Afternoon Edition: July 31, 2020

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

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Erik Garcia, a South Side Walk-In and Express Clinic Manager and leader with the Contact Tracing team at the Howard Brown Health Clinic, located in Englewood.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Time

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.

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Afternoon Edition

Chicago’s most important news of the day, delivered every weekday afternoon. Plus, a bonus issue on Saturdays that dives into the city’s storied history.

Here’s some perfect weather to start your weekend: This afternoon will be sunny with a high near 82 degrees. Tonight’s low will be around 66. Tomorrow, we’ll see more sunshine with a high near 84, and Sunday will be mostly clear, with a chance for some rain in the afternoon and a high around 83 degrees.

Top story

Hang-ups, lies and wrong numbers: Contact tracers’ uphill fight against COVID-19

A woman in Little Village sobs after learning she is the latest member of her family to test positive for COVID-19. She fears she won’t be able to take care of her grandson.

A worker at a West Side food-processing company explains how no precautions are taken to protect employees who are herded into a small room to punch time cards.

A young woman is frustrated that the customers at her small Lake County store won’t socially distance or wear masks.

These are stories told to contact tracers, the people who investigate interactions between those infected with COVID-19 and their family, friends or anyone else potentially exposed to the virus. The aim: to identify and isolate infected people before they spread the virus.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money is being funneled to health departments across Illinois to hire hundreds of contact tracers. The state says robust contact tracing of at least 90 percent of reported cases within 24 hours of a diagnosis is necessary to be able to safely reopen. But officials admit that’s not happening in suburban Cook County, for example. And it’s not clear which local health departments are meeting that goal.

Months into the pandemic, the state is still “in the middle of” compiling data on the extent of local efforts, a spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health department said. State health officials now say the contact tracing goal was a guideline rather than a requirement for communities to partially reopen this past spring.

Large-scale tracing efforts are only just getting started in Illinois. Chicago and Cook County-backed programs have yet to even make their first hires.

These efforts now will begin as an uptick in cases makes it difficult to keep up, and as widespread testing with timely results — essential to identifying who needs to be traced — remains inaccessible to many.

How Illinois’ efforts compare to other states is hard to gauge. Cities including New York and Houston have experienced missteps and uneven success — pointing to another serious shortfall in the nation’s patchwork approach to fighting the virus.

“Unfortunately, due to our overall disjointed pandemic response, there is no nationalized or centralized means of contact tracing,” said Dr. Aniruddha Hazra, an infectious diseases researcher and assistant professor of medicine at University of Chicago.

Every contact of an infected person provides a clue to the virus’ spread and can save lives. But it’s not an easy task to trace them, according to those attempting to do it in Illinois. The workers have the unenviable job, for instance, of telling people they could be infected, news that is sometimes met with distrust or hostility. And that’s if the contacts can even be reached.

“Some of our calls can be very intense,” said Erik Garcia, who trains and supervises contact tracers and also makes calls for Howard Brown Health. “I’ve had patients crying on the phone.”

Read the full story from our watchdogs team here.

More news you need

  1. A convicted felon has been charged in connection with the gun battle outside a Northwest Side police station that left three officers wounded yesterday. “He tried to kill 6 police officers,” Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan said of Lovelle Jordan.
  2. Illinois’ rebound in coronavirus cases hit another apex today as health officials announced another 1,941 people tested positive for COVID-19. That’s the state’s highest single-day caseload since May 24 — eclipsing the two-month high tally set a day earlier.
  3. America’s health care workers are dying. In some states, medical personnel account for as many as 20% of known coronavirus cases. Kaiser Health News and The Guardian so far have identified 878 such workers who likely died of COVID-19 after helping patients during the pandemic. Read profiles of some of the people that lost their lives from Chicago and the suburbs.
  4. The city’s last remaining statue of Christopher Columbus, which stood in a Far South Side intersection, has been removed. Unlike the two statues that were removed a week ago, this one hadn’t drawn the attention of protesters.
  5. The FBI is asking for the public’s help to identify a man who allegedly broke into a Pilsen church in 2019 and made racist statements before giving the Nazi salute to employees. When told the church was closed, the man kicked through a locked glass door at Lincoln United Methodist Church, the FBI said.
  6. Ken Ilio, one of the two first gay men to marry in Illinois, has died at 63. He and Ron Dorfman got married in December 2013 in a ceremony that was expedited because of concerns about Dorfman’s health.
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A bright one

When the pandemic hit, a Chicago jazz icon’s world fell apart. Friends helped him put it back together again.

In his 80s and living alone, being unable to perform during the coronavirus pandemic sent pianist and teacher Erwin Helfer into a spiral of depression.

“What happened was that the things I love doing most — teaching and performing — were no longer available to me,” he said. “And also I have no computer skills … I did all my stuff by just walking into the bank and did it in person.”

He hit rock bottom, and spent six weeks at Rush University Medical Center’s psychiatric ward, where he underwent shock therapy: “After several sessions, I knew I got better when the nurse came in my room and said, ‘When was your last bowel movement?’ And I said, ‘We just met, aren’t you being personal?’ And then she broke out laughing, and I laughed.”


Chicago piano legend Erwin Helfer back home and well after being hospitalized for severe depression that began after most businesses were shut down and people were told to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

James Foster/Sun-Times

On June 23, Helfer was released from the hospital. He returned home to find that his house had been cleaned from top to bottom. And a friend, blues singer and educator Katherine Davis, was ready to stay with him for as long as he needs. Like many of Helfer’s friends, Davis said she had been on the receiving end of so much kindness from him over the years that offering to care for him was a given. Besides, she said, it was good for both of them to have the companionship.

“He introduced me to my second husband and walked me down the aisle,” Davis said. “He’s played a big part in my life — helping me in many ways and everything, you know, some difficult times as well as more good times. So he’s just been a true friend.”

These days, Helfer is feeling a lot better: “I’m just grateful for everything, and I find my days full,” he said.

Read the full story from Caroline Hurley.

From the press box

The NHL returns this weekend with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hockey writer Ben Pope predicts how the Blackhawks-Oilers series (and the rest of the first round) will shake out. Game 1 is tomorrow at 2 p.m. on NBC-5. Here’s how to watch.

Can’t get enough Blackhawks content? We scored an exclusive interview with Blackhawks interim president Danny Wirtz, who talked about the team’s future, and what’s gone on behind the scenes this summer.

Also this weekend, the Cubs play the Pirates on Marquee Sports Network, the White Sox face the Royals on NBC Sports Chicago and the Sky play the Mystics at 5 p.m. tomorrow on WCIU-26.2.

ICYMI, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: The Bears are in training camp! Hear all about it in the latest Halas Intrigue podcast.

Your daily question ☕

What’s the nicest thing someone has done for you during the coronavirus pandemic?

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

Yesterday, we asked you to tell us what you think of e-scooters coming back to Chicago soon. Here’s what some of you said…

Considering COVID, I think they’re one of the best means of transportation for the time being. They’re mostly accessible, relatively affordable, and widespread.” — Alex Bluth

“Dreadful.” — J.T. Burnett

“They are great as long as people use precaution at all times. It helps when buses run late or you just want to get out on your own.” — Ivan Ruíz

“Accidents waiting to happen.” — Annie Mcelligott

Thanks for reading the Chicago Afternoon Edition.Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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