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Coronavirus live blog, April 18, 2020: Celebrities offer hope, thank coronavirus front-line workers in COVID-19 event

Get the latest news on how COVID-19 impacted Chicago and Illinois.

As the total number of total coronavirus cases nears 30,000 in Illinois, lawmakers seek $41 billion in aid from the federal government. The Rev. Jesse Jackson is urging President Trump to test all those in federal prisons. And finally a multitude of celebrities appeared on a virtual event to thank those who have helped out during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s what happened in the fight against the coronavirus in Chicago and around the state.


8:45 p.m. Celebrities offer hope, thank coronavirus front-line workers in COVID-19 event

Lady Gaga performs during “One World: Together At Home” presented by Global Citizen on April, 18, 2020. The global broadcast and digital special was held to support frontline healthcare workers and the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, powered by the UN Foundation.
Getty Images

NEW YORK — Lady Gaga urged people weathering the coronavirus pandemic to find a way to smile through the pain, while Stevie Wonder encouraged viewers to lean on one another as the superstars kicked off Saturday’s all-star event aimed at fighting the coronavirus and celebrating health care workers on the front lines.

The two-hour TV special “One World: Together At Home,” curated by Gaga, was the second part of an eight-hour event supporting the World Health Organization alongside advocacy organization Global Citizen.

“I care so much about the medical workers that are putting their lives at risk for us,” said Gaga, who performed Nat King Cole’s version of the song “Smile.”

Wonder performed “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers — who died on March 30 — while playing piano. He told viewers: “During hardships like this we have to lean on each other for help.”

Paul McCartney sang the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” and talked about the work his mother did as a nurse, while photos of health care workers were shown on the screen.

Read the full story by The Associated Press.

7:34 p.m. Rev. Jesse Jackson pens 2nd letter to Trump urging coronavirus testing for all incarcerated people

The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined other black pastors and leaders as part of a national coalition Saturday to pen an open letter to President Donald Trump, urging him to test all 2.2 million people for COVID-19 that are incarcerated in the country during the pandemic, and saying the president to consider releasing people arrested on nonviolent offenses as they await trial.

“In prison, there are too many people in proximity to each other who do not have the option of social distancing and there are literally millions of persons incarcerated who were arrested, but not convicted, who are languishing in prison awaiting trial,” Jackson wrote in the letter.

The coalition, led by the Rev. Frederick D. Haynes II, senior pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church in Dallas, said the actions were aimed at reducing the country’s prison population to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“They are a captive audience and should not be devoured by the virus should someone in prison have it and spread it,” Jackson says in the letter.

Read the full story by Jake Wittich.

6:19 p.m. More than 200 protested outside the state mansion of Gov. Eric Holcomb over coronavirus restrictions on Indiana residents

INDIANAPOLIS — More than 200 people upset over restrictions on Indiana residents because of the coronavirus protested Saturday outside the state mansion of Gov. Eric Holcomb, urging him to back off and restart the economy.

People carrying signs and American flags stood close together along the street outside the home in Indianapolis. Cars passing the scene honked in support, although the rally wasn’t as large as a similar event Wednesday in Michigan.

Signs said, “If Holcomb’s job is essential, everyone’s job is essential!” and “Open Indiana Now!” Another said, “Not here for Trump here for freedom!”

Holcomb, a Republican, said a stay-at-home order that expires Monday will be extended to May 1 while he works on a plan to reopen businesses.

Earlier in the week, ahead of the rally, he disagreed with critics who accused him of acting illegally.

“If we disagree about that, then I’d be more than welcome to sit down with anyone that wants to go over the constitution or see where our authority is derived from,” Holcomb said.

— The Associated Press

5:55 p.m. State lawmakers seek more than $41B in federal coronavirus aid — including $10B pension bailout

Illinois Senate Democrats are asking the federal government for more than $41 billion in federal aid — about a quarter of it for a pension fund bailout — to keep the state financially afloat as the coronavirus pandemic continues to slash revenues across the board.

A letter from Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, addressed to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, went out Tuesday to Illinois’ entire congressional delegation — a day before Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the economic shutdown would result in an estimated $2.7 billion revenue shortfall in the state’s current budget.

“I realize I’ve asked for a lot, but this is an unprecedented situation, and we face the reality that there likely will be additional, unanticipated costs that could result in future requests for assistance,” Harmon wrote on behalf of the state senate Democratic caucus.

Harmon’s federal wish list for the second phase of federal coronavirus relief includes $15 billion in block grant funding to shore up the state’s spending plans for this fiscal year and the next two.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout.

4:02 p.m. Downstate pockets spared by COVID-19 are shrinking — and pain is growing

SPRINGFIELD — The barber shops and hair salons in Downstate McLeansboro are closed, but the liquor stores are open.

The southern Illinois town of 2,872 is one of the few places in the state without a single reported case of the coronavirus.

Edgar County in eastern Illinois is another. In the hospital that serves it from an adjoining county, the beds lie empty.

But while COVID-19 has yet to reach Edgar County or Hamilton County — where McLeansboro serves as the county seat — the fears, anxiety and economic hardship from the virus have.

