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Latest coronavirus news for March 25, 2020: Live updates

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

As the coronavirus pandemic continues in Illinois, the Chicago Sun-Times has been documenting daily updates in our live blog.

Here’s what happened today in coronavirus-related news.

News

8:55 p.m. ‘Unsettling’ crowds along 606 Trail spark concern; lakefront brimming with people too

Hundreds could be seen enjoying warm weather on along Lake Michigan near Oak Street Beach, Wednesday
Hundreds could be seen enjoying warm weather on along Lake Michigan near Oak Street Beach, Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Despite orders for everyone to stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus in Illinois, Chicago’s lakefront was overrun Wednesday by people looking to enjoy some spring weather.

Droves of people hit the lakefront as temperatures soared to the high 50s. They walked their dogs, went for a jog and even sat in small groups out in the sun.

But the large gatherings contradicted statewide orders to stay at home and practice social distancing to stop coronavirus, which reached 1,865 confirmed cases throughout Illinois on Wednesday. Nineteen people have now died from the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

“I’ve been trying to go outside and get some exercise — alone — because I get antsy being inside all day,” said Sammy Garcia, of Logan Square. “But the number of people I saw outside today had me wondering if I was being safe.”

Garcia said she’d typically go to the nearby 606 Trail but was “unsettled” to see it crowded with other runners today.

Read Jake Wittich’s full report here.

8:07 p.m. CPS gets green light to spend $75 in coronavirus aid without board approval through June

Chicago Public Schools administrators got the OK to spend up to $75 million to address the coronavirus emergency through at least the end of June.

The city’s seven-member school board at its monthly meeting Wednesday unanimously approved the request by district officials, giving CPS the ability to use the money without prior board approval or immediate public notice.

“Authorizing $75 million does not mean we are going to spend $75 million,” board president Miguel del Valle said ahead of the vote. “It could be far less than that. It could be somewhere in the middle.”

Board member Lucino Sotelo said the pre-authorization gives CPS officials “flexibility and agility” and prevents a scenario where the district has to act quickly to solve a coronavirus-related problem but is first forced to go to the board for approval, as is usually mandated. He added that “it’s not like we have this $75 million slush fund sitting there. We still have to find a way to make this work.”

When board vice president Sendhil Revuluri asked about transparency and making sure the public knows how the money is being spent, schools chief Janice Jackson vowed to give the board regular memos about the spending, especially big single purchases.

The district has no shortage of expenses as it deals with the growing crisis. CPS has continued to pay all teachers and staff, both full- and part-time, and is paying extra wages to security guards and lunchroom staff who are working during the closures. The money will also be used for the district’s ongoing meal program and for purchasing electronic devices for students who don’t have them.

— Nader Issa

7:40 p.m. 17 detainees at Cook County Jail contract COVID-19

Seventeen detainees at the Cook County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19 amid calls to release as many detainees as possible to stem the spread of the deadly virus.

As of Wednesday evening, four correctional officers and 17 detainees have tested positive for the virus, according to Cook County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Sophia Ansari.

The first two cases of COVID-19 were announced Monday at the Southwest Side jail complex that currently houses about 5,400 detainees. The sheriff’s office on Tuesday had announced three confirmed cases, with tests pending for another two dozen inmates.

Get the full story from reporter David Struett.

7:02 p.m. Illinois AG urges crackdown on online price-gouging during pandemic

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Wednesday joined 32 other state attorneys general in calling for online platforms to eliminate the COVID-19 price-gouging that has gotten worse in recent days.

The bipartisan group sent letters to Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart and Craigslist urging them to set and enforce price increase limits based on a 90-day average of the item’s price from before the coronavirus crisis began.

The group also wants online sellers to create systems to trigger price-gouging protections before the next emergency by monitoring weather events and potential health risks.

“At a time when my office could be assisting people who are concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact their mortgage, rent and student loan debt payments, my office is devoting significant resources to investigating individuals who are attempting to benefit from the public health crisis by putting profits before people,” Raoul said.

The attorneys general cited examples such as a 2-liter bottle of hand sanitizer listed for $250 on Craigslist, an 8-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer listed for $40 on Facebook Marketplace and packs of face masks being priced at $40 and $50 on eBay.

Read the full story from reporter Stephanie Zimmermann.

