Coronavirus live blog, April 17, 2020: Graduation ceremonies, proms unlikely to go on

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It’s official: Illinois children won’t be back in their classrooms for the rest of the year. The state also saw its highest number of positive coronavirus cases in a single day: 1,842.

But that’s not all that happened today. Here’s what else went on in Chicago and around the state as the struggle against the coronavirus pandemic continued.


8:58 p.m. ‘Once-in-a-lifetime’ moments likely lost for the class of 2020: Graduation ceremonies, proms unlikely to go on

Graduating Hancock College Prep senior Evelyn Roman, 18, said not walking across the stage to receive her diploma will be the hardest part of an already tough school year upended by the coronavirus.

Graduating Hancock College Prep senior Evelyn Roman, 18, said not walking across the stage to receive her diploma will be the hardest part of an already tough school year upended by the coronavirus.


Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s announcement that schools across Illinois would remained closed for the rest of the school year has almost certainly meant the yearly rituals of graduating seniors won’t take place in a traditional way for the class of 2020.

Speaking at a press conference Friday, Prtizker lamented the impact his decision would have on those students who stand to miss out on prom, graduation ceremonies and other senior events.

“To our high school seniors who are leaving this phase of their teen years behind in a way that they never expected,” Pritzker said, “I know you’re feeling sad about missing the rituals of senior prom and senior pranks, senior nights, and of course, graduation. Hear it from me as your governor: There’s room for you to feel all those things, big and small. You will get through this, too.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the announcement “difficult news,” especially for students who will experience “the pain of missing the many special milestones, which our families and young people count on and look forward to every year.”

Reporter Matthew Hendrickson has the full story.

8:32 p.m. Lightfoot seeks expanded emergency spending and procurement powers during pandemic

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has already used an executive order to grant herself extraordinary spending and contracting powers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now she’s asking the City Council’s Budget Committee to give her even more authority — even though aldermen have adopted rules allowing them to hold virtual Council meetings to conduct substantive city business.

The mayor’s ordinance will be introduced directly to the Budget Committee in preparation for a vote on Tuesday and final sign-off Wednesday by the full Council.

It would give Budget Director Susie Park carte blanche to “appropriate emergency-related funds from federal, state and other sources, establish new funding lines, consolidate funding lines and transfer or otherwise reallocate currently appropriated funds, including transfers between city departments ... to maximize effectiveness of the city response” to the pandemic.

City Hall reporter Fran Spielman has the full story.

8:09 p.m. Record spike of 1,842 new Illinois coronavirus cases: ‘The curve is bending. But it isn’t flat yet’

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a Friday news briefing on the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr. Ngozi Enzike Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, tells reporters that today marks the largest spike in confirmed coronavirus cases in Illinois during Pritzker’s daily coronavirus press conferences, Friday, April 17, 2020.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Illinois officials on Friday announced 62 more deaths due to the coronavirus and a record-high number of newly confirmed cases, capping a topsy-turvy week for the state that had shown signs of progress more than five weeks into the pandemic.

A day earlier, Illinois recorded its highest number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in a single day — 125 — while the 1,842 new diagnoses tallied Friday marked the biggest case surge since the state confirmed its first case in late January.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has voiced cautious optimism that the state is bending the curve to ease the burden on its health care system, but he and Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike acknowledged Friday the state has not yet hit its peak, with cases likely to continue rising for now.

“We did not think we were at our peak yet. So given that, we do expect cases to rise,” Ezike said. “One of the byproducts of being able to flatten the curve is that you will delay the peak, and maybe it’s not a peak where you go straight up and down — maybe, if I can use a term, ‘plateau,’ where you’re kind of flattened for a while. We’re looking at all these numbers to figure out exactly where we are in our curve. And it’s really been a day-by-day thing.”

Read the full story by Tina Sfondeles.

7:51 p.m. Medical examiner confirms 71 new COVID-19 deaths, bringing total to 855

The Cook County medical examiner’s office confirmed 71 more coronavirus-related deaths Friday, raising the county’s total to 855.

Earlier Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced 62 more deaths and 1,842 new positive cases, raising the statewide total to 25,733 cases. This is a record spike for new cases in the state.

Cook County makes up about 75 percent of the 1,134 deaths across Illinois.

