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Latest coronavirus news for March 29, 2020: Live updates

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

The latest

U.S. social distancing guidelines extended to April 30, President Trump says

President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

WASHINGTON — Bracing the nation for a grim death toll, President Donald Trump on Sunday extended the voluntary national shutdown for a month, bowing to public-health experts who told him the coronavirus pandemic could claim over 100,000 lives in the U.S., perhaps significantly more, if not enough is done to fight it.

It was a stark shift in tone by the president, who only days ago mused about the country reopening in a few weeks. From the Rose Garden, he said his Easter revival hopes had only been “aspirational.”

The initial 15-day period of social distancing urged by the federal government expires Monday and Trump had expressed interest in relaxing the national guidelines at least in parts of the country less afflicted by the pandemic. But instead he decided to extend them through April 30, a tacit acknowledgment he’d been too optimistic. Many states and local governments have stiffer controls in place on mobility and gatherings.

Trump’s impulse to restore normalcy met a sober reality check Sunday from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, who said the U.S. could experience more than 100,000 deaths and millions of infections from the pandemic. Trump’s decision to extend the guidelines reflected a recognition that the struggle will take place over the longer haul and the risk of deaths spiraling into the hundreds of thousands is real.

“I want our life back again,” the president told reporters in the Rose Garden.

Read the full story here.


News

7:55 p.m. Cook County medical examiner confirms 8 more coronavirus deaths, bringing total to 40

The Cook County medical examiner confirmed Sunday that eight more people have died of the coronavirus after completing the day’s autopsies, bringing the county’s total to 40 deaths.

The eight deaths come as Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced over 1,000 new coronavirus cases Sunday across Illinois, with 18 people dying.

Read the full story here.

7:12 p.m. With supply chain strained amid coronavirus outbreak, donation drive held outside United Center to collect medical equipment

As medical supplies vital for treating COVID-19 patients have fallen in short supply, a nonprofit that typically sends medical equipment to other countries hosted a donation drive Sunday outside the United Center seeking masks, protective eyewear, gloves and other gear for health care workers fighting the virus in the United States.

Project C.U.R.E., a Colorado-based non-governmental organization with a warehouse in Woodridge, shifted its focus to the needs of domestic health care workers about two weeks ago, according to Beth Rottman, executive director of the nonprofit’s Chicago office.

Shortly after the drive kicked off Sunday in Chicago, a stream of cars pulled into the parking and drivers handed off boxes and equipment to waiting volunteers.

“In about 20 minutes, we put together almost a palette,” said Rottman, who noted the organization has organized similar drives in other parts of the country, including another event Sunday in Nashville.

Read the full story here.

7 p.m. Rick Bayless, US Foods to provide relief for restaurant workers

Chicago chef Rick Bayless is partnering with US Foods to help provide food and work for restaurant employees who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Funded by a $250,000 gift from an anonymous private foundation in Chicago, Bayless and US Food are launching a program to fill the pantries of restaurant workers in need.

Starting Monday, Bayless’ shuttered Frontera Grill will serve as a logistics hub for the program, which will give 15 laid-off restaurant workers temporary employment. Those employees will be paid to sort boxes containing 30 pounds of groceries, which will then be distributed throughout the city to a variety of restaurants, including Antique Taco (Bridgeport), Carnitas Uruapan (Pilsen), Honey Butter Fried Chicken (Avondale), Rome’s Joy Catering (Bronzeville) and Lula Cafe (Logan Square).

The goal will be to process 800 boxes per week.

“As soon as restaurants began to shutter, our thoughts immediately turned to getting food to the most vulnerable people in our industry,” Bayless said. “This project can touch the lives of many thousand displaced workers.”

— Madeline Kenney

5:57 p.m. John Prine, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter from Chicago, critically ill with the coronavirus

Singer-songwriter John Prine, a Grammy-winning veteran of the Chicago folk scene whose admirers include Bob Dylan and Roger Water, has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

“After a sudden onset of Covid-19 symptoms, John was hospitalized on Thursday (3/26),” said a statement on his Twitter account. “He was intubated Saturday evening, and continues to receive care, but his situation is critical.”

His wife and manager, Fiona Whelan Prine, had announced her own positive test for the virus on March 18. At the time she said results from her husband’s tests were “indeterminate.”

The couple responded by isolating from each other as well as from other family members.

Read the full story here.

