Coronavirus live blog, April 11, 2020: Students wonder when they can return to school during Gov. Pritzker’s live-streamed town hall for youth

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, April 11, 2020: Students wonder when they can return to school during Gov. Pritzker’s live-streamed town hall for youth
Gov. J.B. Pritzker answered children’s questions about the coronavirus during a youth town hall that was live-streamed on Saturday.

Facebook Screenshot

It was a busy day for Gov. J.B. Pritzker. He announced 81 more people died in the state, a new mental health hotline and then he reassured young people in a virtual town hall meeting.

Here’s what happened in the fight against the coronavirus in Chicago and around the state.

News

8:27 p.m. Students wonder when they can return to school during Gov. Pritzker’s live-streamed town hall for youth

Xandra Torres, a 16-year-old student at Phoenix Military Academy on the Near West Side, said “life has been hard” sinceIllinois’ stay-at-home order began three weeks ago to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Torres, a member of the Teen Health Council at MIKVA Challenge, a youth civic engagement organization, shared her concerns directly with Gov. J.B. Pritzker Saturday evening during a live-streamed town hall in which she asked youth-submitted questions of Pritzker and Dr. Colleen Cicchetti of Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Torres said she’s been trying to help out her family during the challenging time, while also continuing school through e-learning, but she hasn’t been able to take her ACT or SAT exams because of the coronavirus-related shutdowns.

“I feel stressed about my future, and it’s been hard to balance everything,”Torres said.

Pritzker told the 16-year-old it’s “going to take a while” before things return to normal, but he assured her that “it’s OK to feel sad.”

Read the full story by Jacob Wittich.

7:17 p.m. 4 residents of Elevate Care nursing home in West Rogers Park dead of coronavirus

Four residents of a West Rogers Park nursing home have died of coronavirus-related causes, Cook County data shows.

A 64-year-old woman and 87-year-old man both died Wednesday of pneumonia due to COVID-19 infections, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

The next day, two women, 58 and 81 years old, died of sepsis due to COVID-19 infections, the medical examiner’s office said.

All four were residents at Elevate Care Chicago North, located at 2451 W. Touhy Ave., and had underlying health conditions, officials said.

Read the full story by Sam Kelly.

6:34 p.m. Pritzker rolls out mental health hotline as Illinois coronavirus case tally tops 19,000

Illinois health officials announced 81 more deaths and 1,293 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, raising the statewide death toll to 677 and the case tally to 19,180.

The wave of deaths marked the second highest surge since the pandemic began. Officials announced 82 deaths Wednesday.

The virus has now been reported in 86 of the state’s 102 counties. Nearly 93,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Illinois, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said “we are not where we need to be” yet in terms of testing availability.

He has, however, expressed cautious optimism that the state could be approaching the peak of the pandemic and “bending the curve” to keep the state’s 211 hospitals within their patient capacity.

Read the complete story by Jacob Wittich.

4:50 p.m. Machinist becomes first CTA employee to die of coronavirus

A worker at the CTA’s Skokie maintenance facility became the transit agency’s first employee to die of the coronavirus, officials announced Saturday.

Antonio Martinez, a machinist at the Skokie Shops heavy maintenance facility, died of causes related to COVID-19, according to a statement from the CTA.

Read full story by Sam Kelly.

3:14 p.m. 81 more die of coronavirus in Illinois as statewide case tally tops 19,000 cases

Illinois health officials announced 81 more deaths and 1,293 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, raising the statewide death toll to 677 and the case tally to 19,180.

The wave of deaths marked the second highest surge since the pandemic began. Officials announced 82 deaths Wednesday.

The virus has now been reported in 86 of the state’s 102 counties. Nearly 93,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Illinois, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said “we are not where we need to be” yet in terms of testing availability.

He has, however, expressed cautious optimism that the state could be approaching the peak of the pandemic and “bending the curve” to keep the state’s 211 hospitals within their patient capacity.

Read the full report from Jake Wittich and Mitchell Armentrout here.

2:30 p.m. 2nd CPD officer to die of COVID-19 wanted his death ‘to serve as a warning,’ Lightfoot says

Two days after the funeral of the first Chicago police officer to die of the coronavirus, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and and interim Supt. Charlie Beck on Saturday remembered the department’s second fatal COVID-19 victim as “a Chicagoan through and through.”

Sgt. Cliff Martin had a decorated 25-year career in the department, most recently in the Area Central detectives division, before coming down with the virus last month.

“Our hearts go out to Sgt. Martin’s wife and his three children who are now grieving over the unimaginable loss of a husband and father who was taken from them so suddenly by this terrible disease,” Lightfoot said at a news conference.

