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Illinois stay-at-home order upheld by U.S. district court (LIVE UPDATES)

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

The Latest

U.S. district judge rules Pritzker’s stay-at-home order constitutional, denies Illinois church’s lawsuit

Millennium Park sits empty in Chicago amid the stay-at-home order.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

A U.S. district judge issued a ruling Sunday upholding Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order for Illinois as constitutional.

The Beloved Church of Lena, an Evangelical church located about 50 miles west of Rockford, had filed a complaint Thursday seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction in order to resume worship services with its 80 congregants.

The church and its pastor, Stephen Cassell, still held in-person service Sunday without intervention from police, though the temporary restraining order was denied.

“Given the continuing threat posed by COVID-19, the [stay-at-home] Order preserves relatively robust avenues for praise, prayer and fellowship and passes constitutional muster,” Judge John Z. Lee wrote in a 37-page decision.

Lee cited two historical cases — Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905) and Prince v. Massachusetts (1944) — which ruled that “a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease” and “the right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community...to communicable disease.”

Read the full story from reporter Ben Pope here.


News

5:30 p.m. Illinois sets new daily record by processing nearly 20K coronavirus tests, finding 2,994 new cases

Illinois processed a new daily record of 19,417 coronavirus tests Saturday and 2,994 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, health officials announced Sunday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Illinois also suffered another 63 deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the state’s coronavirus death toll to 2,618 and total case count to 61,499.

The 63 deaths mark only the third time since April 21 that the state has recorded fewer than 70 deaths in a given day, and the 19,417 tests processed shatters the previous record of 16,316 set on April 24.

The 15.4 percent infection rate — the percentage of tests that came back positive — is also lower than normal.

A total of 4,701 Illinoisans are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, with 1,232 occupying ICU beds. Ninety-seven of the state’s 102 counties have recorded cases.

Read the full story by Tom Schuba and Ben Pope here.

2:30 p.m. Illinois ‘getting ready for point where we can begin to reopen the economy,’ Pritzker says

Two days after hundreds of demonstrators in Chicago and Springfield protested a statewide stay-at-home order that has rendered hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans jobless in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state is now “getting ready for a point where we can begin to reopen the economy.”

During an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Pritzker said Sunday that Illinois has “really bent the curve significantly” while noting that hospitalizations have only been “increasing barely.”

On Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 977 of the 3,687 beds available in intensive care units across the state were open, although some regions of the state had more limited capacity. At hospitals in northeast Illinois, only 28 of 220 beds were available.

“We’re not through this yet, there’s no doubt, and we’ve been looking to see those numbers flatten,” Pritzker said of the number of hospitalizations. “We are seeing them flatten now.”

Read the full story by Tom Schuba here.

1:00 p.m. Faced with 19,000 dead, care homes seek shield from lawsuits

NEW YORK — Faced with 19,000 coronavirus deaths and counting, the nation’s nursing homes are pushing back against a potential flood of lawsuits with a sweeping lobbying effort to get states to grant them emergency protection from claims of inadequate care.

At least 15 states — including Illinois — have enacted laws or governors’ orders that explicitly or apparently provide nursing homes and long-term care facilities some protection from lawsuits arising from the crisis. And in the case of New York, which leads the nation in deaths in such facilities, a lobbying group wrote the first draft of a measure that apparently makes it the only state with specific protection from both civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution.

Now the industry is forging ahead with a campaign to get other states on board with a simple argument: This was an unprecedented crisis and nursing homes should not be liable for events beyond their control, such as shortages of protective equipment and testing, shifting directives from authorities, and sicknesses that have decimated staffs.

“As our care providers make these difficult decisions, they need to know they will not be prosecuted or persecuted,” read a letter sent this month from several major hospital and nursing home groups to their next big goal, California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has yet to make a decision. Other states in their sights include Florida, Pennsylvania and Missouri.

Read the full report here.

11:45 a.m. Highland Park teen, mom teach ‘virtual’ Zumba, connecting people across the country amid pandemic

When Illinois schools started to shut down in mid-March because of COVID-19, Highland Park High School freshman Julia Kerpel didn’t want to stop teaching Zumba.

So with the help of her mom and fellow instructor Melissa Kerpel, the 15-year-old turned their unfinished basement into a fitness studio and has kept offering classes twice a week thanks to a laptop and the internet.

“We’ve had our old familiar faces and some new people from all around the country who have joined us,” said Julia, who’s believed to be one of the youngest instructors in the country licensed to teach Zumba.

Before the pandemic hit, Julia and her mom taught at Highland Park High School and the Lutz Family Center, with many participants coming from Working Together, a non-profit that supports low-income families in Highwood and Highland Park.

