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Coronavirus live blog, Nov. 24, 2020: Officials worry about COVID-19 spread ahead of holiday gatherings

Here’s Tuesday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

With just a few days before Thanksgiving, Illinois public health officials are urging residents to stay home and celebrate with family remotely to stem the surge of coronavirus outbreak.

Here’s what you need to know in coronavirus-related news before Thanksgiving.


News

8:55 p.m. Officials worry about COVID-19 spread ahead of holiday gatherings

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The coronavirus has spread to 9,469 more Illinois residents and claimed 125 more lives across the state, public health officials said Tuesday.

The latest cases reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health were detected among 97,323 tests, decreasing the statewide testing positivity rate over the last week to 10.4%, its lowest point since Nov. 7.

Tuesday’s caseload, while still more than double the state’s springtime high, also marked the first time in almost three weeks that Illinois has logged fewer than 10,000 cases for two consecutive days.

But officials are worried that potentially superspreading in-person Thanksgiving celebrations will wipe out any marginal progress the state might be making in tamping down its violent resurgence.

“People can still change their plans and change the outcome,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Monday. “Please reconsider your plans and see if we can be part of the solution to decrease infections, instead of part of the plan to increase them.”

Read the full story here.


7:05 p.m. State launches investigation into coronavirus outbreak at LaSalle Veterans’ Home, where 27 died of COVID-19

Ineffective hand sanitizer, employees showing up for work after testing positive for the coronavirus and inadequate “hand hygiene” are all under scrutiny as possible sources of a COVID-19 outbreak that has left 27 residents of an Illinois veterans’ home dead.

Those findings from a pair of reports prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state veterans officials to launch an investigation into the circumstances around the spread of the deadly virus at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

The reports released by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs found employees of the home attended the same Halloween gathering and later tested positive for the virus.

The veterans’ home in LaSalle was also stocked earlier this month with hand sanitizer found not to be effective against COVID-19, and some staff were observed touching patients and surfaces without changing their gloves or performing “hand hygiene,” according to one report released Tuesday.

Reporter Rachel Hinton has the full story.

4:23 p.m. Cook County approves nearly $7 billion budget and braces for yet ‘another tough budget year’ ahead

On a unanimous vote, the Cook County Board approved a $6.9 billion budget with no new taxes and the promise of less than ten layoffs Tuesday — but acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic will still ensure “there’s a tough year ahead.”

The Board of Commissioners voted 17-0 to pass the amended spending plan, which includes funds for a new immigration unit within the public defender’s office and a monitor of spending by the Justice Advisory Council, which works with the sheriff and state’s attorney and other public safety officers to coordinate and implement proposed criminal and juvenile justice reforms.

The budget also maintains county-provided services at the Morton East Clinic for the next year.

Commissioner Alma Anaya, D-Chicago, advocated for maintaining those services at the high school in Cicero, arguing the clinic, she said, “has proven for the past 25 years to be a vital health care access point of services for its patients within the high school and social community” in part because of its understanding of the community it serves.

Reporter Rachel Hinton has the full story.

2:55 p.m. This difficult year, we asked Chicagoans: What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?

During what’s been an extraordinarily tough year for many, we asked Chicagoans: What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving? Some answers have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

“I watched my goals fall apart after landing my dream job in February, only to be laid off in May. I worked to find another job and am in a great position now and have accomplished my main goal this year. I’m thankful for that, my boyfriend (who has been my rock), my family, my friends and all of our health. 2020 has been a roller-coaster year of ups and downs, but I’m so grateful to have such amazing people in my life.” — Lauren Elizabeth

“In hard times and good, I am thankful for my kids and grandkids. Without them, I’m nothing.” — Carol Wortel

“I’m alive and well, and so is my family.” — Monica Hresil

Read the full story from Alice Bazerghi here.

