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April 25 live blog: Illinois Poison Control sees ‘significant increase’ in calls associated with cleaning agents, health dept. says

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

Saturday was the second consecutive day that Illinois surpassed Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stated goal of testing 10,000 people per day for the virus. More than 201,000 COVID-19 tests have now been administered in Illinois since the pandemic first hit in late January.

Another 80 deaths and 2,119 confirmed cases announced Saturday brought the state’s death toll to 1,874, among 41,777 total cases of COVID-19 that have been confirmed in 97 of the state’s 102 counties.

Here’s what else happened around the state as the coronavirus pandemic continued.


News

8:13 p.m. Illinois Poison Control Center has seen a ‘significant increase’ in calls associated with cleaning agents

US-HEALTH-VIRUS-DISINFECTANT Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

Although she did not directly address President Donald Trump’s false suggestion that injecting disinfectants might help kill COVID-19, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike sternly rebuked “rumors and general disinformation” spreading about the virus in her daily briefing with Gov. J.B. Pritzker Saturday.

She said the Illinois Poison Control Center saw a “significant increase” in calls associated with exposure to cleaning agents compared to this time in 2019.

“Injecting, ingesting or snorting household cleaners is dangerous. It is not advised and can be deadly,” Ezike said. “Please listen to scientists and health experts about how to stay healthy and how to protect yourself from being sick with this novel coronavirus.”

The parent company of Lysol issued a statement Friday warning that its products should not be used as an internal treatment for the coronavirus after Trump raised the idea during a White House briefing Thursday.

The president remarked that researchers were looking at the effects of disinfectants on the virus, and wondered aloud if they could be used to treat people sickened with the disease “by injection inside or almost a cleaning.”

Read the full report from Saturday’s coronavirus briefing here.

7:30 p.m. Lightfoot: ‘Friends don’t give friends COVID-19. They give Netflix passwords’

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is continuing her campaign to encourage social distancing practices with humor, this time with a tweet and an Instagram post riffing on the uptick in streaming service account-sharing as most of Chicago and Illinois is staying at home.

Lightfoot has been in on the joke since creative Chicagoans started photoshopping images of a stern-faced mayor guarding public places across the city after she moved to close the lakefront, Riverwalk and other major parks.

First, she said she “enjoyed” the memes, which she hoped would help drive home her message encouraging people to “stay home, save lives.” Then, she joined the fun with a series of PSAs that “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah said were so funny, he “didn’t even think [they] were real.”

Some Twitter users called out the mayor’s tweet for encouraging account-sharing with friends; Netflix’s terms and conditions technically do state that accounts “may not be shared with individuals beyond your household.” A 2018 survey estimated that 9% of Netflix customers shared their passwords.

In November, a coalition of TV services that includes Amazon, Netflix, HBO, and Disney began exploring new tactics to cut down on password-sharing, including texting confirmation codes to account-holders and even requiring a thumbprint to unlock content.

Still, the streaming service doesn’t seem to be hurting for business: earlier this week, Netflix reported a record surge in subscribers, with 15.8 million new customers signing up.

Lizzie Schiffman Tufano

5:21 p.m. Potbelly vows to return millions in federal relief money

The Chicago-based sandwich restaurant chain Potbelly announced Saturday it will return a $10 million federal loan after taking heat for accepting the relief money that was meant to go to small businesses struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Potbelly was among a handful of big companies that took a share of $349 billion in relief dollars under the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which launched earlier this month and was aimed at companies with fewer than 500 employees.

That prompted the Small Business Administration to issue an advisory Thursday implying that unless those larger companies could prove their eligibility, the money should be returned by May 7.

Potbelly Sandwich Works, which which has 474 restaurants and 7,000 employees, said last week it had received a $10 million PPP loan.

“We are returning the PPP loan after further clarification from the Treasury Department,” the Potbelly Corporation said in a statement Saturday. “We will continue to seek alternatives to help support our employees and enable them to return to work so they can serve our loyal customers.”

Read the full story here.

4:19 p.m. Monmouth, St. Charles meat-packing plants close amid lawsuit over insufficient PPE for employees

Amid allegations they haven’t provided adequate protective equipment for employees during the coronavirus pandemic, Smithfield Foods, Inc., one of the world’s largest pork processors, will close two of its Illinois facilities indefinitely.

