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Latest coronavirus news on April 27, 2020

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

A downstate judge on Monday agreed with a Republican legislator that Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker lacks the legal authority to force him to stay home past 30 days during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a decision that only applies to the Southern Illinois lawmaker – state Rep. Darren Bailey – but the governor said it will endanger all Illinoisans and open the door for others to file suit.

Meanwhile, officials said another 50 people have died in Illinois from the coronavirus as the state nears the loss of nearly 2,000 people to the pandemic.

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


News

8:57 p.m. El Milagro closes tortilla factory for two weeks after employee dies from coronavirus

People line up outside Tortilleria El Milagro, 3048 W. 26th St. in Little Village, to buy tortillas after it was rumored that one of the company’s factories would be closing for at least two weeks amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, April 27, 2020.
People line up outside Tortilleria El Milagro, 3048 W. 26th St. in Little Village, to buy tortillas after it was rumored that one of the company’s factories would be closing for at least two weeks amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, April 27, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Midwest tortilla giant El Milagro has shut down one of its factories in Chicago for two weeks after a worker died from the coronavirus earlier this month.

In a letter to employees sent over the weekend and obtained by the Sun-Times, the company said it was “deeply saddened to learn about the death of one of our longtime sanitation employees due to complications from COVID-19.”

El Milagro said the deceased worker — who was not named in the letter — had not been at the plant at 2919 S. Western Ave. since April 9 and that two additional employees have since tested positive for the virus while four others are showing symptoms.

The company said it is closing the plant for two weeks so that an outside cleaning company can sanitize the facility. All employees scheduled to work at the facility “will be paid (40 hours per week) during this time off,” El Milagro said.

Reporter Carlos Ballesteros has the full story.


8:16 p.m. Lakers return $4.6 million from coronavirus stimulus loan program

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers have repaid a loan of roughly $4.6 million from coronavirus business relief funds after learning the program had been depleted.

The Lakers applied for the loan under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, a part of the federal government’s $2.2 trillion stimulus package. The Lakers’ request was granted in the first round of distribution, but after the fund ran out of money in less than two weeks, the team returned its loan, as did several wealthier business including Shake Shack and AutoNation.

The Lakers issued a statement Monday confirming what happened.

“The Lakers qualified for and received a loan under the Payroll Protection Program,” the statement read. “However, once we found out the funds from the program had been depleted, we repaid the loan so that financial support would be directed to those most in need. The Lakers remain completely committed to supporting both our employees and our community.”

Read the full report here.

7:37 p.m. 21 more COVID-19 cases in Chicago Police Department

Chicago police announced Monday 21 more cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the department to 414.

Of the confirmed cases, 394 are officers and 20 are civilian employees, police said.

A total of 419 employees have reported positive tests but the department’s medical section has yet to confirm five of those cases, police said.

Read the report from the Sun-Times wire here.

7:09 p.m. No plans to reopen lakefront before end of May: Lightfoot

Mayor Lori Lightfoot Sun-Times file photo

During a City Hall news conference called to announce a new city app tied to the pandemic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was asked whether she has any intention of re-opening the lakefront as the governor’s stay-at-home order drags on through the month of May.

“I don’t anticipate doing that,” the mayor said. She mentioned that on a recent drive through the city, she saw a significant improvement in adherence to social distancing guidelines in public spaces.

“I’m not seeing overcrowding in interior parks that was a concern when we closed down the lakefront,” she said.

As temperatures rise, spring fever spreads and cabin fever intensifies, Lightfoot said it’s imperative for the city to stay engaged, keep listening, and remain “physically out there and seeing what the needs of residents are.”

“We’ll make adjustments where necessary,” she said.

Read what Lightfoot had to say about the return of baseball, via Fran Spielman.


6:10 p.m. Downstate judge rules Pritzker out of line with stay-at-home – but governor calls suit ‘dangerous,’ ‘insult to all Illinoisans’

A judge on Monday ruled in favor of a Downstate legislator who argued in a lawsuit that Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker lacks the legal authority to force the Republican to stay home for more than 30 days during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a decision the governor said will endanger Illinoisans — and open the door for others to file suit. Pritzker was made aware of the Clay County Circuit Court ruling Monday afternoon during his live COVID-19 briefing.

“Rep. Darren Bailey’s decision to take to the courts to try and dismantle public health directives designed to keep people safe is an insult to all Illinoisans that have been lost during this COVID-19 crisis, and it’s a danger to millions of people who may get ill because of his recklessness,” Pritzker said. “At best, no one is better off because of this ruling, and at worst, people’s health and safety will suffer tremendously in Illinois.”

