Coronavirus live blog, May 16, 2020: Obama criticizes U.S. leaders’ virus response in online graduation speech

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, May 16, 2020: Obama criticizes U.S. leaders’ virus response in online graduation speech

Hundreds of people rallied against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order at the Thompson Center and at the State Capitol in Springfield. But if the numbers hold, that order could be changed by the end of the month. The Northeast region of the state met the medical criteria set to advance to the third phase of his reopening plan. That would mean many non-essential businesses including salons and barbershops could reopen with health precautions in place.

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


7:20 p.m. Obama criticizes U.S. leaders’ virus response in online graduation speech


Jason DeCrow/AP

WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama on Saturday criticized U.S. leaders overseeing the nation’s response to the coronavirus, telling college graduates in an online commencement address that the pandemic shows many officials “aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

Obama spoke on “Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition,” a two-hour event for students graduating from historically black colleges and universities broadcast on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. His remarks were unexpectedly political, given the venue, and touched on current events beyond the virus and its social and economic impacts.

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Obama said. “A lot them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

Read the full story by The Associated Press here.

5:55 p.m. Bittersweet e-ceremony for UIC grad: ‘I didn’t really get to say goodbye’

Edith Mendez watched a slideshow of photos from her college experience, read a Spanish quote she handpicked to thank her family and listened to a speech delivered by her college dean Saturday.

But the 2020 graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago did so from the backyard of her family’s Berwyn home, not on campus with the momentous ceremony she’d always imagined.

“It was a little bit strange — maybe, in some ways, disappointing,” said Mendez, a first-generation college grad. “Just because I didn’t get to walk across the stage.”

She joined more than 5,000 UIC students — and tens of thousands more at other Illinois schools — left with no choice but to celebrate their graduation with an online ceremony in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

UIC still plans to hold an in-person commencement for their 2020 class sometime later this year, but with the state’s stay-at-home order banning large gatherings, the virtual stand-in will have to do for now.

Read the full story by Ben Pope here.

4:38 p.m. ‘Steady decrease’ in coronavirus cases at Cook County Jail, officials say

Fewer people have tested positive for the coronavirus over the past month at Cook County Jail, officials announced Friday.

The rate of positive COVID-19 tests has gone from 97% to less than 10% since March, Cook County Health officials said in a statement.

Since May 8, most of the new cases have come from detainees entering the jail, rather than people who were already in custody, officials said.

They credited the decline to interventions implemented since the beginning of the year, including opening unused divisions to accommodate social distancing, converting available cells to single-occupancy and enhanced testing.

Read the full story by Carly Behm here.

2:45 p.m. Reopen Illinois rallies draw hundreds to Thompson Center, State Capitol

State health officials on Saturday announced the latest 74 deaths attributed to the coronavirus as several hundred protesters rallied in Chicago and Springfield, calling on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to roll back his executive stay-at-home order.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also said an additional 2,088 people have tested positive for COVID-19, raising the statewide case tally to 92,457. The death toll stands at 4,129.

And for the third straight day, the Northeast region of the state met the medical criteria set by Pritzker’s administration to advance to the third phase of his reopening plan when his stay-at-home expires at the end of the month. That would mean many non-essential businesses including salons and barbershops could reopen with health precautions in place.

Those Phase 3 reopening requirements include holding the coronavirus testing positivity rate under 20% for two weeks. The Northeast region, which includes Chicago and the collar counties, was at 18.8% Saturday.

But even as plans are laid to gear the economy into motion, the governor’s office has said the peak of the pandemic could extend well into the summer.

The virus has been confirmed in all but one Illinois county, while Cook County is registering the most confirmed cases of any county in the nation. More than 1,800 coronavirus deaths have been reported in the state this month alone.

Despite the grim figures, a vocal contingent of demonstrators rallied again outside the Thompson Center in the Loop and the State Capitol Building in Springfield demanding Pritzker reopen the state immediately.

Read the full report from Mitchell Armentrout and Tyler LaRiviere here.

2:09 p.m. Nurse says she regrets going to packed Wisconsin bar without mask

A nurse says she regrets not taking better safety precautions after she was criticized this week for appearing without a mask in a local television interview at a packed Wisconsin bar.

Katie Koutsky, a nurse with the Downers Grove-based Advocate Aurora Health system, says she was helping her sister reopen her suburban Milwaukee bar Wednesday evening when the news crew approached her.

“I have a toddler at home and I’m a full-time nurse, so it’s been very stressful and hard to not be able to go out and be with my friends and family at the bars,” Koutsky said in an interview aired by Milwaukee station WTMJ-TV.

