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Illinois reports another 57 coronavirus-related deaths as state’s total case count nears 78,000 (LIVE UPDATES)

Here’s what is happening about the continuing spread of coronavirus and its ripple effects in Chicago and Illinois.

The latest

Illinois announces 57 additional deaths, 1,656 new cases of coronavirus

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks alongside Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a March 19 news briefing. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Illinois officials on Sunday announced 1,656 new cases of COVID-19, with 57 additional deaths reported.

After five days of reporting at least 100 deaths, the number of fatalities in the state dropped significantly. The state’s death toll has now jumped to 3,406 as the number of cases reached 77,741, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The virus has now been detected in all but four of the state’s 102 counties.

All told, 13,656 tests were conducted statewide in the past 24 hours, with just over 12% coming back positive.

Read the full report from Tom Schuba and Ben Pope here.


News

8:07 p.m Blue Angels announce Chicago flyover planned for Tuesday

The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels will perform a flyover of Chicago on Tuesday, the Blue Angels announced on social media Sunday.

Known for participating in Chicago Air and Water shows, the pilot squadron’s surprise Tuesday flyover will honor front-line workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We salute and thank all healthcare workers, first responders and other essential personnel serving on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19,” a release said.

Exact routes and times will be announced Monday.

Read the full story from reporter Ben Pope.

4:40 p.m. MLB’s coronavirus antibody test for employees yields 0.7% positive rate

NEW YORK – Just 0.7% of Major League Baseball employees tested positive for antibodies to COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Results were based from about 5,600 completed records from employees of 26 clubs. Samples were obtained on April 14 and 15.

“It allows us to get a peek of the nation-wide prevalence,” said Dr. Jay Bhattacharya at Stanford, one the study’s leaders, said Sunday.

The start of the baseball season has been delayed because of the virus outbreak. There’s no timetable for when the season might begin.

Read the full story here.

2:30 p.m. Albany Park church hosts Sunday service in defiance of stay-at-home order after suing Pritzker

Just three days after suing Gov. J.B. Pritzker in federal court over his Restore Illinois plan, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Albany Park defied the governor’s stay-at-home order by welcoming dozens of worshippers to a Sunday service.

On Thursday, Elim Romanian and Logos Baptist ministries in Niles asked for a temporary restraining order preventing them from facing criminal repercussions for hosting services while vowing to impose strict social distancing measures. The churches were among six Romanian-American congregations in the Chicago area that were expected to welcome worshippers on Sunday.

Speaking in his native Romanian, Cristian Ionescu, Elim Romanian’s senior pastor, told his flock the move to hold services is “not a rebellion for the sake of rebellion” and claimed the Constitution grants them the right to worship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We feel that we are discriminated against,” Ionescu told the Sun-Times, noting that large groups of people are already allowed to shop at grocery and hardware stores. “We follow the same rules as other places that are also considered essential, and yet we cannot have more than 10 people in a service, which is ridiculous.”

Read the full report from Tom Schuba here.

2:07 p.m. Becoming ‘King of Ventilators’ may result in unexpected glut

As requests for ventilators from the national stockpile reached a crescendo in late March, President Donald Trump made what seemed like a bold claim: His administration would provide 100,000 within 100 days.

At the time, the Department of Health and Human Services had not ordered any new ventilators since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in January. But records show that over the following three weeks, the agency scrambled to turn Trump’s pledge into a reality, spending nearly $3 billion to spur U.S. manufacturers to crank out the breathing machines at an unprecedented pace.

An analysis of federal contracting data by The Associated Press shows the agency is now on track to exceed 100,000 new ventilators by around July 13, about a week later than the 100-day deadline Trump first gave on March 27.

By the end of 2020, the administration is expected to take delivery of nearly 200,000 new ventilators, based on the AP’s review of current federal purchasing contracts. That would more than double the estimated 160,000 ventilators hospitals across the U.S. had before the pandemic.

“We became the king of ventilators, thousands and thousands of ventilators,” Trump boasted in an April 29 speech.

But over the past month, demand for ventilators has decreased even as the U.S. death toll from the novel coronavirus has surged past 75,000. After observing unusually high death rates for coronavirus victims who were put on ventilators, many doctors are using them only as a last resort.

That’s raising the unexpected prospect that the United States could soon be awash in surplus ventilators, so much so the White House is now planning to ship thousands overseas to help boost the virus response of other nations.

Daniel Adelman, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business who teaches health care analytics, said the U.S. government is now buying more than twice the number of ventilators it needs, even under a worst-case scenario forecasting the spread of COVID-19.

Read the full report here.

1:18 p.m. On Mother’s Day, leaders search for optimism amid pandemic

As families in the U.S. and elsewhere marked Mother’s Day in a time of social distancing and isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, world leaders projected optimism they could loosen lockdowns while controlling a potential second wave of infections.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted the American economy would rebound in the second half of this year from unemployment rates that rival the Great Depression. Another 3.2 million U.S. workers applied for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total over the last seven weeks to 33.5 million.