5:31 p.m Illinois confirms more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases as testing capacity grows

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Sunday announced more than 1,000 new cases of the coronavirus in Illinois, including 18 more deaths, bringing the statewide total up to 4,596 cases and 65 deaths.

Pritzker said the 1,105 new cases — more than double from Saturday’s tally and higher than any daily total so far — are due to increased coronavirus testing capacity in Illinois.

Right now, the state runs about 4,000 coronavirus tests daily, which is up from the 2,000 tests Illinois was capable of running on March 24.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said those additional tests “help us better understand the amount of virus circulating in our community.”

“There are many who are ill with only mild, minimal symptoms who still may be unknowingly transmitting this virus,” she added.

Read the full story here.

4:50 p.m. Officers enforcing stay-at-home order break up funeral service in Pulaski Park

Chicago police disbanded a funeral service Sunday morning at a Pulaski Park church while enforcing a statewide stay-at-home order put in place earlier this month to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Just before 9 a.m., officers noticed a group congregating inside St. Odisho Church at 6201 N. Pulaski, according to police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Responding officers reported the crowd consisted of between 40 and 60 people, many of whom were elderly, Guglielmi said. Individuals over 65 are considered to be at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several people were seen drinking from the same cup during communion before officers “expedited the completion of the funeral service and dispersed patrons,” Guglielmi said. No one was arrested, and no citations were issued.

Read the full story here.

3:33 p.m. Cook County forest preserves remain open – with some caveats

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle on Sunday announced that forest preserves in the county will remain open, though some have been closed to the public to promote social distancing and other public health guidelines.

During a news conference at Dan Ryan Woods, measures were announced to limit public gatherings, monitor sites where visitors aren’t heeding guidance aimed at quelling the virus’ spread and potentially close more public spaces.

“The Forest Preserves has always offered us access to the natural world close to home and a place to be outside,” Preckwinkle said. “But if we see places where people are not fully following their responsibility, we can and will close those locations.”

Preckwinkle’s warning comes three days after Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed Chicago’s Lakefront, Riverwalk and the 606 trail after throngs of people flocked to the outdoor hotspots when temperatures rose on Wednesday.

So far, the county has closed the Swallow Cliff stairs; all six nature centers, grounds and trails; nature play areas and campgrounds; and all public restrooms. All events and volunteer activities have also been nixed through May 11 in accordance with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials will report “any crowded conditions they see,” while members of the public are encouraged to report gatherings by calling (708) 771-1000. Signs have been installed to remind visitors of “the importance of social distancing,” and members of the Forest Preserve Police Department have been advised to disperse any crowds.

— Tom Schuba

2:45 p.m. 2 Cubs employees test positive for COVID-19

Two Cubs employees tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a training session at Wrigley Field earlier this month.

In an email sent to associates Friday, the Cubs informed their staff that two people, who participated in a March 8 training in the team’s premier clubs, have tested positive for the contagious virus. The tests were received last Monday and Tuesday — 15 and 16 days after the workshop.

The incubation period for the virus is currently thought to be 14 days, according to the CDC.

The team has reached out and offered support to both employees, the email said.

The Cubs closed their Chicago facilities after Major League Baseball postponed Opening Day to limit the spread of the coronavirus. As of now, the league and the MLB Players Association are hoping to start a season in early June, though everything remains fluid.

— Madeline Kenney

1:59 p.m. Working from home: Quirks couples are learning about each other during pandemic

The outbreak of COVID-19 has pushed many companies to require employees to work from home for an extended period of time, as public health officials try to curb the spread of the virus.

As a result, spouses and partners who haven’t worked much together discover new things about how they operate. Ever wonder if you’re the only household with the loud talker on conference calls or the employee who loves dropping business jargon in most conversations? Turns out you are not alone.

Read the full story here.

1:35 p.m. CBS will air the special, “Garth and Trisha: Live!” to help lift spirits during the coronavirus pandemic

Garth Brooks and wife Trisha Yearwood will be taking viewer requests during a live prime-time show this week filmed at their home.

CBS will air the special, “Garth and Trisha: Live!” at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

In an announcement Sunday, CBS says the country stars will perform “an intimate concert for viewers looking for the comfort and shared joy of music during this difficult time.”

The inspiration came from a live show that Brooks performed from his studio last week that attracted millions of viewers and caused Facebook Live to crash multiple times.

With millions of Americans staying at home to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus, performers are turning to live streamed concerts to reach fans and lift spirits.

Read the full story here.

