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Coronavirus live blog, August 14, 2020: More than 2,200 new coronavirus cases, most for Illinois in 3 months; State teetering toward conditions during the peak month of May

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

Illinois coronavirus caseload doesn’t seem to be leveling off. Friday marked another day of 2,000+ daily cases — the third time this week. It marked the largest caseload since May 24.

In other sectors, the coronavirus is raising the costs of used cars, increasing Americans’ alcohol consumption and altering plans for the upcoming convention.

Here’s what happened today in the fight against the coronavirus in Chicago, the state and the nation.

News

9 p.m. More than 2,200 new coronavirus cases, most for Illinois in 3 months; State teetering toward conditions during the peak month of May

Ermira Sherifaj opens the diazyme machine for COVID-19 antibody testing at Simple Laboratories in Harwood Heights in April. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Another 2,264 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, Illinois’ largest caseload in almost three months and the third time the state has topped 2,000 daily cases over the last week.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday also announced 25 more deaths attributed to the virus, raising the state’s pandemic death toll to 7,721.

And two Chicago area counties — Will and Kane — are now at the state’s “warning level” because of a combination of troubling signs, including ignoring or not understanding mask requirements.

The state is now averaging more than 1,700 new cases per day over the first two weeks of August — almost double the rate in early July — an increase that has Illinois teetering back toward conditions during the peak month of May when almost 2,200 people were infected each day.

Read the full story by Mitchell Arementrout here.

8:25 p.m. House edges back? Illinois casinos rake in $82.6 million in first month since coronavirus shutdown

Masks, plexi-glass shields and an ongoing pandemic haven’t done much to dampen the hopes of Illinois gamblers looking to score a few bucks.

The state’s 10 casinos are limited to half capacity in the age of COVID-19, but they still raked in about three-quarters of the cash they did for a comparable period last year, before the virus slashed admissions.

And the looming specter of the coronavirus certainly hasn’t scared off bettors from returning to the thousands of slot machines that have been turned back on at bars, gas stations and other establishments — and which have gobbled up 24% more dollars than they did last July.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

7:30 p.m. Coronavirus upends political conventions, changes TV coverage

The Democratic and Republican conventions will lack for crowds but not television coverage.

The standard political gatherings that were to unfold for the Democratic Party in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and for the GOP in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be largely virtual, constrained by the coronavirus.

That won’t stop TV scrutiny of the speeches and other activities leading up to Joe Biden’s Democratic Party nomination for president on Thursday, Aug. 20, and the GOP’s renomination of President Donald Trump the following week.

But the coverage will look drastically different. Gone will be the images of packed convention hall floors with news anchors ensconced above them; most are likely to broadcast from their usual New York or Washington bases.

Read the full story here.

5:35 p.m. Americans are drinking more during the COVID-19 pandemic. But how much alcohol is too much?

The coronavirus pandemic has Americans drinking more.

Sales of at-home alcohol, according to a Nielsen report from June, have spiked nearly 27% since the start of the pandemic. And while this doesn’t take into account shutdowns of bars and restaurants nationwide, it suggests people are turning to alcohol to cope with a life-altering global crisis.

Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary at Department of Health and Human Services and head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, told USA TODAY in May that more people reportedly sought treatment for alcohol misuse in regions where coronavirus has hit the hardest.

A drink or two to take the edge off may seem like a harmless idea. And given historic unemployment rates, a pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down and the ceaseless specter of racial inequality, a couple more bottles of beer or glasses of wine might sound appealing.

Read the full story from USA Today here.

4:20 p.m. At Sturgis, ‘Bikers for Trump’ supporters, defying coronavirus restrictions, look to turn bikers into voters

STURGIS, S.D. — It’s a Friday night at a crowded biker bar in South Dakota when Chris Cox, founder of Bikers for Trump, takes the stage. While many have come to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for some combination of riding and partying, Cox’s focus is on something else: voting.