In a statement released Friday, Smithfield announced plans to suspend operations at its Monmouth, Illinois facility — about 215 miles west of Chicago — next week after a “small portion” of its 1,700 employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The Kane County Health Department also ordered Smithfield to close its St. Charles facility immediately. Officials will “work with the company in mitigation efforts as well as providing education relative to social distancing and employee safety relative to personal protective equipment,” according to the health department.

Employees will be paid during the closures, the company said.

Read the full report here.

3:10 p.m. 80 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, 2,117 new cases as state hits second daily testing goal

Another 80 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois as state health officials on Saturday announced 2,119 more people have tested positive for the virus.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, also said 11,985 coronavirus tests were administered on Friday, marking the second consecutive day that Illinois surpassed Pritzker’s stated goal of running 10,000 tests per day.

The latest cases bring Illinois’ death toll to 1,875, among 41,777 total cases of COVID-19 that have been confirmed in 97 of the state’s 102 counties.

More than 200,000 COVID-19 tests have been administered in Illinois since the pandemic first hit in late January, officials said.

Read the full report by Jake Wittich here.

2:24 p.m. Effective ventilator alternative for coronavirus patients found by U of C doctors

Doctors at University of Chicago Medicine’s Hyde Park emergency room have found a seemingly effective alternative to mechanical ventilators when treating struggling coronavirus patients.

High-flow nasal cannulas — small prongs that blow heated, humidified oxygen into a patient’s nostrils — provide respiratory aid just like ventilators, but are much less invasive.

Doctors at University of Chicago Medicine have found a potential alternative to ventilators when treating struggling coronavirus patients.
Photo by Rob Hart

And Michael O’Connor, UChicago Medicine’s Director of Critical Care Medicine, said in a Thursday press release that the use of cannulas during this COVID-19 pandemic has led to “truly remarkable” success.

As of Thursday, 24 emergency room patients — all in “respiratory distress” — had been given cannulas, and most “fared extremely well.” The cannulas, in general, increased each patient’s oxygen level from 40% to as high as 90%.

Read the full story here.

1:37 p.m. Global death toll from coronavirus surpasses 200,000

ATLANTA — As the global death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 200,000 on Saturday, countries took cautious steps toward easing some lockdowns, while fears of infection made even some pandemic-wounded businesses reluctant to reopen.

The states of Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska started loosening restrictions on businesses despite warnings from experts that such steps might be coming too soon. Some owners said they weren’t yet ready to reopen or were doing so only on a limited basis, worried about a second surge of COVID-19 infections.

“We’ve sacrificed so much already,” said Shawn Gingrich, CEO and founder of Lion’s Den Fitness, who decided after the Georgia governor’s announcement that he would not be reopening his Atlanta gym right away. “I feel like if we do this too soon, we’ll see a spike in cases and we’re back to square one.”

The worldwide death toll topped 200,000, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from government figures. The actual death toll is believed to be far higher.

Read the full report here.

12:05 p.m. In Trump’s shadow, Congress-at-home eyes reboot during virus

WASHINGTON — They long for what’s being lost: the ability to publicly question officials at committee hearings, to chat across the aisle, to speak from the House and Senate floor for all of America, and history, to hear.

Congress wants its voice back.

With no real plan to reopen Capitol Hill any time soon, the coronavirus shutdown poses an existential crisis that’s pushing Congress ever so reluctantly toward the 21st century option of remote legislating from home.

“It’s the ability to be an equal branch of government,” said Rep. Katie Porter, a freshman Democrat from California.

Divisions are fierce, but so too is the sense of what is being lost. Every day lawmakers shelter at home, their public role is being visibly diminished. While they are approving record sums of virus aid, they are ceding authority to oversee the effort and tackle next steps.

Read the full report here.

11:30 a.m. Norway extends ban on large events to Sept. 1

Norway is extending the ban on all events with more than 500 participants until Sept. 1

Norwegian Culture Minister Abid Raja said during a press conference Saturday “there is now a ban on major sporting events, festivals and concerts until 15 June. That ban is now extended until September 1.”

He says the decision wasn’t easy for the Norwegian government to make but stressed “we cannot have big events (in Norway) that can contribute to more infections that will affect life and health.”

Norway has reported 201 coronavirus deaths and 7,493 confirmed cases.

