The warm weather this week clearly got Chicagoans thinking ahead to summer festivals — but after Gov. Pritzker’s press conference, it sounds like the festivals and shows won’t be going on any time soon.
Here’s what happened today as Chicago and the state continued the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
8:58 p.m. Parents, advocates urge Pritzker to release inmates as prison coronavirus cases skyrocket
Parents and advocates of people incarcerated for violent crimes in Illinois prisons urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker during a virtual news conference Thursday to release their loved ones as cases of the coronavirus skyrocket.
As of Thursday afternoon, 134 inmates and 86 prison staff have tested positive for the virus. Two inmates have died from COVID-19 so far and two dozen more are hospitalized.
Illinois is one of 16 states that doesn’t allow incarcerated people to earn parole. That means most of the 36,000 people incarcerated in Illinois — 20% of whom are age 50 or older — are at risk of having their criminal sentence turn into a death sentence if they contract the coronavirus inside prison and don’t recover.
“Our calls for release must include everyone, including those who’ve served many years after having been convicted of violent crimes and are ready to return home,” said Alex Ding, an organizer with Parole Illinois, a criminal justice group that hosted Thursday’s news conference.
8:13 p.m. 17 more CPD employees test positive for COVID-19
Chicago police announced Thursday 17 more confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of cases in the department to 151.
Of the cases, 144 are officers and seven are civilian employees, police said. Four officers who previously tested positive have recovered and are back on duty.
A funeral was held Thursday for the first officer in the department to die of complications from the coronavirus.
7:38 p.m. Cardinal Blase Cupich wears face mask as he celebrates Holy Thursday Mass
Cardinal Blase Cupich celebrated Holy Thursday Mass in a face mask, marking an unusual sight to start the Easter Triduum in an empty Holy Name Cathedral.
The archbishop of Chicago wore the mask during the entrance procession and throughout the pre-recorded online Mass on Thursday, but removing it while speaking, singing and praying. He has been supportive of efforts to slow the coronavirus pandemic by closing all archdiocesan churches, suspending public Masses and encouraging precautionary measures.
He also observed social distancing, sitting an increased distance from Fr. Bill Vollmer, who concelebrated the multilingual Mass and preached the homily. The Sign of Peace where parishioners shake each other’s hands was observed by Cupich with a subtle bow instead of a handshake.
7:11 p.m. Pritzker says large summer events need to ‘think seriously’ about cancellation
Further signaling Illinois won’t be out of the woods in short order, Gov. J.B. Pritzker advised organizers of large-scale summer gatherings, like music festivals, to think again.
“I think everybody needs to think seriously about canceling any large summer events,” Pritzker said. “I just don’t, from my perspective today, I do not see how we are going to have large gatherings of people again until we have a vaccine, which is months and months away.”
The original stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Pritzker to limit spread of the coronavirus had been set to expire earlier this month before being extended to April 30. Further restrictions could be implemented in May depending on the number of deaths and cases in the state, Pritzker said Thursday.
Chicago typically plays home to countless outdoor festivals during the summer, such as Lollapalooza and Taste of Chicago, as well as over 100 big league baseball games between the Cubs and White Sox. It’s unclear when the city will be able to host events like that again, and for now, there’s no timetable for it, either.
— Satchel Price and Tina Sfondeles, read the full story on Pritzker’s Thursday comments here.
6:45 p.m. Family of Cook County Jail detainee who died of COVID-19 sues sheriff, county
A federal lawsuit filed by the family of the first detainee at Cook County Jail to die from complications of COVID-19 alleges the county violated his constitutional rights by shackling him to a bed while he was battling the virus.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by Jeffery Pendleton’s brothers in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois names Sheriff Tom Dart and Cook County as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, Pendleton was transferred to Stroger Hospital March 30 for treatment after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The lawsuit claims Pendleton was shackled by hand and foot,” to his hospital bed while dying of the virus despite the 24-hour presence of an armed guard, as Cook County Department of Corrections policy outlines for detainees hospitalized outside of the jail.
6:05 p.m. Chicago cop’s funeral during coronavirus pandemic: masks, no mayor, officers in cars
No one who’s been to a funeral for a fallen Chicago police officer can forget the heart-wrenching sight of hundreds of officers standing at attention in their dress uniforms and saluting as the hearse pulls up to the church.
Or the throngs of people — from the mayor to neighborhood folks — paying their respects at the service.
But those things didn’t happen Thursday at Officer Marco DiFranco’s funeral.
