Coronavirus live blog, May 20, 2020: Coming soon: Outdoor dining, drinking, tennis, golf, state parks – but Pritzker warns ‘We are by no means out of the woods’

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, May 20, 2020: Coming soon: Outdoor dining, drinking, tennis, golf, state parks – but Pritzker warns ‘We are by no means out of the woods’

Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that he is loosening restrictions and allowing restaurants to serve customers on outdoor patios when the state moves to Phase 3 of his plan to reopen Illinois. The state is on pace to move to the next phase in nine days when Pritzker’s current order expires on May 29.

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


Coming soon: Outdoor dining, drinking, tennis, golf, state parks – but Pritzker warns ‘We are by no means out of the woods’

Tony Priolo and Ciro Longobardo set tables Wednesday on the back patio of Piccolo Sogno, 464 N. Halsted St., as they prepare to welcome diners at the end of the month under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s expedited reopening plan.

Tony Priolo and Ciro Longobardo said they still have tables that need to be removed from their back patio before they welcome guests back in to their establishment for a socially distanced dining experience.

Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Masked servers, spaced-out tables and a lot of fresh air are all on the menu for Illinois’ desperately struggling bars and restaurants, who were moved up the waiting list Wednesday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to reopen on a limited basis at the end of the month.

Citing improving coronavirus hospitalization numbers, Pritzker announced he’s hastening his reopening plan to allow establishments to serve customers on outdoor patios and in beer gardens in smaller numbers when his extended stay-at-home order expires May 29.

“The experts believe that these services can open at a risk comparable to other outdoor activities and give our hospitality industry a much needed boost, as they work to keep their businesses on their feet,” Pritzker said at a Springfield news briefing.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

6:38 p.m. CPS to allow drive-thru and home-visit graduation ceremonies

Graduation ceremonies won’t look the same as usual this spring, but they don’t necessarily have to be on a laptop, either, according to new guidance released Wednesday by Chicago Public Schools.

After previously indicating only virtual ceremonies would be allowed, CPS officials now say drive-through graduations and celebrations featuring staff visits to graduates’ homes are OK as long as safety precautions are put in place and strictly followed.

CPS officials said they added drive-thru and home-visit ceremonies to the list of acceptable graduations because Illinois is anticipated to move into “Phase 3” of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan by the end of this month. Schools planning any non-virtual events will have to follow guidance released earlier this month by the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education.

Read the full story by Nader Issa here.

5:17 p.m. Seven in 10 Latinos worried about keeping up with rent, food, utilities during the pandemic, poll finds

Latino households in Illinois and across the country are struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a poll released Wednesday.

Around 60% of Latinos polled nationwide said they or someone in their household had either lost their job, taken a pay cut or were furloughed due to the pandemic.

That loss of income has translated into anxieties about keeping up with the bills: Nearly 70% of Latinos in the national poll said they soon won’t be able to afford basic expenses like rent, food, utilities and mortgage payments. For Latinos polled in Illinois, it’s closer to 80%.

Almost a third of Latinos said they hadn’t received a coronavirus stimulus check and half of Latino business owners said they found it difficult to access small business loans offered by the federal government.

A quarter of Latinos also reported they or a family member had contracted COVID-19; 27% said they knew someone who presented symptoms of the disease but was unable to get tested.

Read the full story by Carlos Ballesteros here.

3:28 p.m. Unlicensed sellers, federal investigators and a failed $637 million deal: Inside a suburban company’s attempt to sell PPE

As officials scurried to find protective equipment that had become vitally necessary and increasingly hard to find as the COVID-19 virus spread rapidly early last month, a suburban couple was pushing to broker a nearly $640 million deal for a stockpile of highly sought-after protective masks.

Though John and Kristi Dunn Kucera had no experience in the industry, they used personal connections to find a dealer claiming to have hundreds of millions of N95 respirator masks and a buyer willing to pay a premium for the gear that’s desperately needed by essential workers on the front lines of the fight against the deadly virus.

The Kuceras, of Downers Grove, learned almost immediately why the industry has been compared to the “wild west” as they dealt with a variety of shifty players who continually backed out of deals, only to come back with new offers at higher prices.

As it turns out, the multinational company they thought they were negotiating with was actually a different business with the same name that had no license to operate. One of the men promising to deliver the masks admitted to the Sun-Times earlier this month that his company at the time hadn’t procured a single N95 mask, let alone millions.

