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Coronavirus live blog, Sept. 8, 2020: Illinois tallies third straight day of low coronavirus cases as health officials announce 1,392 new positives

Here’s Monday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois. Follow here for live updates.

Chicago Public Schools students hit the books and went back to school Tuesday. But with the coronavirus pandemic still raging, students met their teachers and peers online instead of in person.

Here’s what else happened in Chicago and around the state as the battle against the pandemic continued.


8:55 p.m. Illinois’ new COVID-19 infections number 1,392, marking third straight day of lower caseloads

Illinois reported another 1,381 positive cases of COVID-19 statewide Monday, pushing the state’s total number of positive tests past 250,000 amid a summertime resurgence.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

After Illinois closed out last week with a staggering crush of new coronavirus cases, the state on Tuesday tallied a third straight day of relatively low numbers as health officials announced 1,392 more people have tested positive for COVID-19.

That happens to be the average caseload reported by the state since Sunday, over the long Labor Day holiday weekend.

But Illinois has averaged more than 2,000 new cases per day over the last two weeks, thanks to record figures of 5,368 reported Friday — the inflated result of a two-day data processing backlog — and 2,806 cases on Saturday.

The state averaged around 2,300 new cases per day over the worst two-week stretch of the pandemic in mid-May, but that was before the state bolstered its testing operations. Illinois is now testing residents at well over double its rate during the initial COVID-19 peak.

The latest cases were confirmed among 31,363 tests, lowering the state’s testing positivity rate over the last week to 4%. That number, which indicates how quickly the virus is spreading, hovered around 15% in May.

Read the full report from Mitchell Armentrout here.

6:08 p.m. Mars warehouse workers accuse company of firing employees who signed petition to organize

Current and former warehouse employees of Mars Wrigley and its partners XPO Logistics and DHL Supply Chain gathered in front of the company’s global headquarters in Goose Island Tuesday morning to demand justice for those who work at the Mars warehouse in Joliet.

The protest came after employees of the companies signed a petition in July organized by local workers advocacy group Warehouse Workers for Justice. Afterward, a few employees were allegedly fired “under suspicious circumstances,” according to Sandy Moreno of Warehouse Workers for Justice.

“We’re here today to tell the Mars warehouse that we will not tolerate any retaliation,” Moreno said.

Mars Wrigley, a unit of Mars Inc., makes candy and confectioneries such as M&M’s, Skittles and Snickers.

Reporter Michael Lee has the full story.

3:53 p.m. Appeals court upholds most of federal judge’s order to curb coronavirus at Cook County Jail

A state appeals court Tuesday upheld most of federal judge’s order in the spring that mandated wide-ranging coronavirus-prevention policies at the Cook County Jail but tossed out a key requirement to socially distance detainees.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling will likely not have have a significant impact on measures undertaken by the authorities to stop the spread of the virus at the jail, Sheriff Tom Dart’s spokesman Matthew Walberg said.

While the ruling allows holding two detainees in the same cell or in group housing, social distancing policies previously implemented at the jail will continue, Walberg said,

“Today’s decision affirms what we have been saying all along: We have gone to great lengths to protect our staff and detainees during this unprecedented crisis and we will continue to do so,” Walberg said. “Given the success we have achieved, we will continue to do everything we can to maintain and expand the protections we have put in place to protect our staff and detainees from COVID.”

Read the full report from Matthew Hendrickson here.

1:58 p.m. Lightfoot warns of employee layoffs to erase 2021 budget shortfall now pegged at $1.25B

Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned Tuesday in the strongest terms yet that employee layoffs she has long called her “second to last resort” will be needed to erase a 2021 budget shortfall she now pegs at $1.25 billion.

Lightfoot refused to say how many city employees will be targeted. She noted negotiations with organized labor to identify specific areas for cuts or concessions have just begun.

But with no replacement revenue on the horizon from Washington, the mayor said she needs to make substantial cuts to lay the political groundwork for the massive tax increases that will also be necessary to erase the largest budget shortfall in Chicago history.