DiFranco, 50, was an undercover narcotics officer with a wife and two kids, ages 7 and 10. On April 2, he died of complications from the COVID-19 virus, the first such death in the Chicago Police Department. He had a pre-existing condition, cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects the lungs, but kept working until he got sick from the coronavirus.
5:50 p.m. State Farm, Progressive latest to cut car insurance premiums
State Farm, the nation’s largest car insurer, and Progressive have joined the parade of companies offering drivers refunds because the coronavirus is reducing travel.
The State Farm rebate will be on average 25% of premiums paid March 20 through May 31, the Bloomington-based company said. It said the exact percentage will vary by state and that the total returned to policyholders will be about $2 billion.
Progressive said it will rebate 20% of premiums due in April and May. It said customers who have paid policies in full will get refunds. Industry data show Progressive is the third largest insurer in the U.S.
Earlier this week, Geico, Allstate and American Family said they were returning a portion of premiums for car insurance. They are acting because sharp reductions in driving are reducing accident claims.
— David Roeder
5:10 p.m. Working from home not an option for most black, Latino workers during the coronavirus crisis
Manuela Sepulveda works five days a week as a home health aide taking care of two elderly clients. One is 99 years old, the other is 75.
As the coronavirus ravages the country, Sepulveda says her job is now more important than ever, but going to work frightens her.
“When they told us we had to keep working, I was scared, but it’s also important to take care of elders who need our help. A lot of them live alone,” she said.
Sepulveda lives in Gage Park with her 11-year-old son and her husband, a security guard at Midway Airport, where several employees have tested positive for the virus.
“We make sure to take off our clothes as quickly as we can when we get home and keep our distance from others, but it’s stressful leaving the house every day,” she said.
For most black and Latino workers, sheltering in place and making ends meet are mutually exclusive.
About 84% of Latinos and 80% of African Americans were unable to work from home in the pre-pandemic economy, according to a recent analysis of government employment figures by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C.
4 p.m. 66 more coronavirus deaths raise Illinois toll to 528
Illinois officials on Thursday said another 66 people have died from the coronavirus, bringing the death toll in the state to 528.
There are also another 1,344 new cases, raising the state’s total to 16,422, officials said, with the virus now confirmed in 81 of 102 counties.
Gov. Pritzker’s office said there are more than 2,700 COVID-19 patients in Illinois hospitals, including 1,164 patients in intensive care units. Of those ICU patients, 765 are using ventilators.
Since Wednesday, 32 more people have entered ICU beds.
Those numbers are key to understanding when the state will reach its peak hospital capacity and its peak numbers of deaths. Pritzker’s office has said the state isn’t quite there yet, but his administration has not yet publicly released its projection models.
The governor has said his team is using several models, including the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation projection, which projects the state will reach peak hospital usage on Saturday. The model also projects the peak deaths on Sunday.
3:23 p.m. City’s share of stimulus package: $572 million
Chicago expects to receive at least $572 million from the federal stimulus plan, but the massive infusion won’t be enough to cover declining revenues and rising costs tied to the coronavirus — in part, because the city has already spent $100 million.
In a memo released Thursday followed by a conference call with reporters, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her financial team said there is “no way to know what the full extent of the financial impact will be on our residents, our city and our budget” because nobody knows when the pandemic will end.
But the memo states that it is “highly probable that additional federal resources will be needed to continue to combat the virus and address the economic toll” it will have on Chicago.
2:35 p.m. Security firm hiring 300-plus positions for McCormick Place field hospital
A security and facility services company is coordinating virtual hiring events in Chicago to staff the COVID-10 field hospital constructed inside the McCormick Place Convention Center.
The company is looking to hire for more than 300 positions to work 12-hour shifts —6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. — at an hourly rate of $20 to $25.
Applicants can apply online at jobs.aus.com.
2:10 p.m. United Center packed with 77,840 pounds of food destined for Chicago food pantries
Instead of an ice rink or basketball court, the floor of the United Center is currently packed from end to end with nearly 2,600 boxes of food.
As of Thursday, a whopping 77,840 pounds of rice, beans, pasta, tuna, tomato sauce, peanut butter, canned vegetables and other non-perishable items filled every inch of the normal playing surface.
The result is a stunning photo exemplifying the 21,000-seat arena’s abrupt transformation from sporting venue — in a coronavirus-free alternate reality, it would have been prepped for the scheduled Bulls-Nets game on Saturday — to pandemic logistics hub.
The food has been relocated to free up space in the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s main warehouse, according to GCFD senior manager Greg Trotter.