Read the full story by Tom Schuba here.

2:45 p.m. Illinois tops 100K coronavirus cases; Pritzker to allow outdoor restaurant seating in next reopening stage

Another 2,388 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Illinois, sending the state’s case tally over six figures to 100,418, state health officials said Wednesday.

Most of those patients have recovered, but in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s latest pandemic update, officials reported an additional 147 deaths attributed to COVID-19. That raises the state’s death toll to 4,525 in just over two months since Illinois’ first COVID-19 fatality was confirmed.

Almost half those deaths have occurred in May alone, as the state weathers what Pritzker has said is likely the peak of the outbreak’s impact on Illinois. Wednesday marked the 20th day with officials reporting 100 or more daily coronavirus deaths.

Still, after saying he’s optimistic about the way the state is trending, Pritzker’s office announced restaurants will be allowed to reopen with limited outdoor seating and smaller capacities when his extended stay-at-home order expires at the end of the month.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

2:35 p.m. Protests, posturing and precautions as lawmakers meet in Springfield — with faces covered and fingers crossed


The Illinois House of Representatives stand for the opening prayer as they convene their spring legislative session on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP

As lawmakers returned to Springfield on Wednesday to square away a budget in the waning days of an end of month deadline — and amid a pandemic — some were met with protesters.

Just outside the Bank of Springfield Center, where the Illinois House planned to convene on Wednesday, a gaggle of protesters held posters to “Reopen Illinois.”

Legislators entering the convention center were greeted with chants of “Open Illinois” or cheers if lawmakers sympathetic to the demonstrators waved.

Some said the protests went too far.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, confronted a demonstrator who was carrying a sign that said “J.B. Hitler must go,” telling her that it was offensive and didn’t help her cause.

“They should be offended by our governor,” said Brittany Emel, the protester who Durkin confronted.

Read the full story here.

2:05 p.m Other countries show us what schools, trains, restaurants look like post-lockdown

As nations around the world loosen coronavirus restrictions, people are discovering that the return to normal is anything but.

Schools, offices, public transportation, bars and restaurants are now on the front lines of post-lockdown life — back in business, in many cases, but not business as usual.

How each of those key sectors manages social distancing and tamps down expected new outbreaks will determine the shape of daily life for millions as researchers race to develop a vaccine that is still probably months, if not years, away from being available to all.

What a return to normal looks like varies widely. For hungry migrant workers in India, it was finally being able to catch trains back to their home villages to farm while city jobs dried up. For hundreds of cruise ship workers stranded at sea for months, it was finally reaching shore Wednesday in Croatia. For wealthy shoppers, it was returning to the newly reopened boutiques of America’s Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California.

Read the full story here.

1:15 p.m. CTU sues Betsy DeVos, CPS over coronavirus special education requirements

The Chicago Teachers Union is suing federal and local education officials over special education regulations the union alleges have created an “impossible burden” for school workers and threaten to interfere with student learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

The union filed a nine-page federal lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S Department of Education, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Chicago Board of Education, claiming its members are being forced to “conduct a whole scale redrafting” of students’ special education plans in the final six weeks of the school year.

“Aside from being impossible to accomplish, and from threatening to interfere with the provision of the special education services needed by these children, the redrafting of roughly 70,000 plans is highly likely to increase the anxiety and emotional distress of parents or guardians and that will further complicate the revision of these plans,” the union wrote in its complaint.

Read the full story by Nader Issa here.

12:34 p.m. Oprah Winfrey giving grants to ‘home’ cities — including Chicago — during pandemic

NEW YORK — Oprah Winfrey is giving grants to the cities she’s called home through her $12 million coronavirus relief fund.

She announced Wednesday that her Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation will donate money to organizations dedicated to helping underserved communities in Chicago; Baltimore; Nashville, Tennessee; Milwaukee; and Kosciusko, Mississippi, where she was born.

“The reason I’m talking about it is because there is going to be a need for people of means to step up,” Winfrey said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I mean, this thing is not going away. Even when the virus is gone, the devastation left by people not being able to work for months who were holding on paycheck to paycheck, who have used up their savings — people are going to be in need. So my thing is, look in your own neighborhood, in your own backyard to see how you can serve and where your service is most essential. That is the real essential work, I think, for people of means.”

