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Latest coronavirus news for April 23, 2020

Here’s the latest news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois. Follow here for live updates.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced plans Thursday to extend his stay-at-home executive order for Illinois residents until the end of May, as the state reported another 123 deaths due to the coronavirus.

Here’s what else happened in Chicago and around the state as the battle against COVID-19 continued.

News

8:56 p.m. Poland sending COVID-19 medical team to Chicago, White House says

A photo of Polish aid workers bound for Chicago, shared by minister Mariusz Błaszczak on Twitter.
A photo of Polish aid workers bound for Chicago, shared by minister Mariusz Błaszczak on Twitter.
Mariusz Błaszczak via Twitter

Poland is sending a nine-member medical team to Chicago as the city battles the COVID-19 pandemic, a White House official told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday.

The team is being provided by the Polish Ministry of National Defense and is expected to arrive in Chicago on Thursday afternoon and remain until May 2.

“The primary goal of the team is to share and exchange experiences in fighting COVID-19,” the White House said.

The Polish medical team came to Chicago as part of the Illinois National Guard’s longstanding State Partnership Program with the Polish military.

“The Polish military’s support to us here in Illinois during a global pandemic is a testament to the depth and commitment on both sides of our State Partnership with Poland,” said Brig. Gen. Richard R. Neely, the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard in a statement.

Read more from reporter Lynn Sweet here.

8:11 p.m. Lightfoot outlines plan for post-pandemic recovery

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday asked a who’s who of Chicago’s movers and shakers to plan for the city’s resurgence after the coronavirus pandemic is finally over.

Standing outside the Water Tower, which survived the Great Chicago Fire, Lightfoot announced a COVID-19 Recovery Task Force co-chaired by the mayor along with her longtime friend Sam Skinner.

Skinner served as White House chief of staff and U.S. Transportation Secretary under former President George H.W. Bush. He is also a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

“We don’t know when this crisis will end. … But what we do know is that, when it comes to recovering from this crisis, there are no half-measures. No cutting corners. … The crisis we face today is like nothing any of us have ever experienced. … What we are embarking on is nothing less than the most breathtaking recovery effort our city has ever seen,” the mayor said.

With the statewide stay-at-home order extended to June 1, Lightfoot acknowledged Chicago is “still very much in the thick of the fight” and a “long way from being out of the woods.”

Reporter Fran Spielman has the full story.

7:44 p.m. Cook County Jail director defends handling of COVID-19 outbreak

Lawyers for Sheriff Tom Dart on Thursday defended the handling of a COVID-19 outbreak inside the walls of the Cook County Jail, with one of Dart’s top deputies saying Chicago health department and federal officials toured the jail complex last week and were “very complimentary.”

But advocates for the 4,200 prisoners currently housed in the sprawling West Side jail complex, who have yet to be permitted inside the jail since the the first coronavirus infections were reported, called on a federal judge to mandate the release of prisoners and allow outside inspection.

After a four-hour hearing, conducted by video conference, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly said he intends to rule by Monday on whether to issue a temporary restraining order that could require the release of inmates at risk for serious complications from COVID-19. The judge Thursday extended his two-week-old order that required the sheriff to provide additional soap and cleansers for all detainees and staff, and required all inmates known to have been exposed to the virus to wear surgical masks.

Reporter Andy Grimm has the full story.

7:02 p.m. The challenges of Down syndrome, the cruelty of COVID-19, and a mother’s pain: ‘I told her I’ll be back’

An 2013 acrylic painting by Larissa Maya, titled “Love falling.”
An 2013 acrylic painting by Larissa Maya, titled “Love falling.”
From artsoflife.org

Carmen Maya says she didn’t know what the word “inclusion” meant before her daughter Larissa was born with Down syndrome. It became her watchword.

Maya insisted Larissa be included in classes with other students her age at her local elementary school in Skokie and later at Niles North High School, resisting efforts to have her sent outside the district to a special school for kids with developmental disabilities.

“She learned how to ride a bike. She learned how to swim. She learned how to ice skate. Most important she learned how to make friends,” Maya said. “I wanted her to be included in our society, in the world that I live in.”