6:46 p.m. 3 more CPD officers diagnosed with COVID-19

Three additional Chicago police officers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The new cases, one detective and two officers, bring the total number of CPD personnel infected with COVID-19 to nine, police said.

“Despite symptoms, they remain in good spirits,” department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote in a tweet Wednesday afternoon.

Get the full update here.

6:08 p.m. Two Circuit Court of Cook County employees test positive for COVID-19

Two Circuit Court of Cook County employees tested positive for COVID-19, officials announced Wednesday.

The employees are: an adult probation department employee working on the lower level of the Leighton Criminal Court Building and an office of the chief judge employee working on the 23rd floor of the Daley Center, the chief judge’s office said in a statement.

Get the full story here.

5:35 p.m. United Center to become ‘logistics hub’ for food distribution, medical supply collection

ust two weeks after hosting a Blackhawks game for the last time before the NHL season shutdown and nationwide intensification of the coronavirus outbreak, the United Center is radically shifting gears.

The Madison Street arena — typically used to host large crowds for Hawks and Bulls games — will soon instead host large supplies of medical equipment, food and other things needed to help treat the coronavirus outbreak in Chicago, according to a Wednesday announcement.

“As Illinois goes through this together, the United Center...is proud to be playing a critical role with our city, state and federal response to the pandemic,” the statement said. “Our arena and outside campus will be transformed into a logistics hub where we will be assisting front line food distribution, first responder staging and the collection of critically needed medical supplies.”

A spokesman said the transition should be in full effect by next week, with more information and details available over the next few days.

Read the full story from reporter Ben Pope.

5:07 p.m. Residential street sweeping, tree trimming and tree removal could end until Chicago wins coronavirus war

Tree trimming and removal, along with street sweeping, may be suspended until the city wins the war on the coronavirus — or at least turns the corner, a top mayoral aide said Wednesday.

The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation could be forced to halt those key housekeeping services, which aldermen and their constituents hold dear, said Streets and Sanitation Commissioner John Tully.

He plans to discuss the potential cutbacks with all 50 aldermen during a conference call on Friday.

He plans to tell the aldermen what he told the Sun-Times on Wednesday: that it’s virtually impossible to continue street sweeping and tree trimming when people are cooped up in their homes, some afraid to leave, and the city has issued orders to suspend ticketing, towing and booting of illegally parked vehicles except when it impacts public safety.

Read the full story from reporter Fran Spielman.

4:47 p.m. Medical examiner confirms five more COVID-19 deaths in Cook County

The Cook County medical examiner’s office on Wednesday announced five more deaths from COVID-19, raising the county’s tally to 13.

The most recent death was 72-year-old Patricia Ciametti of west suburban Burbank, the medical examiner’s office said. Ciametti died March 24 at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn from respiratory failure due to a COVID-19 infection with hypertension as a contributing factor, an autopsy result released Wednesday found.

Read the full story from reporter David Struett.

4:44 p.m. Beck orders new virus protections for Chicago Police officers

Interim Chicago Police Superintendent Charlie Beck on Wednesday made a series of changes to prevent even more officers from contracting the coronavirus, but the steps he took were nowhere near enough to satisfy the police union.

From now on, roll calls will be held in groups of “below 10” and in “areas that create a great opportunity for social distancing,” instead of in cramped roll-call rooms at police stations, Beck said.

“With the mayor’s help, we’ve put up stanchions in our lobbies to keep the public six feet back to provide social distancing for both the protection of the public and protection of the officers working the desk,” Beck said.

Read the full story from reporter Fran Spielman.

2:35 p.m. Three more die from coronavirus in Illinois — and Gov. Pritzker moves state tax filing deadline

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday said he’s heeding the many calls from Illinois residents worried about paying their taxes amid job losses and instability caused by the coronavirus outbreak and will delay next month’s state tax deadline.

Illinois Republicans were also pressuring the Democratic governor for a delay. The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced on Saturday that the federal income tax filing due date will be automatically extended from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020.

Illinois officials also on Wednesday announced the deaths of three more people from the coronavirus. So far, 19 people have died from the outbreak.

An additional 330 cases have been added to the state’s total, bringing the Illinois tally to 1,865 cases in 35 counties. Ages of those afflicted range from an infant to 99 years. Those cases include two correctional officers and one man incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center, as well as a contractual worker at Sheridan Correctional Center, the department said.

Read the full story from reporter Tina Sfondeles.

