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Coronavirus live blog, August 24, 2020: South suburbs could be hit with restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise

Here’s what we learned on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois. Follow here for live updates.

After several weeks of steady increases, and two days after first crossing the 8% mark, the Will-Kankakee region clocked in at 8.3% Monday.

Will and Kankakee counties were saddled with the restrictions because the region’s testing positivity rate topped 8% for three consecutive days, the threshold set by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team that triggers a state intervention. Experts say the positivity rate indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading through a region.

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

News

9 p.m. Going south? South suburbs could be hit with business restrictions as Illinois notches 1,612 more coronavirus cases

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens to Mayor Lori Lightfoot respond to questions during a press conference on Aug. 10.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Illinois health officials on Monday announced 1,612 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide — and warned that businesses across Chicago’s south suburbs could soon be saddled with tighter restrictions due to a rise in positive coronavirus tests.

Illinois’ latest cases were confirmed among 36,155 tests submitted to the state, keeping the state’s testing positivity rate over the last week at 4.2%.

But the Will-Kankakee County region clocked in at 8.3%, topping the 8% threshold for a third straight day after weeks of steady increases.

That meets the criteria set by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team to trigger a state intervention. The state already clamped down last week on the downstate Metro East region, where the positivity rate is still at 9.4%.

Those state-imposed “mitigations” include forcing bars, restaurants and casinos to close by 11 p.m., shutting down party buses and limiting gatherings to 25 people or 25% of room capacity, whichever is lower.

Neither Pritzker’s office nor the Illinois Department of Public Health immediately returned messages seeking comment on potential restrictions looming for the Will-Kankakee region

Read the full story from Luke Wilusz here.

8 p.m. WWII surrender ceremony in Hawaii limited to local veterans because of coronavirus concerns

A Pearl Harbor ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II — possibly the last opportunity for many aging U.S. veterans to commemorate the day — will be limited to survivors of the war living in Hawaii because of coronavirus concerns.

The plan before Friday had been to allow about 200 people, mostly WWII veterans, their families and government officials, to gather on the battleship USS Missouri, which hosted the Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay.

But an announcement made Friday night said that those planning to fly into the state are no longer invited in an effort to protect the aging veterans — mostly in their 90s — from COVID-19.

Tony Vericella, the executive director of the 75th WWII Commemoration Committee, said in a phone interview Monday that the decision to limit attendance was a difficult one, but organizers are working on new ways to honor those left out in a virtual setting.

Read the full story here.

6:14 p.m. To-go drinks an elixir for public, a lifeline for business shaken by coronavirus

The coronavirus is shaking up America’s liquor laws.

At least 33 states and the District of Columbia are temporarily allowing cocktails to-go during the pandemic. Only two — Florida and Mississippi — allowed them on a limited basis before coronavirus struck, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Struggling restaurants say it’s a lifeline, letting them rehire bartenders, pay rent and reestablish relationships with customers. But others want states to slow down, saying the decades-old laws help ensure public safety.

Julia Momose closed Kumiko, her Japanese-style cocktail bar in Chicago, on March 16. The next day, Illinois allowed bars and restaurants to start selling unopened bottles of beer, wine and liquor, but mixed drinks were excluded.

Momose spent the next three months collecting petition signatures and pressing lawmakers to allow carryout cocktails. It worked. On June 17, she poured her first to-go drink: a Seaflower, made with gin, vermouth, Japanese citrus fruit and fermented chili paste. A carryout bottle, which serves two, costs $32.

Read the full story here.

5:14 p.m. Vic Mensa set for Lakeshore Drive-In live show

Chicago hip-hop artist/activist Vic Mensa has dropped a seven-track mixtape which includes collaborations with BJ the Chicago Kid, Peter CottonTale, SAINt JHN, Eryn Allen Kane and Snoh Aalegra, among others.

On Monday, Mensa announced a COVID-friendly drive-in live performance scheduled to take place Sept. 5 at the Lakeshore Drive-In, (the Adler Planetarium’s parking lot, 1362 S. Linn White Dr.), marking his first live performance in nearly a year. Show time is 7 p.m.

