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Coronavirus live blog, Sept. 28, 2020: Will CPS kids go back to schools this fall? Lightfoot says ‘we’re not there yet’

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

The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus eclipsed 1 million, nine months into a crisis that has devastated the global economy, tested world leaders’ resolve, pitted science against politics and forced multitudes to change the way they live, learn and work, the Associated Press reported.

In Chicago, city officials announced restrictions on bars and restaurants would relax starting Thursday. Here’s what else made coronavirus headlines in the city and across the state.


8:53 p.m. Will CPS kids go back to schools this fall? Lightfoot says ‘we’re not there yet’

A teacher looks at her laptop at Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior Academy of Social Justice in Englewood on the first day back to school, Tuesday morning.
A teacher looks at her laptop at Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior Academy of Social Justice in Englewood on the first day back to school, Tuesday morning, Sept. 8, 2020.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Public health conditions have not yet improved to a point that would allow Chicago Public Schools students to return to classrooms in November as officials have hoped, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.

Despite the challenges remote learning poses for 300,000 students and 30,000 teachers and support staff, Lightfoot and CPS officials have said health will be the main priority in a decision to resume in-person learning.

“We have to see more progress in order for us, I think, to have a conversation about in-person learning,” the mayor said at an afternoon news conference at which she announced an easing of restrictions on indoor seating at bars and restaurants. “We’re not there yet.”

“I don’t want to speculate about the chances. It’s something we are focused on every single day, and we’ll make an announcement relatively soon because we’ve got to give parents and the school community enough time to adapt if we’re going to make a change. But we’re not there yet.”

Reporter Nader Issa has the full story.

6:40 p.m. Thousands of suburban students going back to school after starting fully remote

Students keep social distance as they walk to their classroom at Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood, Ill., part of the North Shore school district, on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.

Some suburban Chicago school districts that started the year in full remote learning because of the coronavirus are moving to bring students back to classrooms as early as this week with health protocols in place and contingency plans set for potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

Many working parents have struggled to balance their jobs with their children’s at-home education and have called for a return to classrooms, while many have also said they don’t feel safe sending their kids back to school with a volatile COVID-19 still around.

Suburban school workers and their unions have at times fought their districts, as the Chicago Teachers Union has with Chicago Public Schools, against a return to school because of the health concerns brought on by putting children and teachers together in enclosed spaces during a pandemic.

With those factors in mind, Community Consolidated School District 15 in the northwest suburbs, the second largest elementary district in Illinois with 20 elementary and middle schools serving about 12,300 students in seven zip codes, has started a phased-in return to schools a month into remote learning.

Superintendent Laurie Heinz laid out a plan earlier this month, starting with kindergarten and some special education students going back this week, and first and second graders returning to classrooms Monday. Third and fourth graders are set to go back Oct. 5, and grades five through eight will be in school Oct. 13, if all goes according to plan. Students who opt to continue remote learning will be allowed to do so.

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

4:54 p.m. N95 mask shortage scares health care workers ahead of projected COVID-19 spike

When Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital needed more nurses to care for COVID-19 patients amid a surge in infections in April, Beverly Miles jumped at the opportunity.

Her first night on the job, the nurse and Army veteran who normally worked an administrative job in the suburban veterans hospital, looked for N95 respirators that add extra safeguards for health care workers exposed to the virus. Whatever masks were available, they were locked up, she said.

“There were no N95 masks at all,” she said.

A week later, she had a cough. Shortly after working with coronavirus patients, Miles became infected with COVID-19 and was off work for four months. Now she’s back on the job part time and suffers from chronic pain, she said.

Her experience may have been different, she believes, had she been provided an N95 mask, a highly effective, low-cost piece of protection that is still hard to attain due to a national supply shortage. These respirators have been at the center of tensions between health care providers and their hospital employers who say they’re doing the best they can to obtain and build ample supplies.

Reporter Brett Chase has the full story.

2:39 p.m. United Airlines, pilots reach deal to avoid furloughs

United Airlines and its pilots have reached an agreement that both sides say will avoid about 2,850 furloughs that were set to take effect later this week and another 1,000 early next year.

The Air Line Pilots Association said Monday the deal will allow United to spread a reduced amount of flying across the airline’s 13,000 pilots to save jobs at least until next June.

“Our members understood that in order to protect pilot jobs, we needed to approve this agreement,” said Todd Insler, chairman of the union’s United Airlines council.

The agreement was ratified by about 58% of the pilots who voted on it.

