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Coronavirus live blog, May 14, 2020

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

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

On Thursday, 138 more die in Illinois as coronavirus fatalities near 4,000 and Cook County became the county with most COVID-19 cases in the country. Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled a “bare-bones” economic plan for Chicago’s recovery and Governor J.B. Pritzker prepares for the General Assembly to get back to work.

Here’s what happened in the fight against the coronavirus in Chicago and around the state.

News

9 p.m. Cook County surpasses Queens, NY as county with most COVID-19 cases in U.S.

Cook County has surpassed Queens County in New York as the U.S. county with the most coronavirus cases based on Sun-Times analysis of the latest public data.

There have been 58,457 total cases of COVID-19 recorded in Cook County, which includes all of Chicago and many of its suburbs, after officials added 2,051 new cases in the last 24 hours. Queens, by comparison, added only 336 cases over the same time frame to bring its total to 58,084.

Cook County still has a lower rate of COVID-19 per capita given its population (5.1 million) is more than twice as large as Queens (2.25 million). But Queens also has a much higher population density with 20,500 people per square mile compared to 5,500 per square mile in Cook County, which can make social distancing measures more challenging to maintain.

Illinois officials announced Thursday that the statewide case total has increased to 87,937 while the death tally closes in on 4,000. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration recently warned that projections show the state could see 50-150 deaths per day into June or later.

— Satchel Price & Caroline Hurley

8:35 p.m. ‘Grandstanding’ by Grand Old Party? Or is Pritzker masking his decisions?

SPRINGFIELD — After weeks of nudges from Republican legislators, the General Assembly is planning to return to Springfield to get back to work.

And as they prepare for the Legislature’s long-sought session next week, Republicans said Thursday they are willing to comply with safety guidelines issued by the Democrats – but they want an examination of their own.

GOP lawmakers said they will wear face coverings, submit to COVID-19 tests and temperature checks and follow other safety measures when they return to Springfield, but they balked at signing a pledge to follow those recommendations as requested by House Speaker Mike Madigan.

And Republicans want to put Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan under the microscope with a public hearing.

GOP lawmakers have criticized Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan as “arbitrary,” saying the dates in which parts of the states can begin to reopen don’t make sense, and its metrics ignore geographical differences in COVID-19’s impact.

Read the full story by Neal Earley here.

6:45 p.m. With the focus on the coronavirus, Lightfoot opts for bare-bones capital plan

Singularly focused on the war against the coronavirus, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has opted for a $100 million, bare bones capital plan — bankrolled by an existing line of credit — to pay for new vehicles, sidewalks and the treasured aldermanic menu program.

Normally, the city issues general obligation bonds backed by property taxes to cover a more sweeping capital program. But these are not normal times.

The Lightfoot administration is preoccupied with the city’s response to the coronavirus and the budget crisis triggered by the stay-at-home shutdown of the Chicago economy.

So the decision was made to proceed only with those capital projects and purchases that absolutely needed to get done and to finance it with a line of credit that remained, even after Lightfoot saved $22 million by eliminating a $1.4 billion line of credit negotiated by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Read the full story by Fran Spielman here.

6:10 p.m. DePaul students sue university for tuition, claim online education during pandemic not what they paid for

Two DePaul University students are suing the university, saying they should to be reimbursed for the decreased value of their educational experience after campuses was shuttered this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The suit, which was filed in federal court Tuesday, also seeks class-action status to represent other students who attend the school.

Enrique Chavez, a senior undergraduate studying psychology, and Emma Sheikh, who is working toward a master’s degree in education, say they’re entitled to a partial refund for “substandard” classes since they were moved online, and a decrease in access to school resources.

Carol Hughes, a DePaul University spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday the students were using the lawsuit “to take advantage of difficult decisions DePaul University made to save lives and presents an erroneous view of how the university has responded to the COVID-19 crisis.”

Read the full story here.

5:07 p.m. Another coronavirus victim? Organ transplants decrease during pandemic

Fewer organ transplants are taking place in the Chicago area and across the state due, in part, to a drop in fatal car crashes and other forms of sudden death that normally yield lifesaving organs.

“People are staying home and not dying in car and work-related accidents,” said Kevin Cmunt, president of Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, which oversees organ donations in northern Illinois and Northwest Indiana.

The number of transplants began to slide in mid-March and are stark in comparison to the number of transplant surgeries from the same time period last year.

Read the full story here.

3:56 p.m. Pastors say churches offer ‘balm’ to the suffering, want more people allowed in the pews

Invoking the supremacy of God’s law and making a comparison to the evils of communism, a group of Illinois pastors — led by former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson — called Thursday for a loosening of statewide restrictions on church gatherings.

“All of these restrictions, they sound more like communism,” said Florin Cimpean, senior pastor at Philadelphia Romanian Church of God in the Ravenswood neighborhood, one of several dozen religious leaders who gathered Thursday outside the Thompson Center to take issue with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.

