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Latest coronavirus news for May 4, 2020: Live updates

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

The latest

The inside story on desperately needed swabs: 7 things to know

FRANCE-HEALTH-VIRUS-INDUSTRY
A swab is an item as light as a feather but in short supply as the demand for COVID-19 testing grows. Mass testing is key to trying to reopen our lives, schools and economy.
Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP via Getty Images

“We need swabs,” Gov. J. B. Pritzker said at his Sunday briefing, “We don’t have enough swabs.”

Earlier on Sunday, Pritzker said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” “Recently we got a call from the White House telling us that in May they’re sending us 600,000 swabs and I’m very grateful for that.”

What is a swab?

It’s an item as light as a feather but in short supply as the demand for COVID-19 testing grows. Mass testing is key to trying to reopen our lives, schools and economy.

The federal Food and Drug Administration in recent weeks has expanded swab testing options and materials, fast tracking decision making in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Swabs are essential to collecting samples from a nose or throat. Swabs are put in a package with a reagent — it could be some kind of a liquid — to preserve the sample. The sample is sent to a lab with a testing machine to see if it is positive for COVID-19.

No swab, no test.

Merriam Webster defines a swab as “a wad of absorbent material usually wound around one end of a small stick and used especially for applying medication or for removing material from an area.”

That definition doesn’t go far enough.

Here are seven things to know about the swabs needed for COVID-19 testing.


News

9:34 p.m. Church that challenged stay-at-home ruling and lost plans to appeal

Leaders at an Evangelical church in Northwestern Illinois announced Monday they are appealing a federal court ruling that upheld Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s right to scale back in-person church services as part of his stay-at-home order to help prevent spread of the coronavirus.

The legal fracas began when leaders at the Beloved Church in Lena, located about 50 miles west of Rockford, filed a complaint Thursday seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction in order to resume worship services with its 80 congregants.

Pritzker’s stay-at-home order allows 10 people to attend a church service.

A U.S. district judge issued a ruling Sunday upholding Pritzker’s order as constitutional.

“Given the continuing threat posed by COVID-19, the [stay-at-home] Order preserves relatively robust avenues for praise, prayer and fellowship and passes constitutional muster,” Judge John Z. Lee wrote in a 37-page decision.

The lawsuit, filed by the Thomas More Society on behalf of The Beloved Church, had been the first significant legal challenge to Illinois’ stay-at-home order in federal court.

The church’s pastor, Stephen Cassell, has defied the order.

Read the full report from Mitch Dudek here.

8:16 p.m. Lightfoot rules out public safety cuts, but worried about state shortfall’s impact on state aid to Chicago

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she’s “not ever gonna cut back on public safety” — no matter how much city revenues plummet because of the stay-at-home shutdown of the Chicago economy — but she’s worried about a cutback in state aid to Chicago.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has projected a $2.7 billion shortfall for the current state budget and a $4.6 billion gap for the fiscal year beginning July 1. With short-term borrowing to get through the coronavirus pandemic, the total shortfall for the fiscal year 2021 budget would be $6.2 billion when compared to the budget that Pritzker released in February.

Lightfoot has refused to project Chicago’s budget shortfall, fearing an initial estimate would end up too low and must be revised upward at a time when laid off Chicagoans are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. She has said repeatedly that to the extent possible, she wants city government to act as a “local stimulus” and that the last thing she wants is to lay off or furlough city employees.

On Monday, the mayor was asked whether Chicago could be forced to follow the lead of other major cities now considering previously unthinkable cutbacks impacting lifeguards at public pools and even police officers on the front lines of the pandemic.

“We’re not ever gonna cut back on public safety. I can tell you that. That’s not a thing that can or will do — particularly not when we’re also continuing to fight the epidemic of gun violence,” Lightfoot said.

Read the full story from City Hall reporter Fran Spielman.

7:01 p.m. Dart touts improvements, warns of security issues as Cook County Jail battles COVID-19

New protocols put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside Cook County Jail may be wearing on detainees, and may not be possible to maintain if the usual summertime rise in arrests leads to an influx of inmates, lawyers for Sheriff Tom Dart said in a court-ordered report.