12:40 p.m. Fauci warns U.S. could see some 100,000 deaths

The U.S. government’s foremost infection disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the U.S. will certainly have “millions of cases” of COVID-19 and more than 100,000 deaths.

As the U.S. tops the world in reported infections from the new coronavirus, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases predicts 100,000-200,000 deaths from the outbreak in the U.S.

The U.S. is currently reporting more than 124,000 cases and more than 2,100 deaths.

Fauci was speaking to CNN’s “State of the Union” as the federal government is discussing rolling back guidelines on social distancing in areas that have not been hard-hit by the outbreak.

Fauci says he would only support the rollback in lesser-impacted areas if there is enhanced availability of testing in place to monitor those areas. He acknowledged “it’s a little iffy there” right now.

Read the full report here.

11:56 a.m. Coronavirus relief plan gives Cook County reprieve on food stamps

Food stamps recipients in that nation’s second-largest county are getting a reprieve through a coronavirus relief package signed this month, but it’s only temporary.

Nearly 60,000 people in Cook County, who are able-bodied, without dependents and under age 50, were at risk of losing their public benefits under fresh guidelines that took effect this year. Because of improved economic conditions in the county, those individuals had to meet certain work, school or volunteer requirements or be restricted to three months of benefits every three years.

The fallout — possibly losing benefits — was expected to hit around the same time a similar but unconnected Trump administration rule to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, affected the same category of people nationwide. In Illinois, an additional 90,000 people would have been affected by that federal rule change expected to take effect April 1. Nationwide, nearly 700,000 could have lost benefits.

Attorneys general in roughly 20 states, including Illinois and Michigan, sued and a judge granted an injunction March 13, but that would have left out Cook County.

Now, all able-bodied recipients will continue to receive benefits during the national emergency and get a one-month grace period when it ends.

Read the full report here.

11:26 a.m. How to prep for and spend your government relief check

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives and finances of millions. A federal relief package aiming to provide payments to distressed consumers passed Friday — but that money is not likely to land for a number of weeks.

While you’ll have to wait for whatever money you might be eligible for, now is the time to prep your finances and plan. The best use of this money depends on your individual circumstances.

Click here for advice on how to think it through.

10:56 a.m. Relief package billions can’t buy hospitals out of shortages due to coronavirus

The billions of tax dollars headed for hospitals and states as part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus response bill won’t fix the problem facing doctors and nurses: a critical shortage of protective gowns, gloves and masks.

The problem isn’t a lack of money, experts say. It’s that there’s not enough of those supplies available to buy. What’s more, the crisis has revealed a fragmented procurement system now descending into chaos just as demand soars, The Associated Press has found.

Hospitals, state governments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are left bidding against each other and driving up prices.

For more than a week, governors have pushed back against administration assurances that supplies are available now, bitterly complaining to President Donald Trump that there’s no coordination.

“It’s pretty much every state for itself,” said Virginia’s secretary of finance, Aubrey Layne, who is deeply involved with his state’s effort to buy medical supplies.

Here’s why hospitals need more than just funding during the coronavirus crisis.

10:30 a.m. Telemedicine helps system absorb caseload while fighting coronavirus

Before the pandemic, few Americans gave much thought to telemedicine. With the pandemic, it’s become the preferred alternative for many patients.

It means not having to risk a trip to a crowded waiting room, possibly catching the coronavirus or spreading it.

Telemedicine, sometimes called telehealth, can be as simple as arranging a phone call or video chat with your doctor. But hospital networks, insurers and private clinics have gotten involved with systems that promise after-hours access and secure connections to medical records.

Read the full report by David Roeder here.

9:54 a.m. Community health centers face shutdowns as the coronavirus drives patients, funding away

Dr. Andres Mafla has practiced internal medicine at Access Hawthorne Family Health Center in Cicero for more than a decade.

Like most physicians at community health centers, Mafla treats patients who are low-income, underinsured or don’t have health insurance. Many patients are also immigrants and seniors with chronic conditions like diabetes.

Keeping his patients safe and out of the emergency room is Mafla’s number one priority — especially now amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Primary health care is critical during a public health crisis. We’re the first line of contact for these patients, and we make sure they don’t need to end up going to the hospital, which as we know are bracing for the worst,” he said.

Now, despite being a critical front in the fight to keep the state’s health care system from collapsing, many community health centers might fall victim to the coronavirus as social distancing means fewer patients — and less government funding — coming through their doors.

Read the full report from Carlos Ballesteros here.