The mayor said Martin’s widow relayed that he “would want his death to serve as a warning to civilians that they must stay home.”

“Our first responders are making daily sacrifices to protect the lives of others... Don’t make their sacrifices be in vain. Stay home and save lives,” Lightfoot said.

Read the full report from Mitchell Armentrout here.

2:02 p.m. Watch: Smokestack imploded despite activists’ pleas, blanketing Little Village in dust cloud

It’s been almost a decade since the former Crawford Power Generating Station quit belching smoke across Little Village.

But the shuttered 95-year-old coal plant harkened back to its polluting days Saturday morning during the latest stage of its demolition, with an implosion that sent clouds of dust particles cascading through the Southwest Side neighborhood.

But for environmental activists who fought for years to see the Crawford station shut down under previous ownership, the latest plume was as scary as any other churned out by the plant over the years — but especially now, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re dealing with insurmountable odds for those people in our neighborhood who do get sick,” said Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. “When you add to that a lack of health insurance for people who have lost their jobs [due to the statewide shutdown], for those who’ve lost their income and can’t go to the doctor — now you have to tell them to worry about all kinds of heavy elements that could be coming through their window?

“For Hilco to prioritize demolition now, much less on Easter weekend, and for the city to feel like that’s OK, is another slap in the face to our neighborhood,” said Wasserman, who was notified about the planned implosion late Thursday.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) and the city issued an alert to residents the day before the blast, saying “the health and safety of workers and the local community is prioritized.” They highlighted “extensive dust control and mitigation efforts during and after implosion, including a variety of irrigation techniques such as water trucks, water cannons and direct transmission nebulization systems.”

Read the full report by Mitch Armentrout here.

1:42 p.m. UPDATE: US death toll overtakes Italy’s as the Midwest braces

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus eclipsed Italy’s for the highest in the world Saturday at more than 19,700, as Chicago and other cities across the Midwest braced for a potential surge in victims and moved to snuff out smoldering hot spots of contagion before they erupt.

With the New York area still deep in crisis, fear mounted over the spread of the scourge into the nation’s heartland.

Twenty-four residents of an Indiana nursing home hit by COVID-19 have died, while a nursing home in Iowa saw 14 deaths. Chicago’s Cook County has set up a temporary morgue that can take more than 2,000 bodies. And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been going around telling groups of people to “break it up.”

Around the world, meanwhile, European countries used roadblocks, drones, helicopters, mounted patrols and the threat of fines to keep people from traveling over Easter weekend. And with infections and deaths slowing in Italy, Spain and other places on the Continent, governments took tentative steps toward loosening the weeks-long shutdowns.

Read the full report here.

1:04 p.m. Coronavirus sends Holocaust survivors behind doors, back in time

OAK PARK, Ill. — For Olga Weiss, the order to stay at home is about much more than simply locking her door to the coronavirus. It has awakened fears from decades ago when she and her parents hid inside for two years from Nazis hunting down Jews in Belgium.

“It is almost an echo of when we were young, when we were children, the same feeling of not knowing what will happen next,” said Weiss, 83. “We aren’t thinking about the virus; we are thinking of what happened to us” back then.

Close to 400,000 survivors of the Holocaust are believed to be alive worldwide, and for many elderly Jews the coronavirus pandemic has dredged up feelings of fear, uncertainty and helplessness not felt since they were children during that dark period.

While the fast-spreading virus has caused fear and the reliving of trauma for many in the general public, Yael Danieli, a psychologist and director of the Group Project for Holocaust Survivors and their Children, said the emotional toll can be particularly acute for survivors of the Nazi genocide.

“They are not living though this — they are reliving it,” Danieli said.

Read the full story here.

11:33 a.m. US coronavirus death toll closes in on Italy’s as the Midwest braces

The U.S. moved closer to overtaking Italy for the highest death toll in the world from the coronavirus Saturday as Chicago and other cities across the Midwest braced for a potential surge in victims and moved to snuff out smoldering hot spots of contagion before they erupt.

With the New York metropolitan swamped with cases, fear mounted over the spread of the virus into the nation’s heartland. Twenty-four residents of an Indiana nursing home hit by COVID-19 have died. Chicago’s Cook County has set up a temporary morgue that can take more than 2,000 bodies. And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been going around telling groups of people to “break it up.”

Around the world, meanwhile, European countries used roadblocks, drones, helicopters, mounted patrols and the threat of fines to keep people from traveling over Easter weekend. And with infections leveling off in Italy, Spain and other places on the Continent, governments took tentative steps toward loosening the weeks-long shutdowns of much of public life.

Glorious weather across Europe posed an extra test of people’s discipline.