The coronavirus pandemic may have squashed most in-person get-out-the-vote efforts across the country, but Cox’s group remains unbothered by public health recommendations. As the Trump campaign struggles to gain momentum less than 90 days from the election, Bikers for Trump has taken advantage of recent motorcycle rallies to make direct appeals to register to vote.

While the group has gained a significant online following for its bravado in providing security at some Trump 2016 rallies, it remains to be seen if it can get bikers — many from the suburbs Trump is targeting — to show up at the ballot box.

Read the full story here.

3:15 p.m. Study: Survivor plasma fights COVID-19 — but can’t prove definitively

Mayo Clinic researchers reported a strong hint that blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors helps other patients recover, but it’s not proof and some experts worry if, amid clamor for the treatment, they’ll ever get a clear answer.

More than 64,000 patients in the U.S. have been given convalescent plasma, a century-old approach to fend off flu and measles before vaccines. It’s a go-to tactic when new diseases come along, and history suggests it works against some, but not all, infections.

There’s no solid evidence yet that it fights the coronavirus and, if so, how best to use it. But preliminary data from 35,000 coronavirus patients treated with plasma offers what Mayo lead researcher Dr. Michael Joyner on Friday called “signals of efficacy.”

Read the full story here.

2:05 p.m. Used car prices spiking as COVID-19 pandemic shakes up the market for new cars

If you were hoping to find some savings during the COVID-19 pandemic, you won’t find them in the used-car market, unfortunately.

Then again, you might be able to make a few bucks if you’re willing to part with a vehicle because used-car prices are spiking due to an unusual confluence of factors during the pandemic.

The reasons?

Among them are that buyers are flooding the used-car market, looking for deals amid high prices for new vehicles, getting low interest rates and seeing a shortage of new-vehicle inventory, according to car research site Edmunds.

Read the full story here.

12:45 p.m. Amid the pandemic, one small business successfully spices up profits

With a cadre of repeat customers, the Spice House has stores in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, suburban Evanston and two in Milwaukee, as well as a warehouse in Skokie.

But when COVID-19 hit, Charlie Mayer realized he’d have to rethink his spice-selling business, just like experimenting with a new recipe.

It was a learning process. Mayer, the chief operating officer, originally figured he’d have to shut down. “We’re not a grocery store,” he thought.

Then the rules for “essential businesses” came out, and Mayer saw an opening. He closed to the public March 18, but the rules allowed him to keep his stores operating to handle online orders.

The Spice House already had an active digital presence, but that business mushroomed that first weekend and his warehouse couldn’t keep up. Mayer had to add people and reconfigure stores to fulfill more internet orders, laying in supplies of shipping boxes and tape and training employees to package goods in customer friendly ways.

The result? After first laying off workers, Mayer had to do a fast turnaround. “We have almost doubled our headcount because of COVID,” he said. The Spice House currently has more than 100 workers. Its stores reopened to the public in late June.

Read the full story from David Roeder here.

12:01 p.m. McCormick Place hospital’s cost to taxpayers? $1.7 million per patient. How the deal happened.

Taxpayers spent nearly $66 million fashioning McCormick Place into an emergency coronavirus hospital with 2,750 beds this past spring amid fears that COVID-19 patients would overwhelm hospitals in the Chicago area.

Those fears turned out to be unfounded. Just 38 patients were transferred to the sprawling convention center — meaning taxpayers’ cost for the makeshift hospital turned out to be more than $1.7 million per patient, on average.

But top aides to Mayor Lori Lightfoot say her decision to initiate the project with the federal government and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority was an important “insurance policy” at a time of “immense emergency.”

“It’s something I’m incredibly proud of,” says Samir Mayekar, Lightfoot’s deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development who says the money was “not spent in vain.”

He also notes that the medical equipment is being stored and can be redeployed if needed.

To complete the McCormick Place project, the authority — a city-state governmental body known as McPier that runs the convention center and owns Navy Pier — tapped Walsh Construction, a politically connected Chicago company that’s built everything from highways to high-rises.

Read the full watchdogs story here.