The report details changes made at the jail where more than 500 detainees and 300-plus jail staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Six detainees and one corrections officer have also died from complications related to coronavirus since late March.

The report given to U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly last week includes more than 200 pages of documentation showing the twice-weekly distribution of soap and cleansers to detainees, and nearly a dozen coronavirus-related disturbances inside the jail complex within the last month.

Inmate advocates in March filed a class-action lawsuit seeking the release or transfer of elderly and medically compromised detainees, prompting Kennelly to order heightened sanitation and single cells for detainees wherever possible.

Dart has angrily contested criticism of his handling of the outbreak, citing massive efforts including reopening long-closed sections of the jail and converting a former boot camp into a 500-bed quarantine hospital. Despite those efforts, the number of detainees who have COVID-19 peaked at 274 on April 12, according to data compiled from the sheriff’s public reports by Injustice Watch.

Read the full report from Andy Grimm here.

6:36 p.m. Illinois’ high times keep rolling amid coronavirus pandemic as recreational pot sales top $37 million in April

As Illinois’ economy has come to a screeching halt in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, recreational weed has remained a hot commodity with sales topping $37 million last month.

April’s nearly $37.3 million in sales trails only the $39.2 million worth of adult-use cannabis sold by pot shops in January, the first month the drug was legalized for recreational use, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Since the start of the year, Illinois dispensaries have sold over $147 million in recreational cannabis.

Though many businesses have been forced to temporarily shut their doors as officials look to quell the spread of the new coronavirus, both recreational and medical pot sales were deemed essential. To encourage social distancing at stores, new rules have been put in place requiring shoppers to stand six feet apart and allowing curbside pickup for medical pot patients and their designated caregivers through the end of the month.

Read the full report from Tom Schuba here.

5:48 p.m. Organizer of Little Village parade says to stay home for Cinco de Mayo

Hector Escobar has planned the annual Cinco de Mayo festival and parade in Little Village for years, but instead of encouraging people to celebrate on Tuesday, he has one simple request this year: Stay home.

“Don’t go have drinks outside. Let’s be smart about this. We only have one life,” Escobar said. “Play music in your home and celebrate by keeping others safe.”

The multi-day Cinco de Mayo celebration — which marks the Mexican army’s victory over the France at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 — was to kick off last Friday at Douglas Park and end with a parade on Sunday.

Restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic changed those plans.

Read the full story from Manny Ramos here.

5:30 p.m. Costco requires face coverings in stores starting Monday

No face mask? No free samples at Costco.

Costco members and guests will be required to wear masks in Costco stores starting Monday to help protect employees as well as other members.

The masks must be worn at all times when in Costco and cover the mouth and nose, according to a statement from the company. Children under the age of 2 and those unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition will be exempt. Employees are already required to wear masks while working.

The statement asked shoppers to continue to social distance while in stores, as the masks are not a substitute for social distancing.

“We know some members may find this inconvenient or objectionable, but under the circumstances we believe the added safety is worth any inconvenience,” Craig Jelinek, President and CEO of Costco Wholesale, said in the statement. “This is not simply a matter of personal choice; a face covering protects not just the wearer, but others too.”

— Alison Martin

4:50 p.m. 46 more Illinois deaths reported as daily COVID-19 case count hits 2,341

Officials on Monday said another 46 people have died of coronavirus in Illinois — marking two days in which the state has seen less than 100 deaths per day.

But it remains unclear whether that lower death rate will stick. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has said the state will remain in a death peak through early May, with 50 to 150 deaths projected every day.

And with an uptick in test results, the state has seen more than 2,000 daily coronavirus cases a day.

In total, the state received 13,834 tests results on Sunday. Monday’s new case count is 2,341 cases, bringing the state’s total to 63,840 positive cases. With the 46 deaths reported on Monday, the state has lost 2,662 people to COVID-19.

The virus is in 97 of the state’s 102 counties.

Hospitalization numbers have remained relatively flat, according to health officials. Pritzker has said he wants to see 14 days of declining hospitalizations and new cases before more parts of the state could reopen — and the state’s economy could ramp back up.

Read the full story on Illinois’ latest coronavirus update here.

