Latest coronavirus news for May 18, 2020: Live updates

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

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The latest

Illinois to get over $286 million in federal funding to increase COVID-19 testing, conduct contact tracing

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The plan must include the number of tests needed each month, including diagnostic, serological and other tests; month-by-month estimates of laboratory and testing capacities, including details on workforce, supplies and available tests; and a description of how the resources will be utilized for testing.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times

Federal officials announced Monday that over $10 billion in new funding is now being delivered to states, territories and localities to bolster coronavirus testing efforts and conduct contact tracing, including over $286 million for Illinois.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is doling out the $10.25 billion drawn from the Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Another $750 million will be provided to tribal and urban Indian health programs through the Indian Health Service.

The influx of funding “will provide critical support to develop, purchase, administer, process, and analyze COVID-19 tests, conduct surveillance, trace contacts and related activities,” the HHS said.

In receiving Illinois’ $286,317,362 in new funding, Gov. J.B. Pritzker must submit a testing plan to HHS that includes goals for the remainder of the year.

Read the full report from Tom Schuba here.


News

9:26 p.m. Trump taking anti-malaria drug in case he catches coronavirus

President Donald Trump said Monday that he is taking a malaria drug to lessen symptoms should he get the new coronavirus, even though the drug is unproven for fighting COVID-19.

Trump told reporters he has been taking the drug, hydroxychloroquine, and a zinc supplement daily “for about a week and a half now.” Trump spent weeks pushing the drug as a potential cure for COVID-19 against the cautionary advice of many of his administration’s top medical professionals. The drug has the potential to cause significant side effects in some patients and has not been shown to combat the new coronavirus.

Trump said his doctor did not recommend the drug to him, but he requested it from the White House physician.

“I started taking it, because I think it’s good,” Trump said. “I’ve heard a lot of good stories.”

He dismissed reports of side effects, saying, “All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK.”

Read the full report here.

8:28 p.m. Rep. Garcia urges Gov. J.B. Pritzker to ensure Illinois Hispanics are hired as contact tracers

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., on Monday pressed Gov. J. B. Pritzker to make sure Hispanics who know their communities are part of the army of COVID-19 contact tracers the governor wants to recruit.

Garcia discussed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Illinois Hispanic population in a conversation on Facebook live conducted in English.

The infections have hit a disproportionate share of Hispanics, and Pritzker highlighted that there are 66 testing sites in Illinois established in areas with a large number of Hispanic residents.

Garcia, the only Hispanic congressman in Illinois, has been scrambling to find state and federal resources to help battle the pandemic with a special focus on immigrants, no matter their legal status.

Read the full column from Lynn Sweet here.

6:18 p.m. Uber cuts more employees, closes offices

The CEO of Uber Technologies detailed a second wave of layoffs Monday at the ride-hailing and food delivery company, bringing its cuts this year to 25% of its workforce, along with plans to close or consolidate 45 offices globally.

In an email to employees, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company will focus on core operations and consider options for other divisions, such as job recruiting app Uber Works and Uber Freight, which deals in truck deliveries. Uber was a chronic money-loser before the pandemic, but COVID-19 in April caused an 80% drop in revenue for its principal income producer, the ride-hailing division, compared with the same month last year.

In Chicago, the news raised questions about the fate of Uber’s lease of 463,000 square feet at the Old Post Office, a market-defining deal announced in September. Since then, Uber has delayed its move-in date to next year and offered about 15% of the space for sublease. It was intended as a home for Uber Freight.

The company did not respond to questions about its Chicago plans. But a source familiar with the agreement said Uber still will occupy the space.

Read the full report from David Roeder here.

5:11 p.m. Windy City Smokeout postponed to 2021 due to coronavirus

The smokeout’s been snuffed out, thanks to COVID-19.

The Windy City Smokeout is officially postponed until 2021, according to a statement on the festival organization’s website.

The smokeout has been pushed back to July 9-11, 2021, the statement said. Headliners Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley and Jon Pardi are still slated to play at the 2021 festival.

“We love nothing more than enjoying a weekend of country music & BBQ with you, but the health and safety of you, our beloved artists, pitmasters & employees has always been our top priority,” the statement said.”While this decision wasn’t easy, it is necessary to keep everyone safe.”

Tickets and festival passes already purchased will be honored at the 2021 festival with additional perks, the statement said. General admission tickets will receive a $10 per day food-and-beverage credit for single-day and three-day tickets. All VIP holders will receive a $30 per day credit for single-day tickets and a $100 credit on three-day tickets.

If they prefer, however, ticket holders can request a refund until June 17, the statement said. For every pass kept, the festival organizers will make a donation to Feed Chicago.

Want to see what other summer festivals have been postponed or canceled? Check out our list here.