1:45 p.m. Federal judge orders new coronavirus safety policies at Cook County Jail but refuses to release inmates
A federal judge on Thursday denied a bid by Cook County Jail detainees for release or transfer amid the coronavirus outbreak but ordered Sheriff Tom Dart to implement new policies to keep inmates safe.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ordered Dart to begin prompt coronavirus testing of detainees who exhibit symptoms of the virus by Saturday. He said the sheriff must also enforce social distancing when taking in new inmates.
An adequate amount of soap or hand sanitizer must be available for inmates to frequently clean their hands, the judge said, and staff must receive sanitation supplies. Finally, the judge said the sheriff must “provide face masks to all detainees who are quarantined.”
Given those measures, the judge said he would not order the sheriff to move inmates to other forms of custody.
11:22 a.m. Mayor Lori Lightfoot drives around city telling groups to ‘break it up’
Mayor Lori Lightfoot is taking matters into her own hands to enforce the state’s stay-at-home order.
During her announcement that citywide liquor sales will be closed at 9 p.m. because too many people have been congregating outside stores that sell alcohol, Lightfoot said she drove around on the Far North Side Tuesday and told people she saw hanging out in groups to “break it up.”
And the mayor said she plans to do more of the same.
In the Wednesday news conference, Lightfoot said that on Tuesday alone, the Chicago Police Department issued “hundreds” of dispersal orders across “every one of” the city’s 22 police districts.
“That’s utterly unacceptable. When you do that, you are putting yourself at risk and endangering others, including potentially costing more lives. You’re also putting an additional burden on our public safety resources, which are already strained,” she said.
10:41 Cook County prepares refrigerated warehouse to store thousands of bodies, anticipating ‘surge’ in COVID-19 deaths
To prepare for a surge in COVID-19 deaths, Cook County officials on Thursday opened a refrigerated warehouse to store thousands of additional bodies.
The 66,000-square foot refrigerated “surge center” can hold more than 2,000 bodies, and is located about five miles from the county’s Near West Side morgue, according to a statement office of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
So far, the county has seen more than 300 deaths from the coronavirus, making up more than 70% of COVID-19 deaths statewide.
“While my hope is that we have made plans that we will not have to utilize, I realize that my administration has a responsibility to prepare for a surge in deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Preckwinkle said in the statement. “We are working diligently to ensure that the victims of this virus are treated with dignity while under our care.”
9:41 a.m. National Stockpile has already distributed 90% of available PPE supplies
The Strategic National Stockpile is nearly out of the N95 respirators, surgical masks, face, shields, gowns and other medical supplies desperately needed to protect front-line medical workers treating coronavirus patients.
The Department of Health and Human Services told The Associated Press Wednesday that the federal stockpile was in the process of deploying all remaining personal protective equipment in its inventory.
The HHS statement confirms federal documents released Wednesday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee showing that about 90% of the personal protective equipment in the stockpile has been distributed to state and local governments.
HHS spokeswoman Katie McKeogh said the remaining 10% will be kept in reserve to support federal response efforts.
8:20 a.m. Illinois unemployment claims continue to climb
With a startling 6.6 million people seeking jobless benefits last week, the United States has reached a grim landmark: Roughly one in 10 workers have lost their jobs in just the past three weeks.
In Illinois, 200,940 people filed for unemployment benefits in the week ended April 4. That’s up from 178,421 claims a week earlier, the Labor Department reported.
The figures collectively constitute the largest and fastest string of job losses in records dating to 1948. They paint a picture of a job market that is quickly unraveling as businesses have shut down across the country because of the coronavirus outbreak. More than 20 million American may lose jobs this month.
6:49 a.m. Chicago firefighter dies of COVID-19 complications
A Chicago firefighter died Tuesday evening after a battle with the coronavirus, according to a Chicago Fire Department spokesman.
“CFD has lost one of our own to complications of COVID-19. Firefighter Mario Araujo, a proud member of CFD Truck Company 25 passed away this evening,” department spokesman Larry Langford tweeted Tuesday.
Araujo, 49, joined the fire department in October 2003 and spent most of his career on Truck 25, which operates out of Engine 102 in Rogers Park on the North Side, Langford said. He is the first member of the fire department to die of the virus.
“This tragic loss underscores the seriousness that we face as a city and a nation,” Langford said. “CFD membersput themselves in harm’s way without hesitation to selflessly uphold the oath they took to be there for every person they encounter during an emergency situation.”