“I think you’re going to see a bounce-back from a low standpoint,” said Mnuchin, speaking on “Fox News Sunday.”

But the director of the University of Washington institute that created a White House-endorsed coronavirus model said states’ moves to reopen businesses “will translate into more cases and deaths in 10 days from now.” Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said states where cases and deaths are going up more than expected include Illinois, Arizona, Florida and California.

Read the full report here.

12:15 p.m. Coronavirus complicates safety for families living together

At the age of 24, Francy Sandoval has unwittingly become the sole breadwinner for her family, after her mom, dad and brother — a nanny, a painter and a server — all lost their jobs in the coronavirus pandemic.

Her family needs the money, so the aspiring nurse feels she has no choice but to keep her high-risk job at the front desk of a suburban Chicago community health clinic treating many COVID-19 patients. But her home hardly feels like a haven either.

“Working during this time is not as stressful as coming home,” she said. “You were surrounded with patients who could have been or are positive and you might get your parents sick by just opening the door.”

Sandoval, an immigrant from Colombia, is among tens of millions of Americans living in multigenerational homes where one of the main strategies for avoiding infection — following social distancing protocols — can be near impossible.

The problem reverberates deepest in communities of color, where families from different generations live together at much higher rates, in some cases nearly double that of white families. Joint living also often intersects with factors like poverty, health issues and jobs that can’t be done from home, offering another glimpse of what fuels the troubling racial disparities of COVID-19.

Read the full story here.

11:45 a.m. COVID-19 outbreak among inmates at MCC in Chicago among largest across the system

In the month that passed since the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center reported its first positive test of an inmate for coronavirus, the outbreak among detainees there has grown into one of the largest among Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities, records show.

There have been no reported deaths, and the MCC’s numbers are still dwarfed by the hundreds reported by BOP facilities in California and Texas. Still, roughly 20 percent of the high-rise jail’s population appeared to have tested positive as of Friday. That’s based not only on court filings but also on more detailed numbers released from the Bureau of Prisons.

A federal judge, though, recently attributed the rise of cases there to a decision to test two floors at the facility. Given that only seven detainees have been hospitalized, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall wrote that “it cannot be said that the facility is not properly caring for the detainees.”

“When looking at whether the MCC can properly control the situation and treat sick detainees the focus must be on the number of symptomatic detainees and whether they are receiving the proper treatment, not on an increase in positive tests,” Kendall wrote in the order published Friday.

Read the full story from Jon Seidel here.

11:00 a.m. Mother’s Day this year means getting creative from afar

Treats made and delivered by neighbors. Fresh garden plantings dug from a safe 6 feet away. Trips around the world set up room-to-room at home.

Mother’s Day this year is a mix of love and extra imagination as families do without their usual brunches and huggy meet-ups.

As the pandemic persists in keeping families indoors or a safe social distance apart, online searches have increased for creative ways to still make moms feel special.

Absent help from schools and babysitters, uninitiated dads are on homemade craft duty with the kids. Other loved ones are navigating around no-visitor rules at hospitals and senior-living facilities.

Some medical facilities are pitching in by collecting voice and video recordings from locked-out relatives when patients are unable to manage the technology on their own.

Read the full story here.

10:45 a.m. Pritzker says he’s ‘going it alone’ to ramp up COVID-19 testing, state won’t reopen without ‘standards’ met

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Illinois Gov J.B. Pritzker on Sunday morning said he’s not counting on the White House to help Illinois ramp up its coronavirus testing capabilities – and he vowed that Illinois won’t see an economic reopening until the state meets “all the standards” he’s set in his phased plan.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper, the Democratic governor said states continue to “go it alone” to ramp up testing. According to a Harvard University analysis, Illinois should reach 64,000 tests a day before stay-at-home regulations are further relaxed. Pritzker last week achieved a goal of receiving more than 20,000 tests results back in one day.

The governor has said more testing is fundamental to the state’s ability to reopen the economy while controlling the spread of the virus.

“I have not been counting on the White House because there have been too many situations in which they’ve made promises not delivered,” Pritzker said when asked whether he needs Trump to help Illinois ramp up testing.

“Very recently they promised a lot of swabs. They’re supposed to arrive today, the first shipment of those. I’m looking forward to that. But what we’re doing is we’re going it alone, as the White House has led all the states to do.”

Read the full report from Tina Sfondeles here.

10:17 a.m. Low-rated nursing homes in Cook County fare worst in COVID-19 deaths

The worst rated nursing homes in Cook County have the highest concentration of deaths from the coronavirus — and some have failed inspections during the pandemic, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation found.

The newspaper studied about 120 longterm-care facilities listed by the state as having at least one resident who came down with the disease or died.

About 28% of the deaths from COVID-19 complications have happened in nursing homes with the lowest federal rating and only 6% in the facilities with the highest rating.

That disparity shows the state should focus testing and inspections in poorly rated nursing homes, experts said.

As of Friday, 1,553 COVID-19 deaths in Illinois were tied to nursing homes — nearly half of the 3,241 deaths in the state from the disease, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Nursing homes have captured the public’s attention in Illinois and nationally because of the large clusters of coronavirus cases appearing in many of them.

