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Coronavirus live blog, August 29, 2020: Illinois tops 8,000 COVID-19 deaths — an average of about 48 per day over five months

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

On Saturday, Illinois passed the 8,000 case mark, another grim milestone during the coronavirus pandemic. The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Saturday another 1,880 people tested positive among 48,784 tests submitted to the state, lowering the statewide testing positivity rate to 4%.

Chicago’s positivity rate has held relatively steady at 5.6%. But suburban Cook County — flagged by the state Friday for being one of 30 “warning level” counties statewide — has ticked up to 6.9% positivity.

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

News

9 p.m. ‘Solemn day’ as Illinois coronavirus death toll surpasses 8,000

AP Photos

With 11 more deaths attributed to COVID-19 by public health officials on Saturday, Illinois’ coronavirus death toll has climbed to 8,008.

Since a South Side woman became the state’s first resident known to succumb to the virus March 16, COVID-19 has killed an average of about 48 Illinoisans per day over that five-month stretch.

And with cases on the rise again statewide, officials are urging people to take health precautions more seriously to help save lives.

“Today is a solemn day in Illinois as we’ve now lost 8,000 lives to COVID-19,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “As we mourn the family, friends and neighbors who have been taken too soon, let’s do our part to prevent more senseless tragedy. Wear a mask. Watch your distance. Wash your hands. Every action counts.”

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.

8 p.m. Coronavirus forces changes for Kentucky Derby jockeys

Jockeys riding in the rescheduled 146th Kentucky Derby have to arrive by Monday and then quarantine upon returning to their home tracks, just one of many changes forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

Initially, Churchill Downs had proposed an arrival date of Aug. 24 — nearly two weeks before the Derby on Sept. 5. Track officials backed down after out-of-state riders and their agents expressed concerns about losing lucrative business at home while being confined in Louisville.

The out-of-state riders already had to take a COVID-19 test last Monday and have the results reviewed by Churchill Downs. Their next required test comes Monday at the track, followed by a third test on Sept. 3.

In some cases, riders will have to quarantine upon returning to their home bases because of travel restrictions around the country.

Read the full story here.

6:30 p.m. Masks in public restrooms? Urinals may shoot ‘plumes’ of inhalable coronavirus particles into the air

Wearing a mask in public restrooms should be mandatory during the pandemic, researchers say, because there’s increasing evidence that flushing toilets – and now urinals – can release inhalable coronavirus particles into the air.

The coronavirus can be found in a person’s urine or stool, and flushing urinals can generate an “alarming upward flow” of particles that “travel faster and fly farther” than particles from a toilet flush, according to a study published in the journal Physics of Fluid Monday.

“Urinal flushing indeed promotes the spread of bacteria and viruses,” researcher Xiangdong Liu said in a press release. “Wearing a mask should be mandatory within public restrooms during the pandemic, and anti-diffusion improvements are urgently needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Liu and other researchers from Yangzhou University in China simulated urinal flushing using computer models and estimated that, within just five seconds of flushing, virus particles could reach a height of more than 2 feet off the ground.

Read the full story here.

5:40 p.m. First college football game of COVID-19 era kicks off Saturday night: Austin Peay vs. Central Arkansas

There will be college football on Saturday night.

More than five months after the coronavirus pandemic shut down all sports, and even as several major conferences have opted against competing this season while others attempt to manage outbreaks of positive cases, the 2020 college football season will begin roughly as scheduled with a game between two teams from the Championship Subdivision.

Central Arkansas and Austin Peay (8 p.m. Chicago time, ESPN) were originally scheduled to complete a home-and-home series in Conway, Arkansas, before the pandemic led the two teams to shift the meeting to the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.

Read the full story here.

4:10 p.m. Coronavirus put more cyclists on downstate Illinois trails

Stores haven’t faced this serious of a bike shortage since a 1970s boom driven by environmental concerns, and metro-east trails are busier than ever.

Bicycle sales soared in March of this year, when the coronavirus closed gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, hair salons and other businesses. State officials designated bike shops as “essential” parts of the transportation industry and allowed them to stay open.

“(Biking is) a way to keep active, and a lot of folks have had this newfound time on their hands,” said Jon Greenstreet, co-owner of a O’Fallon bike shop.

Many big-box stores have been sold out of bicycles since April because they only carry lower-priced basic models that are popular with newcomers, Greenstreet said. One supplier told him that his inventory for the whole year was depleted in a week.

