Coronavirus live blog, July 23, 2020: Unemployed Chicago residents will see benefits shrink by $600 a week without pandemic relief package

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, July 23, 2020: Unemployed Chicago residents will see benefits shrink by $600 a week without pandemic relief package

The midsummer trend of increasing coronavirus cases continued in Illinois. Thursday recorded the biggest number of new cases Illinois has seen in a single day since May 25 — 1,624. Another troubling sign is the statewide testing positivity rate, which has increased to 3.4% — nearly a full percentage point higher than it was two weeks ago. 

Also, with just over a week remaining in July, thousand of unemployed people in the state — and nation — anxiously await the status of the $600 per week of unemployment insurance from the federal government, which is due to expire at the end of the month. Congress is debating its extension now, but have yet to make a deal.

After much resistance, President Donald Trump announced that he’s canceling the portion of the Republican National Convention that was to be held in Jacksonville, Florida because of a surge in coronavirus cases.

Here’s what we learned today in the fight against the coronavirus in Chicago, the state and the nation.


9 p.m. Unemployed Chicago residents will see benefits shrink by $600 a week without pandemic relief package


Gerardo Reyes, 42, poses for a portrait outside his home in Little Village, Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

For more than 10 years, it seemed like Gerardo Reyes never took a break from his job at a small printing press in Chicago unless it was for a holiday.

Even with news about the increasing cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, he thought his job was secure and the business would stay afloat like it did during the 2007 recession. But it’s now been 18 weeks since Reyes was laid off from Rohner Press after it temporarily closed because of the pandemic.

He is among thousands of people in Illinois who could see their weekly unemployment benefits shrink unless Congress extends the COVID-19 federal pandemic-related unemployment compensation that has given workers an extra $600 a week of unemployment insurance — part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was signed into law March 27.

Read the full story by Elvia Malagón here.

8:40 p.m. Skyrocketing cases prove summer, heat are no barrier to COVID-19

Any hopes that summer’s high temperatures might slow the spread of the coronavirus were smashed in June and July by skyrocketing cases across the country, especially in some of the warmest states.

Colin Carlson wasn’t a bit surprised that summer heat failed to curb the virus that causes COVID-19, which has claimed more than 140,000 lives in the U.S. That notion, no matter how many times it was repeated, was never supported by science, said Carlson, an assistant research professor at Georgetown University who studies the relationship between climate change and infectious disease.

The optimistic, though inaccurate forecast was among several persistent misconceptions about heat and light, and other issues related to the spread of the virus, that leave epidemiologists like Carlson increasingly frustrated. They see and hear mixed messages and miscommunications all the time, whether it’s in social media, their circle of friends and family, hastily assembled research papers or the White House. 

Read the full story here.

8:05 p.m. Illinois bar exam delayed again, will be held remotely in October due to coronavirus concerns

The state’s bar exam will be delayed for a second time and held remotely in early October because of health concerns over the “once-in-a-generation” coronavirus pandemic, the Illinois Supreme Court announced Thursday,

The exam, which is held twice a year, was first delayed in July and pushed to Sept. 9 and 10. The exam will now be held online between Oct. 5 and 6.

The higher court reached its decision after its “close and frequent contact” with the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, which was “monitoring the ever-evolving science and guidelines as the nation, state, and local authorities navigate this once-in-a-generation pandemic.”

Previously, the board had advocated to hold the exam in-person and released safety protocols for test-takers, including mandated mask wearing and social distancing.

Read the full story by Matthew Hendrickson here.

7 p.m. Trump cancels portion of Republican National Convention in Jacksonville due to Florida COVID-19 surge

President Donald Trump, confronting the reality of a COVID-19 pandemic surge in Florida, on Thursday cancelled the Jacksonville part of the Republican National Convention in August, where he had envisioned crowds cheering him on to a second term.

The official convention business - where Trump formally gets the nomination - will be in Charlotte, N.C.

Trump’s announcement was a surprise, with convention planners getting no advance notice from the party’s Committee on Arrangements.

Read the full story by Lynn Sweet here.

