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Latest coronavirus news for March 31, 2020: Live updates

Follow our live updates for today’s latest news about the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and its ripple effects in Chicago and Illinois.

The latest

Company hustled to make face shields to fight coronavirus but can’t find buyers

Jason Wade, lead carpenter at Pac Team, uses a template to cut plastic for face shields at the factory at 4447 W. Armitage Ave.
Jason Wade, lead carpenter at Pac Team, uses a template to cut plastic for face shields at the factory at 4447 W. Armitage Ave.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

About a week after Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order, Eric Zuckerman and his workers retooled a small plant on the Northwest Side to make face shields needed by health care workers and others with prolonged exposure to the public.

Mission accomplished, or so he thought. He said his company, Pac Team Group, can make about 750 shields a day. But there’s a problem. Zuckerman said Tuesday he can’t get through to any state or city agency to coordinate a sale. And he said he’s got 1,000 shields in inventory ready to go.

So he listens to government officials on the news begging for protective equipment and he’s flummoxed.

“We want to get this equipment out to people who need it, but we haven’t found the right people to take it,” said Zuckerman, president of Pac Team. “All the agencies are so inundated right now. Getting their attention is quite difficult.”

Reporter David Roder has the full story.


News

9:45 p.m. Need a thermometer to check for coronavirus? Good luck finding one

Betsy Hetzler has been trying to buy a thermometer for her 86-year-old father for three weeks, with no luck.

“I’ve been checking [stores] regularly,” said Hetzler of Geneva, who’d like a forehead model just in case the family needs to monitor his temperature for coronavirus symptoms.

But she’s reaching the point where almost any thermometer will do. She ordered one on Amazon, but it has a May 1 delivery date.

Consumers around the country are finding that if they don’t have a household thermometer in their medicine cabinet, it could be a while before they can get one. As with shortages of face masks and other personal health care items in the age of COVID-19, the supply of thermometers has dwindled online and in stores.

Read the full report by Stephanie Zimmermann here.

9:00 p.m. Experts say Mexico’s coronavirus policy may be too little too late

MEXICO CITY — Mexico has started taking tougher measures against the coronavirus after weeks of its president hugging followers and saying religious medals would protect him. Some experts warn the sprawling country of 129 million is acting too late and testing too little to prevent the type of crisis unfolding across the border in the United States.

Last week Mexico banned non-essential government work as confirmed cases climbed, but took until late Monday to extend that to other business sectors and to bar gatherings of more than 50 people. By Tuesday, Mexico had reported more than 1,000 confirmed cases and at least 28 deaths.

Experts say those figures greatly understate the true number of infections. Mexico has done far less testing than many other countries — fewer than 10,000 tests. New York state alone had performed more than 205,000 tests by Tuesday. There were also signs the disease may be far more advanced in Mexico than the limited testing shows — three state governors have already tested positive for coronavirus.

Read the full report here.

8:37 p.m. Details: New COVID-19 relief program will pump cash to small business, nonprofits to meet payrolls, keep workers

With small businesses and nonprofits in desperate need of quick cash because of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers starting Friday can apply for federal loans with a crucial feature: Loans can be converted to grants if the money is used to keep workers on the payroll.

The financial lifeline, to be run through the Small Business Administration, is aimed at keeping employers in business and workers getting paid.

The $349 billion new “Paycheck Protection Program” is in the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act signed into law last Friday.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that banks can start accepting applications for the Small Business Administration program Friday.

Read the full report by Lynn Sweet here.

8:05 p.m. U. of I. designs prototype for low-cost, easy-to-build ventilator — and offers it free to manufacturers

Engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created an easily-manufactured, disposable and portable emergency ventilator they hope can be quickly put into production to help hospitals deal with a surge of COVID-19 patients.

Engineers at the university’s Grainger College of Engineering in collaboration with Carle Health in Urbana worked to create a prototype that has run for more than 75 hours — about 125,000 breathing cycles — and works as well as a commercial model, the school announced.

Following successful testing, the components and design of the prototype — called the Illinois RapidVent — have been posted for anyone to download for free at the college’s website. The university will not receive royalties from the design nor benefit financially from production of the ventilators, according to Rashid Bashir, the college’s dean and a professor of bioengineering.

Read the full report here.

7:28 p.m. Pritzker urged to reopen Westlake Hospital for COVID-19 response

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch and a Chicagoland nonprofit on Tuesday called for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to reopen Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park to help with the coronavirus crisis.