The United deal is the latest between airlines, which are cutting costs sharply during the pandemic downturn in travel, and their labor unions, which seek to save as many jobs as they can.

Read the full report here.

11:54 a.m. Taste of Pilsen goes on despite coronavirus with a focus on ‘to-go’

Foodies will have the chance to hit the streets of Pilsen on Tuesday to enjoy samples of signature dishes in nearly two dozen restaurants.

¡Buen Provecho! Taste of Pilsen, organized by the Economic Strategies Development Corporation, puts a spotlight on the eateries across the Southwest Side neighborhood. Now in its 12th year, the event is intended to promote Pilsen’s culinary scene and drive foot traffic into restaurants people may not know exist.

But this year is unlike years past.

Chicago’s summer festival circuit has essentially been nonexistent due to restrictions on mass gatherings during the public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus.

But Becky Lopez, spokeswoman for the Economic Strategies Development Corporation, said they have been working with the participating restaurants to make sure Taste of Pilsen can go on safely.

A complete list of restaurants can be found on Economic Strategies Development Corporation’s website. The event kicks off Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25, plus taxes and fees, and must be purchased online, in advance. No tickets will be sold at the event.

Read the full story from Manny Ramos here.

11:28 a.m. Cubs finish regular season with no player testing positive for COVID-19

It didn’t seem plausible a few months ago as the world stopped amid the coronavirus pandemic, but somehow MLB completed its 60-game season.

The wild regular season had a its fair share of rocky moments as both the Marlins and Cardinals dealt with outbreaks, but as the season progressed, the idea that it could finish became reality.

“I think getting to this point, completing 60 games in the middle of a pandemic is a real accomplishment and a lot of people have a lot to be proud of,” president Theo Epstein said. “There certainly was uncertainty and some trepidation as we started and concern for everybody’s well-being.

“I think we all wanted to play baseball, but no one wanted to do so if it meant sacrificing the health and safety of everyone associated with the game — players, staff, fans, etc. So the fact that it hasn’t been perfect, nothing in 2020 has been perfect, but getting through this season means a lot.”

Read the full story from Russell Dorsey here.

9:41 a.m. Illinois’ coronavirus-related death toll surpasses 8,600

Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared Aug. 29 a “solemn day” after Illinois health officials reported more than 8,000 people had succumbed to the coronavirus.

Nearly a month later, the state reached another troubling milestone.

Illinois’ coronavirus death toll surpassed 8,600 on Sunday, with state health officials announcing an additional 14 deaths.

Perhaps even more concerning is should the state’s average daily death toll continue, Illinois could see more than 10,000 people die of the respiratory virus by the end of this year.

This month, Illinois is averaging about 21 coronavirus-related deaths each day — up from the roughly 17 fatalities the state averaged in August. Should that current average continue, Illinois is on track for more than 10,500 deaths by Dec. 31, 2020.

Sunday’s fatalities — half of which were reported in Cook County — brings the state’s total 8,601 deaths. Almost 45% of those deaths occurred to people 80 years of age or older.

Read the full story from Madeline Kenney here.

New Cases

  • Illinois’ coronavirus death toll surpassed 8,600 on Sunday after Illinois state officials announced 14 more deaths due to the virus.
  • The state’s test positivity rate — the number used to gauge how quickly the virus is spreading — rose to 3.7 % Sunday after the latest batch of 50,822 tests were reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Analysis & Commentary

9:33 a.m. Even before any second COVID wave, many Chicagoans are still in need from the first one

The calls come daily to state Rep. Lindsey LaPointe’s office on the Northwest Side from people who need help navigating the state bureaucracy.

They call about unemployment benefits, housing assistance and food stamps. They call about utility bills, problems with state licenses and support for their small businesses.

Many of the callers these days are in tears, not knowing where to turn. Some can’t pay the rent. Others are worried about feeding their families.

Yet what’s striking to LaPointe’s chief of staff, Jessica Genova, is how apologetic many of the callers are, as if they’re feeling guilty about their predicament and needing help.

“I’ve never done this before,” they say.

It’s important to understand that the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic shocks have left many of our neighbors in crisis, facing financial strains they’ve never experienced.

With people isolated from each other to an even greater extent than normal, this isn’t always easy to see, especially for those lucky enough to still have their jobs.

But for those who have not been so fortunate, the disruption and pain are all too real, sometimes leading to an overwhelming sense of helplessness amid the uncertainty over when life will return to normal.

Read the full column from Mark Brown here.