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Coronavirus news for April 15, 2020

Here’s what we learned today about the continuing spread of coronavirus and its ripple effects in Chicago and Illinois.

Illinois health officials on Wednesday said another 80 people have died from the coronavirus, with 1,346 new cases reported — but Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration says both the new hospitalization and death rate remain flat.

Here’s what else happened in Chicago and around Illinois as the battle against the coronavirus pandemic continued.


News

8:57 p.m. As coronavirus cases rise, public health experts race to reach Latinos

A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a closed children’s clothing store in the Hispanic, Little Village in Chicago, Wednesday, April 15, 2020.
A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a closed children’s clothing store in the Hispanic, Little Village in Chicago, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. The first U.S. economic indicators to capture the devastation brought on by the pandemic have begun to arrive, showing a plunge in retail sales exceeding what happened during the economic crisis a decade ago.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Dr. Marina Del Rios has lost count of how many coronavirus myths she’s had to dispel on social media.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to correct my own family on rumors flying around the internet about how if you do gargles with vinegar or lemon juice and baking soda, that somehow that’s going to protect your throat from the entry of the virus,” she said.

So when a Puerto Rican community group asked her to make a bilingual video about the virus, Del Rios, a professor of clinical emergency medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, quickly said yes — but hit a wall when looking for sources on COVID-19 in Spanish.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “had plenty of information in English,” Del Rios said, “but when you look at the Spanish version of the website and click on a lot of those links, it takes you to a website that’s in English.”

Del Rios is a member of the Illinois Latino COVID-19 Initiative, a new collective of more than two dozen public health experts and elected officials racing to reach as many people in the state’s large Latino community before the virus spreads further.

Reporter Carlos Ballesteros has the full story.

8:29 p.m. U. of I. expects $158M loss — at least — as state’s public universities ask for more federal aid

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen is pictured in this May 18, 2015 file photo.
AP file photo

The University of Illinois System expects to lose an estimated $158 million by June due to the coronavirus, as leaders from other public state universities also reported millions of dollars in losses this semester.

Last week, the system’s president, Timothy Killeen, joined the presidents of eight other public state universities in a letter to state’s congressional delegation to ask the federal government for additional help, saying the schools had already suffered a combined $224 million loss this spring.

But costs have already mounted since then, and U. of I.’s share of that total has already gone up, Paul Weinberger, the director of federal relations for the system, said this week.

Read the full story by Matthew Hendrickson.


8:11 p.m. 24 more COVID-19 cases in Chicago Police Department

Chicago police announced Wednesday 24 more confirmed cases of COVID-19, raising the total number of cases in the department to 239.

Of the cases, 230 are officers and 9 are civilian employees, Chicago police said.

A total of 315 employees have reported positive test results, but the department’s medical section has only confirmed 239 of those cases, police said.

Read the full report here.

7:36 p.m. Illinois official suggests school closures could extend through the end of the academic year, report says

An Illinois official suggested Wednesday that schools could remain closed through the end of the school year, a decision that could leave 2.2 million students and their teachers continuing remote learning for the next month or two.

Illinois Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz said in a press call that the suspension of in-person instruction for all schools, which began March 17, could be extended through the end of the school year, the Daily Herald reported.

Ruiz, talking about the state’s applications for federal waivers from testing, said “it became clear that suspension of in-person instruction would extend beyond the initial two-week announcement and most likely again through the end of the school year.”

Read the full report here.

7:05 p.m. Illinois looks to ramp up contact tracing of coronavirus patients as state’s COVID-19 curve appears to bend

Both Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday that state and city officials are working to bolster the ability to trace the contacts made by thousands of coronavirus patients, an onerous process that will likely require the addition of new health care workers to help track transmissions of COVID-19.

Gov J.B. Pritzker has identified contact tracing as one of the measures necessary to ease the stringent statewide social restrictions, along with expanding diagnostic testing and identifying a treatment for the virus.

During Wednesday’s press briefing, Pritzker said he’s been in touch with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and representatives from the Boston-based nonprofit Partners in Health, who announced a joint initiative earlier this month to deploy 1,000 people to conduct contact tracing in that state.

“We’re looking at putting that together for the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said.

Reporter Tom Schuba has the full story.