But Cimpean, who said he grew up in Soviet-controlled Romania, added: “Not even communists were able to completely shut down churches. We are essential. The spiritual, emotional and mental impact of this [coronavirus] will probably be greater long-term than the medical one.”

Cimpean said his church held services last week with about 40 people in attendance and plans to do so again this weekend — a violation of Pritzker’s order, which allows for a maximum religious gathering of 10 people, regardless of place of worship’s size.

Read the full story here.

3 p.m. 138 more die in Illinois as coronavirus fatalities near 4,000

Another 138 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois, raising the state’s death toll to 3,928.

Health officials on Thursday reported 3,239 new cases among the 22,678 test results received by the state a day earlier.

In total, there have been 87,937 coronavirus cases confirmed in 98 of Illinois’ 102 counties since the pandemic hit the state.

Even as Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has warned the state could see between 50 and 150 deaths a day into June — or worse — the Democratic governor is facing criticism from Republican legislators and others fed up about his phased reopening plan. Some are upset that the governor split the state into four regions, instead of the 11 Emergency Medical Services regions the state has set up.

The governor this week has said all regions except for the Northeast region, which includes Chicago and its collar counties, are poised to meet a positivity rate measure the governor has deemed essential to enter the next reopening phase when his stay-at-home order ends May 29.

Read the full story from Tina Sfondeles here.

2:35 p.m. Coronavirus isolation may be contributing to overdose deaths: coroner

The DuPage County coroner is reporting an “unusual spike” in overdose deaths in the past month that may be tied to increased isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the last three weeks, 20 people in DuPage have died from opioid overdoses, Coroner Richard Jorgensen said in a statement. Some days saw multiple die from overdoses, he said.

By comparison, in all of 2019 the west suburban county saw 96 opioid overdoses.

“We do not know if this is due to a change in the makeup of the drugs, drug usage on the streets or due to current COVID-19 related changes in society,” Jorgensen said.

“After review of the social aspects of the recent deaths, many of those who died were living alone, having personal or marital difficulty, depression and recent drug rehab or treatment.”

Read the full story from David Struett here.

2:15 p.m. 12-year-old from Gage Park dies of COVID-19, marking the youngest Cook County death from the coronavirus

A 12-year-old boy who died early Thursday is the youngest known person to die from a COVID-19 infection in Cook County, officials said.

The boy, from Gage Park, died at 12:18 a.m. at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

He died from pneumonia and a COVID-19 infection with asthma, sleep apnea and Charcot-Marie Tooth Disorder as contributing factors, the medical examiners’ office said.

Charcot-Marie Tooth Disorder is a neuromuscular disorder characterized by weakness and muscle loss in the lower legs, hands and feet, according to the American Medical Association.

Read the full story here.

1:31 p.m. Abbott disputes study challenging accuracy of rapid COVID-19 tests used at White House, sites nationwide

The White House on Thursday is continuing to use a COVID-19 rapid result diagnostic test made by Abbott Laboratories — the global health care company headquartered in Lake County near North Chicago — a day after a New York University study raised questions about its accuracy.

Abbott is disputing the results, noting the study has not been peer reviewed.

As of Wednesday, the FDA has authorized 95 tests using EUA, including several for Abbott.

Read more on the dispute over Abbott’s testing from Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet here.

1:12 p.m. Chicago’s G-Herbo to deliver 20,000 protective masks to Cook County Jail

Chicago hip-hop artist G-Herbo is partnering with Alliance for Safety and Justice, a California-based criminal justice advocacy organization to donate 20,000 PPE protective masks to the Cook County Jail at 5 p.m. Thursday, organizers said.

The donation is made possible through the ASJ and its subsidiary project “Time Done,” which aims to knock down legal barriers that previously incarcerated people often face such as access to housing, education and employment.

Read the full story from Evan F. Moore here.

12:20 p.m Chicago high school robotics team creates portable ventilator

A high school robotics team hopes to provide ventilators to those in need amid the coronavirus pandemic while inspiring younger generations to tackle current issues.

The Bionic Wolves of Wolcott College Prep, 524 N. Wolcott St., is seeking clinical trials and FDA approval for its TETRIX Portable Ventilator, which only took two to three hours to make.

Bionic Wolves coach and physics teacher Kenny Bae said his team used recycled materials to create innovative devices in robotics competitions. The idea for the device was sparked by his students’ competition experiences and a global need for ventilators to aid the recovery of coronavirus patients, Bae said.

“As we’ve seen, there’s a huge demand for ventilators, not just in the U.S. but all over the world,” Bae said. “What if we could create a portable ventilator using the equipment we already have? That is the question we started with, and that’s what we’ve been working on from spring break until now.”

Read the full story here.

