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Coronavirus live blog, Oct. 23, 2020: Half of all counties in Illinois have reached a warning level for the coronavirus

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

Another 3,874 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Illinois. That high number comes as restaurant and hospitality workers are facing new struggles.

Here’s all the news you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic in Chicago and around Illinois.


News

8:57 p.m. Half of all Illinois counties at coronavirus warning level as state reports 3,874 more cases

AP Photos

Public health officials on Friday warned that half of all counties in Illinois have reached a warning level for the coronavirus as 3,874 more people tested positive for COVID-19 statewide.

While that’s Illinois’ seventh highest daily caseload of the pandemic, they were detected among the state’s second-largest batch of tests ever: 82,256. As a result, the seven-day average statewide positivity rate went down for the first time since Oct. 4 — a rare move in the right direction as Illinois weathers a severe COVID-19 resurgence along with other Midwest states.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also announced 31 more deaths have been attributed to the virus, including a Cook County man in his 30s.

The pandemic death toll has risen to 9,418 since March and it’s poised to balloon at an increasingly troubling rate as Illinois hospitals treat the most coronavirus patients they’ve seen since early June. Nearly 2,500 hospital beds were occupied by coronavirus patients as of Thursday night, with 511 in intensive care units and 197 using ventilators.

Read Mitchell Armentrout’s full story here.


8:29 p.m. If restaurants are COVID super spreaders, owners ask, where’s the proof?

Scott Weiner, who runs 20 restaurants in Chicago, feels like a scapegoat in a pandemic.

Like other operators, he sees a real possibility that the city’s bars and restaurants may be forced to completely shut down because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases. He’d also like to see proof that his businesses, which include Roots Handmade Pizza and West Town Bakery, are contributing to the problem.

“On top of poor data, you get the feeling people are making decisions without really knowing,” said Weiner, co-owner of the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group.

Government data are at the center of confusion about safety of restaurants and bars as coronavirus cases are on the rise. On Friday, a defensive Gov. J.B. Pritzker said “bars and restaurants are super spreader locations,” a term that makes those in the industry cringe because they say there is no conclusive proof. Pritzker has shut down indoor restaurant dining in DuPage, Kane and Will Counties as well as other parts of the state.

Reporter Brett Chase has the full story.

7:43 p.m. Land of tears: ‘Desperate’ Illinois health care workers ‘seeing history repeat itself’

Ugly case numbers, busy hospitals, shuttering businesses, mounting death tolls and a deadly virus traveling through the air from face to maskless face.

Seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s beginning to feel a lot like March again in the Land of Lincoln.

The state’s top doctor fought back tears Friday while making her most impassioned plea yet for residents to follow basic health guidelines as Illinois’ autumn coronavirus resurgence means many front-line health care workers “are seeing history repeat itself.”

“Excuse me, please,’ Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said, turning her back and pausing for nearly 40 seconds during the daily briefing, as Gov. J.B. Pritker and others offered her tissues.

Ezike apologized when she resumed, acknowledging the difficulty in running a race “when you can’t actually see the endpoint.”

Reporter Mitch Armentrout has the full story.

6:53 p.m. Catholic elementary schools will switch to virtual learning for two weeks after Christmas break

Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago will pivot to remote learning for two weeks at the start of 2021.

Schools will begin e-learning on Jan. 4 and will return on Jan. 19 after the Martin Luther King Day holiday.

In a letter to parents sent Friday, Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic Schools, said the switch was made to allow families who travel or have large family gatherings during Thanksgiving and Christmas to quarantine for 14 days to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in its schools.

“Moving to virtual learning for two weeks will allow families who choose to travel or attend family gatherings over the holidays to quarantine for 14 days without a loss of school days or learning time and without jeopardizing the health of other students and staff in their school,” Rigg wrote in the letter. “It is my hope that this decision enables all families and employees to enjoy the upcoming holidays and return safely for in-person instruction.”

While Chicago Public Schools has used remote learning this fall, Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools students have been meeting mostly in person.

Reporter Manny Ramos has the full story.

4:36 p.m. Laid-off hotel workers rally after health insurance yanked: ‘We’ve been thrown out like yesterday’s garbage’

About 150 hotel workers who’d been laid off — but promised their jobs back when the hotel industry rebounds — gathered in Grant Park Friday to call on their employers to continue providing health insurance.

They are among about 7,000 Chicago hotel workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 1 who are out of work and, since Oct. 1, without health insurance.

“I have really, really bad arthritis and only four pills left, and I have a daughter who needs her braces taken off,” said Shawan Johnson, 41, who worked turning over rooms at the Hilton Chicago for six years until she was laid off in March.

“When you work for a company for many, many years and once a pandemic hits they just say, ‘Well, forget it, no more healthcare, no more anything.’ ... It’s like insult to injury,” said Johnson.

Jesus Morales, who’d worked as a banquet server at the Drake Hotel for 33 years until he lost his job in March, said he’s in a tough spot because his wife, who had brain surgery a few years ago, and daughter, who was recently in a car accident, both depend on him for health insurance.

Reporter Mitch Dudek has the full story.

12:21 p.m. How Chicagoans view the prospect of COVID restrictions once again being tightened

Now that Chicago is experiencing a “second surge” of coronavirus cases, we asked Chicagoans what they thought about the prospect of restrictions being tightened again.

Then on Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced another clampdown for bars and restaurants.