2:31 p.m. Lightfoot threatens to shut down parks and entire lakefront

People hit the lakefront on Wednesday as temperatures climbed into the 50s.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday made an extraordinary threat — to shut down Chicago parks and the entire lakefront — if residents and visitors continue to thumb their noses at Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Lightfoot instructed Chicago Police officers to shut down large gatherings and threatened to use what she called “every lever at my disposal” to compel compliance.

She was moved to action by the large gatherings that she saw along the lakefront, the crowds at Chicago playgrounds and basketball courts and the warm weather that is luring stir-crazy Chicagoans outside even though they’re supposed to be staying at home.

“Way too many people gathering like it’s just another day. This is not just another day. And no day will be just another day until we are on the other side of this virus, which is weeks away,” the mayor said.

Read the full story from reporter Fran Spielman.

2 p.m. Chicago mother and son stranded in Peru wonder if they’ve been forgotten by their government

Sally Beach and her teenage son, Nick, who live in Old Town, embarked on a lush trip to the Amazon River last week to see pink dolphins and go piranha fishing. Now, they say it’s starting to feel like a prison after the president of Peru closed the country’s borders in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“We never in our wildest guess thought that a country that didn’t have many [coronavirus] cases would have closed its borders,” said Sally Beach, who works as an accountant in the Loop.

Her words tinged with anxiety, Beach said in a phone call Tuesday that she and her son fear they’ve been forgotten by a United States government more concerned with Americans trapped in Peru’s largest city, Lima.

Amid outcry from congressional leaders over the Peru situation, the State Department slammed Peru this week for turning back two repatriation flights for hundreds of U.S. tourists and said it was engaging the country’s government and “advocating vigorously for the return of our citizens.”

For now, mother and son are staying on the ground floor of a small hotel in Iquitos, a city in the northeastern part of the country that’s a gateway to the Amazon. They are sharing a queen-size bed in a room without a view. They were supposed to leave for home Thursday, but Vizcarra’s order means that flight was canceled. They’ve reached out to the U.S. Embassy and to the “local governor in Iquitos,” among others. But so far, they’ve been given no concrete offers of a way out.

Read the full story from reporter Stefano Esposito.

1:25 p.m. Jussie Smollett returns to social media to sing about coronavirus lockdown

For the first time in nearly a year, Smollett posted to his Instagram with a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “A Place In The Sun.”

“Quarantine day 421... Hope y’all are staying safe. Spread love and kindness... not Rona,” Smollett said in the caption. The 421 days in quarantine seems to be a reference to his ongoing legal troubles dating back to his alleged racist attack in Chicago, which happened 421 days ago.

Smollett awaits trial after being indicted by a special prosecutor earlier this year for allegedly faking the 2019 attack. He pleaded not guilty in a Chicago courthouse last month.

— Satchel Price

12:57 p.m. Four more hotels agree to rent rooms to ease strain on Chicago hospitals during pandemic

Four more Chicago hotels have agreed to rent rooms to isolate patients who test positive for the coronavirus or have been exposed to someone who has.

Hotel Cass, Hotel Essex, Hotel Felix and Hotel Julian will join Hotel 166 in providing the network of hotel rooms tailor-made to ease the strain on overburdened hospitals. All of those hotels are owned by Oxford Capital Group LLC.

Three meals a day will be provided to all guests.

— Fran Spielman

12:34 p.m. Durbin, Duckworth join Pritzker in urging Trump issue Illinois coronavirus disaster declaration

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are bolstering Gov. J.B Pritzker’s request to President Trump for an Illinois disaster declaration.
Sun-Times Media

Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth on Wednesday bolstered Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s request for a federal disaster declaration in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Illinois has requested assistance for all 102 counties in the state. The federal declaration would give Illinois access to more federal benefits.

The Democratic senators said in a letter to President Donald Trump, “Pritzker has indicated that this pandemic is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and local governments. The pandemic has required extreme response efforts from the State, and federal assistance will be necessary to ensure the well-being of Illinoisans. This disaster has placed an unprecedented economic burden on not only communities across the State, but families and individuals.”

Trump has approved declarations for California, New York and Washington state.