12:09 p.m. Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day events in Des Plaines canceled due to the coronavirus

An annual suburban pilgrimage that draws thousands to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines has been canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic

Police are expected to be on hand to secure the shrine and also to direct people and traffic away from the site on Dec. 11 and 12, when feast celebrations are typically held, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced Tuesday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused much hardship and pain for so many,” the Rev. Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the shrine, said in a statement. “The message of comfort offered by Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego: ‘Am I not here, I, who am your mother?’ extends particularly to us today. While we cannot observe this feast as we have in the past, it is still a time of prayer, petition and hope.”

Officials are encouraging people to celebrate the feast day at home or in their home parishes.

Read the full report from Stefano Esposito here.

9:15 a.m. Wedding panners: Naperville mayor gets cool reception for going to Florida for daughter’s nuptials

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico found himself in an online family feud of sorts after attending his daughter’s wedding in Florida just a week after warning his suburban constituents that a mask mandate might be in order to combat a surge of the coronavirus.

The suburban mayor was publicly shamed by his niece, a former BuzzFeed personality, who tweeted that she was “fuming” after learning her uncle traveled to Naples, Florida, to attend the wedding, which she said included at least 50 guests.

“I can’t believe I have to say this but if you are HAVING A WEDDING THIS WEEKEND WITH UNMASKED PEOPLE IN ATTENDANCE something is wrong with you!!!!” Kristin Chirico tweeted Saturday.

A photo allegedly of the mayor and others at the wedding also appeared on Twitter. None of the people in it were wearing masks.

The father of the bride pushed back against the wedding zinger.

“My family and I all took COVID tests and tested negative prior to traveling to Florida this weekend for my daughter Jenna’s wedding,” Mayor Chirico said in a statement issued Sunday. “It was an outdoor wedding and reception with a total of 53 guests. Upon my return to Naperville, I will be quarantining and testing again.”

Read the full story here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

9:23 a.m. Why I am asking you to support one of the most painful budgets in Chicago’s history

I want to speak directly to Chicagoans about our city’s budget, which will come up for a vote before the full City Council today.

Long before I formally introduced this budget in October, it became clear that our economic path out of the COVID-19 pandemic would require us to make some extraordinarily difficult decisions. It was a matter of when, not if, these decisions would be made, and how we would make them — all while holding firm to our core values of equity, inclusion and transparency.

COVID-19 has not only upended all our lives from a health perspective, it also has devastated significant parts of our economy. This has resulted in an $800 million loss of revenues for the 2020 budget and a significant $1.2 billion deficit for next year, 65% of which is directly tied to COVID-19.

Dealing with a $1.2 billion gap means there were no easy decisions. None. And while the prospect of better times comes closer into view, particularly because of a new partner in the White House, along with the prospect of a nationwide COVID-19 response plan rooted in science and data, we must face the reality in front of us right now.

To put it bluntly, this is likely the most painful budget we have ever faced as a city. And it comes after the many difficult and painful choices we’ve already had to make over the last eight months. So, if there were a responsible way to close our budget gap that didn’t involve raising taxes or requiring some level of furloughs for our City employees, we would have already taken it. But among the many thing this pandemic has taken from us is our ability to make decisions without sacrificing something in return.

Read Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot’s full column here.

9:17 a.m. Vaccine news highlights racial disparities in COVID-19 cases

America got more good news about a COVID-19 vaccine last week, the second potential vaccine shown to be at least 90% effective against the disease in early data from clinical trials.

If the Food and Drug Administration grants emergency use authorization to one or both vaccines, doses could be distributed beginning in late Decembe,r and the country will have its most powerful tool yet against the pandemic.

But no vaccine, no matter how effective it is or how quickly it becomes available, will be a powerful tool against the pandemic if too few people — especially African Americans, who are among the most vulnerable to severe illness or death from COVID-19 — get the shot.

And as the Sun-Times’ Brett Chase reported Sunday, distrust of a COVID-19 vaccine runs deep among Black Americans. They’re less likely to volunteer for clinical trials to test vaccine safety and effectiveness. Public opinion polls, too, have consistently shown African Americans are less likely to say they would take a coronavirus vaccine.

The health care system has a lot of work to do to get past that lingering distrust. As states and the federal government plan public education campaigns to urge people to take a vaccine, extra effort must be made to reach the African American community, get people vaccinated and save lives.

Read the full editorial here.