden announced plans to distribute 300 million doses of the vaccine by the end of summer. But administering those doses is another challenge, as many states like Illinois have already fallen behind their projected pace. [AP]

Health experts predict the faster-spreading COVID-19 variant first reported in Britain will likely be the dominant source of U.S. infections by March. [AP]

Illinois officials today announced 3,751 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 81 deaths — a 35% decrease in cases from the average two weeks ago. [WBEZ]

Here’s an easy-to-read FAQ of when and where residents in Chicago and Cook County can get vaccinated. [Block Club Chicago]

2. Millions marked for U.S. public health emergencies were tapped for unrelated projects

In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, federal officials repeatedly raided a biomedical research fund for unrelated expenses, according to an investigation by the inspector general at the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

Millions of dollars set aside by Congress for research and the development of vaccines were instead spent on “unrelated salaries, administrative expenses and even the cost of removing office furniture,” according to The Washington Post.

The pilfering, which was first raised by an unidentified whistleblower, started under the Obama administration in 2010 and continued through at least 2019.

“I am deeply concerned about [the] apparent misuse of millions of dollars in funding meant for public health emergencies like the one our country is currently facing with the covid-19 pandemic,” special counsel Henry Kerner wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden today. “Equally concerning is how widespread and well-known this practice appeared to be for nearly a decade.” [Washington Post]

3. Biden signs ambitious executive orders on climate change

President Biden today signed executive orders aiming to cut oil, gas and coal emissions, double wind energy production and conserve 30% more U.S. land and ocean waters in the next 10 years.

“The ambitious plan is aimed at slowing human-caused global warming that is magnifying extreme weather events such as deadly wildfires in the West and drenching rains and hurricanes in the East,” according to The Associated Press.

The plan, which fits into Biden’s goal of eliminating fossil fuel pollution from the U.S. economy by 2050, also elevates climate change to a national security priority. [AP]

And former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Energy, told a Senate committee today that she’s “obsessed with creating good-paying jobs in America” while achieving the administration’s climate goals. [NPR]

Meanwhile, here’s a look at the feasibility of another of Biden’s ambitious proposals — giving a path to citizenship to 11 million immigrants. [New York Times]

4. Controversial president of Chicago’s police union faces new charges from police board

John Catanzara, the controversial head of the union that represents Chicago’s rank-and-file officers, faces new disciplinary investigations that could lead to him being fired from the police force.

The new disciplinary charges, which were made public today, allege Catanzara filed a false police report in 2018 against then-police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. In the report, Catanzara allegedly accused Johnson of breaking the law by allowing marchers who were protesting gun violence to walk on the Dan Ryan Expressway. He is also accused of filing another police report against a CPD commander.

Catanzara also remains under internal investigation for incendiary social media posts.

As the Chicago Tribune reports, “the new charges mark the third time in his 26-year career as a Chicago cop that Catanzara has faced firing from the department. Two different police superintendents have been unsuccessful in seeking his dismissal.” [Chicago Tribune]

Cantazara most recently came under fire after telling WBEZ he supported rioters on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol, a statement for which he has since apologized. [WBEZ]

5. Will Chicago Public Schools lock teachers out of their classrooms?

The Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools continued negotiations today after failing to reach a deal yesterday on school reopening.

About 3,200 preschool and special education students who had been attending in-person classes for more than two weeks were again learning from home today because staff refused to report to schools over safety concerns.

The decision by CPS to go ahead with remote learning comes even though CPS CEO Janice Jackson has said repeatedly that if staff refuse to return to school buildings she considers that a strike.

While she has refused to clarify, the implication was that the school district would cancel lessons for all 280,000 students at district-run schools, including all students who are learning remotely, reports WBEZ’s Sarah Karp. That did not happen today, but the CTU says it will strike if the school district disciplines any staff for refusing to return to school buildings.

CPS officials still say they’re planning for elementary students to return in-person on Feb. 1. The union — which wants to delay reopening until all staff are vaccinated — called the school district’s most recent reopening proposal “both unsafe and unacceptable.” [WBEZ]

Teachers were eligible to begin getting vaccinated Monday, but there’s been a lot of confusion among Chicago teachers about how to make appointments. [Chicago Tribune]

Meanwhile, some parents today urged CPS to delay reopening. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Illinois regulators rejected plans for an outpatient center to replace Mercy Hospital. [WBEZ]

  • A U.S. terror alert warns of politically motivated violence. [AP]

  • The first private crew will visit the International Space Station, for $55 million per person. [NPR]

  • The South Side home of Emmett Till, the teen whose lynching sparked a civil rights movement, is now a landmark. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Oh, and one more thing …

In a modern day David vs. Goliath story, a group of Reddit users took on two large investment firms to boost GameStop’s stock — and won, for now.

Investment firms Citron Research and Melvin Capital had placed big bets that GameStop’s stock would fail after the video game store lost $1.6 billion over the last four years.

Both investment firms admitted defeat today after a volunteer army of Reddit users rallied small investors to propel the retailer’s stock to a high of $380 this morning. (It was below $18 just weeks ago.)

The small investments seem to be revenge on Wall Street, and are part of a trend of social media users boosting favorite failing companies. The stock of the company behind AMC theaters spiked 260% today after #SaveAMC trended on Twitter.

“hey mom i can’t come up for dinner,” one Reddit user wrote about investing in GameStop stock. “i’m bankrupting a 10 figure hedge fund with the boys.” [AP]

Tell me something good …

Do you have a past favorite Super Bowl commercial?

Nancy Frankel and Kristina both separately wrote to recommend this commercial. Nancy writes:

“My favorite Super Bowl commercial was for a car (which one?) where a little kid in a Darth Vader costume pretends to zap various things. When he gets to Dad’s new car, Dad, watching from a window, presses his key fob to make the car beep and its headlights flash. I remember reading that the director didn’t tell the kid that was going to happen, so his startled reaction was genuine.”

And Kat writes:

“The best Super Bowl commercial is the one about the Clydesdale set to ‘Landslide.’ I weep every time, and I’m not ashamed. (In fact, when I went to find the link to include here, my fiancé heard me sniffling and said, ‘What’s wrong — are you watching the Clydesdale commercial again?!’)”

Do you have a past favorite Super Bowl commercial? Feel free to email or tweet me, and your response might appear here this week.

Thanks for reading and have a nice night! We’ll see you tomorrow.