Coronavirus news for April 12, 2020

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

SHARE Coronavirus news for April 12, 2020

The latest

Pritzker sounds alarm: Trump administration trying to limit gig worker jobless benefits


A commuter waits for a bus in front of a boarded up store along Michigan Avenue on March 27, 2020 in Chicago.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Pritzker administration sounded the alarm Sunday over attempts by President Donald Trump’s Labor Department to narrow the ability of self-employed workers to qualify for new COVID-19 jobless benefits, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

A package of unprecedented, enhanced and extended unemployment benefits in the emergency $2.2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — known as the CARES Act — was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law March 27.

Allowing self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers — such as Uber and Lyft drivers — the ability to collect unemployment on a temporary basis is a key new program created in the CARES Act.

Illinoisans already receiving unemployment payments should have received another $600 last week, with the federal government providing the emergency extra cash under the CARES Act.

The extra benefits are intended to quickly send money to workers who lost their jobs or were furloughed or whose income sources dried up because of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and the meltdown of the economy.

Read the full column from Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet here.


6:50 p.m. Gov. Pritzker remains ‘cautiously optimistic’ as Illinois surpasses 20,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 720 deaths

Another 43 people have died of COVID-19 as Illinois surpassed 20,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he was “cautiously optimistic” the state could be “bending the curve” to keep hospitals within their patient capacity.

The additional 1,672 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, which Pritzker announced during his Sunday news conference, brings the statewide total to 20,852 cases throughout 86 of Illinois’ 102 counties.

In the day since Pritzker’s last update, 7,956 people were tested for COVID-19 throughout the state. That’s closer to the goal of 10,000 tests per day that experts say would be needed to get an accurate understanding of the virus’ spread throughout Illinois — and the highest number of tests administered in a single day so far.

“That is great news on the testing front,” Pritzker said. “I’ve spoken before about a stabilizing or bending of the curve, and today is another piece of evidence that it might be happening.”

But when it comes to reopening the state after the coronavirus epidemic slows, Pritzker said he was relying on the advice of industry leaders, economists and “most importantly” scientists and doctors.

Read the full report from Jake Wittich here.

6:30 p.m. Cook County medical examiner confirms 39 more coronavirus deaths, raising total past 500

The Cook County medical examiner’s office confirmed Sunday that 39 more people have died from coronavirus-related causes, sending the county’s total past 500 deaths.

Of the 39 deaths confirmed Sunday, three men — 57, 58 and 63 years old — did not have underlying health conditions, according to medical examiner’s office data.

The county’s total now stands at 526 deaths, or about 73% of the statewide total.

The announcement comes as statewide cases passed 20,000, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced 43 more deaths in Illinois.

Read the full story here.

4:20 p.m. Inside the life of a homeless Chicago student in the age of the coronavirus: Fear of failing — or not surviving

For the first three months, it was a park bench by Douglas Park on the West Side.

Then her older sister’s apartment in Homan Square.

Three different places in Englewood. One over in Gresham.

In all, Mariah Bingham has lived 13 different places since she was born. She’s likely to be on the move again in the coming months.

She’s 11 years old and one of 17,000 homeless students at Chicago Public Schools.

Mariah’s going into the home stretch of fifth grade having already gone to seven schools, never with a stable learning environment.

Now the coronavirus has taken over, and Mariah feels she might take a step back academically.

That’s not to mention the health concerns: Mariah and her mother are both asthmatic. Her mom is diabetic, Mariah, pre-diabetic.

“I am terrified of the coronavirus,” Mariah says, “because I love my life.”

Read the full story from reporter Nader Issa.

3:00 p.m. Longtime 911 operator expressed concerns about COVID-19 precautions at work weeks before dying of virus, daughter says

A longtime 911 operator who died of complications from the coronavirus last month had told his family he was concerned he and his co-workers had not been provided with adequate personal protective equipment, according to his daughter.

Russell Modjeski was a hard-working man dedicated to his family and his co-workers, his daughter Hannah Modjeski told the Sun-Times in a phone interview Saturday.

Modjeski died March 29 of a COVID-19 infection, with diabetes and hypertension as contributing factors,“ according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

In the weeks before his death, Modjeski, 60, told relatives that hand sanitizer was being supplied at his office, but that workers were not being given masks, gloves or other protective equipment while working for the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

“Earlier in March, we spoke because he had already dealt with complications with diabetes, and we knew he would be vulnerable or less likely [if] got sick,” his daughter said.

Read the full report by Jermaine Nolen here.

1:30 p.m. Lightfoot: ‘Got to see a lot more progress’ before considering May reopening

Mayor Lori Lightfoot declined to forecast on Sunday when the COVID-19 lockdown will end in Chicago, saying the city needs to make more progress. Lightfoot, appearing on “Face the Nation,” made her comments after Dr. Anthony Fauci said there could be a rolling opening of the economy in May.

“We cannot open up the economy until we make sure that we got all the health care controls in place,” Lightfoot said when asked about the prediction made by Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director.

“That means widespread testing, contact tracing, and we got to see not just a flattening of the curve but a bending down. We are trending in the right direction here in Chicago,” Lightfoot said.

