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Coronavirus live blog, August 8, 2020: Trump bypasses Congress, signs executive orders to extend unemployment benefits, defer payroll tax

Here’s what we learned about how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

After weeks of not being able to come to an agreement, President Donald Trump unilaterally acted and signed an executive order that exentened unemployment benefits to those effected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats were unhappy with the cut in the weekly payment. The benefits were reduced from $600 to $400, with the states picking up $100 of that tab. It was unclear where the money was coming from.

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

News

9 p.m. Trump bypasses Congress, signs executive orders to extend unemployment benefits, defer payroll tax

US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 8, 2020.
Jim Watson/Getty Images

Seizing the power of his podium and his pen, President Donald Trump on Saturday moved to bypass the nation’s elected lawmakers as he claimed the authority to defer payroll taxes and extend an expired unemployment benefit after negotiations with Congress on a new coronavirus rescue package collapsed.

At his private country club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump signed four executive orders to act where Congress hasn’t, contending Washington’s gridlock had compelled him to act as the pandemic undermined the country’s economy and imperiled his November reelection hopes.

Perhaps most crucially, Trump moved to continue paying a supplemental federal unemployment benefit for millions of Americans out of work during the outbreak. Congress allowed those payments to lapse on Aug. 1, and negotiations to extend them have been mired in partisan gridlock, with the White House and Democrats miles apart. Trump largely stayed on the sidelines during the administration’s negotiations with congressional leaders, leaving the talks on his side to chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

7 p.m. How safe is voting by mail? It’s a ‘leaky pipeline’ in many states

Brace yourself for what’s expected to be the first U.S. presidential election conducted mostly by mail. It could be messy.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, voting by mail in a contactless and socially distant way seems like a no-brainer. States have made the option widely available — only 10 now require voters to provide an excuse beyond fear of COVID-19 when requesting a ballot by mail — and some three in four Americans are expected to embrace the option for the Nov. 3 presidential election, up from one in four in the 2018 contest.

But running a vote-by-mail election is surprisingly complicated, and there’s a lot of room for things to go wrong. Validating and counting a deluge of posted ballots in an open and accountable way presents a major challenge, one that only about a half dozen states are fully prepared for.

Read the full story here.

5:45 p.m. Cubs plan workouts to stay sharp with weekend series postponed due to COVID-19

Saturday was a quiet day for the Cubs after Friday’s whirlwind in St. Louis. The Cubs three-game series against the Cardinals was postponed after three more members of the Cardinals tested positive for COVID-19.

The positive tests increased the number of Cardinals players and staff infected during the latest outbreak to 16. The weekend postponement was the first time the Cubs have experienced a change in their schedule due to coronavirus.

“I think overall, it’s just another one of those reminders of how quick things can get out of control right now in this environment,” manager David Ross said. “I think it’s a little bit of a reset for us, take a couple of days and we’ll get back to get some workouts in and then get back to focus on Cleveland when we play on Tuesday.

Read the full story by Russell Dorsey here.

3:30 p.m. Illinois’ COVID-19 rise continues with second straight 2,000-case day

Illinois logged more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases for a second straight day Saturday, once again ratcheting up concerns of a severe viral resurgence across the state.

Over the last 10 days, the state has recorded six of its highest daily caseloads since Memorial Day weekend, with the latest 2,190 additional cases confirmed by the Illinois Department of Public Health setting yet another two-month high.

Illinois has averaged 1,733 new cases per day over the first eight days of August — almost a thousand more cases per day than the state averaged over the first eight days of July.

The newest cases were confirmed among more than 48,000 tests, raising the statewide positivity rate over the last week to 4.2%. More than 3 million people have been tested overall.

Read more from Mitchell Armentrout here.

2 p.m. Schools face big coronavirus test as students return to classroom

Reopening schools is easy. Keeping them open will be the hard part.

As educators prepare to welcome students back to class for the first time in months, schools’ ability to quickly identify and contain coronavirus outbreaks before they get out of hand will be put to the test in thousands of districts around the country.

Newly reopened schools in Mississippi, Indiana and Georgia have already reported infections just days into the academic year, triggering virus protocols that include swiftly isolating infected students, tracing their contacts and quarantining people they exposed.

Read the full story here.

12:33 p.m. Mid-American Conference becomes first FBS conference to cancel fall football season due to COVID-19

The Mid-American Conference on Saturday became the first league at college football’s highest level to cancel its fall season because of the pandemic.

“I’m heartbroken we are in this place,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said.

With the MAC’s 12 schools facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly coronavirus protocols, and the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely, the conference’s university presidents made the decision to cancel all fall sports — including soccer and volleyball — and explore making them up in the spring season.

Though postponing could also prove costly without revenue generated by football media rights deals and ticket sales.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications or any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Read more from the Associated Press here.

8:45 a.m. Robert Beric eager to play in front of Fire fans... when that’s possible

Striker Robert Beric is the type of figure who builds strong relationships with fans. He’s just waiting for the chance to play in front of Fire supporters in Chicago and bond with them in person.

