Axios Chicago

Picture of the Chicago skyline.

Happy Monday! We hope you had a great holiday break. On this day in 1967, Chicagoan Jack Ruby, the man who shot Lee Harvey Oswald, died in a Dallas hospital.

๐Ÿฅถ Today's weather: Here comes the cold. Sunny with a high of 22.

Today's newsletter is 905 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Back to school amid historic COVID spike

A photo of a sign at a playground.

A North Side school playground Sunday. Photo: Monica Eng/Axiosย 

Chicago Public Schools are scheduled to fully reopen this morning even as school districts in Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Seattle, Atlanta, Madison, Gary and Evanston have either delayed opening or opted to start the winter semester with remote learning due to unprecedented COVID-19 spikes.

Why it matters: Chicago is seeing record numbers of infections and pediatric COVID hospitalizations.

  • Only 12% of CPS elementary school students and 51% of high school students are vaccinated.
  • Hundreds of thousands of CPS students are exposed to one another every weekday as they eat unmasked in the lunchroom.
  • While a third of CPS students were given tests to take before returning to school, the process has run into multiple problems. As of Sunday night, officials tell Axios they did not know how many were successfully processed.

What they're saying: At a Thursday press conference, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said he was "very comfortable" with students returning to school.

  • "We will continue to monitor and investigate cases, and we will promptly switch a classroom, or a school, to remote learning status if necessary to prevent in-school COVID-19 transmission," CPS writes in a statement to Axios.

The other side: The Chicago Teachers Union reiterated its demands during the weekend for CPS to require negative PCR tests for returning students, expand testing sites, provide high-quality masks to staff and students and honor the metrics CPS agreed to last winter that trigger a switch to remote learning.

  • "We shouldn't have to fight to pressure the mayor to put our lives ahead of our livelihoods, but that is the reality we face," CTU president Jesse Sharkey wrote in a note to members.

2. Who is regulating pop-up testing?

A photo of a pop up COVID-19 testing site.

This mobile testing site in a Lincoln Park parking lot is among hundreds of new centers in Illinois with little regulation. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Hundreds of pop-up COVID testing centers have opened across the state in recent weeks to collect and process hundreds of thousands of tests a day.

Why it matters: These ad hoc testing centers are collecting mountains of sensitive medical and financial information from the public with little to no apparent regulation from city and state authorities.

  • Over the past two weeks, Axios Chicago has asked officials at the Chicago Department of Public Health, Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services and the Illinois Attorney General's office if they are regulating the centers.
  • The answer across the board? No.
  • This comes amid repeated calls from city and state officials to "get tested."
  • Citizens have reported unsafe and suspicious behavior at the pop up clinics, per Block Club Chicago.

The complaints: Axios Chicago has heard (and experienced) similar problems, including charging for tests, asking for Social Security numbers, not asking for health insurance information, not returning test results and even returning results before a sample was submitted.

Meanwhile, officials offer some basic advice:

  • IDPH advises using testing sites on its list and avoiding sites that don't share the name of their partner lab.
  • While IDPH doesn't regulate the testing sites, it can investigate the labs they partner with. Those labs should all have Clinical Labs Improvement Act (CLIA) certification. Complaints can be called into the CLIA hotline at 1-800-252-4343.
  • The Illinois AG's office further warns that citizens shouldn't use any center that asks for Social Security numbers.
  • The Cook County Department of Public Health stresses that tests are free regardless of insurance and immigration status.

The real cost: Axios Chicago consulted folks who run testing centers, including Mohammad Usman of COVID Express Care and officials from IDHFS, which administers Medicaid, to find out how much centers are reimbursed by government and insurance for each processed test.

  • On average, it's $100 for PCR tests and $35 for rapid antigen tests.

3. Tips and hot links

An illustration of hot dogs in the shape of a peace sign.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

๐Ÿ’‰ Chicago/Cook County's indoor vaccine mandate starts today requiring vax cards for anyone 5 and over, and accompanying IDs for anyone 16 and over at bars, gyms and most food service spots. (Chicago Tribune)

โš– The new COVID surge upends the Illinois state legislative schedule, which was supposed to start tomorrow. (WTTW)

๐Ÿ‘ฎโ€โ™€๏ธ Chicago's top cop promises to hire more officers after a record-setting year for violent crime. (Sun-Times)

๐Ÿ€ Don't look now, but the Bulls are the No. 1 team in the East. (NBA.com)

๐Ÿฅ… Brigette Lacquette is the first Indigenous woman to scout for an NHL team. That team? The Chicago Blackhawks. (NBC Sports)

4. MMQB: Bears win big, Quinn sets sack record

A photo of a coach on the sidelines of a football game.

Bears head coach Matt Nagy on Sunday at Soldier Field. Photo: Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Bears waited until Week 17 for their first blowout win of the season, beating the lifeless Giants, 29-3.

  • The defense led the charge, forcing four turnovers and getting a safety while holding New York to 151 total yards.

MVP: Rookie linebacker Trevis Gipson had two sacks and two forced fumbles. Robert Quinn picked up a 4th quarter sack to pass Richard Dent as the franchise leader for sacks in a season.

LVP: Giants QB Mike Glennon. The former Bears QB was downright awful with the Bears in 2017 but was even worse yesterday. He threw for 24 total yards.

Record scratch: The 6-10 Bears finished their season at Soldier Field with a 3-5 record. Nagy is 17-15 at home during his coaching tenure.

What's next: The Bears end their season at Minnesota next Sunday against the Vikings.

5. Where in the world is โ€ฆ Monica?

A photo of two people skiing.

Where the heck were Monica and her daughter on Sunday morning? Photo: Tom O'Brien

It's our first "Where's Monica" of 2022!

๐Ÿ“ซ Email us the correct location, and you'll be entered in a drawing for some Axios swag.

Here's a hint:

On snow days it's perfect for cross country skiing

But on warm days you'll more likely see folks here tee-ing

If you happen to forget about the day and the hour

You can check out the time at a nearby clocktower

๐ŸŽฟ Monica is sore from all that skiing, but ready to plop down for a week of newsletter writing.

๐Ÿป Justin is glad the Bears are wrapping up. Time to put all of our collective sports energy into the Bulls. At least till spring training.