Read the full report from Lynn Sweet here.

12:45 p.m. Mayor, city officials furious over demolition in Little Village during coronavirus pandemic

Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined Ald. Michael Rodriguez and city officials Sunday to express their frustration with Hilco Redevelopment Partners in the handling of Saturday’s implosion of a smokestack at the former Crawford Power Generating Station in Little Village.

“My team has already begun the process of working with the Little Village community to remediate the situation, including conducting a thorough review of what took place and strengthening our protocols to ensure incidents like this never happen again,” Lightfoot said.

Saturday morning, during the latest stage of the Crawford Power Generating Station demolition, an implosion sent clouds of dust particles cascading through the Southwest Side neighborhood.

“The fear and anxiety that residents feel about COVID-19 have only been exacerbated with this situation,” Rodriguez said.

Read the full report from Jermaine Nolen here.

12:16 p.m. Millions of tax paying immigrants won’t get stimulus checks

The $2.2 trillion package that Congress approved to offer financial help during the coronavirus pandemic has one major exclusion: millions of immigrants who do not have legal status in the U.S. but work here and pay taxes.

That includes Carmen Contreras Lopez, a 48-year-old housekeeper who, though she earns low wages, files a tax return each year. Since the virus took hold, she has lost most of her clients and is getting by with help from her oldest son. But she won’t see a penny of the money promised to most Americans in response to the pandemic.

“It’s hard because to the government, we don’t exist,” said Contreras Lopez, who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years and has four grown children who are U.S. citizens.

The government expects to begin making payments to millions of Americans in mid-April. Anyone earning up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income and who has a Social Security number will receive $1,200. The payment steadily declines for those who make more. Legal permanent residents, or green card holders, are expected to benefit.

Read the full story here.

11:30 a.m. Expecting a stimulus check? You might want to shield it from payday lenders

The $1,200 economic stimulus checks from the federal government are expected to start arriving this week, and they’ll be a godsend to people who need to pay rent, mortgages, grocery bills and medical bills.

But consumer advocates are concerned that payday, auto title and high-cost installment loan companies might be set to snatch that money out of people’s accounts.

That’s because many of these loans — known for their sky-high interest rates — have contracts that allow the lender direct access to the borrower’s account, which is set up to make automatic payments.

Some lenders also require borrowers to give them a post-dated, physical check in case a payment is missed.

“For obvious reasons, the companies will want to do automatic payments because they want to be the first in line. That’s the whole business model,” says Brent Adams, senior vice president at the Woodstock Institute, a nonprofit research and policy organization focused on fair lending, wealth creation and financial systems reform.

Read the full report by Stephanie Zimmerman here.

9:52 a.m. Fears of ‘Wild West’ as COVID-19 blood tests hit the market

Blood tests for the coronavirus could play a key role in deciding whether millions of Americans can safely return to work and school. But public health officials warn that the current “Wild West” of unregulated tests is creating confusion that could ultimately slow the path to recovery.

More than 70 companies have signed up to sell so-called antibody tests in recent weeks, according to U.S. regulators. Governments around the world hope that the rapid tests, which typically use a finger-prick of blood on a test strip, could soon ease public restrictions by identifying people who have previously had the virus and have developed some immunity to it.

But key questions remain: How accurate are the tests, how much protection is needed and how long will that protection last.

Read the full report here.

8:48 a.m. Pope urges solidarity on an Easter of both joy, coronavirus sorrow

Pope Francis called for solidarity the world over to confront the “epochal challenge” posed by the coronavirus pandemic, as Christians celebrated a solitary Easter Sunday, blending the joyful feast day with sorrow over the toll the virus has already taken.

Families that normally would attend morning Mass wearing their Easter best and later join friends for celebratory lunches hunkered down at home. Police checkpoints in Europe and closed churches around the globe forced the faithful to watch Easter services online or on TV.

A few lucky Rome residents attended Mass from their balconies overlooking Santa Emerenziana church in the northern Trieste neighborhood, where a priest celebrated a rooftop open-air service.

“We feel close to each other despite this distance,” parishioner Luca Rosati said from his balcony. “We can experience from here what we normally would experience inside the church, as a community.”

Read the full report here.

8:12 a.m. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson out of the hospital, says staff saved his life

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from a London hospital where he was treated in intensive care for the coronavirus ahead of government figures Sunday in which the U.K. is expected to surpass 10,000 virus-related deaths.

Johnson’s office said he left St. Thomas’ Hospital and will continue his recovery at Chequers, the prime minister’s country house.

“On the advice of his medical team, the PM will not be immediately returning to work,” the statement said. “He wishes to thank everybody at St. Thomas’ for the brilliant care he has received.”

Johnson had been in the hospital for a week and had spent three nights in the intensive care unit. Earlier he said he owes his life to the National Health Service staff who treated him.

“I can’t thank them enough,” Johnson said in his first public statement since he was moved out of intensive care Thursday night. “I owe them my life.”

Read the full story here.