11:25 a.m. VIDEO: Michelle, Barack Obama read a children’s book for Chicago Public Library during lockdown closure

The Chicago Public Library sent up a bat signal of sorts after closing all branches in March, and some big names have answered the call — including Oprah Winfrey and Barack and Michelle Obama.

Library officials asked dozens of celebrities with links to Chicago to film themselves reading children’s books — content that kids could watch on the library’s Facebook and Instagram accounts from home during the pandemic.

The library on Wednesday announced the latest additions to their growing collection: a video of the Obamas reading “The Word Collector” that posted Thursday morning and Winfrey’s rendition of “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse” is set to post Monday.

Live From the Library: The Obamas!

Chicago Public Library is thrilled to welcome Barack Obama and Michelle Obama to #LiveFromTheLibrary! Tune in Thursday morning at 10 AM CST to see Chicago’s own former President and First Lady read The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. We’re honored to have President and Mrs. Obama support our commitment to early literacy and join us as we connect to children in Chicago and beyond through story time.

Posted by Chicago Public Library on Thursday, May 14, 2020

Read the full story on the Chicago Public Library’s recent efforts here.

10:46 a.m. Lightfoot leans on community groups to curb spread of coronavirus among Latinos

At a virtual town hall Wednesday evening, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’s depending on “trusted” community groups to curb the spread of the coronavirus among Latinos.

On Wednesday, Latinos became the first racial or ethnic group in Chicago to record more than 10,000 cases of the coronavirus, according to data released by the city. Latinos now account for 42% of all COVID-19 cases despite making up around 30% of the population.

Lightfoot acknowledged shortcomings in the city’s efforts to reach Latinos early on in the pandemic, particularly residents who are primarily Spanish speakers.

Part of the problem, Lightfoot said, was the lack of testing sites in Latino neighborhoods.

“Early on, we were worried that there was a significant undercount among [Latinos] .... we were not getting enough demographic data from the providers doing testing so that we could fully measure the impact this virus,” she said.

Now that testing has ramped up and a clearer picture has emerged, Lightfoot said her administration is laser-focused on curbing the spread of the virus in neighborhoods that have recorded the biggest spikes like Little Village, Belmont Cragin and Archer Heights.

Read the full report from Carlos Ballesteros here.

9:38 a.m. Catholic churches outline plan for gradual reopening

Catholic churches throughout northern Illinois may soon be permitted to begin a gradual reopening process amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Archdiocese of Chicago, Diocese of Joliet and Diocese of Rockford — which collectively oversee churches in 20 counties throughout the region — announced identical plans Wednesday setting requirements and a timetable for resuming masses, weddings, funerals and other services.

According to the statements released by Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, Rockford’s Bishop David Malloy and Joliet’s Apostolic Administrator Richard Pates, the plans were made in conjunction with Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The plan outlines three phrases for opening.

In order to initiate the phases, however, the announcement specifies that parishes would need to recruit “non-vulnerable volunteers” to help implement the reopening process, and then train those volunteers through a webinar program beginning next week.

Read the full story from Ben Pope here.

8:11 a.m. 4 more COVID-19 cases in Chicago Police Department

Chicago police announced four more cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the number of cases in the department to 508.

Of the confirmed cases, 483 are officers and 25 are civilian employees, police said.

A total of 511 employees have reported positive test results, but the department’s medical section has yet to confirm three of those cases, police said.

The department announced the death of a third officer from complications of the coronavirus on April 17.

Read the full story here.

7:03 a.m. Politicians pushing to reopen faster are ‘idiots,’ says expert, blaming those not following rules for continued rise in COVID-19 cases

An infectious disease expert from Chicago has a simple explanation for why the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to mount after strict social restrictions have been in place for nearly two months: “People aren’t following the rules.”

Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of Northwestern University’s Institute of Global Health, warned that those disobeying the statewide stay-at-home order are exacerbating the public health crisis as he blasted the forces pushing to immediately reopen the economy.

“Look on the street. Only half of the people are wearing a mask,” Murphy said Wednesday. “There’s data from the phone companies about how people move. They’re moving around more. There’s definitely more traffic.”

While he said the pervasive toll is also attributable in part to increased testing and workers returning to their jobs, Murphy noted that keeping social distancing measures in place longer — and following them — is vitally important for beating back the coronavirus.

Read the full story by Tom Schuba here.

6:25 a.m. Wisconsin Supreme Court rules governor overstepped authority with stay-at-home extension

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ order shutting down daily life to limit the spread of coronavirus – marking the first time a statewide order of its kind has been knocked down by a court of last resort.

The state’s highest court, which is controlled by conservatives, sided with Republican lawmakers Wednesday in a decision that curbed the Evers administration’s power to act unilaterally during public health emergencies.

The 4-3 decision was written by four of the court’s conservatives – Chief Justice Patience Roggensack and Justices Rebecca Bradley, Daniel Kelly and Annette Ziegler.