5:29 p.m. Metra may lose over $500 million — and 97% of riders — due to coronavirus

Metra is expecting significant loss in vital revenue streams due to the coronavirus pandemic impinging on the lives of its traditional riders.

Tom Farmer, CFO of Metra, projected a loss of nearly $536 million in revenue this year and through 2021. He warns the figures presented were preliminary; it could be less or far more.

“To deal with this we need to understand what the ‘new normal’ is,” Farmer said. “We need to actively innovate to meet the changing public needs.”

Metra has seen a significant drop in passengers as many now work remotely or have lost jobs during the statewide stay-at-home order.

Ridership on the commuter rail line dropped by more than half in March when the first stay-at-home order was issued. On March 31, only 7,000 passengers used Metra; on the same day in 2019, ridership was 286,000.

It projects to lose 97% of riders in both April and May. That impact is expected to be only slightly less in June, when a 90% drop in riders is projected.

Read the full story by Manny Ramos.

4:51 p.m. Coronavirus surfaces for first time among Chicago’s federal jail inmates

For weeks, as the coronavirus spread through the Cook County jail and state prisons, Chicago’s downtown federal lockup continued to report no cases of the virus among its detainees.

That’s changed.

Six inmates in Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center have now tested positive for the coronavirus, according to John Murphy, executive director of the Federal Defender Program in the Northern District of Illinois. That’s a sharp uptick from Tuesday, when the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed one inmate had tested positive for the first time.

It could also lead to renewed scrutiny about who is held there. Before the first positive test, Chicago’s federal judges did not appear inclined to release inmates for fear of the virus alone. But Wednesday afternoon, defense attorneys began making new bids for release on behalf of individual clients, citing the new number.

Read the full story by Jon Seidel

4:33 p.m. Lightfoot worried about ‘new wave of mortgage foreclosures’ due to coronavirus

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she’s “very worried about a new wave of of mortgage foreclosures” stemming from the economic pain caused by the coronavirus and the next federal stimulus program needs to prevent it.

The last wave of mortgage foreclosures hit Chicago in 2008. It was yet another blow to South and West Side neighborhoods already suffering from decades of disinvestment and struggling to control gang violence.

This time, the culprit could be the statewide stay-at-home order forcing all but the most essential businesses to close their doors and lay off workers.

“The affordability of housing, paying rent, making mortgages … I’m very worried about a new wave of mortgage foreclosures that might be at our doorstep as a result of this issue,” the mayor said.

More than 86,000 people applied for 2,000 city rental assistance grants, quickly gobbling up the $2 million Lightfoot had set aside.

Read Fran Spielman’s full story here.

4:10 p.m. 2nd Chicago firefighter dies of COVID-19

A second member of the Chicago Fire Department has died from the coronavirus, the department announced Wednesday.

Firefighter Edward Singleton, 55, died Tuesday night from complications of the virus, CFD spokesman Larry Langford said in a statement posted to Twitter.

“It is my sad duty to announce another member of the CFD has died from complications of COVID-19,” Langford said.

Singleton worked at the firehouse at Midway Airport, and leaves behind a wife and two adult children, Langford said. He joined the department in 1987.

Read the complete story by David Struett.

3:44 p.m. Chicago small businesses grasping for federal help ‘can’t wait another week’

Photographer Chris Costoso had just signed the lease to expand his business when Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued his first stay-at-home order in early March.

Costoso initially saw the statewide shutdown of nonessential businesses as a chance to regroup after two busy years that included several destination weddings as well as being Bill Daley’s personal photographer in his failed 2019 mayoral bid.

But then five big weddings were canceled in the first week of the stay-home order, which for now runs through the end of April.

So, like many small businesses in Chicago, Costoso was left hoping for a little help from the federal government.

“All of our income stopped, and if I don’t have some kind of support soon I will have to turn in the key to the new storefront,” said Costoso. “If this extends past April 30, we will have to shut down both [spaces] and rebuild.”

Read the full story by Manny Ramos.

2:36 p.m. 80 more deaths, 1,346 new cases, as Gov. Pritzker outlines state’s coronavirus budget mess

Illinois health officials on Wednesday said another 80 people have died from the coronavirus, with 1,346 new cases reported — but Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration says both the new hospitalization and death rate remain flat.