Welch, along with the Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership, hosted an online press conference pleading with the governor about the importance of using the now-shuttered facility for housing and treating confirmed COVID-19 patients.

Welch said he applauded the reopening of MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island and Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin as COVID-19 response centers, but said it’s a misstep if the state stops there.

Read the full report by Manny Ramos here.

7:10 p.m. BBQ legend Charlie Robinson delivers lunch to patients at Roseland Community Hospital

Roseland Community Hospital was forced to close its dietary department last week after a staffer came down with COVID-19 symptoms.

As a precaution, the hospital closed the department and performed a deep cleaning over the weekend. Eighteen employees are awaiting test results.

That left the hospital buying pizza and Subway sandwiches for patients, relying on donations from churches and local restaurants and seeking monetary donations on Facebook.

When barbecue legend Charlie Robinson heard of the closure, he stepped into action. Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs donated over 100 five-course meals to patients and staff Tuesday.

“I really want to recognize Robinson’s Ribs for donating this food today to keep our employees and our patients nourished,” Roseland CEO Tim Egan said.

Read the full story by Manny Ramos here.

6:34 p.m. White House projects 100K to 240K US deaths from coronavirus

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned Americans to brace for a “rough two-week period” ahead as the White House released new projections that there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

Public health officials stressed that the number could be less if people change their behavior.

“We really believe we can do a lot better than that,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. That would require all Americans to take seriously their role in preventing the spread of disease, she said.

Trump called American efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus “a matter of life and death” and urged the public to heed his administration’s guidelines. He predicted the country would soon see a “light at the end of the tunnel” in the pandemic that has killed more than 3,500 Americans and infected 170,000 more.

”I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Trump said. “We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks.”

Read more from the Associated Press here.

5:47 p.m. Chicago hospitals begin to lean on expanded ICU spaces as regular critical care beds fill

Several Chicago hospitals have moved critical care beds into unused spaces to handle an expected influx of coronavirus patients.

“We are expanding our ICU capacity into other units that are not in use because of the suspension of elective surgery,” Rush University Medical Center spokesman Tobin Clinger told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. “That is to say, while the normal ICU may be at capacity, our capacity for ICU patients is not because we are creating new areas for treatment.”

Dan Regan, a spokesman for Sinai Health System, confirmed in an email that ICUs in its system were running at 95% to 100% percent capacity Tuesday, and it was “ramping up our surge plans” to expand.

Those plans included the repurposing of rooms and staff at Mount Sinai and Holy Cross hospitals, Regan wrote. He also said mobile triage trailers were in use at both hospitals. The goal, he said, is to help contain the virus “by getting patients with minor symptoms evaluated and quickly sent back home with instructions and medicine to lessen their symptoms.”

Reporters Mitch Dudek and Jon Seidel have the full story.

5 p.m. Shedd penguins continue aquarium tour by visiting beluga whales

The Shedd penguins waddled to the next stop on their tour of the aquarium this week, swinging by the Oceanarium habitat to make new friends.

As 32-year-old rockhopper penguin Wellington observed the tank, several beluga whales, including Annik the calf born last year, stopped swimming to observe him and the penguins. Both stared at one another as the penguins waddled back and forth.

Alicia Atkins/Shedd Aquarium

In the wild, penguins and beluga whales would not meet. All penguin species are found in the southern hemisphere, and beluga whales live in the northern hemisphere.

– Alison Martin

4:15 p.m. City emergency alert calls for licensed healthcare workers to fight coronavirus

The city of Chicago issued another emergency alert Tuesday afternoon, this time a call-to-action for licensed healthcare workers.

The city is asking licensed healthcare workers to register at IllinoisHelps.net so that they may be contacted to work in a hospital surge or alternative housing setting.

”By registering with Illinois Helps, an Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals (ESAR-VHP),” the site says. “you can be part of an alert system and respond if available, when activated, to a significant disaster or public health emergency.”

Non-medical volunteers can also sign up for opportunities at www.Serve.Illinois.gov.

Last week’s emergency alert announced the lakefront, parks and 6060 trail were now closed to the public.

– Alison Martin

3:02 p.m. County finances to suffer one-two punch as coronavirus patients ‘swamp the health care system’

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Tuesday that girding for an influx of coronavirus patients will have a “profound impact” on the finances of the health system.

But even as she sounded the alarm, Preckwinkle declined to predict just how bad the financial picture could become for the already challenged County Health System.

“Our focus is not on the finances,” Preckwinkle said. “Our focus has been on trying to figure out how we’re going to deliver care to all the people who are going to swamp the healthcare system.”