“Don’t do silly things,” said Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s special commissioner for the virus emergency. “Don’t go out, continue to behave responsibly as you have done until today, use your head and your sense of responsibility.”

Read the full report here.

10:34 a.m. Jussie Smollett donating $5,000 for face masks in Cook County

Jussie Smollettis back.

But not in Chicago.

Sneed has learned the former “Empire” actor is donating $5,000 to purchase 3,000 face masks for the Cook County Health Foundation — the hospital’s charitable arm — to battle Chicago’s COVID-19 pandemic.

Smollett is also in the process of enlisting friends to up the ante and is sending 1,000 PPE (personal protective equipment) masks to Harlem Hospital in New York.

“I lived in Chicago for five years and know many essential workers driving buses, working in child care, or working in grocery stores — are black,” stated Smollett via a written statement to Sneed.

“I’m also aware 70% of the city’s residents who died from COVID-19 in Chicago are black,” added Smollett, who returned to Chicago in late February to once again enter a plea of not guilty on disorderly conduct charges for allegedly staging a hate crime attack in January 2019.

Get the full scoop from Mike Sneed here.

9:58 a.m. Crime drops around the world as COVID-19 keeps people inside

The coronavirus pandemic that has crippled big-box retailers and mom and pop shops worldwide may be making a dent in illicit business, too.

In Chicago, one of America’s most violent cities, drug arrests have plummeted 42% in the weeks since the city shut down, compared with the same period last year. Part of that decrease, some criminal lawyers say, is that drug dealers have no choice but to wait out the economic slump.

“The feedback I’m getting is that they aren’t able to move, to sell anything anywhere,” said Joseph Lopez, a criminal lawyer in Chicago who represents reputed drug dealers.

Overall, Chicago’s crime declined 10% after the pandemic struck, a trend playing out globally as cities report stunning crime drops in the weeks since measures were put into place to slow the spread of the virus. Even among regions that have the highest levels of violence outside a war zone, fewer people are being killed and fewer robberies are taking place.

Still, law enforcement officials worry about a surge of unreported domestic violence, and what happens when restrictions lift — or go on too long.

Read the full report here.

9:30 a.m. In sickness, as in health, Shirley Williams has Hall of Famer husband of 60 years at her side

Cubs great Billy Williams urges all of us to stay home if we can. That’s what he’s doing — with a heavy heart — as he cares for a wife who’s experiencing late-stage dementia.

At home in Glen Ellyn, Williams, 81, cares for Shirley the best he can. Fortunately, he has lots of help. Nurses rotate in daily, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the couple’s four daughters — all live nearby in Wheaton or just a bit farther away in Naperville — take turns swinging by at night to tuck their mom in.

Even in these unsafe times, Dad needs a little attention once in a while, too.

“They’re good girls,” Williams said. “We’re lucky to have them.”

Physically, Williams is hanging in there all right. Mask on, he walks the streets of his neighborhood. He uses a treadmill and stationary bike at home, too.

“I’m doing pretty good,” he said. “I hope. Because this virus is something, man.”

Shirley isn’t the only girl in his life about whom he frets these days. There’s also a granddaughter, Nicolette, an intensive-care nurse at a hospital in Palo Alto, California, who’s on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.

“I really worry about her,” Williams said. “I worry so much. They say they have all the equipment and stuff. I ask, ‘Do they really? Can they interact with the ones who have the disease?’ I just don’t want anything to happen to her.”

Read the full story by Steve Greenberg here.

9:00 a.m. As COVID-19 spreads, CPD officers on desk duty call in sick most

Over a 10-day period late last month, as the COVID-19 outbreak was taking hold, Chicago Police officers called in sick more than 5,300 times.

Data obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times through a Freedom of Information Act request show that officers assigned to a unit that has little-to-no face-to-face interaction with the public called off work more than any other group of officers between March 16 and March 25.

Those officers are assigned to the CPD’s Alternate Response Section, which typically works out of a city-owned facility at 2111 W. Lexington St. — sharing a building with the city’s Department of Public Health. Officers assigned to ARS answer phone calls from members of the public who want to report a non-emergency criminal act, such as a vehicle break-in.

The section is staffed by officers “on permanent light-duty awaiting reassignment as well as those officers who have been stripped of their police powers,” said Luis Agostini, a CPD spokesman.

Read the full report from Sam Charles here.

8:30 a.m. Gun shops see COVID-19 business boom: ‘This is a very different panic than we have seen in the past’

SPRINGFIELD — Illinoisans tried to buy an unprecedented number of guns in March – nearly twice as many as the month before – and the state’s leading firearm owners advocacy group says it was all fueled by fears of “social unrest” during the coronavirus crisis.

