Coronavirus live blog, March 28, 2020: Northwestern medical students launch drive for medical equipment

Here’s the day’s latest news about the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and its ripple effects in Chicago and Illinois.

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, March 28, 2020: Northwestern medical students launch drive for medical equipment

A little over a week ago, Illinois officials warned that number of coronavirus cases may hit 3,400 by the end of the following week — this week.

They were correct. The number of coronavirus cases rose to 3,491 on Saturday with 13 deaths, including an infant and a state employee.

Here’s what else happened today in Chicago and the state as Illinoisans continued to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.


7:58 p.m. Northwestern medical students launch drive for medical equipment

Northwestern University

Sun-Times file

Northwestern medical students are collecting personal protective equipment for healthcare workers who are grappling with supply shortages as they work to treat and contain the coronavirus outbreak in Chicago.

The students are accepting donations of N95 respirators, surgical masks, surgical gowns and gloves, which they plan to distribute among emergency medicine departments and intensive care units in the city.

“We felt doing nothing was not an option,” said Tricia Rae Pendergrast, a first-year medical student at Northwestern. “We view this as an extension of the oath we took the first week of school to put the needs of others before the needs of ourselves.

“This is a really critical time. Not only will this keep physicians and nurses safe, it will keep patients safe as well.”

The drive is similar to the one Project CURE is hosting Sunday at the United Center.

Here’s how you can donate.

— Madeline Kenney

7:09 p.m. Abbott Labs gets FDA approval for portable, 5-minute coronavirus test

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued Emergency Use Authorization to Illinois-based medical device maker Abbott Labs on Friday for a coronavirus test that delivers positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes, the company said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued Emergency Use Authorization to Illinois-based medical device maker Abbott Labs on Friday for a coronavirus test that delivers positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes, the company said.

Abbott Labs

A five-minute, point-of-care coronavirus test could be coming to urgent care clinics next week, and experts say it could be “game-changing.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued Emergency Use Authorization to Illinois-based medical device maker Abbott Labs on Friday for a coronavirus test that delivers positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes, the company said.

The company expects the tests to be available next week and expects to ramp up manufacturing to deliver 50,000 tests per day.

”I am pleased that the FDA authorized Abbott’s point-of-care test yesterday. This is big news and will help get more of these tests out in the field rapidly,” FDA Commissioner Steve Hahn said in a statement. “We know how important it is to get point-of-care tests out in the field quickly. These tests that can give results quickly can be a game changer in diagnosing COVID-19.”

Read the full story here and get caught up on Abbott Labs from reporter Lynn Sweet’s earlier story.

6:47 p.m. Another loss of the coronavirus pandemic: All-day breakfast at McDonald’s

McDonald’s is temporarily ending its all-day breakfast menu and removing slower-selling items to simplify kitchen operations and help its struggling U.S. franchisees.

McDonald’s company-owned stores closed their dining rooms and moved to drive-thru, takeout and delivery service only on March 16. Most franchisees have followed.

But U.S. fast food sales are down as more people work from home and avoid going out. NPD, a consulting firm, said U.S. fast food sales fell 7% in the week ending March 15.

McDonald’s said it will focus on its most popular menu items and remove others over the next few weeks.

Read more on McDonald’s decision here.

6:16 p.m. Cook County medical examiner confirms 3 more coronavirus deaths

The Cook County medical examiner’s office confirmed the deaths of three people Saturday due to complications related to the coronavirus.

Learn more about the three deaths in Cook County here.

5:07 p.m. Child welfare systems struggle during coronavirus pandemic

NEW YORK — Child welfare agencies across the U.S., often beleaguered in the best of times, are scrambling to confront new challenges that the coronavirus is posing for caseworkers, kids and parents.

For caseworkers, the potential toll is physical and emotional. Child welfare workers in several states, including Michigan, Massachusetts, New York and Washington, have tested positive for COVID-19.

Many agencies, seeking to limit the virus’s spread, have cut back on in-person inspections at homes of children considered at risk of abuse and neglect. Parents of children already in foster care are missing out on weekly visits. Slowdowns at family courts are burdening some of those parents with agonizing delays in getting back their children.

“There are real sad consequences for folks who’ve been making progress toward reunifying,” said Boston social worker Adriana Zwick, who represents unionized caseworkers with Massachusetts’ Department of Children and Families.

Get the full report from the Associated Press.

4:12 p.m. See how Illinois’ coronavirus case number has grown

Illinois officials announced 465 news coronavirus cases and 13 deaths, including an infant and a state employee. Those cases and deaths have been added to our graph.

For more on this graph, check it out here.

To see where in Illinois those cases and deaths are reported, click here to see a full, updated map.