As it has elsewhere, the coronavirus has spread across Illinois, prompting daily briefings from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and worries about running out of hospital beds in the Chicago area.

But a few corners of rural Illinois remain as the final holdouts against the virus, so far seeing no reported cases.

Read the full story by Neal Earley.

2:35 p.m. Illinois sees 125 more coronavirus deaths as case total nears 30K

Officials announced Saturday another 125 deaths due to COVID-19 in Illinois, matching the highest number of deaths attributed to the virus in a single day.

The state also recorded another 1,585 cases of the coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 29,160 confirmed cases and 1,259 deaths since the outbreak hit the state.

The virus has spread across most of the state map, now confirmed in 93 of the state’s 102 counties.

Illinois also ran at least 7,241 COVID-19 tests on Friday. That’s closer to Pritzker’s goal of administering at least 10,000 tests daily, which experts say is needed to get an accurate hold on the pandemic’s spread throughout Illinois.

Read the full story by story by Jacob Wittich.

2:16 p.m. Coronavirus cases rising at Chicago’s federal high-rise jail

For weeks, Chicago’s downtown federal high-rise jail appeared to be keeping the coronavirus at bay.

Only a handful of staff members at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on West Van Buren had tested positive for the coronavirus since the outbreak began, according to official numbers. And no reports emerged of detainees with the virus — until Tuesday.

Now, for the first time, the coronavirus appears to be spreading among the MCC’s more than 600 inmates. Though the number of confirmed cases there remains low, the virus has been known to spread rapidly, and numbers tracked by the Chicago Sun-Times have risen quickly.

The numbers were gathered from court filings by prosecutors and local defense attorneys, as well as from an MCC union official. Those on-the-ground sources have largely been in agreement, and they have reported higher numbers of positive cases among inmates than the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Read the full report from our federal courts reporter Jon Siedel here.

2:04 p.m. 18th Cook County chief judge’s office employee tests positive for COVID-19

The Office of the Chief Judge of Cook County announced Friday another employee tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the number of cases in that office to 18.

The employee works at the Adult Probation Department on the lower level at the Leighton Criminal Court Building and last reported for work on April 16, Office of the Chief Judge of Cook County Spokesperson Pat Milhizer said.

The areas where the employee worked received a deep cleaning and anyone who came into contact with them is being informed, Milhizer said.

On Tuesday, officials announced two detainees at the detention center had contracted the virus, bringing the tally of residents at the facility with positive tests to three.

Read the full report here.

1 p.m. First stop for navy recruits: An Illinois water park

The U.S. Navy’s only boot camp will resume accepting recruits next week, but those recruits will have to spend two weeks in isolation at a hotel and indoor water park near the northern Illinois base.

The resumption of training future sailors at Naval Station Great Lakes near the city of North Chicago comes after the Navy stopped sending recruits there late last month due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sending the recruits to a water park is the latest unusual step that has been taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including the closing of schools, conversion of convention centers into temporary hospitals and shutting down of sports leagues.

Lt. Cmdr. Frederick Martin, a Navy spokesman, said that although the recruits will spend two weeks at Great Wolf Lodge in nearby Gurnee, they won’t be on vacation and won’t have access to its “resort-type amenities” such as the water park, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Read the full report here.

12:30 p.m. US, Canada to keep border closed 30 more days

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the U.S. and Canada have agreed to keep the border closed to nonessential travel for another 30 days.

Trudeau says it will keep people on both sides of the border safe amid the pandemic. U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S.-Canada border will be among the first borders to open. Nearly 200,000 people normally cross the border daily.

The U.S. has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any country in the world. The U.S. and Canada agreed last month to limit border crossings to essential travel amid the pandemic. The agreement was due to expire this week.

— Associated Press

12:04 p.m. Illinois voter turnout not among the casualties of COVID-19

Despite calls to postpone the election and concerns that cramped polling places and long lines could keep people away, Illinois voters still cast ballots in last month’s primary at a level that did not set any low-turnout records.

Illinois election officials are crediting mail-in balloting and early voting with keeping the numbers up.

In Illinois, 28.36% of registered voters cast ballots in the March 17 primary, which is the third-lowest turnout for a presidential primary over the past 40 years, according to the official canvas released Friday.

But while the voter turnout was relatively low, it was comparable to recent presidential primaries.

Read the full report from Neal Earley here.

11 a.m. ‘Please. Please. Please.’ R. Kelly keeps asking for release because of COVID-19 fears

Singer R. Kelly is writing new lyrics these days via email.

The lyrics?

“Please. Please. Please.”

The words are from three recent emails sent to Chicago attorney Steve Greenberg by Kelly, who petitioned the court last week to release him from incarceration at the Metropolitan Correctional Center during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greenberg said the emails were sent by an “emotional and despondent” Kelly, who is not only awaiting trial on a myriad of sexual assault allegations — but in fear of becoming a victim of the virus.

According to Greenberg, the first email said: “Please.”

It was prefaced by a phone call from Kelly “expressing anger over being held in lockdown in his cell in a place where the noise is deafening; people are coughing, complaining, sneezing and screaming out from anxiety over the coronavirus,” said Greenberg.

