CHICAGO — Some Chicago Public Schools teachers expected to report to the classroom ahead of preschool students’ anticipated return next week have stayed home over coronavirus concerns.
The nation’s third-largest district plans to bring students back in phases. Starting next week, preschool and some special education students can return or continue remote learning. Students in K-8 have the option starting Feb. 1. A date for high school students hasn’t been set.
The Chicago Teachers Union opposed the plan over safety. Dozens of aldermen also objected with concerns over health and racial equity.
Among those staying home is special education teacher Linda Perales. She told reporters during a Monday news conference that wearing a mask makes it harder to teach students proper letter sounds.
The Chicago Tribune reports roughly 5,800 teachers and staff were to return Monday, but it was immediately unclear how many showed.
A CTU spokeswoman says the union doesn’t have the data. CPS officials didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— UK takes big step on the vaccine front, starts giving out first coronavirus vaccine shots from Oxford-AstraZeneca
— Congress has convened for a new session, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place
— Fauci says faster vaccination rate offers a ‘glimmer of hope,’ says Biden’s pledge of 100 million shots in his 1st 100 days is achievable
— Vaccines are a distant thought in Somalia, where coronavirus is spreading with little being done to stop it
— Black California surgeon ‘walks the walk’ on virus vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
TORONTO — Alberta’s premier has reversed course and is now punishing members of his government for vacationing outside Canada despite government guidelines urging people to avoid nonessential travel during the pandemic.
Premier Jason Kenney says he asked his chief of staff to resign and accepted the resignation of his Municipal Affairs minister.
Several other members of his United Conservative party in the Western Canadian province have also been demoted for traveling outside Canada.
Kenney said last week he would not punish members of his government after he said he learned of travel abroad by a number of people in his government.
He says over the weekend he listened to “Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences.”
Politicians traveling abroad for vacations during the pandemic became a big story in Canada last week after it became known that Ontario’s finance minister went to the luxury Caribbean island of St. Barts for weeks and seemingly tried to hide the fact by sending social media posts showing him in a sweater before a fireplace.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As seniors lined up at coronavirus vaccination sites and frustrations mounted over their inability to make appointments for life-saving injections, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned hospitals against stockpiling vaccinations and urged them to work more quickly to administer vaccines to Floridians who are 65 and older.
“The light’s at the end of the tunnel,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Orlando on Monday, adding that hospitals that don’t meet vaccination goals will see their allotment of vaccines reduced and redistributed to other providers.
“I do not want to see a vaccine sitting around not being used when you could be putting a shot in an arm,” he said.
DeSantis has ordered hospitals to inform state officials on how they plan to offer vaccinations to the public.
Mary Mayhew, the chief executive officer of the Florida Hospital Association, said the state’s hospitals were “working tirelessly” to serve the community and roll out the vaccinations.
“Hospitals are absolutely committed to efficiently administering the vaccines,” Mayhew said, noting that “the vast majority of the vaccine just arrived within the last week and a half prior to two holidays.”
As of Monday, more than 260,000 Floridians had been vaccinated, most of them health care workers and first responders — although an increasing number are seniors 65 years and older, who the governor has made a key demographic for vaccinations.
The state has received more than 960,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — which means that some 700,000 doses are sitting in freezers waiting to be injected into the arms of Floridians.
Both vaccines require two doses — an initial inoculation and a booster shot weeks later. Some hospitals, out of caution, may be reluctant to immediately use their entire stockpile because of uncertainty over the future supply of the vaccines.
More than 82% of those who have died from the disease in Florida have been older than 65.
Florida has one of the nation’s oldest populations with 4.4 million of the state’s 21 million population 65 years or older.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana has unveiled a list of 107 pharmacies that will begin offering the coronavirus vaccine this week to people aged 70 and older.
Demand is certain to outstrip the limited supply, and interest is running so high the state website crashed within minutes of the information’s release Monday.
Pharmacies report being inundated with calls from people seeking appointments.
The Louisiana Department of Health quickly reworked the website to get the list back online. The agency stressed that appointments are required.