“We can’t ask individual taxpayers to give us more if we don’t prove to them that we are being good fiduciaries of their tax dollars and that includes making painful sacrifices,” the mayor said at a news conference to mark the first day of remote learning for Chicago Public Schools students.

“No one wants to see that happen. No one wants to see a reduction in the kind of services that are core to what we do as a city government. But we are looking at a variety of options. And of course, we have no way of knowing at this point whether or not Congress is gonna see a breakthrough. I certainly hope so. COVID-19 has had a bipartisan impact on cities and towns all across our country and we need a bipartisan resolution.”

Read the full story from Fran Spielman here.

12:29 p.m. Students and teachers bring energy to CPS’ new school year

Technology worries and remote learning anxiety aside, many Chicago Public Schools students and teachers were excited to get the new school year started Tuesday morning.

There were still questions to be answered, such as how many children are without quality internet, and important topics to address in the coronavirus pandemic and the summer of racial justice protests.

Nonetheless, Nina Hike, a chemistry teacher at Westinghouse College Prep, said she’s energized for the start of the year despite her nerves about the internet connection potentially cutting out during a class.

Holding up a laboratory flask, Hike said she’s looking forward to the unique dynamic of teaching students in their homes “and being able to connect the chemistry in their homes that they see on a regular basis and also to talk to their families about chemistry.”

“In the classroom it’s easy to kind of gauge the student energy,” Hike said during an early-morning virtual meeting hosted by the Chicago Teachers Union. “But I feel like my energy is going to come through the computer screen. I even bought little beakers and flasks and stuff so that I can do demos and things of that nature to engage students.”

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

11:23 a.m. Kentucky added to Chicago’s travel quarantine list

A trip south of the state border to Kentucky will now cost Chicago travelers a two-week period of isolation when they return home.

And visitors from the Bluegrass State will be required to hunker down for a fortnight when they arrive in Chicago, as public health officials on Tuesday added Kentucky to the city’s COVID-19 travel quarantine order list.

But the Chicago Department of Public Health also removed California and Puerto Rico from the mandatory quarantine list, as both places fell below the city’s coronavirus “hot spot” threshold infection rate of 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents on a weekly rolling average.

The quarantine order still applies to 21 states — more than a third of the nation: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.

11:10 a.m. Questions and anxiety loom large as CPS resumes remote learning

Months of debate, anxiety, preparation and anticipation are culminating with the kickoff Tuesday of the most unusual school year in decades, with yellow buses and packed backpacks replaced with computer screens and a hope for a better experience than the spring.

If remote school goes according to plan, more than 300,000 Chicago students will be sitting behind computer screens this week, many of them meeting their teachers virtually for the first time.

Questions remain, however, about how many children lack access to quality internet, how working-class families will handle having their kids at home again, and whether hours of screen time each day, essentially a full school day online, will be beneficial for students.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office and Chicago Public Schools officials have said access to computers is not expected to be the problem it was earlier this year, after 128,000 devices were distributed in the spring with another 17,000 handed out ahead of this school year.

Officials also announced the “Chicago Connected” program in June, pledging to put free, high-speed internet into the homes of 100,000 CPS students who lacked reliable broadband access. A little over two months later, the families of 24,000 kids have signed up for the program, while the rest could still be without quality internet to start the school year.

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

9:27 a.m. Chicago’s streetwear boutiques weather COVID-19, social unrest

Even as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot were giving the go-ahead to reopen stores while adhering with social distancing guidelines, the streetwear boutiques were grappling as well with the ever-constant threat of burglary.

Some of them were looted during the protests in the aftermath of the May police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Aug. 9 shooting of a 20-year-old in Englewood by Chicago police and the protests over the police shooting of Kenosha, Wisconsin resident Jacob Blake. Some were burglarized duirng the weeks in between.