3:25 p.m. Here’s what to know about filing for unemployment in Illinois during the coronavirus pandemic

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, claims for unemployment insurance have skyrocketed as business comes to a halt in Illinois. With applications by state residents for unemployment insurance surging, the Illinois Department of Employment Security has announced emergency rules for those who can qualify for benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some new rules have been made to accommodate the department’s capacity limits and to ensure that Illinoisians can get the help they need. 

Check out our full guide what to know when applying for unemployment insurance during the coronavirus pandemic.

2:30 p.m. Infant, state worker among 13 latest coronavirus deaths as Illinois case tally jumps to 3,491

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a briefing last year.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a March 23 briefing on the state’s COVID-19 response.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

An infant and a state employee were among Illinois’ 13 latest coronavirus deaths reported Saturday as the number of confirmed cases statewide jumped again to 3,491.

That marks the most deaths reported in a single day since the COVID-19 outbreak was first reported in late January. The deaths bring the statewide coronavirus toll up to 47.

“Upon hearing it, I admit I was shaken, and it’s appropriate for us to grieve today,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “We should grieve with our family of state employees, with the many people we’ve already lost to this virus, young and old.”

It’s now been a week since Pritzker’s stay-at-home order went into effect. Since then, the number of coronavirus cases in Illinois has more than quadrupled, with 465 new cases reported Saturday.

Reporter Jake Wittich has the full story.

2:10 p.m. Coronavirus cases top 620,000 globally with long fight ahead


The Coronavirus pandemic has spread to many countries across the world, claiming over 25,000 lives and infecting hundreds of thousands more.

Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images

As confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States led the world — with more than 105,000 infections — cities such as Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans grew as hotspots Saturday, while the virus continued to pummel New York City and also made its way into rural America.

In parts of Africa, meanwhile, virus prevention measures took a violent turn as countries imposed lockdowns and curfews or sealed off major cities, with police in Kenya firing tear gas and officers elsewhere captured on video hitting people with batons. Russia said its borders would be fully closed as of Monday.

The number of worldwide infections surpassed 620,000 with more than 28,000 deaths as new cases also stacked up quickly in Europe, according to a tally by John Hopkins University. While the U.S. now leads the world in reported cases, five countries exceed its roughly 1,700 deaths: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France.

New York remained the worst-hit U.S. city. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said defeating the virus will take “weeks and weeks and weeks.”

Read the full report here.

1:08 p.m. Instacart shoppers threaten to strike Monday for better pay, coronavirus protections

Chicagoans relying on Instacart soon might have to look elsewhere for help keeping their cupboards stocked during the coronavirus crisis.

Shoppers for the online grocery delivery service are threatening to strike Monday if the San Francisco-based company doesn’t meet their demands for more safety protections and better pay, as demand skyrockets during the COVID-19 shutdown.

The Instacart Shoppers and Gig Workers Collective accused the company of turning “this pandemic into a PR campaign, portraying itself [as] the hero of families that are sheltered-in-place, isolated or quarantined.

But “Instacart has still not provided essential protections to shoppers on the front lines that could prevent them from becoming carriers, falling ill themselves or worse,” collective members said in a statement issued Friday.

Read the full report by Mitchell Armentrout here.

12:55 p.m. University of Chicago to help South Side residents, businesses impacted by COVID-19

The University of Chicago on Saturday announced a series of programs to help South Side residents, businesses and nonprofits hit hard by the COVID-19 shutdown. 

The UChicago Partnering for Community Impact Initiative will prepare and deliver 3,000 meals per day — totaling 225,000 meals over the next 10 weeks — to residents who need them in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the university said in a statement. 

The school is also providing $1 million in bridge grants to local small businesses and nonprofits. Independent businesses and programs in nine neighborhoods around the university are eligible for $7,500 grants: Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park and Woodlawn.

“The University of Chicago has a deep commitment to the people of the South Side, and these new efforts build on this commitment at a time of dramatic challenge and uncertainty,” U. of C. president Robert Zimmer said in a statement. “By working in close coordination with local community organizations and a variety of partners in the nonprofit, private, philanthropic, and government sectors, we will help meet critical needs of the South Side communities of which we are a part.”

The programs launch Monday and are slated to last through June 12.

For more information, visit

— Mitchell Armentrout

12:24 p.m. Program serving up free meals, groceries to out-of-work restaurant workers to end Saturday due to coronavirus concerns

One Off Hospitality Group announced Saturday that the Workers Relief Program would be discontinued following the 5 p.m. service on March 28.

Spokesperson Kim Leali said all One Off eateries including Blackbird, avec, Publican and The Violet Hour would end delivery/pick-up options as well, effective immediately. Leali cited concerns for the safety of its employees as well as customers due to the advancing spread of coronavirus.