— Lynn Sweet

11:18 a.m. City Hall receiving nearly 10x more price gouging complaints this month

Single rolls of toilet paper were marked up to $4.99 each at a North Side gas station Sunday. A national retailer was selling packages of four rolls for $5.49 online. Andy Boyle / Sun-Times

City Hall reports that the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection has fielded 190 price gouging complaints this month, up from only two complaints during the same period last year.

Not surprisingly, most are for household or health items such as toilet paper, tissues and hand sanitizer. Some are related to food and drink, presumably bottled water. BACP evaluates each complaint based on relevant factors, such as prices prior to the Illinois Disaster Declaration and prices at nearby stores, and will impose fines of up to $10,000 per offense.

Earlier this week, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said price gouging complaints had also ballooned statewide in March.

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.

Fran Spielman

10:16 a.m. ‘Virtual races’ let runners compete in 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons remotely

Although orders to stay at home and self-quarantine have Chicagoans spending a majority of their time inside their homes, Gov. J.B. Pritzker asserted when issuing the state’s “shelter-in-place” order that people “can still go outside and enjoy the outdoors” — and experts say getting some fresh air and sunshine can be essential for our mental health.

That’s good news for joggers: but Pritzker also urged Illinoisans to practice social distancing while outside, which rules out the competitive races that many runners train for.

Some race organizers are compromising with “virtual runs.”

All Community Events, a Lake Zurich-based event company that organizes dozens of races each year in the Chicago area, has three “virtual runs” scheduled during Illinois’ shelter-in-place order, including “The Social Distancing Champion’s Running Challenge,” which will donate 25% of each registration fee to a food bank of the participant’s choosing.

Runners can register online for a 5K, 10K or half marathon race that they complete wherever they like within a set timeframe. Then, they upload their results, which will be added to an online leaderboard. T-shirts and medals will be mailed out to participants.

“Our Virtual Runs give everyone an outlet to feel camaraderie, a sense of accomplishment, and to support charities. It’s a great alternative to being cooped up,” said Peter Starykowicz, president of All Community Events.

They also help the events company keep its 12-person staff on the payroll, Starykowicz said.

Lizzie Schiffman Tufano

9:12 a.m. Good news for gig workers seeking unemployment benefits

The Senate agreed on a bipartisan coronavirus stimulus package early Wednesday morning. There still has to be a vote on H.R. 748, the legislative vehicle for the “CARES Act – Coronavirus Phase III.” A vote could be as early as this afternoon.

Key points:

  • The maximum unemployment benefit would be increased by $600 per week
  • Laid-off workers, on average, would receive their full pay for four months.
  • All workers would be protected, including the self-employed and workers in the gig economy

Lynn Sweet breaks down the highlights in the stimulus package.

7:22 a.m. Grocery stores schedule special shopping hours for seniors

Following recommendations to avoid large crowds and stay 6 feet away from strangers while in public can help reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, but these guidelines can be difficult to follow on routine shopping trips.

To help provide at-risk seniors with a safer shopping option, grocery chains across Chicago are implementing senior shopping hours: during this time, stores are asking low-risk Chicagoans — people who are young and healthy, are not immunocompromised or don’t have preexisting conditions — to avoid their shops to keep aisles and checkout lines less crowded.

Senior shopping hours at Chicago chains include:

  • Cermak Produce, every day, 7-8 a.m.
  • Jewel Osco, Tuesdays & Thursdays, 7-9 a.m.
  • Mariano’s, every day, 6-8 a.m.
  • Trader Joe’s, Mondays, 9-10 a.m.
  • Walgreens, Tuesdays, 8-9 a.m.
  • Target, Wednesdays for the first hour
  • Dollar General, every day for the first hour
  • Whole Foods, every day, one hour before stores open
  • Costco, Tuesdays & Thursdays, 8-9 a.m.
  • Food 4 Less, Tuesdays & Fridays, 7:30-8 a.m.

Read the full story here.

6:40 a.m. Prince Charles tests positive for new coronavirus

Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has tested positive for the new coronavirus, his office said Wednesday.

The 71-year-old is showing mild symptoms of COVID-19 and is self-isolating at a royal estate in Scotland, his Clarence House office said.

It says his wife Camilla, 72, has tested negative.

“The Prince of Wales has tested positive for Coronavirus,’’ Clarence House said. “He has been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health and has been working from home throughout the last few days as usual.’’

Read the full story here.