Asked if she was worried about getting the virus from being in a bar without social distancing, she said, “No, I don’t think that the risk presents any higher than me going to a grocery store.”

Reporter Nader Issa has the full story.

11:43 a.m. Coronavirus masks a boon for crooks who hide their faces

The way the FBI tells it, William Rosario Lopez put on a surgical mask and walked into the Connecticut convenience store looking to the world like a typical pandemic-era shopper as he picked up plastic wrap, fruit snacks and a few other items. Then, when the only other customer left, he went to the counter, pulled out a small pistol, pointed it at the clerk and demanded that he open the cash register.

The scene, the FBI contends in a court document, was repeated by Lopez in four other gas station stores over eight days before his April 9 arrest. It underscores a troubling new reality for law enforcement: Masks that have made criminals stand apart long before bandanna-wearing robbers knocked over stagecoaches in the Old West and ski-masked bandits held up banks now allow them to blend in like concerned accountants, nurses and store clerks trying to avoid a deadly virus.

“Criminals, they’re smart and this is a perfect opportunity for them to conceal themselves and blend right in,” said Richard Bell, police chief in the tiny Pennsylvania community of Frackville. He said he knows of seven recent armed robberies in the region where every suspect wore a mask.

Across the United States, masks have become more and more prevalent, first as a voluntary precaution and then as a requirement imposed by governmental agencies and businesses. And people with masks — as well as latex gloves — have found their way into more and more crime reports.

Just how many criminals are taking advantage of the pandemic to commit crimes is impossible to estimate, but law enforcement officials have no doubt the numbers are climbing.

Read the full report here.

11:17 a.m. ‘Everyone has a story’: How will world remember pandemic?

Artist Obi Uwakwe was driving through Chicago’s empty streets, camera on his lap to document life during COVID-19, when he saw something that made him stop: a casket being carried out of a church while a few mourners stood by, their faces covered.

The 43-year-old raised his camera and took a photograph. Later, it would become one of the images Uwakwe used to create paintings inspired by the pandemic.

“To see maybe six people there, everyone wearing a mask,” he said, “it brought everything together.”

Around the world, people like Uwakwe are creating photographs, paintings, emails, journals and social media posts that will shape how the world remembers the coronavirus pandemic for years and centuries to come. Museums and historical societies already are collecting materials, often with help from people accustomed to capturing and sharing even the most mundane moments around them.

The result, historians say, will be a collective memory more personal than perhaps any other moment in history.

Read the full report here.

10:46 a.m. Democrats push new $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill through House

Democrats powered a massive $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill through the House on Friday, an election-year measure designed to brace a U.S. economy in free fall and a health care system struggling to contain a pandemic still pummeling the country.

The 208-199 vote, with all but one Republican opposed, advances what boils down to a campaign-season display of Democratic economic and health-care priorities. It has no chance of becoming law as written, but will likely spark difficult negotiations with the White House and Senate Republicans. Any product would probably be the last major COVID-19 response bill before November’s presidential and congressional elections.

The enormous Democratic measure would cost more than the prior four coronavirus bills combined. It would deliver almost $1 trillion for state and local governments, another round of $1,200 direct payments to individuals and help for the unemployed, renters and homeowners, college debt holders and the struggling Postal Service.

“Not to act now is not only irresponsible in a humanitarian way, it is irresponsible because it’s only going to cost more,” warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “More in terms of lives, livelihood, cost to the budget, cost to our democracy.”

Read the full report here.

10:00 a.m. Illinois nears 2,000 nursing home deaths as coronavirus continues to spread

Illinois is nearing 2,000 coronavirus deaths at long-term care facilities as new, confirmed cases continue to roll in at hundreds of nursing homes impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

State totals now stand at 1,975 deaths and 13,218 confirmed cases in nursing homes, according to a count by the Chicago Sun-Times. Long-term care facilities account for 48.7% of all coronavirus deaths in Illinois, records show.

The state’s long-term care facilities reported 455 new deaths and 2,405 new cases this week, according to data released Friday by state health officials.

New deaths were reported at 180 facilities this week, and 259 homes said they had at least one new confirmed case.

A total of 86 homes have seen double-digit deaths tallies, up from 50 last week. There are now 27 facilities reporting at least 100 confirmed cases.

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

9:04 a.m. Last fans standing: Recounting the Sharks-Blackhawks game on March 11, the last game in town before sports shut down

Brandon Saad cut to the front of the net, took a pass and scored through Aaron Dell’s legs in the second period to give the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead over the Sharks.

