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Column: Lightfoot gets COVID-19 in wake of CPS drama, further proof the virus won’t bend to our will

Mayor Lori Lightfoot puts her mask on after speaking at a news conference at City Hall on Jan. 10, 2022, in Chicago.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot puts her mask on after speaking at a news conference at City Hall on Jan. 10, 2022, in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

Nobody in their right mind wants to test positive for COVID-19. If you’re the mayor of Chicago and you just resolved a tense standoff with the Chicago Teachers Union that kept kids out of public schools and drew national attention, you DEFINITELY don’t want to test positive for COVID-19.

But viruses don’t much care what anybody wants. So on Tuesday, the day after announcing Chicago Public Schools would reopen this week for in-person learning over the protests of many worried about the rapid spread of the omicron variant, Mayor Lori Lightfoot tested positive for COVID-19.

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Her symptoms are reportedly mild, and since she’s vaccinated and boosted, she’ll likely be fine. I wish her a quick recovery, as should everyone. She’ll work remotely and follow CDC guidelines before returning to work.

Politically, of course, the timing is terrible. But there again, viruses don’t much care about politics, or timing.

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That’s the thing so many here and across this instant-gratification-obsessed nation of ours can’t quite reckon with: A pandemic requires patience. And patience, like at-home COVID-19 test kits, is in short supply.

Consider the things many in Chicago have wanted this past week.

They wanted Chicago Public Schools to be open for in-person learning because it’s clearly in the best interest of children. That’s factually correct. But that scenario is grounded in a belief that in-person learning will happen and the omicron variant, which has proven good at evading vaccines, won’t spread quickly to adult teachers and administrators, leading them to isolate and making it impossible to staff the schools.

So while a person might sensibly want their school wide open, the virus might have other ideas. We know this is possible because it has happened at schools in the city and in the suburbs.

According to a Daily Southtown report: “Matteson Elementary Districts 159 and Thornton Township High School District 205 won’t allow students back into buildings until later this month. Homewood Elementary District 153 and High School District 230, which includes Carl Sandburg, Stagg and Andrew high schools, opted for remote learning for a portion of last week. … District 159, with schools in Matteson and Richton Park, said staffing issues due to COVID-19 prompted the delay in a return to the classroom. Students will learn remotely until Jan. 18, after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

So CPS will bring kids back Wednesday and give it a shot. I’m sure many weary parents will breathe a sigh of relief. But how long that relief lasts will depend not on teachers or administrators or the strength of parental prayer but on a virus that continues to make a mess of everyone’s lives.

When a school slides back to virtual learning for lack of staffing, people shouldn’t be outraged. They should be patient. There’s only so much we humans can do when faced with a mutating submicroscopic infectious agent.

Lightfoot undoubtedly wanted her resolution with the teachers union and the reopening of schools to give her favorable headlines. Instead, she faces the (admittedly unfair) howls of hypocrisy as she goes to work remotely while sending teachers back to the front lines.

Life these days tends not to unfold the way we want it to, and nature’s unpredictability is gumming up a world in which we’ve come to demand swift overnight delivery and instant streaming services and lickety-split responses to our texts and email.

Sorry, folks. Nature is going to do its thing, and the best we can do is follow the science and try to live as smart as possible. Of course the science, as we’ve seen, can change, and that again requires patience.

Many were feeling better about the state of the pandemic a month ago. Then the first omicron variant was identified in Chicago, and now it’s the dominant strain. Most vaccinated people are experiencing relatively mild symptoms, but the variant’s ability to spread swiftly is wreaking havoc with stores and businesses desperately trying to maintain staffing levels.

Per The New York Times: “Macy’s said last week that it would shorten store hours nationally on Mondays through Thursdays for the rest of the month. At least 20 Apple Stores have had to close in recent weeks because so many employees had contracted COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who had, and others have curtailed hours or limited in-store access.”

This is part of why we’re seeing stores slow to restock shelves and slowdowns in the supply chain. People are getting sick, and even if their symptoms are mild, they still have to stay home to protect others.

Everybody wants this all to be over. Parents want their kids back in school full time with no fear of a return to virtual learning. Lightfoot undoubtedly wanted to resolve the CPS school closures without having a COVID-19 diagnosis cloud the news.

But we need to do a better job accepting that we’re not always going to get what we want. We need to channel some patience into all facets of our already complicated lives.

If we reach a high enough level of vaccination and if people get their heads out of their tails and start properly using masks and following public health recommendations, a new normal will come about. Eventually.

But until then, things will continue to be messy. They’ll continue to be unpredictable. And no matter how much we want our lives to be such-and-such a way, the virus won’t much care.

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