— Alison Martin

3:55 p.m. County forest preserves to close more parking lots for Memorial Day weekend: ‘Enjoy the natural world in your backyard’

The Cook County Forest Preserves officials announced Monday that they plan to close additional parking lots for the Memorial Day weekend in an effort to curb crowding.

Dan Ryan Woods and Schiller Woods will join a list of six sites that have already seen their parking lots closed over the weeends due to concerns about social distancing and other public health guidelines.

The parking lots at the other six preserves — Busse Woods, Maple Lake, Saganashkee Slough, Catherine Chevalier Woods, LaBagh Woods and Bunker Hill — were already closed Fridays through Sundays in March or April and will remain closed on Memorial Day itself, a statement from the county agency said.

Read the full story here.

3:25 p.m. City looks at fines against churches that defied stay-home order

Though no enforcement action was taken on Sunday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said fines are being considered against a number of Chicago churches that held in-person services in defiance of her stay-at-home order.

“There were some churches that congregated in excess of the allowable number and we will be taking action as to those individuals and those churches,” Lightfoot said.

Asked whether that enforcement action would be in the form of fines, she replied: “Certainly, that’s where we’ll start.”

Police vehicles were near some churches on Sunday, but only to prevent clashes between worshippers and protesters, Lightfoot said.

Read the full story here.

3 p.m. Actor, humanitarian Sean Penn cautions Chicago to reopen slowly and safely

Academy Award-winning actor and humanitarian Sean Penn on Monday had a chilling warning for those pushing Gov. J. B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to loosen the reins and more quickly re-open the Chicago economy.

“When it comes to opening economies, slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. And blood is slippery. We don’t want to get our finger slipping on a hot trigger,” Penn said after touring the COVID-19 testing site in hard-hit Belmont-Cragin, one of six his humanitarian organization is opening in Chicago.

“We all just have to be very, very deliberate.”

Penn repeated those same chilling words when asked to compare the coronavirus to the natural disasters CORE has responded to around the world.

“One of the things that I’m always telling our staff is that slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. And blood is slippery,” he said.

Read the full story from City Hall reporter Fran Spielman.

2:30 p.m. Third consecutive day of less than 100 COVID-19 deaths, as hospital metrics improve

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A spring day along the Rock River Recreation Path during the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday, May 16, 2020, in Rockford, Ill.

Scott P. Yates/Rockford Register Star via AP

Officials on Monday reported another 59 COVID-19 deaths, although the state has seen less than 100 deaths for three consecutive days and hospital metrics continue to improve in the Chicago area.

There have been 4,234 coronavirus deaths in the state since the pandemic began, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The state also reported 2,294 cases, bringing the total positive count to 96,485. The state received 21,290 tests back on Sunday.

Illinois has seen three consecutive days in which fewer than 100 people have died. On Saturday, 74 deaths were reported, and on Sunday, there were 51 deaths. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration last week released death projections that predicted a range of 50 to 150 deaths into June or July. One research institution predicted a range of between 50 and 300 deaths.

There are 4,120 in the state’s hospitals with a COVID-19 diagnosis, according to Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the head of the Illinois Dept. of Public Health. Of those, 1,096 were in the ICU and 636 of those patients are on ventilators. Those numbers are an improvement from late Thursday, when there were 4,367 people in hospitals with COVID-19, 1,129 in the ICU and 675 on ventilators.

Read the full story here.

2:35 p.m. Loop group deploys cleaning crew with ‘disinfectant backpack sprayers’ downtown

Provided

Chicago Loop Alliance “clean team” workers disinfect high-touch areas downtown during the stay-at-home order.

The Chicago Loop Alliance’s “Clean Team” that has been charged with sanitizing high-touch areas in the (usually crowded) Loop have added a new tool to their arsenal, according to a release from the Alliance, the service provider for the downtown Special Service Area.

In addition to spraying and wiping down bike racks, garbage cans, door handles and other surfaces in the Loop, some cleaning staff will now be armed with backpack sprayers that mist a fast-drying cleaning solution.

“Under normal circumstances, our Clean Team would be focusing on things like sweeping, disposing trash, removing graffiti and things of that nature. But our efforts have shifted almost completely to disinfecting,” Michael Edwards, President and CEO of Chicago Loop Alliance, said in a release. “

The agency has also been organizing weekly pressure washing sweeps with a virucide to sanitize street-level surfaces.

Earlier this month, the Chicago Loop Alliance installed two portable toilets downtown to offset bathroom inaccessibility after most non-essential businesses in the neighborhood remained closed during the stay-at-home order.

Lizzie Schiffman Tufano

1:46 p.m. Showdown looming over Pritzker’s stay-at-home order before skeptical downstate judge

The stage appears to be set for a downstate judge who has already said “the Bill of Rights is being shredded” under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order to try to knock it down at a hearing set for Friday afternoon.