A limited number of tickets, $25-$230 per car (up to four persons), are available via Universe. There is a maximum of 6 persons per car; additional ticket purchase will be required. No outside food or drink, pets permitted. Attendees under age 17 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

The all-ages event will adhere to social distancing guidelines by requiring concertgoers to park their vehicles one full space apart. All attendees must wear a mask or facial covering when outside any vehicle. Masks will also be available for purchase at the event.

Read the full story from Evan F. Moore here.

4:45 p.m. Technology troubles mark return to school in remote learning age

A half hour before his class began Monday morning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Joe Engleman noticed problems when he tried connecting with his students on Zoom.

Engleman, a 28-year-old graduate teaching assistant, then suggested the class try meeting on Blackboard Connect.

But minutes later, that learning management system shut out Engleman too. Because he was unable to hold class, Engleman had to delay formal instruction until Wednesday.

As UIC, other universities and suburban elementary and schools marked the first day of the school year Monday with mostly online classes, many students and teachers dealt with similar challenges due to technical glitches with Blackboard and Zoom’s partial outages across the country between about 8 a.m. and noon.

“One of the most challenging things is that folks are ready to get started today,” said Engleman, of Noble Square. “It’s like we’re building the plane midair, how we think about what college is looking like.”

Read the full story from Clare Proctor here.

3 p.m. UIC to start COVID-19 vaccine trial Monday

The University of Illinois at Chicago will begin clinical trials Monday on a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

UIC researchers will enroll up to 1,000 people into the trial to test the effectiveness of the vaccine, which was developed by Massachusetts-based biotech company Moderna, according to a statement from university officials.

“We are looking for two things really,” Dr. Richard Novak, who is leading the study, said in the statement. “One, we want to see if people who get the vaccine have a lower chance of getting sick from the virus compared to others — this would be game-changing.

“Two, for those people who still get sick from COVID-19, we want to see if those who received the vaccine have better outcomes. For example, if people with the vaccine have a lower chance of needing to be hospitalized when they do get sick, this would also be a really positive step forward and dramatically impact public health.”

Read the full story from Luke Wilusz here.

1:58 p.m. City releases Snapchat filter to encourage mask wearing

First there were the many memes of Mayor Lori Lightfoot guarding Chicago attractions from virus-spreading crowds. Now the city, hoping to stifle the latest outbreaks of COVID-19, has turned to social media again with a new Snapchat filter designed to encourage mask wearing.

Released on Monday, the new Snapchat filter only unlocks when the camera detects a user wearing a mask. Mayor Lightfoot also started a new account on the platform as an additional method to reach out to Millennials and Gen Xers, a demographic that’s seen a rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

“Our youth are smart, civically-minded people,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “They know their personal actions help keep them and their friends and families safe. By using this fun, unique tool we reach them where they are – on their phones, on social media – and at the point when they have a choice to make about wearing that mask.”

Chicago is the first city to deploy the Snapchat filter in partnership with Snap Inc. and Ogilvy marketing agency. The CDC recommends that all Americans wear masks after case studies showed the use of face coverings limits the spread of COVID-19.

— Satchel Price

1:05 p.m. Coronavirus scare won’t be last in Bears’ ‘year of the contingency plan’

Bears coach Matt Nagy’s wife nudged him awake at 2:51 a.m. Sunday. She told him his phone was vibrating.

On the other line was Andre Tucker, the Bears’ head trainer and infection-control officer. He gave Nagy news that would shake the franchise for the next six hours but ultimately would prove to be a false alarm.

Nine tests taken by players and staff, administered by the Bears and sent to the BioReference laboratory Saturday, came back positive for coronavirus overnight. By 9 a.m. Sunday, however, the team conducted its own testing and found them to be false positives.

The Bears weren’t alone. The NFL said multiple players from at least 10 teams were found to have tested positive by BioReference’s lab in New Jersey. Other labs, the league said, had not produced similar anomalies. Monday, BioReference said in a statement that the positive results have since been confirmed negative, and blamed an “isolated contamination” for the mistake.

