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Latest coronavirus news on April 29, 2020

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

Officials on Wednesday said another 92 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, as the case count in the state has reached more than 50,000.

In total, 2,215 people have died of the coronavirus in the state, according to health officials. With the newly reported 2,253 cases, the state has now seen 50,355 people test positive for the virus.

Here’s what else happened in Chicago and around the state as officials and residents continued to battle the coronavirus pandemic.


News

8:55 p.m. Inmate fighting life sentence for double murder also battling COVID-19, lawyer says

Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzalez poses against a backdrop at the Stateville Correctional Center, with his daughter, Maria and two of her sons.
Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzalez poses against a backdrop at the Stateville Correctional Center, with his daughter, Maria and two of her sons.
Provided

For nearly 30 years, Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzalez has been fighting a life sentence for a 1990 double murder he has long claimed he didn’t commit. Now, fighting the symptoms of COVID-19 at Stateville Correctional Center, the 62-year-old is worried he may not live to see the day his name is cleared.

Gonzalez was set to appear for a post-trial hearing on his latest bid to overturn his conviction for the murders of brothers Torrence and Kevin Wiley, and he had reason to believe that his prospects for being released were good.

Gonzalez has long maintained that he was framed by now-retired Chicago Police Det. Reynaldo Guevara, and several of the witnesses who testified at his trial have since recanted. Based on similar claims of physical abuse by Guevara, 20 men have been released from prison. That number includes Gonzalez’s co-defendant, Jose Maysonet, who went free in 2017 after Guevara and four other officers involved in the investigation asserted their Fifth Amendment rights rather than answer questions under oath about allegations of witness coercion and physical abuse.

Gonzalez began to feel symptoms of coronavirus in late March, and landed in a medical unit at the Crest Hill prison, according to his daughter, Maria Gonzalez, an Elgin resident who said she talks to her father everyday. Gonzalez was still feeling ill last week, but was moved into general population at the prison, said his lawyer, Sean Starr.

Read the full story by Andy Grimm.

8:18 p.m. Rolling out contact tracing in Illinois a daunting task, but essential, expert says

Roughly a quarter of the coronavirus tests conducted at the Howard Brown Health clinic in Hyde Park have been coming back positive, amounting to about 20 new confirmed cases a day.

The initial diagnosis is just the start of the staff’s work, though. What comes next is the arduous task of tracking down every person that patient may have encountered, a time-tested public health practice known commonly as contact tracing.

Though local and state officials have said that process is key to slowing the pandemic and reopening the state, a large-scale initiative hasn’t been announced to address the daunting task of tracking down every person who has come into contact with the growing number of COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, 2,253 new cases were reported across Illinois as the total number of cases eclipsed 50,000.

Reporter Tom Schuba has the full story.

7:04 p.m. Remdesivir proves effective against coronavirus in major study: ‘We’ve got a drug that works,’ UIC researcher says

Promising results from a major study into an experimental drug used to treat the new coronavirus should give people a sense of relief that “we’ve got a drug that works,” a physician at University of Illinois at Chicago Health who participated in the study says.

“They’re really good results,” Dr. Richard Novak, chief of infectious disease at UIC, told the Sun-Times Wednesday of the drug made by Gilead Sciences, called remdesivir.

He added: “That’s great and should give some people a sense of relief who are concerned about getting sick.”

Remdesivir is the first drug to show such promising results against the virus, which has killed more than 218,000 people since it emerged late last year in China. Having a treatment could have a profound effect on the global pandemic, especially because health officials say any vaccine is likely a year or more away.

Get the full story from reporters Matthew Hendrickson and Rachel Hinton.

5:35 p.m. Lightfoot ties CPD’s surge strategy to need for a new kind of policing during pandemic

A “surge strategy” that requires Chicago Police officers from low-crime districts to temporarily flood high-crime neighborhoods on the South and West Sides was devised to accommodate the need for a new kind of policing during the pandemic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday.

Newly-appointed CPD Supt. Brown has apologized to North and Northwest Side aldermen for “blindsiding” them about the plan that deprives their districts of officers for roughly two hours at a time.

The apology came during Brown’s first full day on the job after being unanimously confirmed by the City Council.

But Lightfoot made no apologies for the surge strategy itself.

“We are fighting, not only the pandemic of COVID-19, but … the continuing epidemic of gun violence. We have no time to waste on either,” she said.

Read the full story from Fran Spielman.

4:34 p.m. Chicago medical personnel, police officers and firefighters: Here’s how to get your laundry done for free in 3 easy steps

Chicago’s front-line responders have enough on their COVID-19 plates without needing to worry about clean underwear. So Tide is stepping in to help carry the load — or at least do one.