The County Health system’s decision to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control to avoid elective surgeries — which bring in the most money — is a chief blow to the system’s coffers, Preckwinkle said at a news conference in which she thanked health care workers for their efforts combating COVID-19.

“I can’t tell you how much of a financial impact that it will have because we don’t know how long the pandemic will prohibit us from doing elective surgeries,” Preckwinkle said. “This is a two-fold impact on our healthcare system. One is the effect that we can’t do elective surgeries, and the other is that we’re going to have considerably more patients in our hospitals who are uninsured and require intensive services.”

Reporter Rachel Hinton has the full story.

2:30 p.m. 26 more coronavirus deaths in Illinois

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the Thompson Center in Chicago during the daily update on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, March 30, 2020.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the Thompson Center in Chicago during the daily update on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, March 30, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

With the state on Tuesday reporting another 26 deaths in Illinois due to the coronavirus, Gov. J.B. Pritzker will extend the state’s stay-at-home executive order until the end of April.

There are now 99 fatalities in Illinois due to the outbreak, health officials said. Tuesday marks the highest number of coronavirus deaths the state has confirmed in a single day.

Health officials on Tuesday said an additional 937 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the state, bringing the state’s total to 5,994 cases. Of the 26 fatalities recorded on Tuesday, 17 are in Cook County, officials said.

Reporter Tina Sfondeles has the update.

2:11 p.m. With 2020 NFL season uncertain, Bears WR Allen Robinson digs in to feed Chicago kids

While he waits to get back on the field — or at least into the workout room — Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson has mobilized his Within Reach Foundation to help the Greater Chicago Food Depository feed local kids who are out of school. Robinson’s organization has focused primarily on education, but he shifted to meals once he saw the need.

His initial goal was to raise $12,000 from donors and match that amount. Then coach Matt Nagy matched the amount, and offensive tackle Charles Leno kicked in $7,200. The flood of support was “special” for Robinson, and he said he’ll be increasing his goal and the amount he’ll match soon.

He’ll need it.

Not only is Chicago a hotspot, but so is Robinson’s hometown of Detroit. He still has extensive family there, and while his effort has been solely concentrated on helping Chicago kids so far, he’s looking into how he can help Detroit, too.

“This is a vital part of kids’ lives in addition to education — being able to put food in their mouths and their families’ mouths,” Robinson said. “We’re not doing this just for notoriety. We just wanted to streamline it and bring everyone together to make an impact.”

Read more on Robinson in Jason Lieser’s report.

1:27 p.m. UN chief: Coronavirus biggest crisis since WWII

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning that the world faces the most challenging crisis since World War II, confronting a pandemic threatening people in every country that will bring a recession “that probably has no parallel in the recent past.”

The U.N. chief said at the launch of a report Tuesday on the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 there is also a risk that the combination of the disease and its economic impact will contribute to “enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict.”

Guterres called for a stronger and more effective global response to the coronavirus pandemic and to the social and economic devastation that COVID-19 is causing.

He stressed that this will only be possible “if everybody comes together and if we forget political games and understand that it is humankind that is at stake.”

“The magnitude of the response must match the scale of the crisis — large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive, with country and international responses being guided by the World Health Organization,” the secretary-general said, noting that not all countries are following WHO guidelines.

Read the full report from the Associated Press here.

12:49 p.m. Gov. Pritzker to extend stay-at-home order until April 30 with schools to remain shuttered

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a daily briefing in March 2020.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s March 21, 2020 briefing on the coronavirus situation in Illinois.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

As the state continues to see an uptick in coronavirus cases, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Tuesday afternoon will extend the state’s stay-at-home executive order until the end of April, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The news was anticipated, and Pritzker has said at daily press briefings that the decision was being evaluated on a day-to-day basis. The current executive order expires on April 7, and that’s when some Illinois schools were initially set to open. Mayor Lori Lightfoot earlier this month announced Chicago Public Schools would be closed at least until April 21.

Pritzker’s new executive order will run until April 30 and will also mandate the continued closure of Illinois schools, sources said.

Tina Sfondeles has the full story.

12:42 p.m. With CPS possibly remote learning for the rest of the year, students with disabilities could face additional hurdles

On Monday, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said that the city does not anticipate students will return to the classroom this school year, and will instead be expected to take on remote learning.

CPS also announced plans on Monday to distribute 100,000 laptops, iPads and Chromebooks to facilitate remote learning for the district’s students to use at home.