4:10 p.m. Chicago’s African American women restaurateurs ‘refuse to lose’ their livelihoods to pandemic

Keisha Rucker, co-owner of Hyde Park’s The Soul Shack had just celebrated the restaurant’s one-year anniversary two days before Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered the state’s bars and restaurants to close to dine-in customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outside of attending college at DePaul University, Rucker has never truly left Hyde Park.

Attending Shoesmith and William H. Ray elementary schools, and Kenwood Academy, along with opening up the eatery on 53rd Street (the neighborhood’s business epicenter) has earned her the nickname “Mz. Hyde Park.”

Since the executive order took effect, however, she says she has lost 80% of her business.

“We have been able to stay open every day so far; free delivery service is currently keeping the business afloat,” said Rucker. “So I have been able to keep most of my staff with full-time positions.

“I had a straight business plan for dining and carryout delivery service and I had to revamp my whole system within less than 30 days when they came down with a stay-at-home order. So far, I have been able to keep the business open; that is my community.”

On Wednesdays, Soul Shack gives free meals to Hyde Park’s homeless community. The meal consists of fried chicken and two sides — called “South Sides.”

Read the full story from Evan F. Moore here.

2:35 p.m. Does Lightfoot’s Chicago Housing Solidarity Pledge do enough?

Last week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled her Chicago Housing Solidarity Pledge: an unprecedented but non-binding commitment to show “flexibility and restraint” in dealing with one another during this unprecedented time of hardship to prevent the pandemic from triggering another wave of foreclosures.

Participating landlords agreed to offer tenants grace periods with terms that “avoid repayment at the end of the deferral period.” They also promised to waive late fees for missed payments and allow renters who miss payments to amortize those payments over time.

In a letter to the Sun-Times published Sunday, Hyde Park resident Helena Duncan of the Lift the Ban Coalition called the agreement “a slap in the face to Chicago’s renters.” She writes:

This non-binding and totally unenforceable pledge allows landlords to say they’ll go easy on tenants, for example, by eliminating late fees while providing no substantive, universal relief to struggling renters.

If Lightfoot truly cared about renters, who comprise more than half of her constituents, she’d use her platform to urge Gov. J.B. Pritzker to repeal a statewide ban on rent control through executive action and institute a rent and mortgage freeze.

She’d listen to the tenants and advocacy groups who have been fighting for this, to those of us warning that once the eviction moratorium is lifted, families with several months’ of rent debt will be on the streets.

Read this and more letters from Sun-Times readers this week here.

2:20 p.m. Galewood townhome that was site of viral party also hosted smaller gathering a month earlier

The Galewood townhome used to host a videotaped house party on April 25 was the scene of a smaller gathering March 26 that triggered neighbor complaints and a visit, but no citations, from police.

Like the second gathering, Chicago Fire Department Cmdr. Christine Matthews said the earlier party, attended by 10 people, was hosted by her 26-year-old son, who doesn’t live with her, but has a key to her townhome “for emergencies.”

Matthews said she didn’t find out about the first party until the second, larger party went viral. Matthews worked 24-hour shifts as a paramedic on both days.

“If I had known about the first party, that second party would have never happened . . . I would have took my keys. I would have locked my house down. He wouldn’t have access to my house to throw an even bigger, messier party,” Matthews said.

Read the full story from Fran Spielman here.

1:48 p.m. Chicago-area coronavirus testing map

Dozens of testing sites for COVID-19 have been established across the Chicago area to help track the spread of the novel coronavirus. Check out the most up-to-date locations to get tested.

Keep track of how many people have been tested in Illinois, including the number of positive and negative cases, with additional graphs here.

12:34 p.m. Coronavirus testing site opens in Back of the Yards

A new testing site for the coronavirus opened Monday in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, promising to process up to 500 patients a week.

The testing site will operate out of the Access Family Health Center, 5159 S. Ashland Ave., and is open to anyone who is experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Testing is offered 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, with the first hour being reserved for seniors and people living with disabilities. The test is free at the point of service for everyone, even those without medical insurance.

Access Community Health Network CEO Donna Thompson said patients who get tested will also leave with educational materials in both English and Spanish about how to manage COVID-19 at home and where to access public resources.

Read the full story from Carlos Ballesteros here.