Starting Wednesday, Tide Cleaners locations in the Chicago area will do the laundry and dry cleaning of front-line responders and their families for free. The deal lasts through May 9, unless otherwise extended, and is available to paramedics, doctors, nurses, hospital and medical staff, medical researchers, police officers and firefighters.

“The front-line responders of Chicago are working tirelessly to keep our communities safe,” said Jenny Maxwell, Associate Director for Tide. “ Our hope is to make everyday chores like laundry as seamless as possible and lighten the load for those at the front lines during this time.”

If you’re a front-line responder who is low on clean socks, here’s how you can get your laundry done for free by Tide:

  1. Head to Hope.TideCleaners.com to find a Tide Cleaners location and read more on the offer.
  2. Choose how you want to drop off and pick up your laundry (limit is four 13-gallon bags per household). Front-line responders can use location 24/7 drop boxes and pick-up kiosks, drive-thru and car-side valet, lobby access or even delivery to the home at some participating locations. All that is needed is an ID badge with a photo for identification. Family members will need to show the responder’s ID badge if they’re dropping off laundry on the loved one’s behalf.
  3. Get your laundry cleaned and pick it back up in your preferred method.

— Alison Martin

4:15 p.m. Nancy Pelosi taps Bill Foster to new House COVID-19 watchdog panel

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday named Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., to a new bipartisan House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis tasked with making sure the billions of dollars Congress is shoveling out the door is not “exploited by profiteers and price-gougers.”

Foster is among seven Democrats Pelosi selected for the panel. It is not clear yet if Republicans will appoint anyone to the panel, created as part of the CARES Act. It is supposed to have seven Democrats and five Republicans as members.

“As House Speaker, I am proud to appoint these distinguished and accomplished leaders of the Congress and Country to the Select Committee on the Coronavirus,” Pelosi said in a statement. “They bring outstanding mastery of Congressional oversight and decades of experience fighting for working families to our critical mission to ensure that our coronavirus response puts working Families First. We must make sure that the historic investment of taxpayer dollars made in the CARES Act is being used wisely and efficiently to help those in need, not be exploited by profiteers and price-gougers.”

Read the full story by Lynn Sweet.

3:58 p.m. Uptown hospital successfully treats coronavirus patient with blood plasma from someone who recovered from the sickness

An Uptown hospital is among the first Chicago-area facilities to successfully treat a coronavirus patient using an investigational therapy involving plasma taken from someone who has recovered from the virus.

The patient was a Chicago man in his 40s who arrived at Weiss Memorial Hospital in “moderate to severe” condition and had not responded to other treatments, said Dr. Suzanne Pham, the hospital’s associate medical director. The patient, who had few other health issues, was close to having to be ventilated, Pham said.

“Within 24 hours of plasma infusion, [he] was able to be weaned down on his oxygen needs and was able to be discharged from the hospital within three days of a that plasma infusion,” Pham said Wednesday. “So he recovered very quickly and nicely.”

The patient was discharged in mid-April, she said.

Read the full story by Stefano Esposito.

3:01 p.m. 92 more coronavirus deaths as Illinois tops 50K cases

Officials on Wednesday said another 92 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, as the case count in the state has reached more than 50,000.

In total, 2,215 people have died of the coronavirus in the state, according to health officials. With the newly reported 2,253 cases, the state has now seen 50,355 people test positive for the virus.

According to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office, the state received 14,478 test results on Tuesday. Nearly 257,000 people have been tested overall.

Between midnight on Monday and midnight on Tuesday, an additional 45 COVID-19 patients entered ICU rooms in the state’s hospitals. During that same period, an additional 298 people entered hospitals with suspected COVID-19 symptoms or confirmed cases, the governor’s office said.

Read the full story by Tina Sfondeles.

2:10 p.m. Here’s what will reopen in Illinois Friday under new stay-at-home order

With Illinois still battling the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a modified version of the state’s stay-at-home order last week that will run through the end of May. It’s similar to the orders that have been in effect since the virus first began to spread in March, but with some important changes that start Friday.

One of the biggest modifications to the stay-at-home order is a requirement for all individuals over age 2 to wear a face covering or mask when in a public place where six feet of separation cannot be maintained. Starting Friday, expect to see everyone covering their face in a grocery store, for example.

Read the full story by Satchel Price.

1:05 p.m. South Side seniors keep up weekly bingo date with video chat

Seniors represent an especially high-risk group for coronavirus infection, so the weekly bingo game at Altgeld Gardens Homes on the Far South Side was swiftly shut down last month as non-essential businesses were shuttered and social gatherings canceled.