Click here for more information.

12:10 p.m. Athletic trainers step up: App aids overworked hospitals during COVID-19 pandemic

Athletic trainers across the country are changing their routines and joining the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The National Athletic Trainers Association put together an app aimed at helping trainers assist understaffed hospitals. The app was intended to give health care providers a database to look for help nationwide. More than 950 athletic trainers have signed up over the last week, including Northwestern’s Tory Lindley.

Read more on how athletic trainers are trying to help.

11:56 a.m. Mayor Lori Lightfoot guarding the lakefront is now a meme

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is fed up.

After seeing throngs of people enjoying a spring day at the lakefront and 606 trail despite her instructions to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, she reached her breaking point Thursday.

Now, the lakefront is closed, along with all its parks and beaches, the 606 is closed, and Millennium Park and the downtown Riverwalk are locked down indefinitely.

Now that Chicagoans have nothing to do but stay inside and scroll social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Reddit, memes that only locals would appreciate are inevitably cropping up.

Check out the best photoshopped memes of Lori Lightfoot guarding the lakefront here.

11:00 a.m. How much longer will we be inside — and then what happens?

How long will Illinoisans be staying inside because of the coronavirus? Right now, bank on mid-April — at the earliest.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, which took effect on Saturday, March 21, is set to expire on Tuesday, April 7.

Expect the governor to extend that. Mayor Lori Lightfoot predicted Friday Pritzker would push the order “deep into April,” though Pritzker afterward was non-committal.

Three Chicago medical experts who have been monitoring the situation agree that state public health officials need a minimum of four weeks to make sure that all existing cases of COVID-19 infection in Illinois have been identified and isolated.

Based on the start of Pritzker’s order, that would take the date to Saturday, April 18. Even then, a host of factors could push things back, including the degree to which people can be tested and how full hospitals get.

Read the full story here.

10:46 a.m. Trump OKs major disaster declaration to Michigan

President Donald Trump has approved a major disaster declaration for Michigan, providing additional money to help the state address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The declaration announced by the White House on Saturday follows a back-and-forth between Trump and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has criticized the Trump administration for its slow response to the pandemic, saying “we cannot weather this alone.”

The U.S. surgeon general said Friday that Detroit, a national “hot spot” for cases of the new coronavirus, will worsen next week. More than 3,600 people in Michigan were confirmed to have COVID-19 Friday.

At least 92 have died, most from the three counties in the Detroit area, according to state officials.

— Associated Press

9:42 a.m. State education officials say school districts must start remote learning Tuesday

Illinois education officials are directing districts statewide to implement concrete remote learning plans for all schools starting Tuesday, and a new order from the governor has suspended state-mandated standardized testing.

The state’s new, more tangible education plan for the coronavirus closures came in the form of an executive order Friday from Gov. J.B. Prtizker and extensive guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education, which until now hadn’t offered specific recommendations for remote learning.

The updates indicate a recognition that proper remote learning “through whatever means possible” will be necessary as it becomes clearer that Illinois schools, which the governor ordered closed earlier this month, may not resume in-person classes April 8 as currently planned. Chicago Public Schools have already announced it will stay closed through April 20.

Read the full report by Nader Issa here.

9:06 a.m. McCormick Place to become makeshift hospital for thousands of coronavirus patients

Part of the McCormick Place convention center could be transformed into a hospital for thousands of coronavirus patients as soon as April 24, officials said Friday.

Speaking at a Pentagon news briefing, Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite announced plans to create a makeshift hospital in the sprawling 2.6-million square-foot convention center.

”Let me just tell you about Chicago because this is really out of the box,” Semonite said.

The entire hospital will be dedicated to COVID-19 patients, he said.

Read the full report from Jake Wittich here.

8:30 a.m. Sky’s Gabby Williams shares glimpse into what it’s like to be quarantined in France

Sky forward Gabby Williams said she wasn’t going to do it.

But on Monday, Day 7 of being quarantined in France alone with her cat, she cracked.

“I actually just downloaded TikTok,” Williams said with a slight hint of shame in her voice.

Williams was trying to hold off from downloading TikTok, the trendy video-sharing app, as long as possible because it reminded her of the defunct app Vine.

“I’m the biggest Vine fan,” Williams said. “And I remember I would spend, like, four hours a day watching Vines — like I can have a conversation in just Vines — and so I knew I would love TikTok. I didn’t download it because I was like, ‘I will get nothing done for the rest of my life if I downloaded TikTok.’ ”

But what better time to scroll hours away than now?

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase rapidly across the world, Sky players have turned to social media, FaceTime and at-home workouts to keep themselves preoccupied for the foreseeable future.

Read the full story from Madeline Kenney here.