After speaking with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other leaders, Winfrey decided to give $5 million to Live Healthy Chicago, which provides immediate support to seniors and high-risk residents affected by the coronavirus.

Read the full story here.

12 p.m. City Council poised to rush to the rescue of businesses, employees crippled by COVID-19

The Chicago City Council was poised Wednesday to rush to the rescue of businesses and individuals whose everyday lives and livelihoods have been crippled by the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the coronavirus.

At a virtual meeting almost certain to be downright tame, compared to the last foul-mouthed free-for-all, aldermen are expected to approve a parade of relief ordinances that target:

  • O’Hare and Midway Airport concessionaires that have shut down entirely or seen their revenues plummet because of the travel slowdown.
  • Workers in danger of being fired, suspended, transferred or having their pay cut because of absences tied to the coronavirus.
  • Businesses struggling to adjust to a landmark ordinance that takes effect July 1 requiring large Chicago employers to give their employees at least two weeks’ notice of their schedule and compensate them for last-minute changes.
  • Businesses whose licenses have expired since March 15. The ordinance approved Wednesday will waive fines tied to those expired licenses as well as collection of accessibility fees paid by cabdrivers and ride-hailing companies whose business has slowed to a crawl.

Read more on the parade of relief ordinances slated for approval at Wednesday’s virtual meeting.

10:04 a.m. CDC report underscores risk of COVID-19 transmission in groups

As some Illinois religious leaders push to reopen churches amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new Center for Disease Control report, released Tuesday, underscores the risk for widespread transmission of the contagious pathogen at group gatherings.

A 57-year-old pastor and his 56-year-old wife attended several church events in Arkansas in early March before the couple experienced symptoms of the coronavirus, including fevers, coughing and shortness of breath, in the following days, according to the CDC report. The pair ultimately became the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their rural county of about 25,000 residents, the report said.

The CDC ultimately found that 35 of the 92 attendees at those early March church events tested positive for the virus. The outbreak resulted in seven hospitalizations and three deaths, the report said.

Through contract tracing, the Arkansas Department of Health found 26 additional coronavirus cases and another death among community members who reported having contact with the churchgoers, according to the CDC report.

“Faith-based organizations should work with local health officials to determine how to implement the U.S. Government guidelines for modifying activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent transmission of the virus to their members and their communities,” the CDC study recommended in the report.

Over the weekend, several Illinois religious institutions flouted the state’s stay-at-home order and held services which welcomed dozens of worshippers.

Metro Praise International Church in Belmont Cragin, a neighborhood which has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, planned to welcome up to 60 people to each of its three Sunday services, far more than the 10 congregants allowed under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s revised order.

“We can gather and spread our hope, our love, our religion without interference from the government. And so 35 miles right now to Indiana — Hammond, just think of it like an extension of Indiana — this is not illegal,” pastor Joseph Wyrostek said. “This is perfectly fine.

“Now, people keep saying well that’s not the same thing as the infection rate, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. What is an infection rate, anyway? It’s people spreading a virus. A virus will get spread one way or another.”

— Madeline Kenney and Tom Schuba

8:54 a.m. State-run mental hospitals see smaller toll from COVID-19, but ‘the threat has not dissipated’

While COVID-19 has devastated congregate facilities like nursing homes and developmental centers in Illinois, the story is far different at the state’s psychiatric hospitals where just over 1% of patients and staff have tested positive for the disease.

On Tuesday, the Illinois Department of Human Services reported that 41 of the 4,034 people who live and work at those seven hospitals had contracted the virus, including 13 patients and 28 staffers. None have died, though five new cases were reported on Tuesday.

There have, however, been nine deaths of patients since late January, according to a department spokesman, who declined to release their causes of death.

In total, 33 of the recorded coronavirus cases were at the two facilities located in Cook County. Chicago-Read Mental Health Center, in Dunning on the Northwest Side, has seen the most, with 11 staff members and seven patients testing positive. That first case was identified on April 8, a day before Chicago-Read and two other state facilities lifted a hold on new admissions that was put in place on March 14 “to appropriately respond to COVID-19 in a manner that ensures the safety” of patients and staff members.

Read the full report here.

