WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: The Push To Safely Reopen Schools

WBEZ teacher protest
New Field Elementary teachers stage a protest outside of the school while they remote teach on January 21, 2021. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
WBEZ teacher protest
New Field Elementary teachers stage a protest outside of the school while they remote teach on January 21, 2021. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: The Push To Safely Reopen Schools

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Hi! It’s Tuesday, and I’m thankful for readers like Renuka Sharma, who made me aware of this piece of Chicago history. (Give me a break, I’m from St. Louis). Here’s what you need to know today.

1. CDC says schools can reopen safely with proper precautions. But what will happen in Chicago?

In-person learning hasn’t led to widespread transmission of COVID-19 when masks are worn and social distancing guidelines are followed, according to a report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reviewed in-person schooling across the U.S. and overseas.

The CDC said in-person learning was different than other high-density work sites, like nursing homes, and recommended schools require masks, keep students and teachers six feet apart and put students in small groups to minimize the number of people who should quarantine if exposed to the coronavirus.

“With good prevention, we can safely reopen and keep open more schools,” said Margaret A. Honein, lead for the CDC State and Local Health Department Covid Task Force.

The researchers also found that extracurricular activities, like indoor athletics, remain risky. [Washington Post]

The Illinois Department of Public Health said last week that all high school sports can resume in Phase 4. A large part of the state is already in Phase 4, and Chicago and Cook County are one step away. [Sun-Times]

President Joe Biden has made the return to in-person schooling a top priority. When asked yesterday about the on-going dispute between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, Biden said: “We should make school classrooms safe and secure for the students, for the teachers and for the help that is in those schools maintaining those facilities.”

Chicago Public Schools officials have repeatedly said it’s safe for teachers and students to come back to school. But the CTU voted over the weekend to refuse in-person work until an agreement is reached on several safety concerns. [Chicago Sun-Times]

2. Walgreens and CVS defend slow vaccine rollout in nursing homes

Four weeks into COVID-19 vaccinations at Illinois nursing homes and nearly 80% of the doses for the campaign are still waiting for use. Yet the pharmacy chains performing the work say everything is going according to plan.

The state announced on Friday it expects CVS and Walgreens to have visited all sites to provide at least their first doses by Feb. 15.

But CVS Health and Walgreens have administered only 110,403 of the 550,050 doses that Illinois has received for residents and staff members of long-term care facilities, according to state public health data posted Monday.

And WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell reports that Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration and the pharmacies are blaming each other for the slow pace of nursing home vaccinations. [WBEZ]

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is expected to tell governors they will get more coronavirus vaccine doses starting next week. [Washington Post]

And Illinois has launched a website where eligible residents can sign up for scheduled vaccination appointments, including at retailers like Walgreens, Jewel-Osco and Walmart. [Chicago Tribune]

State officials today announced 3,667 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 87 deaths. Illinois’ seven-day positivity rate continues to decline. [WBEZ]

3. Biden signs orders to increase equity in housing and prisons

President Biden signed four executive actions today on housing and justice reforms as part of a campaign promise to improve racial equity.

The actions will strengthen federal anti-discrimination housing policies, start to end federal contracts with private prisons, reaffirm commitments to the sovereignty of Native American tribes and combat xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific islanders. [NPR]

Biden is also expected to sign a series of executive orders this week to reopen the federal marketplaces that sell Affordable Care Act health plans — another key campaign promise made as millions of Americans lost their coverage due to layoffs during the pandemic. [Washington Post]

Biden tomorrow is expected to pause oil drilling on public lands through another executive order. [AP]

Meanwhile, Biden today raised concerns about the arrest of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny during his first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. [AP]

4. More than a third of Republican senators vote against an impeachment trial for Trump, signaling likely acquittal

Most Republicans today voted against trying former President Donald Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” which likely signals Democrats don’t have the votes needed for a conviction.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., forced the vote when he raised an objection and questioned whether a former president can be impeached. Democrats moved to kill Paul’s objection and Senator Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., was sworn in to preside over the proceedings that are expected to start the week of Feb. 8.

It would take two thirds of senators — 67 votes — to attain a conviction, meaning 17 Republicans would have to cross party lines to find Trump guilty. [New York Times]

5. Head of Capitol guard apologies for “massive security failures”

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda D. Pittman apologized to Congress today during a closed-door briefing, saying the Capitol Police knew the Jan. 6 insurrection was unlike previous protests and that militia and white supremacists organizations would attend. Yet, Capitol Police only had 1,200 people working on site that day.

Pittman, who was not the chief during the riot, said the department knew there was a “strong potential for violence,” but didn’t take enough steps to stop what she called a “terrorist attack.”

Pittman also said the Capitol Police Board failed to quickly request assistance from the National Guard. [New York Times]

And Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard, said the Pentagon restricted his authority ahead of the riot so he couldn’t immediately deploy troops when he received a panicked phone call from Capitol Police. [Washington Post]

Here’s what else is happening

  • The world surpassed 100 million COVID-19 cases. [New York Times]

  • The Netherlands is bracing for a fourth night of protests over coronavirus lockdowns. [Reuters]

  • A report shows high unemployment from the pandemic has pushed Black Chicagoans into informal jobs. [WBEZ]

  • The feds are launching an environmental justice investigation against Gov. Pritzker’s administration over a Southeast Side scrap shredder. [Chicago Tribune]

Oh, and one more thing …

Here’s a product that I have never desired: a canned Coca-Cola-coffe hybrid that “sips like a Coke, finishes like a coffee.”

Coca-Cola Brand Director Brandan Strickland said the product — which arrives on the market several years behind others in the canned coffee arena — “is unlike any other option out here.”

While giving the drink points for its straightforward name, “Coca-Cola with Coffee,” food reporter Emily Heil says the taste left her … confused.

“Less clear is exactly when one should drink this. Is it meant to replace my morning cup of coffee? (Fat chance, Mr. Polar Bear.) Or are we supposed to crave it alongside a burger and fries? (Which could be … weird.)”

The drink will appear in grocery stores this week and has three flavors: dark blend, vanilla and caramel. [Washington Post]

Tell me something good …

Do you have a past favorite Super Bowl commercial?

Andrew, Deanna and Wendy all separately wrote to recommend this “Herding Cats” commercial from now-defunct EDS. Andrew writes: “The company may not be around anymore, but they still live on Youtube.”

And Becky writes:

“My favorite Super Bowl commercial is the one that started it all: 1984 Apple computer ad introducing the Macintosh personal computer. I was in a noisy bar and suddenly you could hear a pin drop. The rest is history.”

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.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the school the teacher in the photo is from.