But as video conferencing platforms like FaceTime and Zoom quickly became commonplace for stay-at-home workers, Carrie Pullie, program director at Metropolitan Family Services, which serves the public housing complex, had an idea. She took a quick survey of 21 past bingo players and found nine of them had smart phones that could support video conferencing.

She sent each player instructions to access Zoom, and dropped off individual playing boards at their door, according to a release from the Chicago Housing Authority. Now, every Wednesday, the senior bingo game is back.

“One [senior] was so proud of herself. She said she could not wait to tell her daughter she did it by herself,” Pullie said in a release from the CHA. “Another senior told the group, ‘I am so happy to see you guys.’ It was so cute.”

Altgeld Garden resident and bingo player Billie Spencer said she’s grown to love the video chat bingo dates, which she had worried would feel too long, at two hours per week, from 1-3 p.m.

“You get to see your friends without their masks on and get to listen and laugh and talk,” she said, according to the release from CHA.

11:23 a.m. COVID-19 drug that showed promise in UChicago tests proves effective in national study

A biotech company said Wednesday its experimental drug has proved effective against the new coronavirus in a major U.S. government study that put it to a strict test.

Gilead Sciences’s remdesivir would be the first treatment to pass such a test against the virus. The study, run by the National Institutes of Health, tested remdesivir versus usual care in about 800 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world. The main result is how long it takes patients to recover.

University of Chicago Medicine has been conducting its own clinical trials with remdesivir, which was developed by Gilead Sciences as a treatment for the Ebola and Marburg viruses. In its early findings, 125 COVID-19 patients were treated with remdesivir, 113 of whom had severe symptoms. Most patients in the clinical trial were being discharged from the hospital in less than a week. That’s notable because the study is investigating both five- and 10-day courses of the drug.

Both Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Chicago have also launched trials of remdesivir.

A statement from the Food and Drug Administration says only that the agency has been talking with Gilead “regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate.”

Read more about the latest news from Gilead Sciences here, and click here for the earlier report about University of Chicago Medicine’s studies.

9:30 a.m. Roomier trains, wider bike lanes and more proposed solutions for safer public transit during coronavirus

In cities around the world, public transit systems are key to getting workers back on the job and restarting devastated economies, yet everything from trains and buses to ferries and bicycles will have to be re-imagined in the coronavirus era.

In Europe in particular, public transportation is shaping up as a new front line in the battle to tame the outbreak that has killed over 120,000 of its citizens.

Solutions include putting red stickers on the floor to tell bus passengers in Milan how far apart to stand. The Dutch are putting on longer, roomier trains, and many cities, including Berlin, are opening up more lanes to cyclists. In Britain, bus passengers are entering through the middle or rear doors to reduce the risk to the driver.

Announcing a gradual easing of France’s strict lockdown, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe called public transit a “key measure for the economic recovery” yet acknowledged concerns among passengers.

Read more predictions and early plans for making public transit safer here.

8:06 a.m. Mike Pence under fire for not wearing mask during Mayo Clinic visit

Vice President Mike Pence chose not to wear a face mask Tuesday during a tour of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, an apparent violation of the world-renowned medical center’s policy requiring them.

Video feeds show that Pence did not wear a mask when he met with a Mayo employee who has recovered from COVID-19 and is now donating plasma, even though everyone else in the room appeared to be wearing one. He was also maskless when he visited a lab where Mayo conducts coronavirus tests.

And Pence was the only participant not to wear a mask during a roundtable discussion on Mayo’s coronavirus testing and research programs. All the other participants did, including Food and Drug Administration chief Stephen Hahn, top Mayo officials, Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn.

Mayo tweeted that it had informed the vice president of its mask policy prior to his arrival. The tweet was later removed. Mayo officials did not directly respond to a request for comment on why it was removed, or at whose request.

“Mayo shared the masking policy with the VP’s office,” the health care system said in its response.

Read the full report here.

7:02 a.m. Married 70 years, husband and wife with COVID-19 held hands in hospital before their deaths

Irvin Kaage Jr. and his wife Muriel were known as the couple behind the Kaage’s Corner newsstand on Northwest Highway that’s been a mainstay in Edison Park for 77 years.

To family members, though, they will always be remembered for the enduring love story that spanned seven decades before the coronavirus brought it to an end this week.

Irv Jr., 92, died Sunday at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, and Muriel, 90, followed barely 36 hours later. Both had tested positive for COVID-19.

Just before Irv’s death, the hospital moved their beds together so they could hold hands, said their son, Irv III.

Losing both parents at once would seem a double dose of heartbreak, but Irv III said it was better that way.

“They couldn’t be apart,” he said.

Read Mark Brown’s full story here.