6:15 p.m. 6 downstate counties sue over Illinois COVID-19 restrictions

Residents in six central and southern Illinois counties, including the state capital’s home, filed lawsuits Thursday against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s restrictions on social interaction prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The actions taken in Bond, Clay, Clinton, Edgar, Richland and Sangamon counties seek court orders declaring there is no public health emergency as defined by Pritzker’s Public Health Department. Springfield, the state capital, is in Sangamon County.

Plaintiffs in each case seek injunctions against the disaster declaration Pritzker’s using to justify restrictions on public interaction to limit transmission of the virus. The state has reported 7,367 deaths among 167,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus — mostly in Chicago and Cook County.

Read the full story here.

5:30 p.m. Greenhouse Theater Center’s general manager resigns in protest over live show’s opening during pandemic

Derek Rienzi Van Tassel, the general manager of the Greenhouse Theater Center, has resigned his post in protest over what he calls the “foolish and dangerous” decision by the company to open a live theater show this weekend.

The production, a remount of “Judy & Liza, Once in a Lifetime: The London Palladium Concert — A Tribute” starring Nancy Hays (as Judy Garland) and Alexa Castelvecchi (as Liza Minnelli), is slated to run July 24-August 9 at the theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue.

Via Facebook on Thursday, Rienzi Van Tassel made public his July 18 decision to exit the job, calling out the owners of the Greenhouse Theater Center: “William Spatz and Wendy Spatz are not friends of the Chicago Theater Community. Their decision to reopen The Greenhouse with a show this weekend is foolish and dangerous. The theater is in the epicenter of the virus, Lincoln Park, and they have not thoroughly addressed their safety precautions. Reopening right now in the middle of this pandemic will only spread the virus further, cause another lockdown, and put more theater artists out of work. This is unacceptable.”

Read the full story by Miriam Di Nunzio and Catey Sullivan here.

3:15 p.m. Could Pepcid cure COVID-19? Trump admin thought it was worth $21M to study, but heartburn remedy fizzled

As the coronavirus began its deadly march through the world, two well-respected American doctors identified a possible but seemingly unlikely remedy: Pepcid, the heartburn medication found on drugstore shelves everywhere.

There were no published data or studies to suggest that famotidine, the active ingredient in Pepcid, would be effective against the novel coronavirus.

And in early April, when government scientists learned of a proposal to spend millions in federal research funding to study Pepcid, they found it laughable, according to interviews, a whistleblower complaint and internal government records obtained by The Associated Press.

But that didn’t stop the Trump administration from granting a $21 million emergency contract to researchers trying it out on ailing patients. The Food and Drug Administration gave the clinical trial speedy approval even as a top agency official worried that the proposed daily injections of high doses of famotidine for already sick patients pushed safety “to the limits,” internal government emails show.

Read the full story here.

2 p.m. Illinois sees 1,624 new COVID-19 infections, biggest daily caseload since Memorial Day

Illinois’ gradual rise in coronavirus cases took another step up Thursday as health officials announced another 1,624 people have tested positive, the state’s highest daily caseload in two months. 

The new cases were confirmed among the latest batch of 39,706 test results reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health, raising the statewide testing positivity rate over the last week to 3.4% — nearly a full percentage point higher than it was two weeks ago. 

The latest tally — the biggest number of new cases Illinois has seen in a single day since May 25 — was announced a day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker sounded the alarm on the state’s steady increase in coronavirus cases over the last few weeks. 

In June, Illinois’ daily caseloads measured in four digits only twice, but it’s already happened 10 times with over a week left in July. The state is averaging about 1,032 new cases daily so far this month. 

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

11 a.m. Theater audience must be masked for duration of show at reopening playhouse

With Phase Four of Illinois’ coronavirus recovery plan allowing for indoor gatherings of 50 or less, Lincoln Park’s Greenhouse Theater Center will re-open its doors Friday with a live, two-woman musical.

For audiences, attending the show works like this: All tickets much be purchased in advance and all attendees must wear masks the entire time they’re in the theater (including during the show). There will be no ticket or concession sales inside the theater. There will be no programs or ushers. Ticket holders will give their name to the sole box office attendant (shielded by plexiglass) on arrival, and will then be escorted by the house manager directly to their seats. The box office will open 45 minutes before showtime.