11:30 a.m. Miami Dolphins unveil plan to host fans in stadium amid coronavirus pandemic

The Dolphins have a plan in place to host fans in their stadium during the 2020 season — even as the NFL is still figuring out its strategy during the coronavirus pandemic.

As other pro sports leagues remain on hold to adhere to shelter-in-place and social-distancing guidelines, the NFL is still set to begin its season Sept. 10. The league has been discussing contingency plans to push the season back to October in empty stadiums, according to ESPN.

“We would have times to come in for security at different gates so people would be separated out, in terms of when they enter the stadium,” Dolphins CEO and president Tom Garfinkel said Monday in an interview on “Good Morning America,” per ESPN. ”We would exit the stadium much like a church environment, where each row exits so people aren’t filing out all at the same time in a herd.”

The mock-up plan mirrors carry-out food line protocol established by restaurants. The Dolphins would include colored spots on the ground to mark where people stand before entering Hard Rock Stadium, allowing fans to stay six feet apart. The Dolphins could be down to 15,000 fans in the 65,000-seat stadium.

Read the full story here.

11 a.m. Grant Park Music Festival canceled due to coronavirus pandemic

Chicago’s outdoor music festival season has suffered its latest casualty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Grant Park Music Festival on Monday announced the cancellation of its 2020 season, originally set for June 10-Aug. 15 at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park and other locations across the Chicago area. More than 300,000 people attend the festival each year.

The free classical music festival, featuring the Grant Park Orchestra, under the direction of artistic director and principal conductor Carlos Kalmar, and the Grant Park Chorus, under the direction of Christopher Bell, has been a summertime tradition since 1935. Attracting world-renowned musicians and singers from across the country and around the world, the festival has continuously provided a diverse repertoire of classical music favorites and world premieres.

In addition, the festival has been home to classic movie nights (featuring the orchestra providing live accompaniment to screenings of some of Hollywood’s greatest musicals) and Broadway show celebrations.

Read the full story from Miriam Di Nunzio here.

9:21 a.m. In-person visits for parents of children in DCFS care have been suspended since March

As millions of people have learned over a lonely springtime of social distancing, phone calls and video chats are no substitute for seeing loved ones in person.

In Illinois, the limitations of phone and online communications are particularly painful for many parents of children in the custody of the Department of Children & Family Services, which in March canceled in-person visits for thousands of children over concern about the spread of COVID-19.

The agency in late March all but shut down in-person visits for parents who are allowed supervised visits with their children, citing concerns over the health of DCFS workers, children and foster parents.

For Berwyn mother Leticia Seeman, that means video calls have been the only contact she has had since March with her 4-month old daughter, who has been in the custody of her parents since DCFS began an investigation in February.

“Sometimes I can get a smile out of her, but I don’t know if she really recognizes my voice,” Seeman said Friday, a day when Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s modified stay-at-home order took effect, loosening restrictions on activities for state residents.

“Today, I woke up, and people can go golfing, but I can’t see my baby. I can’t hold her. I can’t feed her. I have no interaction with her but the phone.”

Read the full story from Andy Grimm here.

8:08 a.m. Hours after cops broke up Lawndale party, 5 teens were shot at a gathering in the same block

Five teenagers were wounded in a shooting early Sunday at a gathering in the Lawndale neighborhood — just hours after officers enforcing the statewide stay-at-home order broke up another get-together in the same block.

Officers initially responded about 8:45 p.m. Saturday to the 3700 block of West 13th Street and dispersed a crowd, police said. Officers then returned to the block just after 3:30 a.m. Sunday when five males between the ages of 15 and 19 were struck by bullets sprayed from a passing gray sedan during a “large gathering.”

The teenage victims were all taken to hospitals in fair condition, police said. As of Sunday evening, no one was in custody.

The attack happened a day after Mayor Lori Lightfoot offered a stark warning to partygoers as she walked through the East Garfield Park neighborhood, just over a mile from where the gunfire erupted.

Read the full story here.

6:18 a.m. Illinois sets new daily record by processing nearly 20K coronavirus tests, finding 2,994 new cases

Illinois processed a new daily record of 19,417 coronavirus tests Saturday and 2,994 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, health officials announced Sunday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Illinois also suffered another 63 deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the state’s coronavirus death toll to 2,618 and total case count to 61,499.