6:46 a.m. NBC Sports Chicago to host star-studded COVID-19 fundraiser, pay tribute to front-line workers

In partnership with United Way of Metro Chicago and Chicago Community Trust, NBC Sports Chicago is hosting the “Be Chicago: Together We Can” telethon Wednesday, which will benefit the community COVID-19 Response Fund and honor front-line workers.

The four-hour TV event, which begins at 7 p.m., will feature several celebrated Chicago athletes — like Horace Grant, A.J. Pierzynski and Brian Urlacher — and exclusive music performances by Chicago, Brett Eldredge and the Plain White T’s.

There will be segments on the 1990s Bulls, 2005 White Sox and 2010 Blackhawks, with some players from each team discussing their favorite memories. Tim Anderson, Coby White and Tarik Cohen will also team up for a segment where the three young stars will discuss how their professional and personal lives have been affected by the pandemic and how this experience has changed their lives.

The telethon will also include “Hero segments,” where nominated front-line workers will meet their favorite Chicago athletes via Zoom video conferencing.

Get more details from Madeline Kenney here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

7:37 p.m. COVID-19 lawsuits a symptom of a pre-existing condition in Illinois — and the nation

Somehow, I’ve found myself on the email distribution list for a conservative, pro-Trump news service, which, it turns out, offers handy insight into how the other half of the country thinks without my having to endure the pain of watching FOX News.

For the past 24 hours, the top story on their website has been one with which we are very familiar in Illinois even if we might not recognize the particular spin: “Judge Stands Up Against Dem Gov, Excoriates Stay At Home Order.”

The facts of the story are pretty much what you could find in the Chicago Sun-Times or any other mainstream news organization’s coverage of the downstate judge’s ruling that Gov. J. B. Pritzker exceeded his authority by extending his emergency stay-at-home orders beyond 30 days.

The difference is those facts are related from the point of view that Pritzker’s orders were “obviously” illegal and that state Rep. Darren Bailey and Clay County Circuit Judge Michael McHaney are heroic figures for standing up to him in defense of the Constitution and personal freedom.

Read the rest of Mark Brown’s column here.

4:42 p.m. Pandemic’s disorder in the court

Even during a pandemic, constitutional rights must be respected, which is why we should all be troubled by an Illinois Supreme Court decision earlier this month to suspend a rule requiring a “speedy trial.”

The U.S. Constitution guarantees defendants the right to a speedy trial, and the Illinois Legislature has decided that means a case must be brought to trial within 120 days for someone in custody and 160 days for others. An exception can be made when defense lawyers agree to extend the deadline.

Under the usual rules, if the state fails to settle a case or bring it to trial within this time frame, a defendant will be freed.

The purpose of the speedy trial rule is to prevent prosecutors from leaving suspects, who are presumed innocent, behind bars indefinitely.

We can’t disagree with the state Supreme Court’s thinking in deciding to suspend the rule of a speedy trial. Although lower courts are holding bond hearings by video during Illinois’ stay-at-home lockdown, full trials by video would not be practical nor fair. That makes it impossible to meet the speedy trial rule except through negotiated plea

Read the full editorial from the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board.

10:16 a.m. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi is pressuring the FDA to police COVID-19 antibody tests

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., chairman of a House panel investigating whether COVID-19 antibody tests work, accused the FDA on Tuesday of stonewalling in developing information about antibody test kits that went on the market before the FDA validated their claims.

There is an enormous interest in developing antibody tests to see if people had COVID-19, even if they did not show symptoms.

These antibody, or serology tests, are not used to diagnose if a person has the infection. Antibody blood tests could determine if a person had and recovered from COVID-19. Scientists have suggested that people with COVID-19 antibodies are immune from the disease.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn sent Tuesday, Krishnamoorthi said officials in Hahn’s agency failed “to respond to our outstanding requests for information in furtherance of our investigation” into FDA “policies governing serological testing for coronavirus.”

Read the full story from Lynn Sweet here.

6:39 a.m. A foolish lawsuit threatens your hard work to fight COVID-19

A Downstate judge has ruled that Gov. J.B. Pritzker no longer has the authority to order folks to stay indoors during the coronavirus pandemic.

As a matter of law and the Illinois Constitution, that’s debatable. We’ll just have to wait for reviews by higher courts as to whether Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney got his legal thinking right.

But as a matter of good public policy to keep people safe, there’s no debate at all. Pritzker’s initial stay-at-home order on March 20 and his recent 30-day extension have been crucial to slowing the spread of the virus and undoubtedly have saved thousands of lives.

We can only urge our fellow Illinois residents to continue to follow the governor’s executive order, even in highly conservative Clay County, where as of Tuesday morning there were only two reported cases of COVID-19 and no deaths.

Read the full editorial from the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board.