Then last Friday, Larissa Maya, 31, was included in something her mother never could have imagined during all the years of nurturing her daughter’s independence while protecting her from life’s dangers.

Larissa became one of 1,565 Illinois residents to die so far from COVID-19 and one of only a relative few to die so young.

Read Mark Brown’s full column here.


6:38 p.m. 6 more COVID-19 cases in Chicago Police Department

Chicago police announced Thursday six more cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of cases in the department to 380.

Of the confirmed cases, 361 are officers and 19 are civilian employees, police said.

A total of 384 employees have reported positive tests but the department’s medical section has yet to confirm four of those cases, police said.

Read the Sun-Times report here.

5:49 p.m. House passes coronavirus bill, delivering nearly $500B in aid

WASHINGTON — Congress delivered a nearly $500 billion infusion of coronavirus spending Thursday, rushing new relief to employers and hospitals buckling under the strain of a pandemic that has claimed almost 50,000 American lives and one in six U.S. jobs.

The measure passed almost unanimously, but the lopsided tally belies a potentially bumpier path ahead as battle lines are being formed for much more ambitious future legislation that may prove far more difficult to maneuver through Congress.

The bipartisan measure neared passage as lawmakers gathered in Washington as a group for the first time since March 27, adopting stricter social distancing rules while seeking to prove they can do their work despite the COVID-19 crisis.

Lawmakers’ face masks and bandannas added an somber tone to their effort to aid a nation staggered by the health crisis and devastating economic costs of the pandemic.

“Millions of people out of work,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “This is really a very, very, very sad day. We come to the floor with nearly 50,000 deaths, a huge number of people impacted, and the uncertainty of it all. We hope to soon get to a recovery phase. But right now we’re still in mitigation.”

Read the full report here.

5:11 p.m. Coming May 1: New mask guidelines; retail stores, state parks to reopen, Pritzker says

A man and woman in the Loop wear face masks Thursday amid growing fear about the coronavirus. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

In conjunction with his daily coronavirus briefing where he announced that the state’s stay-at-home order will be extended through the end of May, Gov. J.B. Pritzker detailed some changes to Illinois’ COVID-19 guidelines that will be good news for many.

Among the modifications are a “phased reopening” of state parks, the governor’s office said. In a tweet from his official account, Pritzker said parks will permit “hiking, fishing and boating with no more than two people.”

Retail stores can reopen for pick-up and delivery orders, and surgi-centers and hospitals can resume non-life-threatening surgeries.

These changes will take effect May 1 under Pritzker’s revised order, as will a new requirement for people “to wear a face-covering or a mask when in a public place where they can’t maintain a six-foot social distance,” the governor’s office said.

“I know how badly we all want our normal lives back,” Pritzker said in a statement. “But this is the part where we have to dig in and understand that the sacrifices we’ve made as a state to avoid a worst-case scenario are working — and we need to keep going a little while longer to finish the job.”

Read more from Pritzker’s remarks today here.


4:25 p.m. There’s a running boom in Chicago, pandemic leads more people to lace up

Manya Gupta, of Logan Square, is part of the new wave of runners.
Manya Gupta, of Logan Square, is part of the new wave of runners.
Provided

Huffing and puffing — one foot after the other — in an old sweatshirt and gym shoes.

The people behind a running boom in Chicago are grabbing what they have in their closets and heading out the door to burn calories and stress. Or at least that’s what appears to be happening.

“This is anecdotal, there’s no data to support it, but it’s being observed, just the number of people you see running. It’s a visible change, and it’s being discussed by the entire running industry,” Chicago Area Running Association Executive Director Greg Hipp said Thursday.

Normal indicators, like a bump in race registrations (they’re off or on hold) or shoe sales (they’re down) aren’t accounting for the bump.

It makes perfect sense, though.

Reporter Mitch Dudek has the full story.

3:37 p.m. ‘SNL’ plans second stay-at-home episode this Saturday

Two weeks after its unusual experiment with shelter-in-place comedy, “Saturday Night Live” plans to try it again.