The potential showdown comes as the governor faces rising pushback against his edicts. Though his stay-at-home order has so far survived tests in federal court, Clay County Judge Michael McHaney has made his opposition to it clear.

“This issue needs resolved,” McHaney said at a court hearing last week, according to a transcript obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times. “It begs to be resolved. It’s got to be resolved in this court, and it’s going to be and it’s going to be resolved Friday.”

Any attempt to undo the stay-at-home order would surely be met with attempts at quick appeals by Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Read the full story from Jon Seidel here.

12:53 p.m. Early testing of COVID-19 vaccine shows promise in healthy volunteers

An experimental vaccine against the coronavirus showed encouraging results in very early testing, triggering hoped-for immune responses in eight healthy, middle-aged volunteers, its maker announced Monday.

The vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc., generated antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19 in study volunteers who were given either a low or medium dose.

In the next phase of the study, led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers will try to determine which dose is best for a definitive experiment that they aim to start in July.

The vaccine seems safe so far, the company said. A high dose version is being dropped after spurring some short-term side effects.

Read the full report here.

11:01 a.m. Oprah Winfrey is latest celeb to host virtual story time for Chicago kids

Oprah Winfrey read “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse” to kids across Chicago Monday — virtually, of course.

The video posted Monday morning is the latest additions to Chicago Public Library’s collection, which also includes story time with musician and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, actress Jane Lynch, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cardinal Blase Cupich. A video of the Obamas reading “The Word Collector” posted Thursday morning.

Library officials behind the “Live From the Library” project began posting videos in April. The collection includes nearly 20 videos — with dozens more to come — featuring both celebrities and Chicago librarians reading stories. A new video is being posted each weekday.

“It’s a way to reach people, to bring the love of stories and books to families,” said Chicago Library Commissioner Andrea Telli.

Telli said it was a testament to the city that so many former Chicagoans chose to participate.

“They feel the way we feel about Chicago. I think it says a lot about roots and the way the city stays with you,” Telli said.

Read the full story from Mitch Dudek here.

8:18 a.m. Latest COVID-19 stats for Chicago region suggest curve flattening

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Sunday that it processed 20,295 tests Saturday and identified 1,734 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total case count — although many have since recovered — to 94,191.

Sunday’s numbers include several encouraging signs. The 8.5% statewide positivity rate Sunday falls well below the 15% positivity rate recorded over the past seven days, reflecting both increased testing availability and a possible flattening of the curve.

The northeast region had an 18.3% positivity rate Sunday, marking the fourth consecutive day that region, which includes Chicago and its suburbs, has hit an important benchmark.

In Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan, each region of the state must have a positivity rate below 20% for 14 consecutive days to advance to the third phase. That phase would permit some non-essential businesses, like salons and barbershops, to reopen with precautions.

Hospital admissions of coronavirus patients have also fallen 29.7% since May 1 in the northeast region.

Read the full story here.

6:51 a.m. Work-from-home Congress: House OKs proxy voting for first time

Neither Civil War nor Great Depression nor any other national crisis has pushed the House to allow lawmakers to vote by proxy — without being “present,” as the Constitution requires. That’s about to change during the coronavirus pandemic.

The House approved Friday a package of historic rules changes so Congress can keep functioning even while it’s partly closed. The shift will dramatically change the look, if not the operation, of the legislative branch — launching a 21st century WFH House, like others, “working from home.”

“This House must continue legislating,” Rep. Jim McGovern, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, said during a lengthy session ahead of the vote. “And we have to do so in a way that is safe for all those around us.”

Debate over the changes has been fierce. As President Donald Trump encourages Americans back to work, the 435-member House has stayed away due to health risks while the smaller Senate has resumed operations.

Democrats argue the House can rely on technology for remote work as the pandemic drags on. But Republicans objected to what they see as a power grab during the crisis. The vote was 217-189.

Read the full story here.

6:20 a.m. Obama criticizes U.S. leaders’ virus response in online graduation speech

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 a.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.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

1 p.m. Closing streets for outdoor dining with safe social distancing? Sounds like a plan

We’re going outdoors.

We’re going to do it safely, respecting the rules of social distancing.

We’re going to avoid crowds and keep a healthy six feet or more from anybody we’re not living with, including friends. We’re not going to share food or forks or beverages if we have a picnic.

But we’re going outdoors — a whole lot more than we have been.

There’s a growing consensus among the experts that the risks of contracting or spreading the coronavirus are acceptably low outdoors if the proper precautions are taken. It’s safer than going back to the office or walking in a mall, and it’s a great deal safer than crowding into bars like people are doing in Wisconsin.

The challenge for government is to find creative ways to support our safe, socially distanced emergence from the cocoons of our homes. Along those lines, we’re intrigued by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s apparent plan to close streets so that restaurants can spread out.

Read the Sun-Times’ full editorial here.

7:12 a.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.

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