Some answers have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

“I think that maybe the city shouldn’t have loosened restrictions on bars and restaurants. It sends the wrong message as well as being an avenue for the virus to spread.” — Mark Simons

“I’m extremely concerned that CPS wants to bring children and staff back when we’re in a second surge.” — Dana Marie Miroballi

“If it needs to be done, we do it. Money is never more important than human lives.” — Michelle Hrad

“This second surge was probably fostered by the occasional ‘Oh, a little get-together won’t hurt,’ or ‘Oops, forgot my mask, whatever’ or ‘you don’t seriously believe this coronavirus business is real?’ Or my favorite: ‘Cain’t nobody tell me what I can or cain’t do!’ Obviously, they all add up. The result is a second wave.” — Debrah Ross

See what else Chicagoans said.

10:11 a.m. Food fight: Pritzker vows to crack down on restaurants ‘helping to spread this disease’ through dining defiance

As Illinois smashed another daily record with 4,942 new coronavirus cases reported Thursday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker threw down the gauntlet to suburban bar and restaurant owners threatening to flout his latest restrictions on indoor drinking and dining.

The Democratic governor issued his harshest warning yet to potential scofflaws before his indoor dining ban goes into effect Friday in Will, Kankakee, Kane and DuPage counties, where COVID-19 infection rates are soaring to new highs.

But some owners say they will still seat customers inside, arguing the latest rollback means a “death sentence” for their businesses after months of struggling to stay afloat while following guidelines and avoiding outbreaks.

“If people are going to force us, because they won’t follow the mitigations, and they’re going to let people get sick in their business, then we’re going to take this very seriously,” Pritzker said at a downstate coronavirus briefing. “If we have to stop them from doing business because they’re helping to spread this disease and get people sick, then that’s what we’re going to do.”

“We are now seeing the entire state is moving up in terms of hospitalizations, in terms of ICU beds, ventilators and death,” Pritzker said, pointing to “dozens of studies” showing bars and restaurants have proven to be fertile grounds for COVID-19 transmission.

The Illinois Department of Public Health attributed 44 more deaths to the virus, while the state’s average seven-day positivity rate has shot up this month more than two full percentage points to 5.7%. And as the state has seen its five largest daily caseloads of the entire pandemic over the last week alone, hospitals across the state are treating the most COVID-19 patients they’ve seen since early June.

Read Mitchell Armentrout’s story here.

9:28 a.m. CPS refusing to allow teachers union to inspect schools, bargain over reopening, complaint says

The Chicago Teachers Union is accusing city officials of illegally refusing to bargain over school reopening conditions during the coronavirus pandemic as a return to classrooms for some students is expected next month.

The union’s claim comes in its third unfair labor practice complaint this academic year and also alleges Chicago Public Schools officials have canceled several scheduled appointments for a union-hired inspector to visit school buildings and conduct air quality checks.

“CPS today formally told us that it is going to refuse to bargain with us over the decision as to when and how to safely resume in-person instruction,” said CTU deputy general counsel Thad Goodchild. “That decision is a mandatory subject of bargaining under Illinois law.

“Their position is absurd,” he said.

The CTU’s stance is that there are countless health and safety factors that go into a reopening decision, while CPS views the issue more narrowly and one that falls under its sole discretion.

Read Nader Issa’s full story here.

8:06 a.m. Illinois to begin releasing data on coronavirus outbreaks in schools

The Illinois Department of Public Health will begin releasing data on coronavirus outbreaks connected to schools, department spokesperson Melaney Arnold confirmed Thursday.

Outbreaks are tracked internally by IDPH through their Outbreak Reporting System, and are defined as two or more cases connected to a single location.

Arnold said Thursday that the school-level data will include “number of cases and outbreaks” and that officials “look forward to having that live in the coming weeks.”

IDPH has been publicly providing data on “youth cases,” or cases in individuals under 20 years old, in order for school and local health officials to make decisions on e-learning. But the state previously has not disclosed any data connected to specific schools.

Reporter Caroline Hurley has the full story.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

8:54 a.m. The simple math of ‘excess mortality’ — this pandemic kills

Just how deadly is COVID-19?

The answer to that question should guide every decision our nation makes as to how to keep ourselves and others safe, yet it has proven maddeningly difficult to nail down and agree upon.

In part, the problem has been one of science. Estimated mortality rates from COVID-19 have been revised, up and down, as scientists and health professionals have collected and analyzed new data and devised better medical treatments.

The problem has also been one of politics. From the very beginning, there has been desire by many political leaders, mostly on the right and most obviously President Trump, to downplay the deadliness of the virus. They have found it more expedient to denigrate the science of the disease than to take the bold measures required — actions derided by anti-government conservatives and libertarians — to slow and contain the spread of the disease.

The basic argument made by those who seek to minimize the dangers of COVID-19 is that most people killed by the virus are quite old and already quite sick and on the verge of death anyway. And if a younger person who has the virus were to jump out of a plane and his parachute failed to open, the skeptics joke, some liberal doctor would record the cause of death as COVID-19.

Given this disagreement and doubt, it’s important to stress that there is, in fact, an emerging gold standard for measuring the deadliness of COVID-19 — something researchers call “excess deaths.” And by that sturdy standard, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control, the virus actually is more deadly than most news reports would suggest.

That’s a profoundly important message, from what traditionally has been one of our nation’s most trusted research institutions, at a time when rates of COVID-19 are surging again in the United States, including in Illinois.

Read the full editorial here.