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Latest coronavirus news for March 23, 2020: Live updates

Here’s what we know today about the continuing spread of coronavirus and its ripple effects in Chicago and Illinois.

The latest

Feds vow to send Illinois ventilators, masks after Pritzker and Trump talk things through

The White House promise to send Illinois 300 ventilators and 250,000 masks came some 24 hours after Pritzker complained “the only way to get the president of the United States to pay attention is to go on national television and make noise about it.”
John L. Alexander/For the Sun-Times; Getty Images

After a string of national TV appearances in which Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic — and a couple of Twitter tirades — the White House on Monday has vowed to send Illinois 300 ventilators and 250,000 masks.

According to the governor’s office, that assurance came from a White House aide on Monday afternoon after Pritzker and Trump spoke directly on the phone at about noon. It also came some 24 hours after Pritzker complained “the only way to get the president of the United States to pay attention is to go on national television and make noise about it.”

Pritzker’s office said Illinois is expected to get 300 ventilators and 250,000 N95 masks.

For well over a week, the Democratic governor has been lobbing complaints at the president via Twitter and on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Read the full story by reporter Tina Sfondeles.


News

10:03 p.m. Atlanta Mayor issues 14-day stay-at-home order

Atlanta is the latest city to issue a stay-at-home order in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced Monday night that she signed the order, which encourages Atlanta residents for the next two weeks.

Essential businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants serving takeout, may remain open, but most other businesses will have to close until at least April 7.

The order goes into effect at midnight.

Read the full story at AJC.com

8:48 p.m. Some food delivery apps seeing a ‘definite uptick’ due to coronavirus pandemic

Delivery-based apps and their drivers are finding new and inventive ways to get their food orders to their customers while keeping in mind the health and safety of all parties involved during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pizza Capri, with three area locations, is using plastic wrap to help ensure an added layer of safety on its products’ packaging. And last week, DoorDash distributed 1 million sets of hand sanitizer and gloves to its drivers and couriers, according to a company blog.

DoorDash, which has no delivery fees in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to help support neighborhood restaurants, has also implemented a “no-contact option” for customers to minimize contact between them and drivers. They are also charging zero commissions for 30 days to independent restaurants once they sign up for the service.

Read the full story by Evan Moore.

7:13 p.m. Chicago-based Amazon employees say company agreed to paid time off for all its workers

Amazon is offering its entire workforce paid time off for the first time in a win for thousands of employees who have been fighting for better benefits for months.

All regular part-time and seasonal employees in the U.S. will be able to use paid time off starting Monday, according to a “manager update” shared by Chicago-based Amazon employee group, DCH1 Amazonians United, in a blog Monday. The document, which was dated March 20, said the benefit will be accrued retroactively back to March 1.

The news comes just two days after Amazon announced a temporary overtime pay raise and its plan to hire 100,000 new employees as the company works to fulfill an overwhelming spike in business due to the COVID-19 outbreak, USA Today reported.

Read more from the DCH1 Amazonians United group.

5:45 p.m. Lightfoot wants 2020 Census delayed until after nation wins coronavirus war

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday urged the Trump administration to postpone the 2020 U.S. Census, arguing there is “not enough bandwidth” to conduct the count while waging a national war against the coronavirus.

In the 2010 Census, Chicago’s 66% response rate was “among the worst participation levels” of any big city in the nation.

This year’s Chicago goal: an ambitious 75%. To do that, Chicago had planned to spend $2.7 million — $2 for every “hard-to-count” resident — to cut through what Lightfoot has called the cloud of fear created by immigration raids and a nixed citizenship question.

But then, a worldwide pandemic shuttered schools and businesses and brought everyday life to a standstill.

“We have to push back the census,” Lightfoot said. “There’s not enough bandwidth to be able to do both, particularly when what we’re talking about is going door-to-door, educating people. The libraries now are closed. So that avenue for filling out the digital applications isn’t available.”

Read the full story from reporter Fran Spielman.

4:54 p.m. State cuts red tape for retired doctors, nurses who want to rejoin front lines to fight coronavirus

Following direction from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, state officials announced Monday that they are allowing healthcare workers with expired licenses to temporarily restore them to provide more doctors and nurses to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The rule changes will allow physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers with licenses that have recently expired to reapply without having to navigate the normal bureaucratic hurdles to do so.

”The State of Illinois has many very qualified health care professionals throughout the State that we are encouraging to come back into practice to assist with the impact of COVID-19,” Deborah Hagan, secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said in a statement.