A post on the show’s Twitter account announced, “We’re back this Saturday!” It was accompanied by a clip of cast member Colin Jost adjusting a camera lens as his castmates deal with technical hitches of their own.

Get the lowdown on what to expect from Darel Jevens.

2:45 p.m. Bank of America Chicago 13.1 race cancelled; October marathon still on

Organizers for theBank of America Chicago 13.1 race, scheduled for June 7, announced Thursday afternoon that the half marathon would be cancelled.

Registered runners will be contacted soon with the option to receive a refund for their 2020 entry fee, or to defer their registration for next year’s race, scheduled for June 6, 2021.

Organizers issued this statement Thursday:

When we launched the last fall, we challenged the running community to reimagine the run. Our hope was to provide participants with an experience that would connect us as a city and celebrate the vibrant and diverse nature of Chicago’s West Side through a world-class race and festival experience.

Today, our communities, our city, and our world are faced with the challenges posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19). While we had hoped to hold an event that would celebrate the unique fabric of our communities, we also feel a responsibility to the health and wellbeing of our event participants, volunteers, event staff and spectators, as well as the city resources required to produce the race. With this in mind, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the Bank of America Chicago 13.1, which was scheduled for June 7, 2020.

Meanwhile, the 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon is still on for Oct. 11, 2020.

“Based on the information available to us today, we are continuing preparations for the 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon,” Chicago Marathon spokeswoman Alex Sawyer told the Sun-Times Wednesday.

Sun-Times staff

1:09 p.m. What to expect from Pritzker’s coronavirus briefing today

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday will announce his plans to extend the current stay-at-home executive order until the end of May, sources said.

The current order is set to expire April 30. Pritzker will announce the extension on Thursday but will not sign the order until next week, sources said.

The Democratic governor, alongside some state researchers, is expected outline the numbers Thursday behind his decision to keep people home a whole four additional weeks.

Illinois has reached its peak — but that high level in coronavirus deaths could last “a couple of weeks” and see as many as 150 Illinoisans dying of COVID-19 a day, officials said.

The extension was anticipated from Pritzker for days. He has also hinted that there could be some loosening of restrictions for regions that are seeing fewer cases and deaths.

Read more from Tina Sfondeles here, and stay tuned for updates.

12:21 p.m. Lightfoot accused of using pandemic as an excuse to consolidate power

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was accused Thursday of using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to consolidate power.

One day before the City Council is scheduled to meet again to consider granting Lightfoot expanded spending and contracting authority for the duration of the public health crisis, a handful of aldermen and community leaders tried to drum up opposition.

They argued the mayor has no right to decide on her own how hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars should be spent.

Lightfoot has argued that funding from the so-called CARES Act is “specifically designed to pay for costs incurred because of the COVID-19 crisis” and that “long-standing issues” like reducing homelessness are not eligible for reimbursement.

Ald. Daniel LaSpata (1st) doesn’t buy it.

Read the full report from Fran Spielman.

10:27 a.m. Elizabeth Warren’s brother dies of COVID-19

Former presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced via Twitter Thursday morning that her oldest brother died earlier this week of COVID-19.

“My oldest brother, Don Reed, died from coronavirus on Tuesday evening,” the Massachusetts senator wrote.

“He was charming and funny, a natural leader.”

Warren wrote about the circumstances of Reed’s death as a result of the precautions in place at hospitals across the country due to the highly contagious nature of the virus.

“It’s hard to know that there was no family to hold his hand or to say ‘I love you’ one more time—and no funeral for those of us who loved him to hold each other close,” Warren wrote. “I’ll miss you dearly my brother.”

Reed died Tuesday night in Norman, Oklahoma about three weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus, according to the Boston Globe. He was 86.

9:21 a.m. 70% of residents test positive for COVID-19 at South Shore senior home where 10 have died

Ten residents at Symphony South Shore senior home have died from COVID-19, and more than 100 others have tested positive for the disease, according to the senior home’s owner.

