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Coronavirus live blog, Sept. 15, 2020: City health chief cites ‘real progress’ in COVID-19 battle among groups hit the hardest

Here’s Tuesday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday that his cabinet directors have been advised to prepare for a “nightmare scenario” that includes budget cuts of at least 5% for the current fiscal year and a 10% cut for the next one if Washington doesn’t help out.

The state is still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Here are the COVID-19 stories that made headlines in Springfield, Chicago and the rest of Illinois.


News

8:56 p.m. City health chief cites ‘real progress’ in COVID-19 battle among groups hit the hardest: ‘That is exactly what I want to see’

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, discusses the second confirmed case of novel coronavirus in Illinois during a press conference at the Thompson Center, Thursday afternoon, Jan. 30, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Public health officials on Tuesday announced 1,466 more people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Illinois as the state trends in the right direction following a mid-summer resurgence.

That goes for Chicago, too, where the city’s top doctor said “we are making real progress in neighborhoods on COVID.”

“A lot of that drop is coming from our hardest hit age groups and our hardest hit race and ethnic groups,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. “That is exactly what I want to see.”

The state’s new cases were confirmed among 39,031 tests, keeping Illinois’ seven-day testing positivity rate at 3.6%.

That key indicator of transmission first fell to 3.6% Monday — as low as it’s been since late July — after hitting 4.5% to close out August.

Illinois has logged an average of 1,694 new coronavirus cases per day over the last week, down from about 2,166 new cases per day over the first eight days of September. While this month has also seen some of the state’s highest-ever daily caseloads, they came along with high testing numbers.

Read the full story from reporter Mitch Armentrout here.


6:49 p.m. Experts worry as US virus restrictions are eased or violated

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — State and local officials around the U.S. are rolling back social-distancing rules again after an abortive effort over the summer, allowing bars, restaurants and gyms to open. Fans are gathering mask-free at football games. President Donald Trump is holding crowded indoor rallies.

While some Americans may see such things as a welcome step closer to normal, public health experts warn the U.S. is setting itself up for failure — again.

“Folks are becoming very cavalier about the pandemic,” said Mark Rupp, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Nebraska’s governor ended nearly all of his state’s restrictions on Monday, even with new cases of the coronavirus on the rise.

“I think it is setting us up for further transmission and more people getting ill and, unfortunately, more people dying,” Rupp said.

The virus is blamed for more than 6.5 million confirmed infections and 195,000 deaths in the U.S., by far the highest totals of any country, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Read the full report here.

2:20 p.m. Pritzker warns of ‘nightmare scenario’ of cuts in policing, schools — and thousands of layoffs — without federal funds

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday that his cabinet directors have been advised to prepare for a “nightmare scenario” that includes budget cuts of at least 5% for the current fiscal year and a 10% cut for the next one if Washington doesn’t help out.

Thousands of people could be laid off if the state doesn’t receive federal support, the governor said.

At a Tuesday news conference called to announce $220 million in grants for small businesses, the Democratic governor said he hopes President Donald Trump will “agree to work with Congress to advance the COVID relief package” that would replace revenues that cities and states have lost during the pandemic.

Without it, the state’s finances will reach a “critical juncture.”

“Until Republicans in Washington decide otherwise, middle class, working class and poor families across our state and across the nation will likely suffer from cuts to public safety, education, human services and environmental safety — and the potential layoffs will make the economic recession worse,” Pritzker said.

Reporter Rachel Hinton has the full story.

9:34 a.m. COVID test orders at Loyola, Illinois State thwarted by Trump administration

A pair of Illinois universities were unable to receive their orders for COVID-19 test kits or test machines for the start of the fall semester because federal health officials directed a manufacturer to send supplies to other needy locations.

Loyola University Chicago hoped to start the school year with six test analyzing machines to help process potentially thousands of coronavirus tests at two locations but had to settle for four because the manufacturer Quidel was ordered by the Trump administration to redirect orders to other areas deemed most in need.

“It limits our ability to increase the scope of our testing if we don’t have analyzers to give us the results of the tests,” said Joan Holden, director of Loyola’s wellness center.

The university already has the test kits in hand, she said.

Illinois State University in Normal ordered three Quidel testing machines and 5,000 tests that were expected to arrive before the fall term. The university is now looking at other options, including possibly using a saliva test from the University of Illinois, a spokesman said.

“In early summer, we were trying to plan for fall,” said Eric Jome, director of media relations at Illinois State. “We saw an opportunity to order some of these things and get ahead of the situation.”

Read the full story here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

9:39 a.m. Remote learning is largely on track, but some Chicago schools have a ways to go

There’s good news, and some alarmingly bad news, with respect to remote learning in Chicago’s public schools this fall.

After the dismal showing last spring, Chicago Public Schools made an extra effort to get students logged on for digital learning. Attendance-taking would be mandatory. A major back-to-school campaign was launched, with a massive barrage of phone calls, text messages, emails, radio ads and other outreach to parents.

So far, it’s largely paying off.

According to CPS data released this weekend, 84.2% of students logged on to the learning platform on the first day of school last week. That’s a major improvement over the 59% figure last spring.

And by the end of the week, attendance had risen to 90.2%,

But there can be no letting up on the ultimate goal: To get every one of the district’s 355,000 students engaged in remote learning, the only educational option available until the city curbs the spread of COVID-19.

Read the full column here.