The 63 deaths mark only the third time since April 21 that the state has recorded fewer than 70 deaths in a given day, and the 19,417 tests processed shatters the previous record of 16,316 set on April 24.

The 15.4 percent infection rate — the percentage of tests that came back positive — is also lower than normal.

A total of 4,701 Illinoisans are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, with 1,232 occupying ICU beds. Ninety-seven of the state’s 102 counties have recorded cases.

Read the full story by Tom Schuba and Ben Pope here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

5:55 p.m. America’s road back from COVID-19 must begin with an end to the politics of division

We think we can all agree that the woman who carried an “Arbeit macht frei, JB” sign at a downtown rally on Friday was not speaking for a significant number of people in Illinois.

She was speaking for Nazis.

But more importantly, we don’t believe the hundreds of demonstrators at the Thompson Center rally, or at a larger rally in Springfield on the same day, were speaking for a significant number of people — not when it comes to Illinois’ response to COVID-19.

The demonstrators in their foolish approach — no masks, no social distancing and no respect for science — were out of step with the vast majority of people in Illinois, who accept that the coronavirus is real and deadly and have been working hard to keep it at bay.

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

5:30 p.m. We must protect the right to vote in the November elections

The coronavirus does not discriminate, but people do. The coronavirus is not partisan, but politicians are. When we should be coming together to address a shared crisis, some are intent on driving us apart and exacting partisan advantage in the midst of the crisis.

Across the country, Republicans are intensifying their efforts to make it harder to vote, with particular focus on suppressing the votes of African Americans and other minorities.

With the pandemic making in-person voting dangerous, Congress should move rapidly to provide resources to help every state create systems for voting by mail. The first rescue package, the CARES Act, included some money for vote-by-mail programs, but far short of what is needed.

Why not provide it? Republicans are worried that voting by mail may increase turnout, particularly among low-income and minority voters. Donald Trump voiced the fear, saying “They had things, levels of voting, that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” Trump said this in March, dismissing Democratic efforts to expand mail-in voting, make registration easier, and extend voting days.

Read the full commentary from Rev. Jesse Jackson.

9:32 a.m. Stay-at-home orders or not, with technology, the doors of the church are always open

Everyone has the right to church, says a federal lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of The Beloved Church, a small evangelical congregation outside of Rockford. It is fighting Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s extension of the COVID-19 stay-at-home executive order.

The plaintiffs argue that by classifying sacred worship as “non-essential,” Pritzker and other public officials demonstrate “illegal and discriminatory hostility to religious practice, churches, and people of faith” and are “relegating them to second-class citizenship.” The lawsuit was filed by the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm in Chicago.

“Most faith leaders have found new ways to connect with parishioners” via Zoom and other online outlets during the pandemic, Pritzker responded.

The governor also tweaked his executive order, to classify religious gatherings as “essential activities.” Illinois residents can now “engage in the free exercise of religion, provided that such exercise must comply with social distancing requirements and the limit on gatherings of more than 10 people in keeping with CDC guidelines for the protection of public health.”

To God, nothing is more sacred than life. In this pandemic, I am staying home to save them.

Read the full column from Laura Washington here.

6:08 a.m. Trump’s blatant taxpayer-paid ploy to grab credit for stimulus checks: A note on White House letterhead

President Donald Trump hijacked what should have been a routine IRS confirmation letter into a taxpayer-paid election-year messaging tool sent to millions of potential voters in Illinois and across the nation.

Folks who received their COVID-19 economic stimulus cash via direct deposit in mid-April last week received a note on White House letterhead with Trump’s grandiose Sharpie signature.

There’s a Spanish language version on the other side that Trump also signed. The top of the letter says “The White House” with the word Washington underneath.

The return address on the letters is from the Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, and it includes the warning, “Official Business,” with the penalty for private use $300.

The letters, worth mentioning, were mailed through the U.S. Postal Service, the cash-short agency Trump is angry at because of his grievances against Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. Trump wants to deny the USPS emergency COVID-19 aid.

Read the full column from Lynn Sweet here.