Pritzker for days has said Illinois is indeed “bending the curve.” But he’s warned repeatedly that residents must continue to stay home in order for the curve to truly drop. Residents are abiding by executive orders that mandate school closures and the stay-at-home order until April 30, but many are expecting an extension.

With the additional 80 deaths reported on Wednesday, Illinois has now lost 948 people to the coronavirus. With 1,346 new positive cases, the state has now seen 24,593 total cases.

Read the full story by Tina Sfondeles.

1:28 p.m. Cell phone data from ‘hundreds of thousands’ of devices show Chicagoans are mostly staying home, city says

City Hall released new data related to the coronavirus Wednesday, including numbers that show how well Chicagoans are sticking to Illinois’ stay-at-home order based on “anonymous” data from potentially hundreds of thousands of mobile devices.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady told reporters Wednesday that the information was provided by the risk software company BlueDot through the data collection company SafeGraph. They characterized it as “anonymous” data gathered from users of mobile device applications who agreed to let certain applications track their locations.

Arwady said potentially “hundreds of thousands” of mobile devices were tracked as part of the study. A check-in occurred on each of those phones every half-hour, she explained. The study assumed the device’s most common location between midnight and 9 a.m. was its “home.”

From there, the median weekly proportion of device check-ins within 200 meters of the home went from 59 percent in late February to roughly 70 percent when the stay-at-home order went into effect. The number grew to as high as 79.2 percent in early April.

Those numbers were higher on the North Side, where the percent of check-ins at home last week ranged from 80% to 90%. Elsewhere in the city, the numbers tended to range from 70% to 80%.

Click here to read the full story from Jon Seidel and Caroline Hurley.

1:06 p.m. 2nd Chicago firefighter dies of COVID-19; nearly 100 CFD employees have tested positive

A second member of the Chicago Fire Department has died from the coronavirus, the department announced Wednesday.

Firefighter Edward Singleton, 55, died Tuesday night from complications of the virus, CFD spokesman Larry Langford said in a statement posted to Twitter.

Singleton worked at the firehouse at Midway Airport, and leaves behind a wife and two adult children, Langford said. He joined the department in 1987.

In a statement, CFD Commissioner Richard C. Ford II said, “We don’t need to lose another CFD member to understand the gravity of the circumstances that first responders are currently operating under.

As of Tuesday, 94 employees in CFD had tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 18 members have already returned to duty, while another 18 are quarantined after being exposed to the virus.

Click here to read the full story.

12:29 p.m. Cook County will livestream court proceedings during coronavirus pandemic

Several Cook County court proceedings started livestreaming on YouTube Wednesday in an effort to limit person-to-person contact during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The goal is to limit the number of individuals in Circuit Court of Cook County courtrooms during this time,” Pat Milhizer, a spokesman for Chief Judge Timothy Evans, said in a statement.

So far, 16 employees of the chief judge’s office have tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, courtrooms with livestreams on the circuit court’s webpage were bail reviews in courtrooms 101 and 506 at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

The proceedings are being held on the videoconferencing application Zoom, and then streamed to the public on YouTube.

For more information, read the full story from David Struett here.

12:10 p.m. WavePads Water Rafts in Plainfield pivots to manufacturing face shields

As the U.S. grapples with personal protective equipment shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic, one local business is making an effort to make sure face shields get into the hands of those who need them most.

WavePads Water Rafts in Plainfield switched its manufacturing plans from making water rafts to face shields for healthcare workers and first responders who are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Face shields produced by WavePads Water Rafts in Plainfield.
Provided

WavePads has been producing face shields for nearly three weeks and has distributed roughly 10,000 units — free of charge — to hospitals, fire stations and police departments in at least seven states.

“We wanted to give back,” said WavePads owner Matt Yassinger, who estimated his company can produce roughly 500 shields per day. “I’m happy that I’m able to do something. It does scare me on a daily basis anyways just because everyone’s already frantic as it is.”

WavePads ordered vinyl sheets for the shields and is using the foam from its rafts as the padding. It costs “only a few dollars” to make one face shield, said Yassinger, who is paying for the production and shipping out of his own pocket.