Test results show that 111 residents — or 70% — have contracted the the coronavirus at the senior home home, 2425 E. 71st St., according to an emailed statement from Symphony Care Network spokeswoman Natalie Bauer Luce. Twenty-seven residents remain hospitalized.

The announcement comes just days after state health officials said a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in Illinois are tied to senior facilities.

Read the full story from David Struett here.

8:30 a.m. 26 million people have sought US jobless aid since virus hit

More than 4.4 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week as job cuts escalated across an economy that remains all but shut down, the government said Thursday.

Roughly 26 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the five weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors. About one in six American workers have now lost their jobs since mid-March, by far the worst string of layoffs on record. Economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20%.

In Illinois, 102,736 people filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, down from 141,160 claims filed in the week of April 11. More than 737,000 Illinoisans have sought jobless benefits since mid-March.

Read the full story here.

7:48 a.m. Drive-in celebrations? Graduations in December? Virtual ceremonies? Plans for high school seniors unfold — but students not happy

Streaming ceremonies featuring home-made student videos. Students and families driving up to a school to get their diplomas from the principal, or parked in a lot in a scene that resembles a drive-in movie.

Or holding smaller ceremonies or events months after seniors finish school — even as late as December.

These are some of the ways high schools in Chicago and the suburbs are considering honoring graduating seniors this year as traditional large ceremonies featuring hundreds or thousands of graduates and family members appear less and less likely this spring.

While many seniors say they aren’t huge fans of the ideas that are a far cry from what they had anticipated for years, they might not have a choice if Gov. J.B. Pritzker extends a stay-at-home order into next month or even into the summer, or restricts large gatherings, as he has indicated.

Read the full story from Matthew Hendrickson here.

6:56 a.m. Illinois braces for up to 150 deaths a day at virus’s peak

To guide its COVID-19 response strategies, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has had daily phone calls with researchers from the Illinois Department of Public Health, as well as researchers from Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Their insights help shape the models of the virus’s spread that Pritzker relies on, and often cites in his briefings.

This scientific modeling was released exclusively to the Chicago Sun-Times Thursday ahead of the governor’s daily afternoon briefing, where he plans to present graphs and data alongside some of his researchers.

From an early look at the data, here’s what reporter Tina Sfondeles can tell us:

  • Based on the projections, the peak of the COVID-19 infection rate “should be somewhere starting now through the first week of May,” Cameron Mock, chief of staff to the Governor’s Office of Management & Budget, told the Sun-Times.
  • According to one projection obtained by the Sun-Times, the top of the peak could see 150 deaths a day. But during that peak period, the daily range of fatalities could fluctuate anywhere from 50 to 150.
  • Another graph Pritzker plans to show will estimate that the death rate would go up ten times if the stay at home order was lifted Friday – a little less than a week before the scheduled April 30 expiration.
  • The model shows deaths in the state slowly flattening into August.

Read the full story from Tina Sfondeles here.

6:16 a.m. Remote learning ‘may be the new normal even in the fall,’ Chicago schools chief says

After administrators originally thought remote learning would be needed only on a temporary basis because of the coronavirus pandemic, schools chief Janice Jackson said she and other officials came to the realization remote learning could remain in place into the next academic year.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said the district should adopt a credit/no credit system where students could opt into letter grades if needed for transcripts and college admissions.

Jackson said it’s a critical focus for the district to come up with a thoughtful grading policy that doesn’t harm students who don’t have computers, internet or the right learning environment at home by unfairly punishing them in their grades. Fourth quarter grading guidelines will be released soon.

But grading students isn’t the only concern, Jackson said. So is ensuring officials are doing their best to create a quality education for kids, no matter the format, and putting the onus on CPS to address students’ vast needs in a targeted way for the kids who need it most. CPS has 640 schools, each with its own distinct plan, and needs accountability for adults who might not assign much work when only a few students in a class are able to complete it, she said.

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.