Reporter Tina Sfondeles has the full story.

5:53 p.m. Initiative outlines priorities for fighting coronavirus spread in Latino communities

A group formed to improve outreach among Illinois Latinos on how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 has identified four priorities to slow the outbreak in the community.

The Illinois Latino COVID-19 Initiative, a collection of public health experts and elected officials, has highlighted improved collection of coronavirus data, increased testing in the Latino community, equitable investment and increased Latino representation in health task forces as key issues.

The group met for the first time April 11 to discuss to discuss emerging COVID-19 data trends that suggested the virus was spreading faster in Latino communities. A recent analysis by Chicago-based Enigma Forensics found Latinos make up 60% of the population in the 10 ZIP codes in Illinois with the fastest-growing number of new COVID-19 cases.

However, the initiative believes the true impact of the virus in Latino communities is unclear

Reporter Emmanuel Camarillo has the full story.

4:46 p.m. Police cite owner of Chicago townhome that was site of packed weekend party streamed live on Facebook

Chicago Police have cited the owner of a townhome that was the site of a large house party over the weekend, according to a Northwest Side alderman.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) said he convened a Monday meeting between the building owner and the commander of the CPD’s Grand Central District, who issued the woman “a couple citations for public nuisance and gave her strict warnings and we also have just put her on notice.”

Video footage over the weekend party in the 2000 block of North Narragansett quickly went viral. Clips posted to Facebook showed dozens of people crammed into the home, with everyone standing in very close proximity and hardly anyone wearing protective masks.

Read the full story from reporters Fran Spielman and Sam Charles.

2:56 p.m. What Chicago is reading while staying at home

The Chicago Public Library has seen record e-book usage during the first weeks of the Illinois stay-at-home order: between March 15 and April 22, e-book use increased 51% over the same period in 2019.

So what are Chicagoans reading while staying at home? According to a list the Sun-Times obtained from the city library system, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone reigns supreme: it was the number one e-book checked out from the public library in the past six weeks.

Readers can find links to multiple e-book suppliers on the library’s website. Any Chicago Public Library cardholder can check out an e-book by creating a free online account. Just like regular library books, though, some e-books only have a finite amount of copies available for use.

The standard loan period for e-books is three weeks, but some titles can be renewed. According to the library website, e-books are returned automatically and no late fees are charged.

To see the full list of books (with links to the Chicago Public Library download), click here.

1:22 p.m. UChicago researched the best materials for homemade masks: Here’s what they found

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s new executive order takes effect Friday, masks will be required in all public places where people can’t maintain a 6-foot social distance. With shortages of personal protective equipment continuing across the country, many Illinoisans will need to buy or make homemade face coverings to meet Pritzker’s guidelines.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have been testing the efficacy of various materials at filtering aerosol particles, which are believed to be the primary vehicle for transmission of the virus. The university issued a release highlighting the results of their study Monday.

Their research found that a combination of tightly woven cotton, layered with polyester-spandex chiffon, performed best. When combined, these materials are nearly as effective as an N95 mask at filtering aerosol particles, according to a release from the university.

Substituting the chiffon with natural silk or flannel, or simply using a cotton quilt with cotton-polyester batting, produced similar results, the study found.

This combination of materials provides two layers of protection: tightly woven fabrics like cotton provide a mechanical barrier to particles, and fabrics like certain types of chiffon and natural silk, which can hold a static charge, provide a secondary electrostatic barrier.

But more than anything, the study’s authors noted, the overall effectiveness of any homemade mask hinges on its fit: even a 1% gap in a mask of any material reduces its effectiveness by half or more.

The research was published in the American Chemical Society’s journal, ACS Nano. The paper’s abstract is available here.

Lizzie Schiffman Tufano

12:56 p.m. Biden’s virtual fundraiser in Chicago: what’s changed - and what hasn’t - because of COVID19

Joe Biden’s virtual campaign hits Chicago on Monday with a fundraiser aimed at high-dollar area donors moderated by former Obama Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

So far, a Biden source told me, the COVID-19 pandemic has not hurt the campaign of Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee — it just changed it.

The Biden campaign was thrust into virtual campaigning on March 13, with a technically shaky webcast before the March 17 Illinois primary. It was thrown together as the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. was growing and it became clear it would be impossible to continue with in-person events.

Now Biden telecasts from a professional-level studio put together in his Wilmington, Delaware, home with much improved technology.

Lynn Sweet has more details here.

11:11 a.m. Chicago creates app to pre-register for coronavirus vaccine

Chicagoans can now pre-register for a coronavirus vaccine, get text messages “tailored to their symptoms” and also receive guidance about “where and when to seek medical care” by downloading a new web-based app developed by City Hall.