“I see what these competitors are charging,” Yassinger said. “They’re actually charging for them and they’re doing minimums of [orders]. They’re charging $4 but they want somebody to buy 1,000 of them so that’s like $4,000-something for face shields and this applies to anyone that’s purchasing, they’re not doing any discounts or anything to help.

”At this point, everybody needs to help each other and not take things for granted.”

Yassinger said he’s had several people reach out about donating money to help, so he set up a GoFundMe, which has raised nearly $3,000 since March 27.

“People are saying I’m the true hero because I’m making these shields,” Yassinger said. “But the true heroes that are out there are the first responders and the doctors and nurses, the people who are working in the grocery stories.”

— Madeline Kenney

11:42 a.m. Chicago health care workers cheer patients released after beating COVID-19

Hospital workers at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois cheer for Carmen Benabe, 86, as she’s released after four days of treatment for COVID-19.
Provided

Advocate Aurora Health discharged its 1,000th COVID-19 patient this week, a landmark that health care workers at the hospital system are celebrating by spotlighting the many individual victories behind that figure.

At Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Lake View, Carmen Benabe, 86, was released to quarantine at home four days after being admitted to the emergency room with a COVID-19 diagnosis, according to a release from the hospital system. Benabe’s daughter, Dalia Colon, said the family is thankful in a statement, and that her mom is looking forward to enjoying home-cooked Puerto Rican meals again soon.

At Advocate Trinity Hospital on the South Side, Paul Richards, 69, a retired Chicago firefighter and a Vietnam veteran, headed home amid a standing ovation, passing handmade posters that read “#GOINGHOME” after he spent two weeks on a ventilator for COVID-19 symptoms.

“It was like being in Vietnam,” Richards said in a release from the hospital. “Everyone responded with no hesitation. Everyone stepped up to do what they had to do and put their lives on the line to care for me.”

Dr. Gary Stuck, chief medical officer of Advocate Aurora Health, said he was “grateful for [the] service and sacrifice” of doctors and nurses at the hospital system, emphasized that there’s more work to be done, for medical staff and for Chicagoans. According to the latest figures from the state, Illinois has now seen 868 deaths and 23,247 coronavirus cases.

“The public must continue to do their part by practicing social distancing and staying home as much as possible,” Stuck said in a release. “There will be more milestones to come, both happy and tragic. And our actions now will determine how much celebrating or grieving we do later. We’re all in this together.”

Read the full story here.

11:35 a.m. Abbott launches COVID-19 test that focuses on antibodies

Abbott Laboratories said Wednesday it is launching a third COVID-19 test, this time focusing on antibodies the company said could support the development of treatments and vaccines.

The lab-based blood test detects the IgG antibody, which could identify if a person previously had the COVID-19 virus, the North Chicago-based company said in a statement. Antibody testing of someone who has been previously infected could provide more understanding of the virus, including how long antibodies stay in the body and if they provide immunity, officials said.

Read the full story from the Daily Herald here.

9:58 a.m. China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days

In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan at the epicenter of the disease hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people; millions began traveling through for Lunar New Year celebrations.

President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, Jan. 20. But by that time, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and expert estimates based on retrospective infection data.

That delay from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials at all levels in confronting the outbreak, nor the longest lag, as governments around the world have dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus.

But the delay by the first country to face the new coronavirus came at a critical time — the beginning of the outbreak.

Click here to read the full report.

8:26 a.m. People staying home or nearby discover the wild wonder of what is outside

With people sequestered at home, and perhaps looking out their windows more, Dale Bowman reports that he’s seen more animal stories come in the last three weeks with the stay-at-home edict than in the last half year.

Photos and stories of red foxes, pelicans, an early hummingbird and more are today’s report.

Read the full story here.

6:56 a.m. State coronavirus budget includes two secret chartered flights from Shanghai

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is planning to obtain millions of masks and gloves from China and bring those supplies back to Illinois on charter jets — but he’s keeping the details secret out of fear the Trump administration might seize the cargo for the federal stockpile, sources said Tuesday.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza announced Tuesday that the state has spent more than $174 million on purchases related to COVID-19, including supplies such as ventilators, masks, gloves, gowns, protective eyewear and hand sanitizer.