Brittany Stewart, owner of Chatham’s Sweats X Stew, had been hit a few times before moving from her 75th Street location. Stewart, 30 — the daughter of Diego Ross, co-owner of Leaders 1354 — said would-be burglars aren’t thinking of the collateral damage looting does to Black business owners.

“This can be your sister or your brother’s store, or your cousin’s store,” said Stewart. “It’s upsetting because these are my peers. ... After I got hit, I could’ve moved downtown or to the North Side. I wanted to stay in my community.”

The owners of Pillars, a boutique with locations in the West Loop and Calumet Heights, discovered both stores had been hit as co-owner Michael Willis went to check on the West Loop location, while his business partner Andre Weaver drove to the South Side store.

“You almost forgot about COVID [-19] because so much more is going on,” said Willis, 31. “By the time I got to this store, it was crazy. It seemed like the movie ‘The Purge.’ All this from the front [of the store], all the way to the back door; everything was basically gone.

“It’s very upsetting. You sit back and you’re like: ‘Why me? Why us?’ At the end of the day, I understand the reason — not particularly [the looters’] reasoning — with the looting going on, but you never want something that’s yours being damaged or taken away from you, especially when you busted your a- - to get it. If it happens next time, we’re prepared.”

Read Evan F. Moore’s full story here.

New Cases

  • Illinois surpasses 250K coronavirus cases
  • Tom Seaver, the Hall of Fame pitcher who was the heart of the Miracle Mets team, has died at 75 of lewy body dementia and COVID-19.
  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, wife and two daughters tested positive for COVID-19.

Analysis & Commentary

4:32 p.m. Are video arcades more dangerous than casinos during a pandemic?

Casinos and video arcades, both of which feature rows of electronic games that people use in close proximity to each other, pose similar risks of COVID-19 transmission. Yet in Massachusetts, casinos have been open for two months, while video arcades remain closed under an order that Gov. Charlie Baker originally issued in March.

Like many of the distinctions drawn by the COVID-19 lockdowns that all but a few governors imposed last spring, this one makes no medical sense. A federal lawsuit filed last week argues that Baker’s discrimination against video arcades is unconstitutional because it is scientifically indefensible.

Baker originally included video arcades in Phase III of his reopening plan, which took effect on July 6, but changed course without explanation on July 2. In response to a state legislator’s inquiry, the governor offered nothing but boilerplate about “the latest science” and “input from public health experts.”

You might wonder what sort of science tells us that video games played for fun are inherently more dangerous as disease vectors than video games played for the chance to win money. So does Gideon Coltof, the owner of Bit Bar, a restaurant-arcade in Salem.

Coltof notes that businesses like his can take the same precautions casinos are taking. They can erect barriers or maintain physical distance between customers, and they can wipe machines down between users.

Yet while Baker is allowing Coltof to operate his restaurant during Phase III, the governor has decreed that Coltof may not turn on his video games. For a business whose main attraction is the opportunity to play classic arcade games while eating, that restriction could be a death sentence.

Read the full column here.

9:31 a.m. This Labor Day, let’s honor the workers who are beyond essential

Labor Day is one of the most beloved holidays of the year, a time for people of all backgrounds to take a moment to celebrate the people who lace up their boots every day and go to work. However, workers are not celebrating right now. Workers are doing whatever they can to live their lives during an unimaginable public health and economic catastrophe.

Our city, state and country are in the middle of multiple intersecting crises. And while we are all learning to live with the new normal, figuring out how to get our kids to school every day and keep ourselves safe, we cannot lose sight of the lives and livelihoods being lost every single day in our communities.

I think about Maria Lopez. Maria was a nurse in robotic surgery at the University of Illinois hospital and a proud member of the Illinois Nurses Association. Maria worked at the hospital for 20 years and was scheduled to retire on April 30. She had recently undergone knee surgery when COVID-19 hit, and she could have used vacation days to leave her job early, but she felt it was her duty to stay at the hospital and help — because that’s what nurses do. They help.

In her last month before retirement, Maria contracted COVID-19, and she died on May 4.

Read the full column here.