The “Chi COVID Coach” app was developed with help from Google and MTX to help the Chicago Department of Public Health communicate with Chicagoans who have either tested positive for the virus or may be experiencing symptoms.

Those who register will get “daily check-ins” on their well-being, as well as advice about “what they and other people in their households should do to limit the spread of the coronavirus.”

The app can be accessed at www.Chicago.gov/covidcoach via smartphone or desktop computer.

Read the full story from reporter Fran Spielman here.

10:39 a.m. Chicago Loop Alliance cancels 2020 ACTIVATE season

The Chicago Loop Alliance, the group that organizes art installations and free events downtown each summer, announced the cancellation of its 2020 ACTIVATE series Monday, citing “public health concerns.”

Chicago Loop Alliance President and CEO Michael Edwards said the group is exploring alternative programming that conforms to social distancing guidelines.

Past ACTIVATE events have included drag shows in downtown alleys, temporary art galleries in vacant storefronts and “placemaking” projects that add tables, chairs and sculptures to unused corners in the Loop.

Read more about the cancellation here.

10:12 a.m. We’re stuck at home, bars are closed: homebrew industry is exploding

While states imposed stay-at-home orders, brewpubs closed, and people lost jobs and tried to economize, homebrewing in America has exploded in popularity.

May 2 is National Homebrew Day. Normally, homebrewers come together to make the same official recipes for side-by-side competition. This year, it will be a “virtual big brew,” in which people brew at home with a suggested recipe (Pangea Proxima Polar IPA) and do a toast on social media. More than 1,700 people from around the world have pledged to join.

Northern Brewer, a major supplier of homebrewing and wine-making equipment in America, says business has shot up by 40% to 50%. But not all shops are seeing an upturn. Gina Fox’s Salem Brew Supply, in Salem, Oregon, has had a slight dip in sales since they moved from in-store sales to home deliveries. But she’s optimistic.

Read the full story here.

9:48 Read Pritzker’s full extended stay-at-home order

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced last week that he plans to extend the state’s stay-at-home order until the end of May. The governor plans to sign that executive order this week.

The extended order includes some loosening of regulations for state parks and golf courses, and will allow businesses not deemed “essential” to sell products online, for carryout or delivery. Some elective surgeries will also be allowed.

It will also include a requirement for people to wear a face covering or a mask when in a public place where they can’t maintain a 6-foot social distance beginning May 1.

Click here to read the full text of the order Pritzker plans to sign this week.

9:10 a.m. ‘You’re literally putting everyone around you in danger’: Pritzker responds to viral house party video

More than a million viewers have already watched the viral Facebook video of a house party gone wild Saturday night, reportedly in Chicago on the West Side.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, asked about the video at his Sunday news conference, said he’d already heard about it and explained how dangerous such behavior can be.

“By doing that — by standing together, not social distancing, many people not wearing masks — you’re literally putting everyone around you in danger,” Pritzker said. “They are putting you in danger, [too]. And very importantly, all of those people are putting their families and their friends who are not there with them in danger.”

Chicago police spokesman Tom Ahern said a large gathering was broken up early Sunday in the 2000 block of North Narraganset Avenue in Galewood, though he could not confirm that it was the same party recorded in the video. No arrests or citations were made at that gathering.

“It’s not anything punitive; it’s about health and protection,” Ahern said. “So they were able to disperse without taking action and making arrests.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined Pritzker in admonishing the party attendees Sunday, tweeting that “what was depicted on the video was reckless and utterly unacceptable.”

Read the full story by Ben Pope and Sam Kelly here.

7:02 a.m. Small-business loan program resumes Monday morning: Here’s what you should know

At 9:30 a.m. Chicago time on Monday, the Small Business Administration restarts the wildly popular COVID-19 loan program, with lenders poised to submit a tidal wave of applications that could quickly use up the new round of funding.

The initial $349 billion in funding appropriated by Congress was exhausted in two weeks. The SBA stopped accepting loan applications from lenders on April 16.

Last week, Congress replenished the PPP pot with $310 billion for loans plus a little over $11 billion to cover lender fees.

Here are some things to know:

Who is eligible for the PPP loans?

The PPP program is aimed at small business and nonprofit employers with fewer than 500 workers. The financial lifeline grants loans equal roughly to about 2.5 times monthly payroll costs.

Does the loan have to be repaid?

No, not if the loan is used as intended, to keep workers on payrolls for eight weeks after the loan is granted and pay some operating costs.