10:39 a.m. We asked Chicagoans if they’ll get the COVID-19 vaccine once it’s available. Here’s what they said.

With several coronavirus vaccine studies underway and the news that Russia has approved the first immunization against COVID-19 despite limited testing, we asked Chicagoans: Once a vaccine is available, will you get it?

Here’s what some people said:

“Once it is well-tested as safe and effective, people who don’t get vaccinated will be regarded as negligent — like homeowners without working smoke detectors.” — Kenneth Mayka

“Absolutely not! I don’t get the flu or pneumonia shot, and I definitely won’t be getting this one either. They have rushed this shot, and I do not trust that it’s safe.” — Melissa Haney

“I will shoot it into my eyeball if it gets things back to normal.” — Jonathan Eftink

“Of course, I will get it! I will do anything preventative. Always get flu shots, pneumonia shots, shingles shot.” — Beverly Hendrix Crocker

“Nope. Something that they whipped up in a lab that hasn’t been around long enough to observe side-effects or long-term effects. I can’t do it!” — BeBe Jones

Want to see more responses? Read the full story here.

8:20 a.m. La Sardine, a West Loop institution, permanently closes because of coronavirus

After a 22-year run, La Sardine, the noted French bistro in the West Loop, will close because of the coronavirus.

The restaurant, located at 111 N. Carpenter, called COVID-19 “and extinction event for restaurants.” Without outdoor seating or parking, La Sardine struggled with the coronavirus restrictions. The closing announcement was posted Thursday on Facebook.

“It has been a true blessing serving you all, and we are so honored that you chose to spend so many of your life’s special moments with us. Truly.”

Read the full story by John Silver here.

7:45 a.m. Pritzker urges precautions, patience and prayers as Illinois’ case tally from ‘insidious virus’ passes 200,000

More than 200,000 people have now tested positive for COVID-19 over the last five months in Illinois — about 1.6% of the state’s population — as health officials on Thursday announced the latest batch of 1,834 new coronavirus cases.

Since early March, a total of 200,427 people have been confirmed to be carrying the virus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The state has about 12.7 million residents.

Health officials also announced 24 more residents with COVID-19 have died, raising the statewide pandemic death toll to 7,696. About 95% of the state’s coronavirus patients have recovered.

Read the complete story by Mitchell Armentrout here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

6:20 p.m. A little COVID-19 legal sanity arrives on a great day for Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Tuesday, August 11th, was probably the best day, professionally, that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has had in quite a while.

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules has been a source of legislative frustration for the governor all year. He didn’t quite seem to grasp how best to work its process-dominated membership and he was handed a major defeat back in May when JCAR members in both parties turned thumbs down on a sweeping plan to impose fines and even jail time on violators of Pritzker’s COVID-19 executive orders.

Read the full column by Rich Miller here.

4 p.m. Lakefront’s usual array of walks, runs for charity have gone virtual amid the pandemic

On a typical weekend morning from early spring to late fall, Chicago’s lakefront normally hosts a never-ending array of charity walks and runs.

There’s the Walk for This and the Race for That, each dedicated to its own worthy cause, all sharing the common goals of fundraising and community building.

You probably know the drill. Participants, who are often survivors of the particular illness being recognized, join together with family and friends, then don commemorative T-shirts and race bibs to amble, jog or sprint in mass through the parks as giant speakers blast rock music.

But not in 2020.

Read the full column by columnist Mark Brown here.

8:05 a.m. Trump finally admits it: He’s weakening the postal service to sway elections

We’ve long said President Donald Trump is purposely sabotaging the U.S. Postal Service in a desperate attempt to steal the November election.

Now there is proof. And it comes straight from the president himself.

In a FOX Business interview Thursday, Trump admitted he is blocking the postal service from receiving $25 billion in coronavirus stimulus money because some of the funds would be used to expand mail-in voting during the pandemic.

He’s also standing in the way of an additional $3.6 billion in pandemic funding that states would get to bolster election security and mail-in voting.

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