9:00 a.m. Their wedding upended by coronavirus, Lincoln Park couple says ‘I do’ via live-streamed ceremony

A truly 21st century love story unfolded Saturday as a couple who first met online were wed in front of their closest family and friends — via a live-streamed ceremony their guests could attend from their living rooms.

Aron Croft and Rachel Jacobs, both of Lincoln Park, got married during a livestream “virtual wedding” Saturday that was officiated by Aron’s uncle (right).
Screenshot

The groom, Aron Croft, a 38-year-old senior manager at Motorola Solutions, and the bride, Rachel Jacobs, a 38-year-old child psychologist, greeted their wedding guests over webcam as the ceremony began.

”I know you all had to travel very far from your couch all the way to your computer screen to be here with us, and we want you to know that effort hasn’t gone unnoticed,” Croft joked to more than 100 friends and family who watched the ceremony on YouTube and the video conferencing platform Zoom.

Read the full story by Jake Wittich here.

8:30 a.m. Project CURE to host equipment drive at United Center today

With essential medical supplies running low due to the coronavirus outbreak, Project CURE, with the support of Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, announced Friday its plan to host an equipment drive at the United Center this weekend.

On Sunday, Project CURE will be collecting a variety of public protection equipment supplies — including sterile and non-sterile gloves, hand sanitizers and goggles — at Lot F on the west side of the United Center, the home of the Blackhawks and Bulls.

The drive will happen from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m., and donations will be distributed among local healthcare providers across Illinois.

Click here for a full list of items the drive is hoping to collect.

8:00 a.m. Confirmed coronavirus cases in Illinois

As of Saturday, confirmed cases statewide jumped to 3,491.

7:32 a.m. State extends pot business application deadline amid COVID-19 pandemic

State officials have once again extended the deadline for applications for certain recreational cannabis business licenses amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order Saturday extending the deadline to submit applications for cannabis infuser, craft grower and transporter licenses from March 30 to April 30, according to a statement from the Illinois Department of Agriculture. All applications must be submitted by certified mail.

The applications were initially due March 16, but state officials earlier this month extended that deadline and ordered the agriculture department to accept all applications by mail in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Read the full report here.

7:00 a.m. Northwestern medical students launch drive for medical equipment

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


New cases

  • Saturday marked the deadliest day in Illinois due to the coronavirus as an infant from Chicago and a state employee were among the state’s’ 13 latest deaths due to the infection, bringing the statewide death toll to 47. Gov. J.B. Pritzker also announced 465 new cases.

Commentary & Analysis

1 p.m. Happiness is spread easily as any virus

”Abre la puerta!” said Josefina Olivo, seeing her family line the sidewalk in front of her house on West 58th Street. Open the door.

”No abre la puerta,” her son gently cautioned. Don’t open the door.

It was March 20, Olivo’s 95th birthday. Five years ago her big family — she has five children, 19 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren — threw a big party for her at a fancy restaurant, with purple balloons, her favorite color.

Now in the time of coronavirus, the woman referred to as “our matriarch” by her family stood in a purple dress and was serenaded with music and signs. She waved.

Life has a habit of plucking away our joys even in the best of times. It was hard enough for Olivo, then in her late 80s, to stop making 20 lamb cakes every Easter. Pressed by her family — baking took three full days — she cut back to only 10 “los borreguitos,” or little lambs. Now she can’t even hug her grandchildren.

Still, everyone is free to spread joy, even during a plague. With all the worries about contamination, jobs, supplies, social distancing, it should be noted that people also take time to brighten the days of loved ones, or even complete strangers.

Read Neil Steinberg’s full column here.

8:00 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 Ed Zotti’s full column here.

7:23 a.m. Check out time for reusable grocery bags? For now, ‘paper or plastic’ a safer option

Apparently Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order also applies to reusable grocery bags.

Just one day after the union that represents Chicago grocery and pharmacy workers requested — and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration rejected — suspending the city’s plastic bag tax and temporarily banning the use of reusable bags, the governor announced Saturday that grocery stores around the state will soon roll out a new set of guidelines that includes a temporary prohibition on reusable bags.

It was not immediately clear how this will impact grocery stores in the city, where shoppers are charged 7 cents per bag if they don’t bring their own.

On Friday, the mayor’s office issued a statement statement shooting down the suggestion of a temporary ban and citing a lack of evidence that reusable bags transmit the illness.

On Saturday, it issued a new statement saying the city will comply with any new protocols and restrictions for grocery stores but intends to continue to collect the bag tax.

Read Mark Brown’s full column here.