For more things to know about the PPP loans, our Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet has you covered. Click here to read the full report as the program resumes Monday.

6:41 a.m. South Side LGBTQ pride festival moves online amid COVID-19 concerns

Organizers of Pride South Side are bringing Chicago’s first-ever South Side-based LGBTQ pride festival online this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The inaugural Pride South Side Festival in 2019 sought to create “sustainable spaces for queer youth of color on the South Side” with a series of events spanning five South Side neighborhoods, but organizers said they started pivoting to an online celebration for its second year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Chicago area.

Now, they’re launching an online hub for LGBTQ people of color to share artwork, as well as a two-month-long campaign encouraging LGBTQ South and West siders to complete the 2020 Census.

“In the time of social distancing, so many folks who already exist at the margins can be pushed even further into isolation, putting the mental health and well-being of our community into jeopardy,” said Dio Aldridge, director of program development for Pride South Side. “What our team set out to do is create a safe, affirming and entertaining online space that serves as a platform for black, queer or Latinx artists and content creators from the South and West sides of Chicago.”

Read the full report from Jake Wittich here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

7:09 p.m. In fight against COVID-19, house party is a slap in the face

There’s no point in trying to shame the young people that took part in a crowded throw-down over the weekend.

It wouldn’t do much good.

But this incident shows how disconnected this demographic is from the rest of the city.

The house party, which allegedly took place in the Galewood community on the West Side, was captured on video and posted on the TMZ website.

But the blatant disregard of the state’s stay-at-home order is more than an embarrassing moment. It is a slap in the face of a black mayor who is desperately trying to enforce social distancing without criminalizing normal behavior.

Read more on columnist Mary Mitchell’s perspective here.

6:32 p.m. The fiction of Mitch McConnell’s ‘blue state bailout’

It’s about paying paramedics, who are risking their lives for us.

It’s about paying firefighters and police officers, bus drivers and teachers, garbage collectors and prison guards.

Chicago and the state of Illinois, like every big city and state, need billions of dollars in federal assistance right now to weather the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic. To refuse that aid, as Republicans in Washington threaten to do, is to play politics with the American economy and people’s lives.

Some states and cities were in better financial shape than others before the pandemic, but all 50 states and most big cities have been slammed hard since. Expenses have soared while tax revenues have plummeted. Without massive federal aid, states and cities soon will be unable to cover the costs of essential services — those paramedics, teachers and prison guards — and our nation could be thrown into a depression rivaling that of the 1930s.

Read the full editorial from the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board here.

11:47 a.m. Trump tweets: why bail out ‘poorly run states like Illinois’?

President Donald Trump and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley are attacking Illinois Democrats for using the COVID-19 crisis to ask for a $10 billion state pension rescue and other federal aid.

The $10 billion was included in an April 14 letter Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, sent to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asking for $41 billion in federal assistance for the state of Illinois in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic economic meltdown.

Fact checks: Harmon made a bid for $10 billion, not “tens of billions” for the pension bailout. While Harmon said in his letter he was writing on “behalf of the 40-member Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus,” other Illinois Democrats kept a distance from Harmon’s request.

Harmon wrote to Durbin as Democrats were negotiating with Republicans over the fourth coronavirus emergency legislation. Congress passed that measure last week. Congress has not yet moved on a fifth package.

Lynn Sweet has more: get the whole story here.

6:48 a.m. Civic boosters look at promoting a post-pandemic city

Someday, if we allow ourselves to dream, we’ll again have a city to enjoy. There will again be guilt-free strolls in the park, trips to the zoo, greeting friends at the neighborhood diner and hustling to make a Metra train. Who would have thought it’s possible to miss the Metra hustle?

We could use a dose of normalcy now, but its ETA is unknown. So the question becomes when normalcy arrives in some fashion, how changed will we and our surroundings be?

It’s the overriding subject on the minds of those tasked with helping the region’s economy get back on track. Among them are Michael Fassnacht, the advertising executive designated three weeks ago by Mayor Lori Lightfoot as the city’s chief marketing officer, and Jack Lavin, CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

They will be at the center of efforts that unite local business, government and nonprofits to re-engage people with Chicago, first the locals and then everybody beyond. How will they go about marketing a city currently with little to tout, except great takeout food and empty sidewalks if you want to gawk at the architecture? How do you grease commerce when its gears are locked?

David Roeder explores these questions in his latest “Chicago Enterprise” column here.

6:11 a.m. A laugh amid the pandemic? It’s harder than you think

Our columnist Neil Steinberg didn’t find the jokes in our Sunday paper to be very funny.

But why not?

Read what he has to say about comedy during the time of coronavirus.