An estimated 640,000 people in Louisiana are newly eligible for the Moderna vaccine, but this week’s shipment to the state’s pharmacies includes only about 10,000 doses.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Kaiser Permanente says one employee is dead and dozens of workers are infected with the coronavirus after a staffer appeared at one of its Northern California medical centers wearing an inflatable holiday costume on Christmas Day.
Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, said 44 staff members in the emergency department have tested positive for the virus since Dec. 27.
Inflatable costumes usually rely on battery-operated fans to suck air in and keep its shape.
COVID-19 spreads through droplets in the air, which is why investigators are looking into the functioning of the fan.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ Health Ministry says that a new variant of COVID-19 has been detected among confirmed coronavirus infections on the island nation.
The ministry said on Monday the country’s Institute of Neurology and Genetics identified the variant VOC 202012/01 in one of 24 samples collected from individuals who had contracted COVID-19 in the last week of December.
The ministry said due to the small number of samples, it’s unclear how widespread the variant is within the community and that more checking will be required to determine that.
On Sunday, the ministry said that the new variant had been identified in 12 of 19 samples from COVID-19 infected persons who had arrived to Cyprus from the United Kingdom between Dec. 6-20.
U.K. health officials are struggling to control the spread of the new variant that is more contagious than previous variants.
Cyprus, with a population of around 900.000 on Monday announced 665 new COVID-19 infections out of nearly 13,500 tests, raising the overall tally to 24,639 cases. Deaths as a result of the coronavirus have reached 133.
SANTA FE, N.M. — More than 230,000 New Mexicans have signed up since the state launched its vaccination registration website two weeks ago, state officials said Monday.
The New Mexico Department of Health said the site has been updated to allow people to complete a comprehensive profile that includes personal medical conditions, employment information and other data.
The site was created to help manage distribution once more vaccines become available. Those who register will be notified when they become eligible and shots are available in their area.
State officials believe it’s the only system of its kind in the country.
New Mexico also plans to launch a call center to provide additional support for those who want to register or ask questions about the process.
“Our highest priorities remain the same: ensuring that vaccine goes to those who are most exposed to infected people or infectious materials, and preventing vaccine from going to waste,” Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said in a statement issued Monday.
MADRID — Spain is reporting 30,579 new coronavirus infections and 241 confirmed deaths following a 4-day data reporting hiatus over an extended holiday.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said Monday that despite distortions for slower reporting during the New Year and the weekend, Monday’s figures confirm a sharp contagion trend that is also being felt in new hospitalizations.
Spain has recorded nearly 2 million infections and more than 51,000 deaths for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.
Fearing that the country will follow the sharp increase that other European nations are seeing, authorities in several Spanish regions have been recently tightening restrictions on movement, business activity and social gatherings.
Northeastern Catalonia, home to 6.6 million, will ban all but essential travel out of its municipalities during 10 days starting on Thursday, closing shopping centers and allowing only sales of essential goods on weekends. These are in addition to existing restrictions on the activities of bars and restaurants, as well as on cultural events.
More restrictions have also spread to other areas in the south of the country, around the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, where authorities are trying to confirm if a spike in cases could be related to a new coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K.
Illa said that, barring more logistical problems, authorities are confident that vaccination levels will reach “cruising speed” by next week, once the holiday period is over. Spain has received nearly 720,000 vaccine doses from Pfizer and BioNTech and has so far administered just over 80,000.
ATHENS, Greece — Greek nursery and primary schools will reopen on Jan. 11 after conducting online lessons for nearly two months under the country’s second lockdown.
The education ministry said Monday that secondary school pupils would continue to do distance learning starting Jan. 8 after the end of the Christmas and New Year holidays, with a view to resuming in-person attendance when possible.
Greece saw a spike in new infections, deaths and intensive care hospitalization in November, which prompted a new lockdown. Matters have since improved.
Authorities reported 427 new confirmed infections on Monday — a considerable improvement from a high of more than 3,500 in November. Another 54 deaths were reported, compared with a daily record of 120 in November.