Sun-Times wire

7:24 p.m. Calumet City man asks: Where’s my $1,200 COVID-19 stimulus check?

Bernie Butler was looking forward to his $1,200 “economic impact payment” check from the federal government for coronavirus relief.

“Everyone’s on Facebook or texting, saying, ‘I got mine, did you get yours?’ ” says Butler, a Calumet City resident who’s lost one of his two jobs during the statewide shutdown.

He got a shock when he checked the “Get My Payment” tool Wednesday on — it showed the payment was deposited but into an account he’s never seen before.

“I knew right away that’s not my account number,” he says.

Reporter Stephanie Zimmermann has the full story.

6:46 p.m. Michelle Obama to host kids’ storytime series online during coronavirus quarantine

During the coronavirus pandemic, which finds millions of parents everywhere in search of new ways for their kids to fill their days outside of school work, watching movies or FaceTime playdates, former first lady and bestselling author Michelle Obama has got it covered.

Obama, in a special arrangement with Penguin Young Readers, Random House Children’s Books and PBS KIDS, will be hosting “Mondays with Michelle Obama” kicking off at 11 a.m. April 20.

The Facebook and YouTube four-part weekly series (through May 11) will feature Obama reading classic children’s storybooks aloud as part of the recently announced “Read Together, Be Together” online initiative.

See the full list of books Obama will be reading here.

5:28 p.m. Chicago greatly expands coronavirus testing across South Side

University of Chicago Medicine is now conducting up to 1,000 coronavirus tests a day as the health system partners with other facilities to ramp up screening for the deadly virus.

An increase in supplies needed to administer the tests, most notably swabs, has allowed U. of C. to extend testing to anyone with mild symptoms consistent with the disease, falling in line with new guidance outlined by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday. The list of possible symptoms is wide-ranging and includes fever, coughing, sneezing, upper respiratory issues and diarrhea.

“We really expect that that should alone expand the number of folks who would be now eligible for testing,” Dr. Stephen Weber, U. of C.’s chief medical officer, said.

Patients at the U. of C.’s campus won’t have to pay for the testing. Those with health insurance will simply have their provider billed and won’t be subjected to co-pays, while uninsured patients will be tested for free.

Read the full story by Tom Schuba.

4:56 p.m. Trump urges three states to lift stay-at-home orders

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged supporters to “LIBERATE” three states led by Democratic governors Friday, apparently encouraging the growing protests against the stay-at-home restrictions aimed at stopping the coronavirus.

A day after laying out a roadmap to gradually reopen the crippled economy, Trump took to Twitter with the kind of rhetoric some of his supporters have used in demanding the lifting of the orders that have thrown millions of Americans out of work.

“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” he said in a tweet-storm in which he also lashed out at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for criticizing the federal response. Cuomo “should spend more time `doing’ and less time `complaining,’” the president said.

Read the full story by the Associated Press.

3:47 p.m. Man punches nurse on CTA bus after saying, ‘Did you just cough on me?’: police

A man on probation for beating a veteran allegedly attacked a nurse earlier this month on a CTA bus after claiming she coughed on him.

Quindrell Yarbrough, 29, was standing near the center door of a bus in the Loop on April 1 when the nurse sitting in an adjacent seat, and who just finished her shift at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, raised her arm and coughed into her elbow, Cook County prosecutors said, citing surveillance video from the bus.

Yarbrough turned and said, “Did you just cough on me?” but the nurse denied that she had, Chicago police said. The video clearly showed the woman raised her arm and coughed into the crook of her arm, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said at a bond hearing Friday.

Read the full story by the Sun-Times wire.

3:14 p.m. Inside the life of a homeless Chicago student in the age of the coronavirus: Fear of failing — or not surviving

For the first three months, it was a park bench by Douglas Park on the West Side.

Then her older sister’s apartment in Homan Square.

Three different places in Englewood. One over in Gresham.

In all, Mariah Bingham has lived in 13 different places since she was born. She’s likely to be on the move again in the coming months.

She’s 11 years old and one of 17,000 homeless students at Chicago Public Schools.

Mariah’s going into the home stretch of fifth grade having already gone to seven schools, never with a stable learning environment.

Now the coronavirus has taken over, and Mariah feels she might take a step back academically.