9:25 p.m. NFL tells team offices to close for 2 weeks

Due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a memo Tuesday telling teams their facilities must close for at least two weeks as of 6 p.m. Wednesday. Teams can conduct normal business during that period, NFL Network reported.

Read the full report by Bears reporter Patrick Finley here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

8:32 p.m. Please, now more than ever, keep the lakefront and parks ‘forever open, clear and free’

Over the past two weeks of working from home, I’ve developed a routine of sorts.

As soon as I mentally clock out for the day, I change into some sweats, throw on a few extra layers and head to the park for some exercise.

I’m lucky enough to live along the lake near Montrose, so it’s just a few minutes out my door to Cricket Hill, the handy sledding hill at the entrance to Montrose Harbor and the beach.

I jog up the hill as many times as I can. Made it to 15 the other night. Then I take a solitary stroll along the beach and through the dunes before returning home. By the time I get back, I’m very mellow, especially on nights when that cold wind is whipping off the lake.

I’ve found it to be the perfect antidote to the stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 crisis.

So you can imagine my reaction to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s threat Wednesday to close the city’s parks in response to the crowds that have started to return to the lakefront in the past two days — many of them ignoring the safe social distancing practices on which our health may depend.

Read more of Mark Brown’s column here.

5:38 p.m. Trump’s daily briefings prove he’s uniquely incompetent to handle coronavirus

During a recent spate of cynicism, I made a prediction to friends: Before this thing is over, Trumpists will be calling COVID-19 God’s will. So let’s get back to work, save the stock market and let the disease sort them out. There are more than 300 million individuals in the United States. Surely we can spare a few million old-timers who were going to die anyway.

But you almost can’t get cynical enough. Before the day was out, Boss Trump was hinting that maybe the time had come to kiss Grandpa goodbye: “America will again and soon be open for business — very soon,” he said during the daily performance of the Mighty Coronavirus Art Players. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

Interviewed on (where else?) Fox News, the lieutenant governor of Texas suggested that grandparents should be willing to die to protect the economy for their grandchildren.

Let their headstones read: “They gave their all for the GDP.”

Read the full commentary from Gene Lyons.

3:30 p.m. Nature can help restore us as we deal with coronavirus

As a society, we are experiencing a period of unprecedented stress and uncertainty. But nature can be a guide to us at this time, providing a model of cooperation, a place to heal, and ways to connect, even at the recommended distance.

In nature, cooperation abounds.

As author Peter Wohlleben, of “The Hidden Life of Trees” explored, “[trees] send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.” While social distancing feels like a sacrifice now, the stay at home order has saved countless lives, from high-risk populations to medical and service professionals. Altering our behavior at this critical time, just as nature does in the face of challenges, is community resilience in action.

Even at a safe distance, nature heals.

Read the full commentary from Jerry Adelmann, president & CEO of Openlands, a conservation organization in the Chicago area.

2:48 p.m. Make the post-coronavirus world better

As the COVID-19 virus spreads, we are worried and anxious. Many of us are angry at leaders stumbling to protect us during the crisis. It’s healthy and important to convert emotion into action right now.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, his staff, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and legislative leaders have done a phenomenal job of leading us through this crisis in the vacuum of leadership at the federal executive branch. They’ve been right to prioritize our health and safety. As an individual, you can make a difference by staying home, washing your hands and not flushing wet wipes, which clog pipes — the last thing we need right now is clogged sewer systems. Call your friends, family and neighbors to make sure they are doing OK.

It is right to focus on these immediate steps. We must also be vigilant as decision-makers look to dedicate trillions of public dollars to relief packages. Environmental advocates must shift our priorities to make sure these plans are focused on helping the most vulnerable.

Read the full commentary from Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council.

6:49 a.m. Saving the economy is secondary to saving lives during a pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed many issues state lawmakers are facing to the back burner. The price of electricity shouldn’t be one of them.

That’s why we’re sounding this alarm that power bills for northern Illinois ratepayers will shoot up soon if the Legislature doesn’t act.

Last week, a company named PJM, which coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia, filed a so-called compliance plan under a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order. The plan would have devastating consequences for Illinois consumers.

If nothing is done, power bills will soar for ratepayers, job opportunities will be lost and the environment will suffer enormous harm.

The Legislature can prevent that, though, by enacting legislation along the lines of the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act. But it has to get the job done before the end of the current legislative session, and this is a complicated bill that has a lot of working parts.

Read the full editorial here.