The overall death toll in the country of nearly 11 million is about 5,000.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The superintendent of South Carolina’s public schools said Monday that she had tested positive for the coronavirus, was experiencing “mild symptoms” but would continue to do her work from home.
In a tweet, Molly Spearman said that she learned on Sunday she had tested positive for the virus on Dec. 31 and “is fortunate to have only mild symptoms.”
Spearman said she had already been quarantining after her husband and son tested positive earlier last week. While isolating, Spearman said, “I plan to continue to work from home and meet virtually as so many others in the education community have done this school year.”
A spokesman for the Education Department said Monday that Spearman was primarily experiencing fatigue and had participated in several virtual meetings during the day.
Spearman, 66, has been chief of South Carolina’s public school system since 2015. News of her diagnosis came on the day that the state’s 780,000 public school children returned to school following the holiday break. Some schools are holding in-person instruction, while many are using a hybrid of in-person and virtual schooling amid the ongoing pandemic.
PARIS — France’s cautious approach to its virus vaccine rollout appears to have backfired. Only about 500 people were vaccinated in the first week, rekindling anger over the government’s handling of the pandemic.
President Emmanuel Macron is holding a special meeting with top government officials Monday to address the vaccine strategy and other virus developments.
The slow rollout was blamed on mismanagement and staffing shortages during end-of-year vacations.
It was also attributed to a complex consent policy designed to accommodate broad vaccine skepticism among the French public.
Doctors and opposition politicians pleaded Monday for speedier access to vaccines.
ROME — Italy registered considerably fewer confirmed new coronavirus infections on Monday, but it also saw a roughly 25% day-to-day reduction in the number of swab tests performed, a not uncommon development after a weekend.
With 10,800 new COVID-19 cases, Italy’s pandemic tally of confirmed infections rose to 2,166,244. There were 348 deaths since Sunday, one more than in the previous 24-hour period, according to Health Ministry figures.
With a known death toll of 75,680 as of Monday, Italy, along with Britain, has registered the highest count of pandemic dead in Europe.
The Italian government is weighing whether to extend, lift or modify partial lockdown measures which apply during the holiday period, which ends on Jan. 6. Separately, operators of cinemas, gyms, pools and other businesses currently shuttered are pressing for permission to re-open when a government decree, aimed at limiting opportunities for crowding, expires on Jan. 15.
Italy has been struggling to rein in the transmission of coronavirus infections, which surged in fall after a significant summer reduction in cases.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal has begun inoculating staff and residents of elderly care homes against COVID-19.
Officials said Tuesday they hope to vaccinate the target of 200,000 people at care homes by the end of February.
Last week, frontline health workers were the first in Portugal to be vaccinated.
From next month, vaccines will also be available for people aged 50 or more with underlying health problems, such as lung or heart deficiencies, before being extended to the rest of the population.
LONDON — Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon says that from Tuesday, people in Scotland are legally required to stay at home except for essential reasons to curb a renewed surge of coronavirus infections.
Sturgeon told lawmakers Monday that Scotland will be placed in lockdown for at least the whole of January to help ease the pressure on hospitals and intensive care units.
Under the new lockdown rules, which are broadly similar to those imposed during the first peak of the pandemic in spring, people can go out for exercise but can only meet one other person from another household. School closures are extended until February except for children of key workers and children under social care.
Sturgeon said: “I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year.”
Scotland, which has its own devolved government, has often imposed stricter coronavirus restrictions than those in England throughout the pandemic.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a televised news conference Monday evening and says Parliament will meet on Wednesday. He previously said that more severe restrictions are coming.
BERLIN — Austria is effectively lengthening a national shutdown by a week until Jan. 24 after the government abandoned plans to allow people to open up shops and other facilities to people who had tested negative for the coronavirus.
Austria’s current lockdown, its third, started on Dec. 26. Its original plan was to have restaurants, nonessential shops and haidressers, among others, reopen from Jan. 18 for people who could prove they had tested negative for COVID-19.
But the Austria Press Agency reported Monday that Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said that wouldn’t be possible due to resistance from the country’s opposition to the concept of people “testing themselves free.”