7:30 a.m. Students wonder when they can return to school during Gov. Pritzker’s live-streamed town hall for youth

Xandra Torres, a 16-year-old student at Phoenix Military Academy on the Near West Side, said “life has been hard” since Illinois’ stay-at-home order began three weeks ago to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Torres, a member of the Teen Health Council at MIKVA Challenge, a youth civic engagement organization, shared her concerns directly with Gov. J.B. Pritzker Saturday evening during a live-streamed town hall in which she asked youth-submitted questions of Pritzker and Dr. Colleen Cicchetti of Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Torres said she’s been trying to help out her family during the challenging time, while also continuing school through e-learning, but she hasn’t been able to take her ACT or SAT exams because of the coronavirus-related shutdowns.

“I feel stressed about my future, and it’s been hard to balance everything,” Torres said.

Pritzker told the 16-year-old it’s “going to take a while” before things return to normal, but he assured her that “it’s OK to feel sad.”

Read the full story by Jacob Wittich.

New Cases

Analysis & Commentary

1:53 p.m. Airlines safe, but Trump would let post office die

You can’t vote by mail if there’s no mail.

One of the many disasters that will ensue if the government actually lets the United States Postal Service go belly up, which it might do as early as September.

A disaster to democracy, small “d” — the mail knits this country together in a fundamental way, like the interstate highway system — and I suppose to large “d” Democrats, too. That’s because their frequent majority — which is supposed to be the deciding factor in elections, remember — is constantly being undercut by Republican voter suppression.

The GOP casts this anti-democratic (and yes, anti-Democratic) action as a campaign to suppress voter fraud, which is rich, like the guy breaking into your house and stealing your TV declaring it part of an anti-burglary campaign.

At least we haven’t gone back to literacy tests and poll taxes. Yet.

The USPS going bust would also be a disaster to already cratering employment. Unemployment shot up due to the COVID-19 pandemic: a record-shattering 16 million unemployment claims in three weeks. If the USPS goes, another 600,000 jobs — good jobs with benefits — go with it.

The $2 trillion bailout package approved by both houses of Congress would have been the perfect time to help out letter carriers, since the volume of mail is down some 50 percent due to COVID-19.

The package manages to rescue the airline industry; you’d think the mail would be a no-brainer. But even no-brainers are hard when you haven’t got a brain. Or, rather, when the rude ganglional clump that controls your actions only lights up when the topic is you.

Read Neil Steinberg’s full column here.

9:21 a.m. Want a Marshall Plan for Chicago after the pandemic? Abolish TIFs to pay for it

You call for a Marshall Plan for America and for Chicago to rebuild from the coronavirus.

The CivicLab knows where we can get $1.2 billion in public dollars right now to fund that plan for Chicago.

We call on the Chicago City Council to abolish the Tax Increment Financing Program (TIFs) and to liberate the remaining $1.2 billion sitting in those accounts right now. There was $1.5 billion, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot grabbed $300 million for her 2020 budget.

Read Sunday’s Letters to the Editor here.

7:15 a.m. Facing coronavirus, we’re all in this together, Chicagoans say: ‘I see hope happening’

Kevin Coval went to buy eggs at Tia Nam, a small Vietnamese grocery in Uptown. An old woman asked if he could help her reach three bags of rice noodles on a high shelf. As he did, he realized this was the closest he had been to another human being in days. He didn’t look at the store clerk in quite the same way, either.

“I’ve been struck by those folks,” said the Chicago poet. “A month ago, they didn’t consider themselves to be first responders. Now, they’re risking their lives to get us fed. That’s pretty remarkable. I’ve always known working people to have a rigor and integrity. Now, we see them in ways we wouldn’t have conceived a month ago.”

Chicagoans are keeping their distance, interacting in new ways while seeing each other in a different light. As the city and the region struggle to face a virus that doesn’t recognize distinctions of class or race or religion, longstanding problems come into stark relief even as people reach across old boundaries to help one another, and tantalizing possibilities suggest themselves.

This all comes during a season sacred to three major religions, with Passover having begun Wednesday night, followed by Good Friday and Easter Sunday and Ramadan less than two weeks away.

“We’re doing all this in these days of the Easter season, what we call the Easter Passover,” said Cardinal Blase Cupich, spiritual leader of Chicago’s Catholics. “What people are learning in this time is how connected we are. This moment is really forcing all of us to realize we are connected. We’re connected by this virus. Social distancing is telling us how related we are to one another. We have a drive to want to be connected to other people. We don’t want to live isolated lives. We are nourished by that.”

The cardinal was referring to spiritual nourishment, but there is plenty of the other kind, too. Shuttered restaurants are donating food to pantries and to hospitals to feed besieged doctors and nurses working 12-hour shifts. Police officers, often the targets of criticism, find themselves embraced — from a safe distance, of course.

“Chicago has really stepped up, literally,” said Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for the Chicago Police Department. “Every single police district, all 22 of them, have gotten community support. Pizzas for police officers working the overnight shift. In the 16th district, people themselves struggling for survival brought in sanitary wipes. It’s just heartwarming to see how Chicago steps up and supports their city.”

Read Neil Steinberg’s full column here.

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“I haven’t had a thought about interfering,” La Russa said. “I build relationships so people in the organization know they can trust me.”