7:58 a.m. Chicago’s creatives are finding new ways to make ends meet in gig economy amid coronavirus

DJ Gemini Jones, like most local DJs, is a member of the gig economy — independent workers who are paid by the event — and who now find themselves out of work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The gigs at bars, venues, restaurants, concerts and the private/corporate ones — the most lucrative for DJs — have all dried up.

“Financially, I’m broke,” said Jones, who had a residency at The Promontory, a Hyde Park-based music venue. “[The coronavirus pandemic] has pretty much taken everything I had on my calendar into May; it is all gone now. What I’m doing to make money, honestly, at this point, I mixed [her last gigs] the last couple times with Cash App donations [to get] me by right now.”

After Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave the shelter-in-place order for all bars and restaurants to close through the end of the month, many of the city’s sound selectors have been out of work and are trying to find ways to supplement their usual income.

In addition to the DJ gigs, Jones lost another source of income — fees paid by local creatives who record podcasts at a space she rents from BPM Chicago, a West Side-based multimedia studio.

See how other Chicago creatives are getting by in Evan F. Moore’s full report.

New Cases

Analysis & Commentary

10:13 a.m. No need to sack reusable grocery bags — just make them stay at home for a while, too

The union that represents Chicago grocery and pharmacy workers wants the city to suspend its plastic bag tax during the coronavirus crisis and temporarily eliminate the use of reusable bags.

But the request was promptly shot down by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration, citing a lack of evidence that reusable bags transmit the illness.

Zack Koutsky, a spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881, says that switching back to plastic bags would help reduce one point of stress for checkout workers worried about being infected with the virus while handling customers’ bags brought from home.

“They believe this is an easy fix that would give them peace of mind,” Koutsky said. Local 881 represents 34,000 retail, pharmacy and grocery store workers in Illinois and northwest Indiana.

Environmental groups have been pushing back against similar efforts around the country to relax plastic bag restrictions, arguing the plastics industry is just using the crisis as an excuse to advance its own long-held agenda: repeal of state laws and city ordinances that discourage or outlaw plastic bag use.

Read Mark Brown’s full column here.

9 a.m. Does the coronavirus economic stimulus do enough for the 99%?

This editorial page was quite clear earlier this month when word of a federal COVID-19 relief package began trickling out of Washington: “We better spend it right. That means getting most of that money straight into the hands of the working people and small businesses who have been hardest hit.”

At that time, we prepared you for the government to distribute “$1 trillion or more.” But on Friday, the House of Representatives approved — and President Donald Trump quickly signed into law — a colossal $2 trillion emergency relief bill, which shows just how much economic damage the pandemic has caused.

Our early read is that this stimulus could have been crafted to do more for average Americans and small businesses rocked by layoffs, shutdowns and lost commerce. That said, there are a lot of elements we won’t be able to judge until the money starts flowing.

So we’ll give Congress and the president this: The bi-partisan package is at least a start toward helping those who have lost their livelihoods. 

Read the full break down here.

8:30 a.m. Doing without tree-trimming and other city services will help us beat COVID-19

If the city decides to call a timeout on tree trimming, street sweeping, tree removal and other services until the coronavirus threat ebbs, it’s part of the new world we are living in.

One of the unexpected effects of Gov. J.B. Pritzler’s stay-at-home order, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner John Tully said, is that said people are afraid to come out and move their cars when it’s time for tree trimming or street sweeping. It doesn’t seem fair to ticket, boot or tow them.

On Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot confirmed Tully’s comments earlier in the week that those services will likely to be postponed until the city gets COVID-19 under control. City officials are doing this for the same reason they closed the Lakefront, downtown Riverwalk, 606 trail and other public spaces: If people are too close together, they can spread the virus and undercut the effort to slow its spread.

No one likes staying inside or losing services, but both are necessary. In New York, a hot spot for the virus, social distancing policies appear to have slowed the virus’ spread from doubling every day to doubling every 4.7 days. Even so, one New York doctor told CNN, “We ended up getting our first positive patients — and that’s when all hell broke loose. ... We don’t have the machines, we don’t have the beds.”

Read the full editorial here.

8 a.m. So please stop! Please, y’all. Just stop.

It’s not safe to go to church right now. Period

Dear church, how can I say this in a way that even a little child can understand? Sat down!

Dear preacher, your snake-oil prescriptions and presumptuous faith amid this global pandemic now upon us are going to mess around and get somebody killed. Look, it’s not safe to go to church right now. Period.

Indeed assembling in the House of the Lord — whether mega church or urban storefront; whether Baptist, Catholic, COGIC, or any such denomination — can place the saints, young and old, in the swirling viral waters of COVID-19.

So please stop! Please, y’all. Just stop.

Read more from John W. Founation here.

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