That’s not to mention the health concerns: Mariah and her mother are both asthmatic. Her mom is diabetic, Mariah, pre-diabetic.

“I am terrified of the coronavirus,” Mariah says, “because I love my life.”

Read the full story by Nader Issa.

2:33 p.m. Illinois sees drop in deaths, big rise in coronavirus cases as Pritzker announces school closures

Illinois officials on Friday announced 62 more deaths due to the coronavirus and a record-high number of newly confirmed cases, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Illinois schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year.

With 62 new deaths, the state has lost 1,134 people to the outbreak. The Illinois Dept. of Public Health also reported 1,842 new diagnoses, bringing the state’s tally to 27,575 cases.

The Friday case total, however, is the largest number of positive cases the state has seen since the outbreak began. In total, the state ran 7,575 tests on Thursday.

The virus has now been confirmed in 92 of the state’s 102 counties.

Read the full story by Tina Sfondeles.

2:02 p.m. McCormick Place field hospital is now accepting COVID-19 patients

City officials confirmed Friday that the COVID-19 field hospital at McCormick Place has started accepting patients.

The alternate-care facility is being built to handle an overflow of patients from the city’s hospitals. Patients began arriving Tuesday.

“The area hospital system is not at full capacity right now,” said Mary May, a city spokeswoman. “However, the ACF, as part of its preparation and training, did begin accepting patients from Chicago-area hospitals.”

She would not provide the number of patients at the facility, citing privacy issues.

Three wings in McCormick Place are being retrofitted with hospital beds, tents and nursing stations to treat coronavirus patients. Each wing represents a different level of illness.

Authorities have said the facility is being built in stages, with up to 3,000 beds planned.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker were among the officials who toured the facility Friday.

— Frank Main 

1:01 p.m. Pritzker expected to close all Illinois schools for remainder of academic year

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is planning to close the state’s schools for in-person instruction through the end of the academic year because of the coronavirus, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The governor and his team have worked through the details of the extended closures this week and will announce the decision Friday afternoon, sources said.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is fully on board with the move but isn’t expected to attend the news conference with the governor because of scheduling conflicts, sources said. Lightfoot on Thursday hinted strongly that the decision was coming but said it was up to Pritzker and she would like to be part of that discussion.

Pritzker’s original stay-at-home order was to expire April 7. He already has extended it once — until April 30 — and has hinted for days about a second extension deep into May.

By shutting down school buildings for the rest of the year, Illinois will join 27 states and 3 U.S. territories that have either ordered or recommended the same action, Education Week reported. Those orders impacted more than 25 million students.

Read the latest on this developing story here.

12:18 p.m. Remembering Tony’s Italian Deli matriarch, who died of COVID-19

As a girl growing up in Italy, Emilia Pontarelli once had to be held back for her own safety after raining verbal abuse on a German soldier who seized her pet goat for dinner. In her 90s, she challenged her son-in-law to arm-wrestle to show she still had the strength that had enabled her to climb the mountains in her hometown of Rocchetta a Volturno.

She grew up, married Vincenzo Pontarelli, and they started their family. In 1967, they decided to immigrate to Chicago, where they had relatives, seeking more opportunities for their children: Tony, Maria and Anna. She landed a factory job at Illinois Tool Works, and her husband worked construction. Eventually, she became known as a fixture at the cash register of her son Tony’s Italian Deli on Northwest Highway in Edison Park.

“She always made a point of how lucky we were to live here,” her grandson said.

Mrs. Pontarelli died April 10 at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge after contracting the coronavirus, according to her grandson.

Read our obituary from Maureen O’Donnell.

11:35 a.m. 4 die of coronavirus at Lincoln Park nursing home

A man and three women who live at a Lincoln Park nursing home died this week after contracting the coronavirus, a spokesman for the facility said Friday.

Ten more people at St. Mary’s Home, 2325 N. Lakewood Ave., have been diagnosed with the illness, said Sister Constance Veit, a spokeswoman for Little Sisters of the Poor, the organization that owns and operates the home. Six of the afflicted are residents, while another four are employees, Veit said.

“These are people who are not sick enough to require ICU level of care or ventilator support,” Veit said of the sickened residents. “The sisters are caring for them at home in their own rooms.”