Read more from reporter Neal Earley.

4:18 p.m. CPS seeks $75 million to deal with coronavirus crisis

Chicago Public Schools administrators are asking the city’s school board for $75 million to address the coronavirus emergency over the next several months.

The request, which would allow the district to decide how it wants to spend the money without prior board approval or immediate public notice, is part of the agenda for Wednesday’s monthly board meeting.

If approved by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s seven-member school board, the resolution would immediately give district officials ultimate flexibility in addressing the crisis through the end of June, unless otherwise changed by the board. All money spent on coronavirus response since March 5 would also be approved under the measure.

Read more from reporter Nader Issa.

2:46 p.m. Three more Illinois coronavirus deaths announced; Pritzker also details medical equipment shortages

Illinois officials on Monday announced three more people have died from the novel coronavirus, while Gov. J.B. Pritzker also publicly outlined the state’s federal requests for personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, including respirators for some of the most serious cases.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been holding daily briefings on Illinois’ response to the coronavirus situation.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

After several national television appearances in which Pritzker pointed the finger at President Donald Trump and his administration for a lack of medical essentials, Pritzker detailed those requests while also announcing the partnership of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization to ramp up in-state production of supplies like masks, gloves, gowns, ventilators and sanitizers.

“I have medical professionals and first responders begging for what they need,” Pritzker said.

Despite the outlining of his requests and push for more federal help, the Democratic governor said he spoke directly to President Donald Trump on Monday afternoon, a call that prompted the governor to call the president “very responsive.”

Read more from reporter Tina Sfondeles.

2:31 p.m. Drive-thru COVID-19 test site opens on NW Side to first responders, health professionals

A drive-thru test site for COVID-19 opened Monday to first responders and health professionals at a repurposed vehicle emissions test building on the Northwest Side.

The Illinois National Guard opened the site at 9 a.m. and will test 250 first responders today on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

The site at 6959 Forest Preserve Drive, near the Harlem Irving Plaza, is limited to police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other health professionals, he said. It’s unclear if the site will later be converted to a test site for the public.

Read more from reporter David Struett.

1:55 p.m. Closed YMCA buildings to provide emergency shelter

The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago announced Monday that it is partnering with the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications to convert some Chicago Y’s into emergency shelters for displaced and homeless Chicagoans. The full plan calls for YMCA facilities to house more than 400 people to help relieve city shelters and provide more opportunities for social distancing.

YMCA centers are currently closed, as are other gyms and rec centers across the state, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more from the YMCA of Metro Chicago’s announcement.

1:29 p.m. Attorney General Kwame Raoul gets price-gouging businesses to agree to stop or face $50,000 fine and shutdown

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul says his office has received more than 525 complaints statewide against businesses accused of jacking up prices during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the increases are legitimate, Raoul said. But businesses found to be unrealistically marking up their prices are being asked to sign agreements with the attorney general’s office not to engage in further gouging, he said.

Chicago residents have been using social media to warn their neighbors about price gouging and to call on the police to bust them.

One man complained of a North Side gas station selling one-ply toilet paper for $4.99 a roll and marking up hand sanitizer from $2.99 to $12.99. The Sun-Times visited the gas station Sunday and found toilet paper on sale for that price, but the hand sanitizer was gone. Other prices sounded more reasonable: $3.99 for Clorox wipes, for instance.

Read the full, updated Sun-Times report here.

1:12 p.m. West Virginia issues stay-at-home order

West Virginia has joined the growing list of states ordering residents to stay inside their homes except for when absolutely necessary. Grocery store trips and travel to and from work for employees in “essential” industries are among the few exceptions.

The order, issued by Gov. Jim Justice, takes effect at 8 p.m. Tuesday. It does not mean West Virginia’s borders are closed.

WSAZ 3 News in Huntington, WV has more.

12:59 p.m. 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be postponed due to coronavirus pandemic: IOC member

Veteran International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told USA TODAY Sports Monday afternoon that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are going to be postponed, likely to 2021, with the details to be worked out in the next four weeks.

“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said in a phone interview. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”

Read the full story here.

12:48 p.m. Italy registers smaller day-to-day increase in new coronavirus cases for second straight day

Officials say Italy has recorded a smaller day-to-day increase in new coronavirus cases for the second straight day.

Data released by Italy’s Civil Protection agency on Monday showed 4,789 new cases from a day earlier, nearly 700 fewer than the figure reported Sunday.