But what does e-learning mean for students with disabilities?

Across the U.S., schools and families face new challenges in maintaining instruction for students with disabilities. Teachers are exploring new ways to deliver customized lessons from afar. And while parents of all children have taken on schooling duties, those whose children have disabilities are adding therapy, hands-on lessons and behavioral management to the list.

Read more on what remote learning could mean for students who need extra help.

12:12 p.m. Walmart will begin taking temperatures of all employees

Walmart announced Tuesday morning that it will begin checking the temperatures of all employees at its stores and warehouses when they arrive at work. The company is distributing infrared thermometers to its locations across the U.S. The checks are expected to be implemented at all locations within the next 3 weeks.

Over the next two weeks, the company is also sending masks and gloves to all work sites for use by “any associate that wishes to use them.”

Walmart also issued guidance urging employees to maintain 6 feet of distance between coworkers and customers Tuesday, joining a growing list of national and global corporations rolling out policies for employees based on public health agency guidelines. Amazon announced similar distancing recommendations last week for its Whole Foods Market partner stores, and Jewel-Osco installed plexiglass “sneeze guards” at its registers, service desks and pharmacy stands.

10:30 a.m. No jury trials in criminal or civil matters through May: Cook County Circuit Court

Cook County Circuit Court is extending its suspension of most criminal and civil cases through May and expanding the use of videoconferencing amid the growing COVID-19 outbreak.

Originally postponed until April 15, most court cases are now suspended until May 18, the office of Chief Judge Timothy Evans said in a statement Monday.

Evans also ordered the expansion of videoconferencing for all court proceeds deemed necessary or emergencies, officials said. All court hearings will be conducted via video no later than April 16. Currently, all detainees with bail hearings appear in court via video.

During this period, no jury trials in criminal or civil matters will begin. People summoned for jury duty should not report and will receive a new date for service. No eviction or foreclosure orders will be entered.

Read the full Sun-Times report here.

9:20 a.m. Don’t mix ammonia with bleach: CDC warns against dangerous cleaning solutions

Fears about transmission of the COVID-19 virus are prompting many to clean their homes more aggressively, and with more caustic products. It is not yet known how long the virus can survive on surfaces, but a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that “SARS-CoV-2 RNA was identified on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days after cabins were vacated on the Diamond Princess.”

The public health agency advises cleaning surfaces first with soap and water, then with disinfectant solutions. It issued an advisory late last week that breaks down the efficacy of various active ingredients against the virus.

But the CDC is also warning the public to avoid mixing common household cleaners that can cause deadly chemical reactions.

For example, bleach and vinegar, both common and recommended cleaning agents, produce chlorine gas when combined — a deadly greenish-yellow gas that was used as a chemical weapon in World War I.

The Riverside County Fire Department in California shared a graphic identifying common, dangerous chemical combinations:

Click here to see the CDC’s latest advisory on how to clean and disinfect your home.

8:53 a.m. Another nurse claims retaliation after voicing concerns to hospital about PPE access

A former nurse at Mercy Hospital alleges she was fired after she expressed concerns that the hospital didn’t provide adequate protections for staff members treating coronavirus patients.

Regina Haglund filed a discrimination charge March 26 against the hospital with the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board. She was fired March 25, allegedly for retaliation after she spoke up about the lack of protective masks, the filing states.

According to the seven-page filing, Haglund was working in triage for the hospital March 22 and saw a patient who presented with coronavirus symptoms.

The patient wasn’t given a mask because there weren’t any suitable ones in the triage area, and the patient coughed twice on Haglund, the filing states. The person was placed in isolation, and Haglund said she has not been told the patient’s test result.

Last week, a nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital filed a lawsuit alleging she was fired after expressing similar concerns to her coworkers.

Read the latest about the Mercy charges here.

8:04 a.m. Yes, you can definitely still buy alcohol

You can call off your emergency trip to the liquor store — states aren’t really stopping the sale of alcohol. But recent Facebook posts would have you think otherwise.

“No beer or alcohol sales in state of Illinois as of 3pm starting Monday March, 30th,” reads an image posted by one account. Then there are links to stories with headlines like this one: “NC Governor to stop all alcohol sales beginning Friday, April 3rd.” Another one claims “Gov. Gavin Newsom suspends alcohol in CA as of March 28.”

Some of these posts, such as one about Mississippi banning booze that has since been pulled down, appear to be screenshots of a news story. But if you click on the links in other posts, it brings you to a page that says “you got pranked.”