The Lincoln Park facility has 76 licensed nursing beds and 50 independent-living apartments, Veit said.

Click here to read more.

11:02 a.m. 3rd CPD officer dies of COVID-19

A third Chicago Police officer has died of COVID-19, the department announced Friday.

The officer was assigned to the 4th District on the city’s South Side, according to Tom Ahern, a department spokesman.

His name and length of service with the department were not immediately disclosed, as the officer’s extended family was still being notified of his death Friday morning, Ahern said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and acting CPD Supt. David Brown were expected to release more details about the officer at a news conference Friday afternoon.

Read the full story from Sam Charles here.

9:43 a.m. Antiviral drug being tested at UChicago Medicine shows promise against COVID-19

As researchers race to find treatments for COVID-19, a new report appears to show that patients with severe symptoms who are participating in clinical trials at the University of Chicago Medicine have responded to a promising antiviral drug.

The early findings were detailed in a video obtained by Stat News that shows Kathleen Mullane, an infectious disease specialist helming the studies at U. of C., telling fellow faculty members that patients with fevers and respiratory symptoms had recovered quickly after being treated with Remdesivir.

As part of the trials at U. of C., 125 COVID-19 patients were treated with Remdesivir, 113 of whom had severe symptoms. Two of them have died, according to Mullane.

In the video, Mullane says most patients were being discharged from the hospital in less than a week. That’s notable because the study is investigating both five- and 10-day courses of the drug.

Read our full report about the Remdesivir clinical trials here.

8:15 a.m. Chicago COVID-19 survivors share their stories

As a Chicago firefighter, Paul Richard once climbed to the top of a 100-foot-tall crane to safely talk down a young man who was threatening to jump.

In the past week, Richard survived a different kind of ordeal — coming home after two weeks at Advocate Trinity Hospital on the South Side battling COVID-19. The virus attacked his kidneys, liver and immune system.

“Oh, brother, you better believe I was scared,” says Richard, who is now recovering at home in Beverly. “I didn’t know what was going on. It was like I was in a daze.”

His half-brother drove him to the hospital about two and a half weeks ago. That was after he’d been feeling so weak he barely could tie his shoes. It felt like a “little elephant” was sitting on his chest.

His memory of the time he spent in the hospital is foggy. At one point, he says he thought angels had appeared to him on the walls of his hospital room.

“I believe in God,” Richard says. “He’s saved me. And he’s still working with me.”

Read more first-person stories in the full feature from Stefano Esposito.

6:43 a.m. CPS teachers share what remote learning looks like

Rosa Jimenez-Hernandez didn’t know what to expect when she opened her laptop this week to remotely teach her fifth grade language arts class for the first time.

To her surprise, a dozen of her Sadlowski Elementary students were already logged on, waiting for their scheduled online video conference with their teacher. The next day, it was up to 15 kids.

But Jimenez-Hernandez wasn’t giving them a lecture or a typical lesson — it was scavenger hunt time. Her students ran around their homes for five minutes looking for items their teacher had listed.

“It’s not academic at all. It’s communication, it’s are you alive and well, and let’s have some fun together,” Jimenez-Hernandez said. “If they know that there’s going to be something fun going on, they’ll have more of a reason to join us.”

Like Jimenez-Hernandez, teachers all across the city are trying to come up with creative ways to keep kids engaged and overcome the challenges of teaching from home — including a massive technology deficit — as Chicago Public Schools’ remote learning plan rolls out.

“We’re all going to be behind,” Jimenez-Hernandez said, noting that she’s still trying to reach half her students. “And we’re just going to have to figure it out together.”

Read the full story from Nader Issa.

6:18 a.m. ‘I feel like I lost the battle for my husband,’ widow of dead Cook County Jail detainee says

Nickolas Lee was struggling to breathe, much less hold up his end of the conversation as he talked on the phone with his wife Saturday night from a Stroger Hospital bed.

“I told him a lot of people are beating this thing, and he was going to be one of them,” Cassandra Lee-Greer told her high school sweetheart.

The 42-year-old, who had been transferred to Stroger from the Cook County Jail just six days earlier, died Sunday morning.

Lee ended up in jail in February for a 2018 armed robbery — a case he thought he had a good shot of beating.