The number of deaths also did not rise by as much. There were just over 600 registered on Monday compared to 651 on Sunday.

Read the full story here.

11:53 Cook County judges to review inmates’ cases to drastically reduce jail population

Teams of Cook County judges this week will begin reviewing thousands of criminal cases with a goal of reducing the number of inmates in jail in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. Monday ordered the review in response to an emergency motion filed last week by Public Defender Amy Campanelli that seeks the immediate release of some inmates, including those who are older, have health conditions, couldn’t pay their bonds, or are charged with low-level, non-violent felony and misdemeanor crimes.

Campanelli, in her motion, cited her frustration that a smaller-scale review process that began last week had only resulted in the release of about 100 Cook County inmates.

There are currently 5,600 inmates inside the sprawling jail complex.

Read the full story from Andy Grimm here.

11:47 a.m. Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb issues ‘stay at home’ order

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb issued a “stay at home” order for the state Monday, following similar orders enacted in adjacent states Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.

Holcomb said Monday that the order still allows the state’s 6.8 million residents to seek essentials including groceries and medicine and makes exemptions for employees of crucial industries.

The state has reported seven deaths and 259 virus infections. The state’s most recent death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, was an adult over the age of 60 in northeastern Indiana’s. Allen County’s health department announced his death Sunday, the Indiana State Department of Health said.

Read the full story here.

10:02 a.m. Lightfoot says city will be ‘repurposing’ empty hotel rooms as ‘quarantine spaces’

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday morning the city of Chicago will be announcing the “repurposing” of empty hotel rooms as “isolation and quarantine spaces” for coronavirus patients.

Lightfoot also had a personal reflection: “I’m a black woman in America. I learned early on nobody was going to save me. I had to step up and make sure I took care of myself. And that is the approach that we’re taking in the city of Chicago.”

Also in the morning, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on NBC’s “Today Show” repeated his call for the federal government to take charge of acquiring personal protection equipment such as masks and gowns. His comments about the feds need to step up on Sunday drew the ire of President Donald Trump.

“We’re competing for ventilators with FEMA and the federal government. So Illinois is bidding for ventilators against the federal government. In another case, we were bidding against foreign countries and other states. And so what’s happening to not just on ventilators, but on all the PPE that we need? Prices are being ratcheted up, and we’re competing against each other on what should be a national crisis, where we should be coming together and the federal government should be leading.”

Read the full story from the Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet.

9:41 a.m. Pastors pray outside Cook County jail for release of inmates to help protect them from the coronavirus

A group of religious leaders from across the city hope to add the power of prayer to an effort to have large numbers of inmates released from the Cook County Jail in the wake of the spreading coronavirus.

Rev. Jason Lydon, of the Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, leads a prayer with other faith leaders outside Cook County jail. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“The most important thing is to understand that incarcerated people are just as much a part of our families as people who are on the outside,” said Jason Lydon, the pastor at Second Unitarian Church in Lake View, as he stood outside the jail complex Monday. “It is the responsibility of judges in this particular moment to get people free for the purpose of ensuring individual health, as well as community health.”

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli was expected to appear before a judge at the George Leighton Criminal Courthouse later Monday to present an emergency petition seeking the mass release of inmates — particularly the most medically vulnerable among them.

Read the full story from reporter Stefano Esposito.

8:50 a.m. NewsGuard launches coronavirus misinformation tracker

Disinformation and misinformation about the fast-spreading coronavirus is pervading the nation and the globe as aggressively as the virus itself.

NewsGuard — “The Internet Trust Tool” — is a rating service that vets news websites for accuracy and transparency. Its leadership includes former Chicago Tribune editor James Warren.

The group has been tracking news and information sites in the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, and Germany that have published materially false information about the virus. As of Monday morning, they listed 33 websites in the U.S. circulating inaccurate information about COVID-19.

Last week, NewsGuard traced a single story story that originated on an obscure Indian website — one that’s been debunked by PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, yet ended up being viewed and shared by tens of thousands of Americans because unreliable news sources regularly follow and republish each other.

“The takeaway is how easily misinformation can be amplified by even a small group of unreliable sites that share their claims on social media. Put differently, social media is a misinformation force multiplier,” NewsGuard’s Washington Correspondent Gabby Deutch argued in Wired.

Sunday: ‘Strained at every level.’ COVID-19 pressures already burdened Chicago hospitals

Roseland Community Hospital is re-purposing rooms, establishing an outside screening center and bulking up staff in preparation of the virus spreading.