It was 8:34 p.m. on March 11.

He celebrated in characteristic fashion, with a yell and double fist-pump, as “Chelsea Dagger” blared.

He had no way of knowing — Hawks teammates would say later they didn’t receive any outside information at either intermission — that the world in which he scored his 21st goal of the season was quickly looking a lot different than the world in which he scored his first 20.

Unlike other disasters of this generation, the coronavirus pandemic did not arrive in an instant. John Lennon’s 1980 death stunned a live television audience on ABC’s “Monday Night Football”; Osama Bin Laden’s 2011 death earned an announcement during an MLB game on ESPN. The emergence of COVID-19 was not nearly as sudden or surprising in any given moment.

But if the pandemic did have a specific arrival point, it was the night of March 11.

In a span of roughly two hours, the NBA went from postponing a game due to a player — Jazz center Rudy Gobert — testing positive for the virus to indefinitely suspending the season.

President Donald Trump announced an unprecedented European travel ban. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson became the first American celebrities to test positive. The ill-fated 2020 NCAA Tournament announced it would play without fans.

And during those same two hours, the Hawks and Sharks played a regular-season NHL game like nothing was happening at all.

We take a look back — through the eye of fans — at the last major sports event in Chicago.

7:00 a.m. DePaul, Loyola releases plans for fall semester

As coronavirus cases continue to increase statewide, two Chicago universities are planning to have students on campus this fall.

DePaul University and Loyola University of Chicago have consulted with public health experts and state and local officials to devise their plans for the fall semester.

DePaul expects to have limited in-person learning and reduced occupancy in the dorms this fall. Meanwhile, Loyola hopes to offer both on-campus and online classes.

Both universities said they’ll share more details about the fall semester in the coming weeks.

Loyola also announced its “Loyola Commitment,” a new financial aid program, funded by the university and its donors, which will help students who have been affected by the economic downturn amid the pandemic.

“As unemployment rises along with uncertainty about our economic outlook, we will see a sharp increase in students and families whose plans about attending Loyola might be hindered. Dreams are being crushed by diminished family finances,” Loyola provost Norberto Grzywacz wrote in an email to students. “The scale of this crisis and its financial impact on families will have a profound effect on many students from various backgrounds. In particular, it is expected to impact enrollment and our desire for a vibrant and diverse community as a place of growth, experience, and opportunity.”

— Madeline Kenney

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Analysis & Commentary

12:33 p.m. COVID-19 scales back youth sports. That’s a win for many kids

My heart will break for older teens if they don’t get to play sports in Illinois this summer, or maybe this fall, because of the coronavirus. Most are nearing the end of their competitive sports days, and you hate to see them robbed.

For younger kids, I see a silver lining. It’s a chance for them to do more bike riding. They can learn to rollerblade or skateboard. Maybe they can join their parents for runs or walks.

They could get a much-needed break from an over-scheduled life, especially when it comes to sports.

Or, maybe not. In Missouri, a 40-team youth baseball tournament was held last weekend by GameTime Tournaments. You won’t see this in Illinois right now because of the stay-at-home order to curb the spread of the virus. But, at least one Illinois team, the Black Sox from central Illinois, made the trip, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

GameTime instituted social distancing guidelines, including no high-fives, and sanitized the ball often. But some things can’t be helped in baseball: The catcher always will be positioned behind the batter. Players bump into each other on some plays. Out of habit, coaches are bound to get close to players to give instruction.

After being at home for weeks, the games had to be a relief for the players and parents who watched. But 40 teams? That’s downright irresponsible, even if permissible by Missouri’s looser restrictions related to the virus.

Fewer games, or no games for a year, could be a very good thing for kids.

Read the full column from Marlen Garcia here.

7:00 a.m. Everything must be on the table as city, state fight back from financial devastation

Washington to cities and states: You’re on your own.

For months, the Trump administration has failed to take the lead in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, punting responsibility to the states. Now the president and his Republican Party are looking to do the same when it comes to helping states and cities survive the pandemic’s financial devastation.

A $3 trillion stimulus package expected to be approved by the Democratic-controlled House looks dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate, and President Donald Trump is making clear he would never sign such a bill.

Why? Because the package to rescue drowning cities, suburbs, states, small businesses and unemployed Americans would be fiscally imprudent, they claim.

We couldn’t disagree more. And, yes, this is the same Senate and president who rewrote the federal tax code in 2017 to give billions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthiest one percent of Americans, ballooning the federal deficit.

So what does all this mean for Illinois and Chicago, as well as for towns and counties statewide?

Read the full editorial from the CST Editorial Board here.

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