Read more from Patrick Finley here.

12:04 p.m. If the University of Illinois can’t prevail over COVID-19, no other big university will be able to either

The University of North Carolina abandoned in-person classes at the first sign of infections on campus.

The University of Notre Dame and Michigan State punted even before they got started.

There are dozens of large institutions planning to hold in-person education, while the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is using a hybrid model, mixing in-person and on-line classes. Can the U. of I. succeed where so many others have and will fail?

With their frequent testing plan in place, they have a good chance to succeed.

When students first show up on campus, even a modest positivity rate of 2% will result in 500 to 900 initial infections. The key to success is preventing such infections from spreading unfettered across campus and into the local community, particularly to at-risk people.

Read the full story here.

11:31 a.m. Lab used by NFL blames contaminated COVID-19 tests for 77 false positives

The lab used by the NFL for COVID-19 tests said Monday that an isolated contamination caused 77 “most likely false positive results.”

In a statement, BioReference Laboratories said the test results on Saturday were contaminated during preparation at its lab in New Jersey. Eleven clubs were affected, and the tests were re-examined and found to be false positives.

Read the full story here.

9:25 a.m. A renewed warning about COVID-19 at summer’s end

A gathering of several families swimming and playing volleyball at a private inland Lake County beach in late July led to 16 positive cases of COVID-19.

It’s a startling reminder of what health officials have been warning about for months: The virus can be transmitted outside as well as indoors, and children are at risk of infection just like adults.

The people involved in the Lake County case admitted to health officials they weren’t always wearing masks or social distancing during their outing. Eleven of those infected were under age 18.

“Even outdoors, if you are in close proximity to people who don’t live in your household, you’re taking a risk,” said Lake County Health Department spokeswoman Hannah Goering. “It is very important to wear a mask and maintain social distancing any time you gather with others.”

As summer winds down, public health officials are racing to curb the spread of COVID-19. The effort includes issuing warnings and taking actions to reduce the risks of crowded outdoor gatherings. It’s a message not resonating with everyone, as many enjoying the warm weather aren’t wearing masks or keeping distance from others.

Read the full story here.

8:20 a.m. Trump authorizes unproven plasma treatment for coronavirus

WASHINGTON — After expressing frustration at the slow pace of approval for coronavirus treatments, President Donald Trump announced Sunday the emergency authorization of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 patients.

The announcement came after days of White House officials suggesting there were politically motivated delays by the Food and Drug Administration in approving a vaccine and therapeutics for the disease that has upended Trump’s reelection chances.

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, Trump issued the emergency order — it would make it easier for some patients to obtain the treatment — in a news conference Sunday evening, according to White House officials.

The blood plasma, taken from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus and rich in antibodies, may provide benefits to those battling with the disease. But the evidence has been inconclusive as to how it works or how best to administer it.

Many scientists and physicians believe that convalescent plasma might provide some benefit, but it is far from a breakthrough. It is rich in antibodies that could be helpful in fighting the coronavirus, but the evidence so far has not been conclusive about whether it works, when to administer it and what dose is needed.

Read the full story here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

9:11 a.m. Parents, we’re pulling for you as the new school year looms

If you’re a parent of a Chicago Public Schools student, know this: We’re with you as Sept. 8 draws near.

We’re rooting for you as you and your children begin another few months — at least — of remote learning amid a pandemic. It’s going to be the trickiest of balancing acts for thousands of busy parents, like you, to once again juggle work, child care and overseeing a restless second-grader’s online lessons.

You’re no doubt hoping and praying that Chicago can rein in the coronavirus enough in the coming months so that your children can soon get back to real school. Maybe you’ve already circled Nov. 6 on the calendar, the day that CPS hopes to get a green light from public health experts to launch its hybrid learning model with in-person instruction two days a week for most students.

Getting students back to classes, even part-time, would be a huge step forward for kids. Because last spring, all of us, especially parents, saw first-hand how seriously remote learning falls short.

Read the full column here.