The far South Side hospital, a so-called safety net hospital that serves predominantly low-income families on the city’s far South Side, is now bracing for a wave of patients to come through its doowas already operating at about 90% of capacity each day since nearby MetroSouth Medical Center closed last year.

Read more from reporter Manny Ramos.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

7:33 p.m. Does ‘non-essential’ tag add insult to isolation?

Are you essential or non-essential?

Actually, it’s only your job that has been placed into one of those two categories by the stay-at-home orders issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in response to the coronavirus.

But in a society in which we derive so much of our personal identity and self-worth from our work and how we earn a living, that can feel like a distinction without a difference.

Most everyone would probably like to believe they are essential in at least some small way or another to the endeavors to which they devote themselves — and therefore essential to the larger society.

With that in mind, I asked my Facebook friends if their jobs have been deemed essential or non-essential — and how they are feeling about that.

Read more from columnist Mark Brown here.

6:47 p.m. Illinois should move state tax filing deadline to July 15 so it matches the feds’

At a time when almost everything in our daily lives has become unexpectedly complicated, Illinois should not keep its income tax deadline set at April 15 now that the federal government has moved back its deadline by 90 days.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday that the federal government will move the tax deadline to July 15 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That puts the ball in Illinois’ court to find a way to do the same.

We urge the state to move quickly to resolve this.

Read the Sun-Times’ full editorial here.

6:00 p.m. Better late than never: Money-grubbing IOC postpones Olympics over COVID-19

The International Olympic Committee answers to no one but often feels a deep kinship with the highest bidder, above or below the table. It didn’t come as a surprise, then, that the grand poobahs at the IOC would be the last people associated with sports to shut down operations because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are billions and billions of dollars associated with putting on an Olympics. A billion delayed is a billion burned.

But under worldwide pressure, that august body caved in Monday, postponing the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today the event likely would be moved to 2021. It was an impressive turnaround from Sunday, when officials announced they would need a month to analyze the situation. A month? Were they kidding? In this time of dark, fast-moving developments, a month is the equivalent of five years.

It might seem harsh to question the sincerity of Olympics officials when it comes to something as serious as the pandemic. No one in his or her right mind would wish the virus on anybody, and of course the IOC cares about athletes. But you wouldn’t trust these people with your retirement money. Or your lunch money.

Read more from sports columnist Rick Morrissey here.

2:00 p.m. Letter to the Editor: America’s truckers put their lives at risk during this coronavirus pandemic

Who is protecting the truck drivers who leave their families behind and put themselves at risk to take care of the American people? Every one on social media is all about doctors, nurses and first responders, but what about truck drivers? Without them, no one else has the tools to do their jobs.

The public and the government need to take notice of real heroes. You can find them sleeping beside the interstate highways, waiting in lines to take showers that 100 others used before them, eating what is available and not what they want, working 70+ hours a week — the list goes on. I have asked people this question: What if every truck driver stopped working for one or two days?

Read this and more letters to the editor here.

11:44 a.m. Stay fit at home during the stay-at-home order with these workout tips

With gyms across Chicago closed to limit spread of the coronavirus, working out requires a bit more creativity these days. For some people, the big change in routine creates a unique challenge: how do you stay fit outside of your usual habits?

It doesn’t take much more than some good instruction to break a sweat in the confines of your own home. Our Exercise Well series, led by workout guru Stephanie Mansour, offers up many ways to get your heartbeat up even if you’re practicing social distancing.

We made a YouTube playlist of 36 videos that break down exercises you can do at home.

Click here to learn more.

9:55 a.m. Pritzker stops by the TODAY Show

Monday morning, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on NBC’s “Today Show” repeated his call for the federal government to take charge of acquiring personal protection equipment such as masks and gowns. His comments about the feds need to step up on Sunday drew the ire of President Donald Trump.

Pritzker: “We’re competing for ventilators with FEMA and the federal government. So Illinois is bidding for ventilators against the federal government. In another case, we were bidding against foreign countries and other states. And so what’s happening to not just on ventilators, but on all the PPE that we need? Prices are being ratcheted up, and we’re competing against each other on what should be a national crisis, where we should be coming together and the federal government should be leading.”

Pritzker and the governors of California and New York — Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo all Democrats, have been pleading for resources from the federal government as the number of coronavirus cases explodes.

Read more from columnist Lynn Sweet.