New Cases

  • More than 2,500 health care workers have tested positive for the coronavirus in Illinois so far, including eight who have died since the pandemic began, officials said Wednesday.
  • Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced 2,049 newly confirmed cases across the state — the highest increase Illinois has seen in a day, but one that followed the most tests administered in a day. Another 98 people have died of the virus, raising the state’s death toll to 1,565.
  • The statewide COVID-19 case tally stands at 35,108.
  • An associate at the Trump International Hotel and Tower has been diagnosed with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • Another employee at the Cook County Circuit Court clerk’s office has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the overall total to 20.

Analysis & Commentary

4:15 p.m. Day 19,432 of the lockdown: Kidding, it only feels that way

My mother and I talk every day. Boulder, Colorado, which offered so much when my parents retired there, geez, more than 30 years ago, isn’t quite the jubilee it was. Now in their mid-80s, they aren’t charging up the trail to Wonderland Lake anymore.

It can be a frustrating conversation. Particularly when my mother is planning to go to the store. “Ma!” I’ll say, “don’t risk your life for coconut shrimp!” Or, when that doesn’t work, “Ma! You’re going to die alone, surrounded by strangers in masks.”

My father is sometimes watching television when I phone — CNN, thank God, not Fox — and my mother will mention something on the screen, the latest aftershock from our president’s daily twirl in the limelight, like some demented ballerina on the music box in an insecure girl’s nightmare.

“Don’t watch TV news mom,” I’ll say. “I never do.”

Read Neil Steinberg’s full column here.

12:07 p.m. Second round of small business loans may have similar problems

The House is poised to vote Thursday afternoon for a fourth coronavirus relief measure totaling $483 billion, which includes $310 billion for COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program loans. President Donald Trump could sign the rescue measure as early as Thursday.

The PPP program was designed to help small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees to meet payroll and some operating expenses.

It turned out that millions of dollars of PPP loans went to companies with other access to capital under what now seems like a loophole. Some hotel and restaurant chains were able to apply on behalf of each outlet, avoiding the 500-worker ceiling because no one location employed more than 500 people. The Shake Shack chain is returning a $10 million PPP loan after receiving blowback.

This time around, $60 billion of the $310 billion in this new round is set aside for community banks and other small lenders.

But the measure Congress is sending to Trump to sign does not seem to have addressed these other problems of an unfair system.

Read more from Lynn Sweet here.

10:02 a.m. The Lost Chicago Summer of 2020: Tough decisions, but necessary ones

Chicago’s Memorial Day Parade scheduled for May 23 has been cancelled. Pride Fest, which was set for June 20 and 21, has been postponed until Sept. 5 and 6. The Chicago Pride Parade hasn’t been cancelled yet, but organizer Tim Frye hinted at the possibility, telling Windy City Times, “Unless something astonishing happens, I think it’s unlikely we’ll be on for June 28.”

This hurts. Summer in Chicago is our warm, festive and all-too-brief reward for harsh winters and cool springs.

But we also know that summer as usual this year would be deadly. The Lost Chicago Summer of 2020 is looking like another sacrifice a smart city should be willing to make to slow and beat back the spread of COVID-19. As it is, the Centers for Disease Control is now warning that a second, more virulent, wave of the virus could hit the country come winter.

Read the full editorial here.

6:04 a.m. Puzzling over African American COVID deaths — no easy explanation

The numbers are preliminary, but it seems that African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at alarming rates.

In Louisiana, for instance, blacks represent 70% of the dead but only 33% of the population. In Michigan, blacks comprise 33% of the infected, but 40% of the fatalities.

A number of reports have also pointed to higher rates of asthma among African Americans as possibly predisposing them to complications from COVID-19, which seems plausible. But again, the numbers are surprisingly modest. The Office of Minority Health at the Health and Human Services department found in 2015 that the percentage of African American adults with diagnosed asthma was 9.1%. The percentage among whites was 7.9%. On the other hand, the death rate was three times as high for blacks as whites for reasons unknown.

The newest evidence from COVID-19 fatalities, however, has downgraded asthma as a risk factor. Cardiovascular issues appear to be much more significant.

rave traces in the lives of African Americans, but the rush to identify racism as the cause of this particular disparity may be too pat.

Read more from Mona Charen here.