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Afternoon Edition: May 4, 2020

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

Leticia Seeman lost custody of her infant daughter in February, and has not held her child in a month.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

Today will be cloudy, with a high near 50 degrees. The low tonight will be around 40 degrees. Tomorrow will be the same as today: cloudy with a high near 50 degrees, plus a chance of showers.

Top story

Social distancing hits hard for families in DCFS system

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, those limitations 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.

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.”

We’re making our vital coronavirus coverage free for all readers. See the latest news here.

Advocates for parents have complained to state officials for months about the blanket policy that has stalled visitation for parents for six weeks. Poor families, who comprise the vast majority of children in the state child welfare system, may lack access to cellphones — or pricey wireless data plans — needed to do video calls, said Tanya Gassenheimer, an attorney for the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

“We’re talking about multiple months in which parents have no physical access to their children. That is its own public health concern, the mental health impact on children, the stress on parents, who do not to know if their children have been exposed, if they’re healthy,” Gassenheimer said. “We are asking that the system take parenting and parents’ access to their children as seriously as the public health issues”

Judge Patricia Martin, presiding judge over Child Protective courts, said while she has sympathy for parents and children in her court, she is trying to adhere to guidelines from DCFS and the Centers for Disease Control by limiting in-person contact.

“I feel sympathetic to any parent, anyone who has contact with a child that is restricted to FaceTime,” she said. “The issue for me is keeping that kid safe, and the parent safe, and the foster parent safe, and the [DCFS] worker safe.”

Read the full story from Andy Grimm.

More news you need

  1. Greg Zanis, the carpenter who single-handedly built thousands of crosses for shooting victims across the country, died this morning. Aurora’s “Cross Man” lived long enough to see hundreds of people drive by his home in a long procession Friday, a “living visitation” held by his family.
  2. The Galewood townhome that hosted a house party caught on video last month was the scene of a smaller gathering March 26 that triggered neighbor complaints and a visit, but no citations, from police. Fran Spielman talked to Chicago Fire Department Cmdr. Christine, who owns the house.
  3. Officials 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 hold steady.
  4. The Grant Park Music Festival has announced the cancellation of its 2020 season, originally set for June 10-Aug. 15. More than 300,000 people attend the festival each year.
  5. Chicago chef Rick Bayless’s foundation has announced $215,000 in grants to small farms throughout the Midwest. The money will go to 21 farms in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan to help with operations during the pandemic.
  6. Happy Star Wars Day! Here’s a list full of suggestions to celebrate May the 4th, like making blue milk pudding or buying something fun and extremely nerdy. Here are six options.

A bright one

Highland Park teen, mom teach ‘virtual’ Zumba, connecting people across the country amid pandemic

When Illinois schools started to shut down in mid-March because of COVID-19, Highland Park High School freshman Julia Kerpel didn’t want to stop teaching Zumba.

So with the help of her mom and fellow instructor Melissa Kerpel, the 15-year-old turned their unfinished basement into a fitness studio and has been leading classes twice a week through Zoom.

“We’ve had our old familiar faces and some new people from all around the country who have joined us,” said Julia, who’s believed to be one of the youngest instructors in the country licensed to teach Zumba.

Julia Kerpel, 15, is believed to be one of the youngest instructors in the country licensed to teach Zumba.
Brian Rich /Sun-Times

Deerfield resident Lisa Rosenberg, who takes classes from the Kerpels several times a week, said the Zumba classes moving online has been “an absolute godsend for sanity, for health, for connection.” She’s even persuaded her husband to give Zumba a try.

Julia is “such a joy to watch,” Rosenberg said of the teen instructor. “She always has a big smile on her face.”

Read the full story from Suzanne McBride to find out how to sign up for Julia’s classes.

From the press box

Did the Bears make the right choice by declining Mitchell Trubisky’s fifth-year option? Our beat writers disagree on the decision.

“The Last Dance,” ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary, continued last night with another pair of episodes full of fun and enlightening moments. For more stories and background on MJ and the ‘90s Bulls, listen to the latest episode of our companion podcast with Richard Roeper and Rick Telander, who covered the team in its heyday.

Your daily question ☕

Happy Star Wars Day! Who is your favorite Star Wars character, and why?

Email us (please include your first name and where you live) and we might include your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Friday, we asked you what you think of the stay-at-home order changes that went into effect that day, like mask requirements and the reopening of golf courses and state parks. Here’s what some of you said…

“I’m all for it. It’s a segue into opening up. … If we are going to open up completely, there have to be safety measures or there will be dire consequences. I don’t understand the people who are screaming that their rights have been taken away, but refuse to wear a mask so their ‘rights’ can be returned.” Lisa Daily Fahrenbruch

“I suppose it could work well if people were doing it properly but there are too many inconsistencies. N95 masks are overkill for the average grocery shopper and reusing paper surgical masks for days or weeks on end is just plain unsanitary.” — Claire Osada

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