The ruling, for now, immediately throws out the administration’s tool to control the disease for which there is no vaccine and comes at a time when Evers has already begun lifting some restrictions as the spread of the virus slows down for now.

Read the full story here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

2:30 p.m. Chicago’s flag, civic pride and the fight against COVID-19

If Chicago were to add a fifth star to the city’s flag, an awful lot of hipsters would have to get their tattoos reworked.

Maybe it’s best we just leave the flag as it is, even if the city manages to prevail against COVID-19.

Last Friday and again on Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot floated the idea of adding a fifth red star to Chicago’s flag to mark the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She was trying to rally the city. If Chicago’s effort to beat the virus is terrifically successful, she said Friday, it will “truly warrant a fifth star on our flag.”

But let’s be blunt. Chicago’s not about to be terrifically successful anytime soon. Nobody is. This is a global public health war that’s sure to be fought for years, and a lot of people are setting us up to lose.

Read the full Sun-Times editorial here.

12 p.m. I fear my mother will be a casualty of the rigid rules of social distancing

Tom Gregg, a Niles resident, wrote this letter to the Sun-Times’ editors:

As we debate how to respond to this pandemic, here’s another argument in favor of moving forward aggressively with a recovery from the lockdown: the control casualties. By this I mean the illnesses and deaths that are directly attributable to the lockdown itself, not to the coronavirus.

There definitely is such a factor working on the hearts and minds of the high risk institutionalized elderly, and I would submit my 99-year-old mother’s case as evidence.

Before the quarantine, I was visiting her twice a day in our retirement home, and she was holding her own in terms of her health. She is vision-impaired, hearing-impaired, arthritic and suffering from mild dementia, certainly, but for 13 years in two homes she had largely been able to avoid hospital stays for life-threatening problems. Plus, her interaction with me seemed to greatly help in minimizing her spells of confusion.

But now, during our relatively brief period of enforced separation — I live on a lower floor while she lives up on an assisted living floor — she has contracted pneumonia, for which she has been in and out of hospital, and her spells of confusion seem to be worsening. Symptomatic, doubtless, of the unprecedented disorientation.

My mother remains among the living today, but for how long if she remains so isolated? Now multiply this single case by all the other seniors around the country who have seen their precious interactive routines disappear. It is a situation that many of them, given their cognitive limitations, have difficulty grasping.

This potentially lethal hardship is worth noting when we are formulating pandemic recovery plans. The cure of the quarantine shouldn’t cost more than the contagion itself, should it?

Read the latest Letters to the Editor here.

11:17 a.m. COVID-19 scales back youth sports. That’s a win for many kids

My heart will break for older teens if they don’t get to play sports in Illinois this summer, or maybe this fall, because of the coronavirus. Most are nearing the end of their competitive sports days, and you hate to see them robbed.

For younger kids, I see a silver lining. It’s a chance for them to do more bike riding. They can learn to rollerblade or skateboard. Maybe they can join their parents for runs or walks.

They could get a much-needed break from an over-scheduled life, especially when it comes to sports.

Or, maybe not. In Missouri, a 40-team youth baseball tournament was held last weekend by GameTime Tournaments. You won’t see this in Illinois right now because of the stay-at-home order to curb the spread of the virus. But, at least one Illinois team, the Black Sox from central Illinois, made the trip, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Read the full commentary from columnist Marlen Garcia here.

6:20 a.m. Future COVID-19 vaccine will be effective only if we insist on its widespread use

Charles Berg, a Hyde Park resident, wrote this letter to the Sun-Times’ editors:

In Wednesday’s Chicago Sun-Times, columnist Lynn Sweet wrote about the future availability of a vaccine and an editorial discussed the concept of “herd immunity,” in which vaccination would play a significant role. Both pieces failed to mention one significant — and troubling — point: the strength of the anti-vaccination movement in the US.

“Vaccine hesitancy” has many bases. Among them are religious and ethical concerns, anti-scientific and anti-medical biases and conspiracy theories. Some individuals complaining that social-distancing measures are a plot against our civil liberties also are active in the anti-vaccination movement.

Despite concerns, vaccination has provided significant protection in the past several centuries against many diseases that used to devastate human populations. Polio, smallpox and measles are examples of diseases driven almost to extinction by vaccination programs. Yet there have been recent resurgences; for example, worldwide measles cases increased by 30% in 2019. Such outbreaks can cost lives and millions of dollars to combat. I encourage readers to consult the data in articles online.

The bottom line is that a failure to use an available vaccine can result in outbreaks of disease and deaths that could have been prevented. To not vaccinate is to threaten the health of others. That is why proof of polio vaccination is normally required of children entering school.

Once a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, we may be faced with mandating its use.

Read this and more letters to the editor here.