Read the full story from Frank Main, Lauren FitzPatrick and Caroline Hurley here.

9:42 a.m. Barbers share frustrations about being ‘sidelined’ in the state’s road to recovery

Sean Santa felt bitter last week when he learned golf courses were allowed to reopen but his barbershop wasn’t.

Since mid-March he’s been told his business, Tonsor Barbershop, 3935 N. Pulaski Rd., was non-essential and should be closed to limit the spread of COVID-19. Now, somehow, golf are more important?

“I mean, the whole essential and non-essential thing bugs me because I’ve seen people in the media and people in government with new haircuts,” Santa said. “Why are their haircuts more important than that of grocery workers and nurses?”

On Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveiled a five-phased plan for reopening the state. It won’t be until the third phase — called “recovery” — that barbershops and salons will be able to reopen, with restrictions. A Chicago plan unveiled Friday by Mayor Lori Lightfoot has similar steps.

There isn’t a timetable for implementing Phase Three. It depends on how many COVID-19 patients are admitted to hospitals or need ICU beds; both numbers must be stable or declining.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that we have to stay on the sideline,” Santa said. “We’ve been trained in the highest levels of sanitation and sterilization.”

Read the full story from Manny Ramos here.

9:02 a.m. Cook County team targets myths, historic health care shortcomings — and ‘every possible patient who is at risk’

On top of caring for high-risk patients, Dr. Nimmi Rajagopal has taken on a new role for some: myth buster.

She has one patient who “probably every week” sends her a text passing along info from an article or a friend suggesting ways to avoid getting the coronavirus.

Does gargling with Listerine twice a day keep the COVID-19 away?

“I think most of it is harmless — things like if you drink citrus everyday or if you take these pills, these vitamins, then it will keep you from getting COVID,” Rajagopal said.

“I think it’s just people looking for things that will help them feel better, but I think it’s important for patients to know it’s not that simple, and when they do show symptoms, it’s really important to isolate, especially if there’s elderly patients or patients with other illnesses living in the same home.”

Providing credible information and advice – and debunking the myths – is just part of what Rajagopal and a team that includes other doctors, clinical managers and data analysts provide as they reach out to people who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

Read the full story from Rachel Hinton here.

7:03 a.m. Obama calls Trump Administration’s handling of pandemic “chaotic disaster”

WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama harshly criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as an “absolute chaotic disaster” during a conversation with ex-members of his administration, according to a recording obtained by Yahoo News.

Obama also reacted to the Justice Department dropping its criminal case against Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying he worried that the “basic understanding of rule of law is at risk.”

More than 78,400 people with COVID-19 have died in the United States and more than 1.3 million people have tested positive, according to the latest estimates from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Read the full report here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

8:04 a.m. Time for Illinois Legislature to get back to work — safely and remotely

The Illinois Legislature must get back to work — safely and remotely.

Other state legislatures have begun to reconvene online and the Illinois Legislature should do so as well. And we can’t agree with those who say there’s an insurmountable legal obstacle to doing so.

Yes, a state statute requires that the Legislature meet in the seat of government — Springfield. But the statute also says the governor can convene a session of the Legislature elsewhere “in times of pestilence or public danger.”

If this is not a time of pestilence and public danger, we don’t know what would be.

Illinois lawmakers have not met in the Capitol since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though the spring session was scheduled to run through May 31. As a result, important legislation, including a vote on the state’s budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1, is stalled.

Nobody wants to put state lawmakers in physical peril. Many of them run a particular risk from the coronavirus because of their age or health. But we have learned during this pandemic that online meeting technology can work reasonably well. And if the usual Springfield windbagging is curbed, who’s to complain?

Read the today’s Sun-Times’ editorial in its entirety here.

7:15 a.m. If you reopen for business early and somebody dies, don’t expect your insurance company to bail you out

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has repeatedly said he’s delegating enforcement of his stay-at-home order to local governments.

That stance has frustrated some folks who want him to get tougher with violators (although he’d undoubtedly risk making martyrs out of them if he did crack down hard). And the governor’s position seems to have emboldened some local officials to defy the governor’s executive order and open up their economies on their own.

But when local governments refuse to enforce the governor’s order, it appears that trial lawyers might step in and insurance companies might take a walk.

A growing number of Downstate sheriffs, state’s attorneys and other officials have declared they won’t be enforcing the governor’s stay-at-home order. The Woodford County state’s attorney has said he won’t prosecute violators, as has the White County state’s attorney. Johnson County’s sheriff is one of several who’ve said he also wouldn’t arrest anyone for violating the order.

East Peoria’s mayor has gone beyond even that, officially allowing the “opening” of several businesses in his city on May 1 that were ordered closed by the governor’s executive order, including hair salons, spas, gyms and indoor recreational facilities. On May 15, bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity, and churches and theaters also will be allowed to reopen on that date.

But the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association has a message for those renegade municipalities and businesses preparing to throw open their doors: Watch out for lawsuits.

Read the full column from Rich Miller here.