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Latest coronavirus news for April 19, 2020

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

The Latest

Illinois reports 33 more COVID-19 deaths as case total surpasses 30K

Gov. J.B. Pritzker Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file photo

Illinois health officials announced another 33 deaths and 1,197 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 30,357.

In total, 1,290 people have died of the coronavirus in Illinois since the pandemic first hit. The virus has now been reported in 93 of the state’s 102 counties.

Illinois also ran at least 5,914 COVID-19 tests on Saturday, officials said. In all, more than 142,000 have been tested for the virus.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker also announced that an airlift of PPE is scheduled to arrive in Illinois on Monday.

The protective equipment will be taken to state warehouses, where they’ll be inspected before being shipped out to first responders and health care professionals, Pritzker said.

“That’s the landscape we’re operating in,” Pritzker said. “Competing with other states, countries and even the federal government for supplies.”

Read the full report from Jake Wittich here.


News

7:10 p.m. Public health expert: ‘Marshall Plan’ needed to redress coronavirus race disparities

The coronavirus pandemic has turned a light on long accepted inequities like the segregation that has created pockets of poverty and violence on Chicago’s South and West sides, requiring nothing short of a “Marshall Plan” to redress them, according to a leading public health expert.

“Many Americans are shocked by the data emerging from multiple cities showing the disproportionate over-representation of African Americans — and in some cities Latinos as well — in terms of COVID-19 mortality,” lauded social scientist David R. Williams of Harvard University said Wednesday in a teleconference by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the country’s largest public health philanthropy.

“The striking disparities we are seeing are not the fault of individuals, families and communities that are experiencing them. Instead, they reflect longstanding policies that have created pervasive social and economic inequalities in the United States,” Williams said. On Sunday, the U.S. surpassed 750,000 coronavirus cases; topping 40,000 deaths.

“The coronavirus is a call to action. It gives us a chance to make a commitment to do better than we have done in the past. Call it a ‘Marshall Plan’ for disadvantaged communities.”

Racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality were first highlighted by officials in Illinois and Chicago. The alarm then sounded nationwide.

By Sunday, Illinois had just over 30,000 cases, and 1290 deaths. While only 15% of the population, African Americans represent about 40% of those deaths.

Read the full story from columnist Maudlyne Ihejirika.

6:15 p.m. Coronavirus cases rising at Chicago’s federal high-rise jail

For weeks, Chicago’s downtown federal high-rise jail appeared to be keeping the coronavirus at bay.

Only a handful of staff members at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on West Van Buren had tested positive for the coronavirus since the outbreak began, according to official numbers. And no reports emerged of detainees with the virus — until Tuesday.

Now, for the first time, the coronavirus appears to be spreading among the MCC’s more than 600 inmates. Though the number of confirmed cases there remains low, the virus has been known to spread rapidly, and numbers tracked by the Chicago Sun-Times have risen quickly.

The numbers were gathered from court filings by prosecutors and local defense attorneys, as well as from an MCC union official. Those on-the-ground sources have largely been in agreement, and they have reported higher numbers of positive cases than the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

For example, MCC union leader Kevin Lasley said 12 inmates and 14 staff members had tested positive for the virus as of Friday afternoon. Around the same time, the BOP said 10 inmates and 11 staff members had tested positive. It didn’t report Lasley’s numbers until Sunday. By then, prosecutors said the number of staff cases had risen to 15.

Read the full story from reporter Jon Seidel.

3:44 p.m. Pritzker ‘frustrated’ by numbers of COVID-19 cases, deaths in Illinois nursing homes

Facing pressure to disclose the extent to which the coronavirus has spread through Illinois’ nursing homes, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office released new figures Sunday showing that 1,860 residents and staff members at long-term care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19, and 286 of them have died.

Deaths tied to nursing homes across 21 counties now account for just under one-fourth of Illinois’ 1,290 fatalities related to COVID-19.

The state’s first attempt at disclosing the toll was flawed, and a landing page launched this weekend to detail the cases and death totals at long-term care facilities was briefly taken down on Sunday. When a revamped page went live hours later, the listed numbers didn’t match the figures that were initially reported.

“There was a definitional error in yesterday’s data which led to some cases being counted twice,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said.

Those living in nursing homes are at a higher risk of infection and can experience more severe symptoms because many have pre-existing medical conditions. Some of the largest clusters of COVID-19 cases across the country have happened at retirement communities and other long-term care facilities, including a nursing home in Joliet where more than 20 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported.