When the Fire announced his signing in January from French side Saint-Etienne, they did so with a video of Beric downing a shot of Malort, which turned into one of the team’s best-received posts on social media. Beric is also quick with a joke and speaks five languages.

On the field, Beric has scored twice in five games and has shown signs of being a dependable forward worthy of his designated player spot. At 6-2 and 183 pounds, Beric’s ability to leap for crosses figures to be an advantage for the Fire, while his strength gives them reliable hold-up play as teammates arrive into the attacking third of the field.

But because of circumstances beyond his control, Beric hasn’t played once in Chicago. The Fire’s two games before the pandemic paused the season were on the road, their next three were in Florida during the MLS is Back tournament, and if the 2020 season resumes in home markets it’s hard to picture fans being allowed in to watch.

Read more from Brian Sandalow here.

8:26 a.m. In praise of Bud Billiken, banished in 2020 by COVID-19

Saturday was Bud Billiken Day. This year, “The Bud” was banished.

Since 1929, the annual Bud Billiken Parade has been the apex of Chicago’s sunny, sultry summers, an iconic South Side celebration of Black children as they head back to school.

This year, the largest African American parade in the United States was cancelled, for the first time in 91 years, called off by the merciless restrictions of COVID-19.

In 1929 Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the legendary Chicago Defender newspaper, launched the parade to celebrate childhood and the joys of summer. It was sponsored by the Chicago Defender Charities.

According to the parade’s website, in the 1900’s, a Billiken “was a charm doll embodiment of good luck and fortune and was also regarded as the guardian of children.”

Read more from Laura Washington here.

7:45 a.m. Last-ditch virus aid talks collapse; no help for jobless now

WASHINGTON — A last-ditch effort by Democrats to revive collapsing Capitol Hill talks on vital COVID-19 rescue money ended in disappointment on Friday, making it increasingly likely that Washington gridlock will mean more hardship for millions of people who are losing enhanced jobless benefits and further damage for an economy pummeled by the still-raging coronavirus.

“It was a disappointing meeting,” declared top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, saying the White House had rejected an offer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to curb Democratic demands by about $1 trillion. He urged the White House to “negotiate with Democrats and meet us in the middle. Don’t say it’s your way or no way.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “Unfortunately we did not make any progress today.”

With the collapse of the talks, he said President Donald Trump was now likely to issue executive orders on home evictions and on student loan debt.

Read the full story from the Associated Press here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

8:45 a.m. Go ahead and laugh, but maybe the Bears’ approach to COVID-19 will help during the season

These are strange times for everybody but perhaps strangest for NFL coaches, who normally would be screaming at players to their heart’s desire during training camp but instead are reduced to watching them do jumping jacks these days.

OK, maybe not jumping jacks. But strength and conditioning work. And walkthrough choreography. Certainly not hitting or blocking, those activities commonly associated with football. COVID-19 has forced the NFL to ease into tough-guy activities this summer. Hitting won’t commence until padded practices begin Aug. 17.

This probably doesn’t need to be pointed out, but football is a contact sport and social distancing isn’t. What are football coaches without large human beings smacking other large human beings? Coaches without nourishment, that’s what.

But coaches are coaches. They can find meaning in anything. An offensive lineman is busy clipping his toenails, and his position coach is amazed by the attention to detail. A quarterback sits reading something other than the playbook, and his coach, while slightly concerned about communist tendencies, raves about the kid’s intelligence.

The Bears are very proud of their response to the pandemic, with players dutifully wearing masks and avoiding each other like the … coronavirus. They also think their approach to COVID-19 might be a competitive advantage this season. My initial response: That’s such a Bears thing to think. Over the years, I’ve railed against the franchise’s preoccupation with things that are secondary (team history, practice facilities, etc.) and its failure at things that should be primary (winning games). I’ve criticized coach Matt Nagy for praising quarterback Mitch Trubisky for his leadership skills, his devotion to football and his desire to be great. What about, you know, his ability to play quarterback, we’ve asked and asked. Any news on that front, coach?

Read more from Rick Morrissey here.

7:50 a.m. Preschool programs forge ahead during the COVID-19 pandemic but raise a warning flag

It’s been seven weeks now since the Carole Robertson Center for Learning reopened its early childhood education programs in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it hasn’t been easy.

There were new safety procedures for staff, extra responsibilities for everyone plus added costs for protective equipment, cleaning and staffing requirements.

On three occasions, someone contracting the virus necessitated the closing of an entire classroom, requiring all students and teachers in the class to stay home for two weeks.

When that happens, other families often choose to keep their children home for a while, too. Government funding that’s tied to enrollment and attendance dwindles as a result.

But even as the Chicago Public Schools will be keeping classrooms closed this fall, the Carole Robertson Center and other nonprofit organizations that form the backbone of Chicago’s early childhood education network are forging ahead.

Read the full column from Mark Brown here.