But one of the items on the list of expenditures was unusual: two invoices, each for $888,275, to FedEx Trade Networks Transport for “aircraft charter flight to Shanghai, China for COVID-19 response. ... Prepayment required.”

Jordan Abudayyeh, the press secretary for Pritzker, wouldn’t provide details about the flights, including when they will happen, how many there will be and what the routes are.

Read the full story from reporter Frank Main.

6:18 a.m. Nursing home workers claim they were fired over demands for more PPE

Three nursing home workers accused three Chicago-area facilities Tuesday afternoon for wrongfully firing or suspending them after they raised safety issues.

Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, said these were just a few instances during the COVID-19 pandemic where union members’ concerns were being disregarded by nursing home owners.

Kelley said workers at Bridgeview Health Care Center, Alden Lakeland and Berkeley Nursing & Rehab Center brought their concerns to management but were “disrespected, insulted and have in fact been fired” for raising issues with their employers.

“These employers seem to care more about maintaining their profits than the safety of those who live and work in their facility,” Kelley said.

Read the full story by Manny Ramos here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

5:48 p.m. When farmers plow under crops in a nation of bounty, the tragedy of COVID-19 becomes all the more vivid

America has a food problem.

When, during this pandemic, we see dairy farmers dump milk into ditches and when we see vegetable farmers plow their crops back into the soil, it is tragically obvious that major agricultural markets have dried up.

It is an indication, as well, that our nation faces an unsettling new challenge in getting food to where it is needed most — one that the federal government needs to tackle immediately.

Chicago knows a lot about food. At our height in the last century, we shipped more than 80% of the nation’s meat supply from processing plants at the city’s stockyards. To this day, Illinois remains a key agricultural state that exports food globally.

But the systems needed to efficiently move food to market, especially perishables, take years to develop. Private companies are struggling to redesign them during the coronavirus pandemic, especially at a time when some of their own workers have fallen ill or are afraid to come to work.

Read the full editorial from the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board.

5:10 p.m. Donald Trump is the virus: His coronavirus response confirms how toxic he is for our nation

We’ve put up with a lot as a nation over the years. But whatever your political party, the latest antics from President Trump, during a global pandemic which has killed more than 25,000 Americans, seal the deal: We need out of this mess for good.

Our threshold for the absolutely absurd and the inarguably indefensible has been fairly high, considering just how far Trump has pushed the boundaries of decency and incompetence.

Since the day he was elected, there has been a near constant-barrage of collateral damage — all the stuff that came with him when a mere 27% of the eligible voting population ushered him into office.

Read the full column by S.E. Cupp.

10:37 a.m. Plague catches up with artist in Chicago

Doménikos Theotokópoulos was lucky when it came to plague.

The painter passed through Venice in 1575, the year the Black Death killed a third of the residents of that crowded maritime port. He was on his way from Rome, where he had studied under the great painter Titian — who himself would soon after die of plague — to Spain, where he would establish his own enduring fame as El Greco, “The Greek.”

But his luck with plagues ran out recently, as a major show of his work, “El Greco: Ambition and Defiance,” opened at The Art Institute of Chicago March 7, only to go dark six days later when the museum closed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

I was fortunate to see the show during the brief span it was open, admiring how it reunited scattered works that had not been in the same room for centuries.

I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for the show’s curators, and wonder: what is it like to dedicate years of your life to such a project only to have it displayed to empty galleries?

Read the full column from Neil Steinberg.

6:45 a.m. King Donald can’t reopen America alone, but neither can governors

Imagine, if you will, that President Trump announces in two or three weeks that it’s time for life to get back to normal in the United States.

Go ahead, folks! Go to church again, reopen your restaurant, get back to work at the factory, visit Grandma in the nursing home.

Imagine, too, that Gov. J.B. Pritzker — or another governor — says “hell no” to all that.

Stay put right where you are, people! Keep hunkering down at home. Now’s no time to let up on social distancing. The coronavirus is on the run but not beaten.

To whom would you listen? The president or the governor?

Millions of Americans no doubt would take their cue from Trump while others would stick with their state’s governor — and the result could be chaos. Continued efforts to thwart the spread of the virus might be undermined as some people return to their normal lives, even as the economy would be thrown into a conflict-loaded limbo, part open and part closed.

Read the full Sun-Times’ editorial here.