Just a few days after their last face-to-face class, the mother-daughter duo decided to give online teaching a try. The class went off without a hitch; participants receive instructions on how to join the class via Zoom.

“Everyone loved it,” Julia said. “We got some positive messages, and we thought, ‘Let’s keep doing it.’”

Read the full story by Suzanne McBride here.

11:13 a.m. Michigan’s governor says protesters “depicted some of the worst racism” in U.S. history

WASHINGTON — Michigan’s governor says gun-carrying protesters who demonstrated inside her state’s Capitol “depicted some of the worst racism” and “awful parts” of U.S. history.

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer tells CNN that the protests featured “Confederate Flags, and nooses,” as well as swastikas.

Members of the Michigan Liberty Militia protested the state’s stay-at-home orders this week, some with weapons and tactical gear and their faces partially covered. They went inside the Capitol, where being armed is allowed, then demanded access to the House floor, which is prohibited.

Some went to the Senate gallery, where a senator said armed men shouted at her.

Michigan’s Republican-controlled Legislature has questioned Whitmer’s authority to extend stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the governor used an executive order to extend a state of emergency declaration and has directed most businesses statewide to remain closed.

Mentioned as a possible running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Whitmer said Sunday, “This isn’t something we just negotiate ourselves out of and it’s a political matter.”

“This is a public health crisis,” she said.

— Associated Press

9:42 a.m. Local artists to takeover Mayor Lightfoot’s Instagram each Sunday in May

Mayor Lori Lightfoot will once again host live performances by local artists on her Instagram in an attempt to help raise awareness and support of the Art for Illinois Relief Fund.

The performances, which will take place each Sunday in May, will feature a variety of genres. This Sunday, Lightfoot’s Instagram will broadcast performances by Luciano Antonio (10am), Opal Staples (Noon) and DJ Ayana Contreras (5-7pm).

All donations made Sunday to the Art for Illinois Relief Fund, which benefits artists and cultural organizations who have been financially affected by the coronavirus pandemic, will be matched by an anonymous donor.

As of Sunday morning, the fund has raised more than $5 million. That money goes directly to artists and arts organizations through the grantmaking partners 3Arts and Arts Work Fund.

For details, visit ArtsForIllinois.org.

— Madeline Kenney

8:45 a.m. Chicago area companies getting COVID-19 loans include railcar maker that paid CEO $2.1M

Faced with the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic, quickly rolled out the Paycheck Protection Program, aiming to keep workers on the payroll at small businesses as business dwindled because of the COVID-19 shutdowns.

Among the Chicago-area companies to benefit, records show, were:

  • A railcar manufacturer — which secured the maximum $10 million — that closed a factory in Virginia last year and opened a new one in Mexico while paying its CEO $2.1 million in total compensation.
  • A clean-energy company in Cicero that told shareholders when it announced its $9.5 million loan that COVID-19 hadn’t harmed its business.
  • Two companies that employ thousands of workers — well over the program’s usual 500-employee limit, though businesses also can qualify based on net worth or net income.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said this past week that the rules that had allowed publicly traded corporations and other big companies to quickly deplete the initial $349 billion pot — shutting out many mom-and-pop operations — needed tightening. He warned publicly held companies that got more than $2 million through the coronavirus stimulus program that they would be audited. And he has asked large enterprises to voluntarily give back the money or possiblly face criminal charges if found to have cheated.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, which is overseeing the program, requires that “borrowers still must certify in good faith that their PPP loan request is necessary,” taking into account access to cash and credit. “For example, it is unlikely that a public company with substantial market value and access to capital markets will be able to make the required certification in good faith,” the Trump administration said April 23.

The SBA won’t disclose who got the bailout money. But some large national franchises have said they’ll give back the money they got after reports disclosed that. Among them: Potbelly, the Chicago-based sandwich giant.

Read the full Watchdogs report from Tim Novak and Lauren Fitzpatrick here.

7:23 a.m. Warren Buffett confident in future despite coronavirus uncertainty

OMAHA, Neb. — Billionaire investor Warren Buffett doesn’t know how the economy will recover from the coronavirus outbreak shutdown, but he remains optimistic in the long-term future of the United States.

Buffett said Saturday at Berkshire Hathaway’s online annual meeting that there’s no way to predict the economic future right now because the possibilities are still too varied. Berkshire’s meeting was held without any of the roughly 40,000 shareholders who typically attend.

“We do not know exactly what happens when you voluntarily shut down a substantial portion of your society,” Buffett said because it has never been done. He said it may take several years to understand all the economic implications of the coronavirus outbreak, but it hasn’t changed his long-term view because the country has endured wars and depressions before.