Read the full story here.

1:46 p.m. Suburban Cook County warned to wear masks, wash hands, distance — or face crackdown: ‘We are at a crossroads’

Nearly a third of all Illinois counties, including Will and suburban Cook, are now at a COVID-19 “warning level” amid the state’s summertime coronavirus resurgence, public health officials announced Friday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said officials aren’t scaling back business operations any further for now, “but we are at a crossroads.

“We need everyone to wear a mask, watch their distance, and wash their hands consistently to slow the spread of COVID-19 so we don’t lose the gains we have made,” Preckwinkle said in a statement.

The Illinois Department of Public Health slapped the “warning level” label on 30 of the state’s 102 counties — up from 20 last week — as officials announced an additional 2,149 new cases of the virus were confirmed statewide.

That’s the eighth time this month that 2,000 or more new cases have been logged in a single day, which hadn’t happened previously since mid-May when the state was suffering through its initial pandemic peak.

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.

10:30 a.m. Claudio Velez, Chicago’s beloved ‘Tamale Guy,’ in intensive care with COVID-19

Just weeks after opening his first storefront restaurant, Claudio Velez, warmly known as Chicago’s “Tamale Guy,” has been admitted to an intensive care unit after contracting COVID-19.

Velez came down with a sore throat earlier this week and after getting tested, “his health rapidly declined within a couple of days,” according to a Instagram post shared by the restaurant Saturday.

“His condition is improving but he will be left with extensive medical bills,” according to the restaurant. “We are closing the restaurant until further notice to make sure our team is taking the proper safety precautions... We have been truly overwhelmed by everyone’s support and kindness over the last few weeks. Please keep Claudio in your thoughts and wish him a speedy recovery.”

Read the full story from Annie Costabile here.

8:51 a.m. Ballhawks at Wrigley Field stay on the lookout

Wrigleyville looks different this summer than in years past. Normally, in the hours before a perfect August night game, you’d see armies of Cubs fans hopping from Sluggers to The Cubby Bear to Murphy’s Bleachers before packing 40,000 deep into Wrigley Field. Not so much this year.

Peer behind the left-field bleachers to the corner of Waveland and Kenmore Avenues, though, and a familiar sight remains: A dozen or so people scattered around the intersection with gloves and lawn chairs, eyes cast toward the top of the wall in hopes that they’ll be the first to spot a freshly smacked home-run ball sailing over.

The pandemic has forced a shortened MLB season and kept fans out of Wrigley, but for the tried-and-true ballhawks, the routine hasn’t changed much, albeit it now is done with masks: Post up for batting practice about three hours before the first pitch, say hi to the regulars and catch any balls that come your way.

Read the full story from Sam Kelly here.

7:25 a.m. Health agencies’ credibility at risk after week of blunders

WASHINGTON — The credibility of two of the nation’s leading public health agencies was under fire this week after controversial decisions that outside experts said smacked of political pressure from President Donald Trump as he attempts to move past the devastating toll of the coronavirus ahead of the November election.

The head of the Food and Drug Administration grossly misstated, then corrected, claims about the lifesaving power of a plasma therapy for COVID-19 authorized by his agency. Then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly updated its guidelines to suggest fewer Americans need to get tested for coronavirus, sparking outrage from scientists.

Trump’s own factual misstatements about COVID-19 are well documented, but the back-to-back messaging blunders by public health officials could create new damage, eroding public trust in front-line agencies. That’s already raising concerns about whether the administration will be forthcoming with critical details about upcoming vaccines needed to defeat the pandemic.

“I do worry about the credibility of the FDA and CDC, especially at a time when the capacity of the federal government to advance public health should be a priority for all policymakers,” said Daniel Levinson, former longtime inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees both the FDA and the CDC.

Read the full story here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

7:29 a.m. Pritzker did not handle Metro East pandemic mitigation well

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the state COVID-19 “mitigation” plan for the Metro East on Aug. 16, he said it was done in conjunction “with local officials in the Metro East region and across the border in St. Louis.”

Last week, though, the governor admitted the cross-border arrangement to try to contain the virus’ spread was a “mistake.”

Man, was it ever.

Instead of sticking to the state’s original mitigation plan, which would’ve included things like reducing indoor restaurant capacity and shutting down all indoor bar service, Pritzker only ordered bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m., which was in line with what St. Louis was planning at the time.

Read the full column by Rich Miller here.