Read the full report from Sun-Times reporter Tom Schuba here.

2:07 p.m. Northern Illinois mayors ask governor to allow reopening

Five northern Illinois mayors have asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker for the authority to reopen businesses next month, urging local control over restrictions and “common sense modifications” to a statewide stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pritzker has said he’s continually evaluating an extension of the order, which expires April 30, as other states have done.

The Winnebago County leaders — of communities ranging in population from roughly 1,300 to 23,000 people — said in a Friday letter to Pritzker that thousands of employees, including in the restaurant, fitness and salon industries are being unnecessarily harmed because they’re not considered essential workers, according to the Rockford Register Star. They said the need for financial aid has exceeded resources.

Read the full report here.

1:21 p.m. Evolving aid package offers billions for hospitals, testing

The Trump administration and Congress are nearing an agreement as early as Sunday on an aid package of up to $450 billion to boost a small-business loan program that has run out of money and add funds for hospitals and COVID-19 testing.

With small-business owners reeling during a coronavirus outbreak that has shuttered much economic activity, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he was hopeful of a deal that could pass Congress quickly and get the Small Business Administration program back up by midweek.

“I think we’re very close to a deal today. I’m hopeful that we can get that done,” he said.

Under the proposed deal, the government’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses would get roughly $300 billion, according to Mnuchin. The program has been swamped by businesses applying for loans and reached its appropriations limit last Thursday after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help. An additional $50 billion in the evolving deal would go for disaster loans.

About $75 billion would go to U.S. hospitals, for those straining under a ballooning coronavirus caseload as well as those struggling to stay financially afloat after suspending elective surgeries during the pandemic. About $25 billion would be added for COVID-19 testing, something states have said was urgently needed. The money for hospitals and testing were priorities sought by congressional Democrats.

But additional aid to state and local governments would be left out, Mnuchin said.

Read the full report here.

12:05 p.m. These Chicagoans know what it’s like to face coronavirus and survive

From left: Michael Rubin, 19, Paul Richard, 69, and Shannon Failla, 31, all survivors of the coronavirus. Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

They were among the unwilling pioneers of a disease that has sickened thousands in Illinois alone.

Stricken in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic’s spread through the United States, they knew they might experience little more than a sore throat and fever — or end up in a hospital on a ventilator or die.

“Oh, brother, you better believe I was scared,” one survivor said. “I didn’t know what was going on. It was like I was in a daze.”

But now, they know what it’s like to have faced COVID-19 and emerged. They are survivors. Sun-Times reporter Stefano Esposito shares some of their stories.

11:45 a.m. Suburban high school student’s death likely due to coronavirus: superintendent

A northwest suburban high school student in District 214 has died, likely of COVID-19, and at least one other student is in the ICU due to the virus, Superintendent David Schuler announced Saturday.

The student died last week “likely due to complications related to COVID-19,” Schuler wrote in an update to families.

“While we may be seeing a plateau in confirmed cases and deaths related to COVID-19 in Illinois, this is a dark week in District 214 that leaves me with an incredibly heavy heart,” the statement continues.

“We will continue to move forward to see the sunrise again one day; however, this week in our District is marked by pain and sadness. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with these families and all members of our District’s school community during this global pandemic.”

Read the full report from Sun-Times’ reporter Carly Behm here.

9:26 a.m. Medical students in Illinois graduate early amid coronavirus pandemic

The University of Illinois has allowed medical students to graduate early as the pressing need for healthcare workers has increased amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Graduates could start their residency programs early, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“When we saw the way the pandemic was affecting the nation, we asked how we could provide physicians to the workforce as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Mark Rosenblatt, executive dean of the college. “And when you look at the type of students we have and why they went to med school in the first place, it’s to help people.”

Earlier this month, Shivam Vedak marked his early graduation from the College of Medicine on a Zoom call. He and a cohort of the 191 graduates pledged to dedicate their lives to the service of humanity.

“I’ve never felt so validated in my decision to become a physician,” Vedak said.

Read the full story here.

8:15 a.m. Rev. Jesse Jackson pens 2nd letter to Trump urging coronavirus testing for all incarcerated people

The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined other black pastors and leaders as part of a national coalition Saturday to pen an open letter to President Donald Trump, urging him to test all 2.2 million people for COVID-19 that are incarcerated in the country during the pandemic, and asking the president to consider releasing people arrested on nonviolent offenses as they await trial.