“I remain convinced … that nothing can basically stop America,” Buffett said.

Read the full report here.


New cases

  • Health officials announced another 105 people died of complications from the new coronavirus since Friday across Illinois, raising the state’s pandemic death toll to 2,559. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike also said Saturday that 2,450 more people have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the state’s case total to 58,505.
  • A quick rise in the number of coronavirus cases among inmates held in Chicago’s downtown federal jail continued Friday, with the Bureau of Prisons reporting 74 inmates had tested positive, up from 48 on Thursday.
  • Chicago police announced five more cases of COVID-19 Friday, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the department to 441.

Analysis & Commentary

4:30 p.m. Trump’s blatant taxpayer-paid ploy to grab credit for stimulus checks: A note on White House letterhead

President Donald Trump hijacked what should have been a routine IRS confirmation letter into a taxpayer-paid election-year messaging tool sent to millions of potential voters in Illinois and across the nation.

Folks who received their COVID-19 economic stimulus cash via direct deposit in mid-April last week received a note on White House letterhead with Trump’s grandiose Sharpie signature.

There’s a Spanish language version on the other side that Trump also signed. The top of the letter says “The White House” with the word Washington underneath.

The return address on the letters is from the Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, and it includes the warning, “Official Business,” with the penalty for private use $300.

The letters, worth mentioning, were mailed through the U.S. Postal Service, the cash-short agency Trump is angry at because of his grievances against Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. Trump wants to deny the USPS emergency COVID-19 aid.

Read the full commentary from Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet.

2:08 p.m. Stay-at-home orders or not, with technology, the doors of the church are always open

Everyone has the right to church, says a federal lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of the Beloved Church, a small evangelical congregation outside of Rockford. It is fighting Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s extension of the COVID-19 stay-at-home executive order.

The plaintiffs argue that by classifying sacred worship as “non-essential,” Pritzker and other public officials demonstrate “illegal and discriminatory hostility to religious practice, churches, and people of faith” and are “relegating them to second-class citizenship.” The lawsuit was filed by the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm in Chicago.

“Most faith leaders have found new ways to connect with parishioners” via Zoom and other online outlets during the pandemic, Pritzker responded.

The governor also tweaked his executive order, to classify religious gatherings as “essential activities.” Illinois residents can now “engage in the free exercise of religion, provided that such exercise must comply with social distancing requirements and the limit on gatherings of more than 10 people in keeping with CDC guidelines for the protection of public health.”

Religious institutions are encouraged to “use online or drive-in services to protect the health and safety of their congregants,” Pritzker’s order now states.

To God, nothing is more sacred than life. In this pandemic, I am staying home to save them.

Read Laura Washington’s column in its entirety here.

1:02 p.m. Mayor Lightfoot’s ‘solidarity pledge’ is a slap in the face to Chicago renters

The “Chicago Housing Solidarity Pledge” unveiled by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday — at a press conference attended by bankers and real estate lobbyists but no tenants or tenants’ unions — is a slap in the face to Chicago’s renters.

This non-binding and totally unenforceable pledge allows landlords to say they’ll go easy on tenants, for example, by eliminating late fees while providing no substantive, universal relief to struggling renters.

If Lightfoot truly cared about renters, who comprise more than half of her constituents, she’d use her platform to urge Gov. J.B. Pritzker to repeal a statewide ban on rent control through executive action and institute a rent and mortgage freeze.

She’d listen to the tenants and advocacy groups who have been fighting for this, to those of us warning that once the eviction moratorium is lifted, families with several months’ of rent debt will be on the streets.

Instead, Lightfoot is listening to the deep-pocketed developers who funded her campaign and whose sole interest is protecting their profit. Shame on her.

Read Sunday’s Letters to the Editor here.

7:30 a.m. Warning for Illinois GOP: Suburban voters give Pritzker high marks on handling COVID-19

A recent poll shows Illinoisans strongly approve of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in Illinois and an even higher number supports his stay-at-home order.

The We Ask America/Capitol Fax poll of 800 registered voters taken April 23-24 found that 71% approve of Pritzker’s handling of the state’s response to the outbreak, while just 23% disapprove.

A whopping 77% support the stay-at-home order, while only 18% oppose it and 4% don’t know. And 59% say they strongly support the order, while just 8% strongly oppose it.

Meanwhile, the state is split on President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic. While 48% support his response, 49% disapprove; 3% percent didn’t know.

A strong plurality of 48% say they worry that states might lift their stay-at-home orders too soon, while 29% say they worry states might be too slow; 23% don’t know.

The results included really bad news for suburban Republicans, who already appeared headed for yet another harsh November before COVID-19.

Read Rich Miller’s full column here.