The joke, however, is getting lost on many Facebook users as they share both these blog posts and images of seeming media stories with this tee-totaling news.

Read the full Politifact fact-check here.

6:53 a.m. Pritzker says feds sent wrong masks as Illinois reports 8 more coronavirus deaths

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday said the White House sent Illinois a shipment of hundreds of thousands of the wrong type of masks — as the state saw eight more deaths and the spread of the coronavirus into half of its counties.

It appears a détente between the Democratic governor and President Donald Trump is over. After weeks of criticizing Trump’s response to the outbreak on national television and daily in press briefings, Pritzker last week said he was thankful for a White House shipment of N95 masks, which came after Pritzker asked Trump personally for help.

Instead the state received surgical masks, Pritzker said.

Pritzker’s office last week said the White House pledged to send 250,000 N95 masks and 300 ventilators. Illinois has received shipments of medical supplies from the federal government, but at a fraction of what has been requested.

Read the full story from Tina Sfondeles and Mitchell Armentrout.


New cases


Analysis and Commentary

9:21 p.m. Ignore the mixed messages and wear that mask

In a democracy, government officials must always tell it straight — especially during a pandemic — and never hide behind a mask of misinformation.

Yet it appears the American people have been fed misleading advice from many sources, including the federal government, downplaying the protection face masks can provide against COVID-19.

The best advice now, as best as we can suss out, is that you should consider wearing a mask, even of the homemade variety, whenever you must venture out into a public space, even if you believe you are healthy. It may provide at least some marginal protection.

That’s not the official advice of the federal government — not yet — but the official advice has not been consistent or trustworthy. We’re just telling you what we would do. We would wear a mask.

Read the full editorial here.

4 p.m. I’m a parent and a teacher. Remote learning should worry us all

The day after my children’s school closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, I took my eight-year-old daughter to our local library. She’s an avid reader, and we often stop by each weekend and leave with handfuls of books. That day, we acted like the library was Costco and checked out 35 books, knowing we were in it for the long haul. The next day, our library closed.

A week and a half later, my daughter had finished those books. She also flew through her “remote” learning tasks, as did her five-year-old brother, as I struggled to balance our new “school” schedule with my own work as an e-librarian for the high school where I work.

My kids are engaged and enjoy their remote learning activities. But even with a masters’ degree in education and 16 years in the field, I know I am only half as adequate as their actual teachers.

Read the full Opinion piece from Gina Caneva, a parent and library media specialist for East Leyden High School in Franklin Park

11:00 a.m. I asked for sports column ideas during the pandemic, and you have not disappointed

Friends, family and acquaintances are asking me the same thing, from a six-foot distance: ‘‘What in the world can you write about with the coronavirus having shut down sports?’’

It’s an excellent question. There are no games being played, no coaches being fired and fewer dumb decisions being made than normal. It’s a columnist’s nightmare — or it can lead to one, at least.

I asked readers for column ideas because the future I feared included the very real possibility I’d be forced to write a three-part series on speed-walking. I hope they will help me sleep during the next few months.

Read Rick Morrissey’s new column ideas from readers here.

9:55 a.m. Remote learning is OK, but school in July might be needed to really get kids back on track

We’re bracing for another drastic development that seems more and more necessary to safeguard public health and save lives: shutting down our public schools for the rest of the academic year.

If it comes to that, so be it. The decision would not be unprecedented. Six other states — Kansas, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Vermont and New Mexico — already have taken that step. California has shut down schools “until further notice.”

We don’t mean to get ahead of developments. Pritzker, to be clear, has given no indication that he plans to order a shutdown and have schools rely solely on remote learning to teach students for the rest of the year.

But in the end, there is no real substitute for face-to-face interaction between children and trusted teachers. Whether that happens now — or in July.

Read the full editorial from the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

7:06 a.m. Coronavirus makes it more clear than ever: Health care is a human right

Jesse Jackson writes for the Sun-Times:

Who is going to pay for this?

For months that question was used as a weapon against supporters of Medicare for All. Now, it is on everyone’s mind as they worry about the costs of the testing and treatment for the coronavirus. The virus is highly contagious. We need everyone with symptoms to get tested and all with the virus to get treatment. If anyone hesitates because they fear they can’t afford the cost, they put the rest of us at risk.

No one should be worried about the costs of treatment.

The U.S. spends about twice as much per capita for its patchwork health-care system than most industrialized countries. Why were we caught with such shortages of masks, ventilators or hospital beds?

Click here to read Jackson’s full column.