Get the full scoop from Mike Sneed here.

10:42 a.m. FitzGerald’s takes weekly ‘Stay-At-Home Concert Series’ to the streets

Chicago restaurant and club businessman Will Duncan had owned FitzGerald’s Nightclub, the longtime Berwyn music venue, for barely a month when Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all Illinois bars and restaurants to closed through April 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a small business owner, you’ve got to be ready for anything and try to pivot and roll with the punches, so that’s what we’re trying to do over here,” said Duncan. “We’ve used the expression around here: ‘The club is closed, but we’re still open for business.’”

Duncan’s wife, Jess King, a high school administrator, read an article about food trucks in warmer areas of the country going into neighborhoods to drum up business akin to how an ice cream truck does. She suggested Duncan look into perhaps a similar approach to a business model for their shuttered venue.

Duncan, along with the club’s staff members, created the “Stay-At-Home Concert Series” through which a local musician — who is guaranteed compensation for their time — performs live from the flatbed of a pickup truck as Duncan drives through Berwyn and neighboring Oak Park. The “concerts” take place at 4 p.m. every Saturday.

Find out how it works here.

10:17 a.m. Donor donates $210,00 to pay for water, sewer bills for Indianapolis suburb

People in a small Indianapolis suburb don’t have to worry about paying a bill in April thanks to anonymous donors.

Fortville’s nearly 4,000 residents had their water and sewer bills paid for by anonymous businesses.

Residents were informed Friday through a Facebook post, generating a string of grateful comments.

“The town has received a gracious donation with the stipulation that it be used to pay for April water/sewer bills. If you have already paid your April bill, you will see a credit on the May billing,” the post read.

Fortville town manager Joe Renner says the total donation was more than $210,000. Renner told The Indianapolis Star it was “pretty great” the town had “such caring people.”

— Associated Press

9:24 a.m. Downstate Illinois counties spared by COVID-19 — so far — are still ailing

SPRINGFIELD — The barber shops and hair salons in Downstate McLeansboro are closed, but the liquor stores are open.

The southern Illinois town of 2,872 is one of the few places in the state without a single reported case of the coronavirus.

Edgar County in eastern Illinois is another. In the hospital that serves it from an adjoining county, the beds lie empty.

But while COVID-19 has yet to reach Edgar County or Hamilton County — where McLeansboro serves as the county seat — the fears, anxiety and economic hardship from the virus have.

As it has elsewhere, the coronavirus has spread across Illinois, prompting daily briefings from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and worries about running out of hospital beds in the Chicago area.

But a few corners of rural Illinois remain as the final holdouts against the virus, so far seeing no reported cases.

Just ten of the state’s 102 counties reported no COVID-19 infections as of Friday, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

That does not mean the rural communities have been spared the pain.

Read the full report from Neal Earley here.

8:30 a.m. Parents ponder holding kids back a grade after coronavirus school closings

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois education officials and have said students still should be promoted to the next grade level despite the unprecedented disruption to the school year caused by the coronavirus.

But what if parents disagree?

Without regular, in-person schooling for 2.2 million students over the last three months of this academic year, parents are searching for answers to limit the long-term impact on their children. Some have even suggested they might voluntarily hold back their own children from moving to the next grade level, in order to make up for any lost instruction time this year.

Read the full story from the Sun-Times’ education reporter Nader Issa here.

7:17 a.m. Former Ald. Richard Mell cooks up happiness for his aging neighbors

Richard’s in the kitchen!

And he’s rattling up those pots and pans!

Former Ald. Dick Mell, 82, who was once a 33rd Ward political powerhouse known for his efficiency as well as his short fuse, is now battling the pandemic one pot at a time.

For the past month, Mell has been cooking up and delivering homemade meals to four elderly, single, neighborhood ladies since the coronavirus closed their doors a month ago: Betty, Lorraine, Dorothy and Guadalupe.

“I make ‘em, bake ‘em, and deliver ‘em in the back seat of my car three days a week,” chirped Mell, who called Sneed a few days ago blasting a local grocery store for basically giving him the runaround.

Mike Sneed has the story.

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7:24 a.m. Thank you, Chicago, for the light show that helped me through a tough time

Two weeks ago, my wife, who is a nurse, became ill with coronavirus. The first few days I did my best to take care of her, but she started having a harder time breathing and had no appetite.

I drove her to the emergency department. She was placed on oxygen and taken to a sterile coronavirus ward, where I was not allowed to visit. We were told the next 48 hours would tell if the disease would improve or worsen.

That night, I came back to my quiet apartment in the South Loop. We had moved in a few months ago from California, and there were few creature comforts. The refrigerator was full of food I had tried to get my wife to eat, but I wasn’t hungry. I felt lost. There was no map. There was nothing else I could do.

To my surprise, I heard sudden cheering outside. From my balcony, I noticed flashing, swirling, twinkling lights coming from apartments across the city. People were singing and playing music. I stood and cried. It reminded me how resilient people can be.

A few days later, my wife turned the corner. Each night now, we participate in the light show. We hope our addition can comfort someone else.

Thank you, Chicago, for the light show and for helping me through a hard time.

Read today’s Letters to the Editor here.