Illinois State Police reported 60,332 inquiries about firearm purchases in March – the largest number in a single month since they began keeping records in 1992. And nearly 87% of those inquiries from gun dealers came in the final two weeks of March when the state was under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.

Illinois State Police declined to speculate on a reason for what the agency described as “an unprecedented number of Firearms Transfer Inquiries,” but the Illinois State Rifle Association pointed squarely at the coronavirus pandemic.

“When there is a chance for social unrest … people want to be able to protect themselves because they really don’t trust the government to protect them,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.

Read the full report from Neal Earley here.

8:00 a.m. New York area walloped as global coronavirus deaths pass 100,000

NEW YORK — The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus surged past 100,000 Friday as the epidemic in the U.S. cut a widening swath through not just New York City but the entire three-state metropolitan area of 20 million people connected by a tangle of subways, trains and buses.

In the bedroom communities across the Hudson River in New Jersey, to the east on Long Island and north to Connecticut, officials were recording some of the worst outbreaks in the country, even as public health authorities expressed optimism that the pace of infections appeared to be slowing.

As of Friday, the New York metropolitan area accounted for more than half the nation’s over 18,500 deaths, with other hot spots in places such as Detroit, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.

“Once it gets into the city, there are so many commuters and travel, it gets everywhere,” said Matt Mazewski, a Columbia University economics student who tried to get away from the epicenter by leaving his apartment near the New York City campus for his parents’ house in Long Valley, New Jersey.

Confirmed infections reached about 1.7 million worldwide, while they surpassed half a million in the U.S., according to a Johns Hopkins University count.

The U.S. is on track to overtake Italy as the country with the highest number of dead, though the true figures on infections and lives lost around the world are believed be much higher because of limited testing, government cover-ups and different counting practices.

Read the full report here.

7:15 a.m. Longtime 911 operator dies of COVID-19

A longtime Chicago 911 operator died from complications of the coronavirus last month.

Rusell Modjeski, 60, was pronounced dead about 7:15 a.m. March 29, the medical examiner’s office said. Officials announced Friday that he died of COVID-19 infection with diabetes and hypertension as contributing factors.

“An all-around good person and friend to many, Russ will be missed,” the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications wrote in a tweet Friday. “Our sympathies go out to his family, friends and co-workers.”

He worked for the office for more than 20 years, according to an OEMC Facebook post.

Read the full report here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

11:09 a.m. Stop the spread of COVID-19? Gov. Pritzker, there’s an app for that

Ramesh Raskar has a plan with a reasonable chance of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone in Illinois can help make it happen. But Gov. J.B. Pritzker needs to make a call first.

Raskar, a former Google and Facebook technologist who holds nearly 100 patents, heads a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that has developed a digital contact tracing app called PrivateKit: SafePaths. It’s available free from the iPhone and Android app stores.

Contact tracing is essential to stopping COVID-19. It’s one of what Pritzker calls the “three T’s” — testing, tracing and treatment. The head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we need to do it.

Traditional contact tracing is slow and tedious. When someone tests positive for a dangerous virus, you find out everyone they’ve been in contact with for as long as they’ve been contagious — in COVID-19’s case, at least 14 days.

Then, you track down those people, test them, quarantine the infected ones and trace their contacts. Once everyone with the disease has been identified and isolated, the pandemic stops.

Read Ed Zotti’s full column here.

7:28 a.m. For young people of color, the coronavirus is a triple whammy with poverty and violence

For decades, people of color have lived at the tip of the sword of health disparities.

Now in Chicago, residents of the city’s South and West Sides are catching and dying of COVID-19 at higher rates.

Seventy-two percent of those who have died of COVID-19 in Chicago were black, and more than half of those who had tested positive are black, according to the most recent city data.

The daily stresses of surviving are elevated by COVID-19. Its emotional toll can be as dangerous as the disease. You can’t save your body without a sound mind.

On Thursday, young Chicagoans gathered for a virtual town hall to dissect the triple whammy of violence, poverty and morbidity that plagues their communities. It’s a plague they have been living with far beyond their years.

Read Laura Washington’s full column here.

The Latest
The Chicago Botanic Garden, marking its 50th anniversary with outdoor art, strives to delight, preserve and teach.
The area’s top 10 pass catchers include a Notre Dame commit, the Public League’s top prospect and four Big Ten recruits.
The Lyte Lounge in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood wants to be a beacon for young people struggling with homelessness. Visitors can grab a meal, find community and feel at home.
The man, 32, was arguing with someone about 3:30 a.m. in the 1100 block of North Ridgeway Avenue when he was shot multiple times, Chicago police said.
He was driving in the 4300 block of South Western Boulevard when he heard gunshots and felt pain, police said.