7:12 a.m. Judge dismisses lawsuit against DCFS seeking reinstatement of in-person visitation during coronavirus pandemic

Parents of children in protective custody lost a legal fight that sought to compel the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to reinstate in-person visitation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Caroline Moreland Tuesday dismissed the lawsuit filed by the public defender’s office on behalf of four mothers who said their rights to equal protection under the Constitution were being violated by the indefinite suspension of in-person visits with their children.

Moreland pointed in her ruling that all the plaintiffs had pending emergency motions in their individual cases to deal with visitation.

The court also sided with DCFS, saying the Child Protection Act allows state officials the right to immediately suspend the visits in the interest of a child’s health and well-being.

All four women have pending child abuse cases in the Juvenile Court’s Child Protection Division, according to court records.

DCFS, in March, stopped supervised in-person visits to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so those women and many others have only been allowed to speak with their children by phone or see them on video conferencing calls.

Read the full report from Matthew Hendrickson here.

6:18 a.m. Ford tour gives Trump another chance not to wear publicly required face mask

DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. has told the White House that it requires everyone in its factories to wear face masks to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, but it’s not clear whether President Donald Trump will wear one when he visits a Detroit-area plant Thursday.

Trump, who is scheduled to tour a factory repurposed to make medical breathing machines near Detroit, has habitually refused to wear a mask at the White House and in recent public appearances.

In a statement, Ford said its policy requires everyone in factories to wear personal protective equipment, including masks, and that policy had been shared with the White House. When asked if the company would require Trump to wear the equipment, spokeswoman Rachel McCleery said, “The White House has its own safety and testing policies in place and will make its own determination.”

Trump didn’t give a definite answer when questioned at the White House Tuesday, saying it would depend on how close he gets to others.

Read the full report here.

New cases

Analysis & Commentary

7:45 p.m. Lynn Sweet’s rules of the road for social distancing while walking, running and biking

A quiz.

Q. You are walking on one side of a sidewalk. Someone strolling toward you veers within six feet of you. You don’t have any room to move but the other person does. You call out through your mask, “Six feet!”

The correct action for that person is:

a. Pretend not to hear and stay the course.

b. Give you the finger and swerve a little.

c. Create some distance by moving away.

The correct answer is c.

As some of our COVID-19 pandemic lockdown rules in Illinois are easing and the spring weather is bringing us outside more frequently to walk, run and bike, I’ve been navigating the new normal while social distancing. There is no best practices manual for this.

I’m a speed walker. I aim at five miles a day. As I roam around, I’ve made it a point to observe social or physical distancing behavior — who among us tries to observe the six feet; who doesn’t; and whether lapses appear willful or the result of being oblivious. I’ve become a student of the various tactics people are using and developing some of my own.

Read the full column by Lynn Sweet here.

2 p.m. Easy to say ‘play ball’ when it’s not your health on the line

Sports fans want sports back. They want bats and balls, wide receivers and one-handed catches, hockey sticks and missing teeth.

But how can the games return safely?

It’s the question that won’t go away, even as the major sports leagues formulate detailed plans to begin play in the face of the pandemic.

The many unknowns of the coronavirus do not allow for a simple answer. All the mandates proclaimed, all the safeguards put in place, all the best practices followed — and it’s still a roll of the dice.

How many major-league baseball players testing positive for COVID-19 per team would it take for the season to be shut down? One? Two? Five? How about players who have to be hospitalized? Would one player on a ventilator be enough of a bad look to close up shop for everyone?

This is the uncomfortable calculus that leagues surely are considering.

Read the full commentary by columnist Rick Morrissey.

6:44 a.m. I risk COVID-19 to clean downtown offices. What’s Congress doing for people like me?

COVID-19 has made it clearer than ever that we are closely interconnected. Only by pulling together and meeting the needs of all workers — black, white, brown, immigrant, native-born — can we all get through this crisis.

Many essential workers are immigrants and people of color and it’s not an option for us to work from home or shelter in place. I face the fear and head to work every day so that others can work in a clean, sanitized space.

The public is grateful for our sacrifice, but it’s time leaders in Congress turn the gratitude for essential workers into tangible support in the next stimulus bill. We need essential pay, personal protective equipment and payroll protection.

Read the full commentary by Urszula Przybys, a member of SEIU Local 1, here.

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