6:18 a.m. 150 cases of coronavirus found in 20 Lake County nursing homes
At least 150 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in 20 nursing homes across north suburban Lake County.
Each of the 20 long-term care facilities has at least two cases of COVID-19, Lake County health officials said, though they did not name the facilities. Officials could not be reached for further details Thursday morning.
The number of Lake County nursing homes with positive cases of COVID-19 has nearly doubled since last week, when 11 facilities housed 62 cases.
As of Wednesday, 1,044 cases of the coronavirus had been reported in Lake County, with 23 deaths, health officials said.
- Host Alison Victoria and the crew of Chicago-based reality show “Windy City Rehab” were quarantined in March after a producer of the show fell ill with COVID-19 symptoms.
- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is self-isolating after a member of her protection detail contracted COVID-19, her office announced Wednesday morning.
- A 15th employee at the Cook County Circuit Court clerk’s office has tested positive for COVID-19.
- The Office of the Chief Judge of Cook County announced Tuesday one more employee tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in that office to twelve.
- A worker at Chicago’s Department of Fleet and Facilities Management has died of COVID-19.
Analysis & Commentary
5:45 p.m. During COVID-19 pandemic, I’m doing my bit by staying home
Back when we lived in the country, I sometimes wouldn’t leave the property for days at a time except to walk the dogs. We were unique along our gravel road, where a dog on a leash was an unusual sight. Otherwise, our pets roamed free like everybody else’s.
Actually, I suppose, my wife and I walked each other, a daily ritual of connection.
Having worked at home for many years, I’ve practiced social distancing to the point where Diane sometimes worries about me. An old friend in France, a boar-hunting retired professor, reports that his wife, too, had been expressing concern about his hermit tendencies. So maybe it’s an old man thing.
A bookish old man thing, certainly.
Alain also reports that in his home of Montpellier, the fine for being out and about for no good reason is a stiff 135 euros, and French cops are notoriously strict. We’d talked about making a pilgrimage to Dordogne later this year to see the cave paintings at Lascaux and to meet with our friends. Now that’s not going to happen. I wonder if we’ll ever see Alain and Claudie again.
5 p.m. CDC delivers an Easter Day message: Love thy neighbor by social distancing
A person in Chicago who came down with COVID-19 might have caught the bug just by passing the offering plate at church.
For 90 minutes, this person sat within one row of three people who had contracted the coronavirus at a birthday party six days earlier. They chatted and passed the offering plate.
This small detail is included in a new study by the Centers for Disease Control, released Wednesday, that vividly shows how quickly the coronavirus can spread among people who partake in the ordinary activities that come with friendship, love and faith: sharing a meal, attending a funeral, going to a birthday party, visiting a sick friend and going to church.
One person had the virus. Which led to 16 more people catching the virus. Which led to three people dying.
Easter, the holiest day in the Christian calendar, is this Sunday, and we know how difficult it will be for many people to continue to practice the rules of physical distancing that are essential to defeating the spread of COVID-19.
Churches have canceled services, and city and state officials have imposed a ban on such public gatherings. But for many people, it will feel unnatural, even sacrilegious, not to hold or attend services in some way. And it will feel horribly wrong not to visit with family and friends, hiding Easter eggs for the children and sitting down to an extended family dinner.
But the facts of the CDC study deliver a powerful message:
In the name of the very values celebrated on Easter Sunday — faith, hope and love — we should all resist the temptation to discard the rules of physical distancing.
To honor the spirit of Easter is to stay home.
6:40 a.m. ‘Your instinct is to run to the patient’ — but you can’t
The COVID-19 pandemic is not taking place in a vacuum. Car accidents and gunshots and burns and falls and heart attacks and strokes still happen, and those patients, too, are rushed to Level One trauma centers such as Mount Sinai Hospital, where every patient who rolls in must be treated as if they have COVID-19.
“Your instinct is to run to the patient,” said ER nurse Kimberly Lipetzky, who had just treated a man who had fallen 20 feet off a roof. As medical staff tended to him, they discovered he had been sick for a week, probably with COVID-19, so “then you have this added level.”
What does that added level mean? If you wear PPE — personal protective equipment — to see a COVID-19 patient, you first must strip off the gown and gloves and booties and hairnets and mask before seeing the next patient, or risk infecting someone who may not have the deadly ailment. And if you’re not suited up and a COVID patient suddenly gets into trouble, you have put on all that PPE — and fast.
“Someone is in respiratory distress. You’ve got to move quickly,” said Lipetzky. “Got to goggle and gown and hair cover. It’s a lot.”