— Associated Press

11:04 a.m. Chicago outdoors and coronavirus: Forest Preserves of Cook County restricts more parking on weekends

Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle announced this morning some added parking lot closures for weekends (Friday-Sunday) at high traffic preserves.

Many preserves and lakes remain open.

Click here for a list of the new and existing closures.

10:06 a.m. WHO warns against idea of ‘immunity passports.’

The World Health Organization is cautioning against the idea of “immunity passports.” It says there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected against a second infection.

The concept of “immunity passports” or “risk-free certificates” has been floated as a way of allowing people protected against reinfection to return to work.

But the Geneva-based U.N. health agency says in a scientific brief released Saturday that more research is needed. It says “at this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an ‘immunity passport’ or ‘risk-free certificate.’”

It argues that people who assume they are immune to reinfection may ignore public health advice, and such certificates could raise the risks of continued virus transmission.

WHO adds that tests for antibodies of the coronavirus also “need further validation to determine their accuracy and reliability.”

— Associated Press

9:09 a.m. Gifts from alumni at South Side Catholic high school become ‘a lifeline’

A couple of weeks ago, Nikia Bell, a single mother of four, waited in a line that stretched for four blocks — holding onto a resume and the fragile hope of work.

Three hours later, nearing the front of the line, Bell was told that she’d have to come back another day to the job-finding service. And now, the 42-year-old’s car is on the fritz. Her increasingly dire situation brought Bell to tears Friday.

“I kind of got overwhelmed because I was just thinking about what am I going to do when it’s all over,” said Bell, referring to the coronavirus shutdown.

But Bell, who lives in the Woodlawn neighborhood, was thankful for at least one thing Friday — the folks at Leo Catholic High School on the South Side, where her son Kendale Anderson is a senior. For the last three weeks, the school has been handing out boxed meals and gift cards [for groceries and other necessities] to parents in need, which is most of them. The school has also been offering tuition deferments, meaning parents won’t have to pay while they’re out of work.

Get the full story from Stefano Esposito here.

7:22 a.m. Coronavirus deaths more than double at Illinois nursing homes, data shows

The state’s count of coronavirus cases and deaths in long-term care facilities has more than doubled, according to numbers published Friday after a major nursing-home operator’s CEO warned they would reflect a “surge in new cases and more heartbreaking deaths.”

But the numbers, published weekly, appear to be a lagging indicator of what is actually happening around the state — meaning the actual count could be higher. For example, one South Side nursing home has publicized far higher numbers than reported by the state Friday. A spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the numbers released earlier by the individual nursing homes are reliable.

The new numbers reflect 4,298 coronavirus cases and 625 deaths in nursing homes across the state, according to a count by the Chicago Sun-Times. Pritzker’s office first released nursing home numbers last week, which showed 1,860 residents and staff members had tested positive. Of those, 286 had died.

“It should not come as a surprise to anyone,” Citadel Healthcare CEO Jonathan Aaron said during an online press conference Friday. “Because the state expanded testing this week, and some operators also partnered with hospitals to test every resident and every employee.”

Read the full report from Jon Seidel and Tina Sfondeles here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

4:18 p.m. Got the COVID-19 blues? Take a bike ride along the Chicago River

Tired of being cooped up in the house for the pandemic, my wife and I put on our best train-robber masks and went for a bike ride along the Chicago River. It was just what we needed.

If you’re thinking the coronavirus might mean the end of city living as we know it, an hour on the river will convince you: We’ll figure out a way to make this all work.

Our destination wasn’t downtown and the Riverwalk. Mayor Lightfoot probably wouldn’t have let us on that anyway.

Instead, we headed out along mostly deserted Belmont Avenue to the North Branch and rode north from there on the riverside trail for nearly a mile before having to detour back to city streets.

That might not seem like much of an achievement. But it wouldn’t have been possible a year ago.

Read the full column from Ed Zotti here.

7:19 a.m. No question about it. Reporters must do better.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents government intrusion on journalists’ rights to tell their stories and your rights to read or watch or listen to them.

But that means things can get messy. Some reporters can make everyone else look bad.

“There are no bad questions,” is something I learned growing up. But after doing this job for a number of years, I’m here to tell you that, yes, there are bad questions.

I’ve been guilty of that over the years. Heck, I messed up my own remote question to the governor on April 24 because I got into a hurry and mistyped it. Oops.

Too often, though, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily press conferences have become a theater of the absurd.

Read the full column by Rich Miller here.