But in March, he noticed two detainees on his tier had the flu-like symptoms that sounded like what his wife had been telling him were telltale signs of an illness spreading across the globe. A few days later, he came down with a sore throat. Chills, muscle aches and a loss of sense of smell and taste followed. He tested positive for COVID-19. A week later, he was transported from the jail’s Cermak medical facility to Stroger, where he died of cardiac arrest likely caused by complications related to coronavirus.

He was the third Cook County Jail detainee to die after contracting COVID-19.

Reporter Andy Grimm has the full story.

New Cases

Analysis & Commentary

7:24 p.m. In praise of the ‘essential workers’ helping us all to brave the storm of coronavirus

Here’s to the essential worker. To all the previously “invisible people” who some of us may suddenly now have discovered make the world go ‘round.

To those workers who sometimes have been reduced to being “just a CNA.” To workers marginalized in the eyes of some who see your job as being “less than”— less glorious, less important, less essential.

Here’s to you.

To all the “thanked-less” men and women who happen to be “just a blue-collar worker.” “Just a hospital orderly.” “Just a cook.” “Just a bus driver.” “Just a trash man.” “Just a gas station attendant.”

This one’s for the overlooked, over-taxed underpaid worker. For every nameless, faceless person who does all the little things that even the least grateful among us these days ought to now see aren’t so little after all.

For each and every one of you without whom this global pandemic would be made unendurable, if not un-survivable. This one’s for you.

Read John W. Fountain’s full column here.

3:26 p.m. As pandemic crushes the young, all student loan rescue efforts should be created equal

Say you’re a recent college graduate, working as a barista and driving for Uber while looking for a career in your chosen field.

You’re managing to make ends meet, but now the coronavirus pandemic hits. The coffee shop shuts down. Uber customers stop calling. You’re not thrilled about picking up fares anyway because anybody could expose you to the virus.

Meanwhile, forget about that career for now. The economy is virtually at a standstill.

Everything’s upside down except your bills — including a monthly student loan payment — which never go away.

Read the full editorial by the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board.

10:10 a.m. COVID-19 SBA loan funds exhausted: At Devon Bank, ‘applications with no place to go’

At a few minutes before 9 a.m. Chicago time on Thursday, an official with the Small Business Administration sent out an urgent email: “hitting limit in the next few mins,” said the message, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

With funds appropriated by Congress exhausted, minutes later, the door slammed shut – for now – on the SBA accepting applications for two COVID-19 emergency loan packages. That’s the new Paycheck Protection Program — known as PPP — and existing Economic Injury Disaster Loans, both in enormous demand.

“It leaves us stuck,” said David Loundy, the chairman and CEO of the 75-year-old family-owned Devon Bank headquartered at 6445 N. Western Ave. with branches in Glenview and Wheeling.

These PPP loans for small businesses and nonprofits are urgently needed by employers to meet payrolls and remain viable until lockdowns are lifted.

Loundy said he had a backlog of 70 to 85 applications — asking for about $10 million in loans.

“They are applications with no place to go. These are people who just won’t get money. They represent small business operators; they represent sole practitioners; nonprofit organizations; religious organizations, across the board,” Loundy said.

Read the full story from Lynn Sweet here.

6:33 a.m. Let’s keep our foot on the gas against the coronavirus, Chicago — it’s working

The coronavirus stay-at-home order hasn’t been easy on Chicago. But we can’t let up — or the bug could come roaring back.

We know it’s tough to be indoors. We see the economy cratering. We see the jobs being lost.

Statewide on Thursday, there were some grim numbers, too: Health officials announced that another 125 people had died from the virus. That’s the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois in a single day. The state also reported 1,140 confirmed new cases, raising the total to 25,733. More than 1,000 Illinoisans have died in all.

Despite this, Gov. J.B. Pritzker for days has signaled some optimism based on the doubling rate of infections slowing down. And his stay-at-home order is slowing the spread of the virus in Chicago — flattening the curve — City Hall says.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration announced Wednesday that the city has seen 9,666 confirmed cases of the coronavirus cases and 347 COVID-19 deaths as of this week. But the city could have suffered more than 62,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,000 deaths by now had Pritzker not issued his order on March 21 and had the city not closed its parks and lakefront, officials say.

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

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