“In prison, there are too many people in proximity to each other who do not have the option of social distancing and there are literally millions of persons incarcerated who were arrested, but not convicted, who are languishing in prison awaiting trial,” Jackson wrote in the letter.

The coalition, led by the Rev. Frederick D. Haynes II, senior pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church in Dallas, said the actions were aimed at reducing the country’s prison population to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“They are a captive audience and should not be devoured by the virus should someone in prison have it and spread it,” Jackson says in the letter.

Read the full story from Sun-Times’ reporter Jake Wittich here.

7:22 a.m. ICYMI: Celebrities offer hope, thank coronavirus front-line workers in COVID-19 event

Lady Gaga urged people weathering the coronavirus pandemic to find a way to smile through the pain, while Stevie Wonder encouraged viewers to lean on one another as the superstars kicked off Saturday’s all-star event aimed at fighting the coronavirus and celebrating health care workers on the front lines.

The two-hour TV special “One World: Together At Home,” curated by Gaga, was the second part of an eight-hour event supporting the World Health Organization alongside advocacy organization Global Citizen.

“I care so much about the medical workers that are putting their lives at risk for us,” said Gaga, who performed Nat King Cole’s version of the song “Smile.”

Wonder performed “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers — who died on March 30 — while playing piano. He told viewers: “During hardships like this we have to lean on each other for help.”

Paul McCartney sang the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” and talked about the work his mother did as a nurse, while photos of health care workers were shown on the screen.

Get the full recap of Saturday’s event here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

5 p.m. Lightfoot’s stern coronavirus message to stay home is exactly what city needs

Grumpy. Gruff. Stern. Steely. Unrelenting.

All these adjectives aptly describe Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

She may not be someone you’d invite for a drink, even in these lonely pandemic times.

That’s a very good thing.

Like her predecessor, Lightfoot brings a tough, take-no-prisoners style. Unlike her predecessor, she doesn’t pretend to be soft and fuzzy.

She is pushing her citywide order with a stern, steely, unrelenting message: “Stay home. Save lives.”

This grumpy messenger is just what the doctor ordered, an antidote for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since Lightfoot was elected a year ago, she has repeatedly shown she does not play.

Read the full column from Laura Washington.

10:50 a.m. Senate President Don Harmon’s foolish pitch to Washington can only hurt Illinois

For weeks now, this editorial page has beat the drum for at least one more big federal stimulus package to help all states — red ones and blue ones — recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a no-brainer. The economy of every state, including Illinois, has been devastated by a virus that has rocked the world. Congress and President Donald Trump must step up with more money.

That said, we’re a newspaper. We’re not the political leaders who have to sit down at the negotiating table and hammer out the details, including whether states hardest hit by COVID-19 should get more financial aid than other states. Our role has been to encourage Democrats and Republicans to work together to do what’s best, understanding that the politics are delicate and difficult.

Apparently, the president of the Illinois Senate, Don Harmon — who has been in that job all of three months — doesn’t quite get that. Last week, he made a politically deaf, even foolish, pitch to Washington that can only hurt our state’s chances of securing additional COVID-19 relief funds.

In a letter to the members of Congress from Illinois, Harmon, D-Oak Park, outlined a request for another $41 billion in COVID-19-related stimulus aid for the state. Harmon and his fellow state Senate Democrats said they want more aid to be sent directly to cities and towns, which makes sense. They want more money for hospitals, which would be good. And they want more money to help the unemployed, which we also agree is necessary.

But here’s the foolish part. Harmon has proposed that about a quarter of the new money for Illinois, $10 billion, be used to bail out our state government’s cash-strapped retirement systems — a problem not even remotely related to COVID-19.

Read the full Sun-Times’ editorial here.

7:08 a.m. Nurses are our lifeline, and they must get the equipment to stay safe from coronavirus

During this very difficult period, it is so very important to properly equip and protect our health care professionals who are in the vanguard of our struggle against the coronavirus.

Nurses are putting their lives on the line to save lives. But alarmingly, they do not all have adequate protective equipment. They are getting exposed, getting sick and being quarantined. Many nurses have died.

More than 200 doctors and nurses across the globe have been lost to this pandemic.

We are losing our health care workers at the worst possible time. We can’t expect our nurses to work without the proper equipment in a job that is already stressful because of understaffing, high rates of workplace injury and other occupational hazards.

The situation in long-term care and correctional facilities is especially grave.

Read Sunday’s Letters to the Editor here.