Every other row in the theater will be left empty, and each ticket holder will be at least six feet away from other audience members and at least 15 feet away from the actors singing on stage, according to Greenhouse Theater Center owners William and Wendy Spatz. The 25-foot-wide stage will allow the actors to remain at least 15 feet away from each other while singing.

The box office rep is responsible for cleaning and disinfecting the theater and the lobby before every performance, William Spatz said. A separate cleaning crew will clean the dressing rooms.

The house manager is responsible for enforcing mask and social distancing compliance before, during and after the show, Spatz said. If audience members fail to comply, “there’s a simple solution. We call the police,” he said. “Or, if someone in the audience takes off their mask off during the show and the house manager sees it? We’ll stop the show.”

Read the full story from Catey Sullivan here.

10:23 a.m. How does contact tracing work?

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been promisingsince April that he would step up efforts to track people potentially exposed to coronavirus patients. The practice, which involves tracking down people who were in contact with those who test positive, is regarded by health officials as key to limiting the virus’ spread and instrumental in saving lives.

“Contact tracing allows us to break the chain of transmission to prevent large outbreaks and, ultimately save lives,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contact tracing typically involves:

  • Interviewing people with COVID-19 to identify everyone they had close contact with during the time they may have been infectious
  • Notifying contacts of their potential exposure
  • Referring contacts for testing
  • Monitoring contacts for signs and symptoms of COVID-19
  • Connecting contacts with services they might need during the self-quarantine period

Pritzker is pledging more than $150 million to public health departments outside Cook County to help them bolster their contact tracing efforts. Another $60 million will be given to nine community organizations, also outside Cook, that will coordinate regional tracking efforts, state public health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.

The community organizations will contract with local groups to help reach “hard to reach” populations, including various ethnic groups, the homeless, migrant workers and others “leery of talking” with the government, Arnold said.

Read more about state funding for contact tracing here.

8:41 a.m. US signs contract with Pfizer for COVID-19 vaccine doses

The Trump administration will pay Pfizer nearly $2 billion for a December delivery of 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine the pharmaceutical company is developing, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Wednesday.

The U.S. could buy another 500 million doses under the agreement, Azar said.

“Now those would, of course, have to be safe and effective” and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Azar said during an appearance on Fox News.

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE announced separately that the agreement is with HHS and the Defense Department for a vaccine candidate the companies are developing jointly. It is the latest in a series of similar agreements with other vaccine companies.

The agreement is part of President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, under which multiple COVID-19 vaccines are being developed simultaneously. The program aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021.

Read the full report here.

New cases

Analysis & Commentary

3:15 p.m. Support your favorite restaurants — so long as they’re abiding by the rules on masks

The next time you go into a restaurant, take a good look around. Peek in the kitchen if you can.

Are all workers wearing masks? They should be, unless they always are six feet away from others. But anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows a six-foot rule is tough to maintain, which makes masks imperative.

Four times in the last month, when my husband and I picked up take-out meals at various restaurants in Des Plaines, a northwest suburb a stone’s throw from O’Hare Airport, workers in crowded kitchens wore no facial coverings. Some servers also weren’t wearing them.

Like a lot of you, I think it’s important to support local businesses during this pandemic. I don’t want to see restaurants shut down and livelihoods go down the drain.

Read the full column by Marlen Garcia here.

8:14 a.m. Challenging times require all hands on deck

I had just started on my bucket list (having taken a long-awaited trip to Cuba) when the coronavirus pandemic shut down my dreams of exotic travel.

Stuck at home, my plans to take up line dancing and to play with clay in a pottery class also got put on hold.

But as the Good Book teaches, there is a season for everything:

“…A time to break down. And a time to build up;

A time to keep silence and a time to speak,” the book of Ecclesiastes points out.

Think about it.

We are confronted with a worldwide pandemic that has killed more than 144,000 people in this country, most of them Black and Brown — highlighting long-standing racial inequities in our health care system.

At the same time, we are witnessing the resurgence in blatant “Jim Crow” racism — to the point that a white police officer could calmly and publicly snuff out the life of George Floyd in Minneapolis during an arrest — igniting days of violent protests nationwide.

Now is not the time to be silenced.

Read Mary Mitchell’s full column here.

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