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Coronavirus live blog, May 7, 2020: Groups demand better pay, protections for front-line workers during pandemic

Here’s the news we learned today on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

Another 138 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, with total fatalities in the state now standing at 3,111.

And Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration on Thursday warned the state is in a death plateau that could last “awhile.”

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


News

8:57 p.m. Groups demand better pay, protections for front-line workers during pandemic

More than a hundred vehicles circle City Hall and the Thompson Center in the Loop as protesters honk their horns and rally for a range of issues, such as universal health care and immigration reform, during the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday afternoon, May 7, 2020. United Working Families organized the protest with dozens of community groups, which came together as the Right to Recovery Coalition. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
More than a hundred vehicles circle City Hall and the Thompson Center in the Loop as protesters honk their horns and rally for a range of issues, such as universal health care and immigration reform, during the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday afternoon, May 7, 2020. United Working Families organized the protest with dozens of community groups, which came together as the Right to Recovery Coalition. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

More than one hundred protesters in their cars and on their bikes convened downtown Thursday afternoon to demand more protective equipment and hazard pay for front-line workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Protesters also called on elected officials to tailor relief efforts for majority black and Latino areas of the city as those neighborhoods have suffered the greatest job losses and highest COVID-19 infections during the pandemic.

“Black and brown communities have been disinvested for years in Chicago — this isn’t news to anyone — but these neighborhoods during the pandemic are the hardest hit, and going back to business as usual isn’t going to cut it,” said Candis Castillo, a board member of United Working Families, a political organization that organized Thursday’s protest with dozens of community groups that came together as the Right to Recovery Coalition.

The coalition is calling for broader policy changes across the board, including universal health care, a pause on immigration raids and deportations, 20 days paid emergency leave, free grocery and medicine deliveries for seniors and people with disabilities, and a rent and mortgage moratorium until the pandemic subsides.

Reporter Carlos Ballesteros has the full story.


7:21 p.m. Manifest Urban Arts Festival will be digital event this year

For the first time in its nearly 20-year history, Columbia College of Chicago’s Manifest Urban Arts Festival will be a digital event, it was announced Thursday.

The festival — a celebration of art, dance, theater, music, sketch comedy, film screenings, gallery shows, lectures, fashion exhibits and more, curated by the school’s students — will be transformed into a “virtual” event, streamed live daily May 11-15 at www.Manifest.colum.edu.

Jamila Woods headlines the festival at 6 p.m May 15; her performance can be viewed online Manifest’s Facebook and website.

Miriam Di Nunzio has more on Columbia College’s annual event.

7:32 p.m. Ford plans to restart Chicago-area factories May 18

Ford said Thursday that it will restart its Chicago-area assembly operations May 18 as part of a phased opening of its North American operations.

Spokeswoman Kelli Felker said the assembly plant at 12600 S. Torrence Ave. and the Chicago Heights stamping plant will reopen with two shifts. They have been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic since March 19.

Ford said its phased approach includes reopening parts depots Monday. It said operations will be slowed by new safety protocols that include extra time between shifts to reduce employee interactions and increase cleaning. The United Auto Workers union has voiced support for a return to work provided that staffers have adequate protective gear.

Reporter David Roeder has the full story.

6:56 p.m. Portable toilets installed in Loop to aid homeless outreach

Portable toilet in alley in the Loop
One of two portable toilets available for use in an alley in the Loop.
Jessica Cabe/Chicago Loop Alliance

Before the coronavirus pandemic, many Loop businesses allowed people experiencing homelessness to use their restrooms — but that all changed when Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order closed most of those businesses.

To help fill that gap, the Chicago Loop Alliance partnered with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to install two public portable toilets Thursday in the Loop.

The toilets are located in the alley behind 7 W. Madison St. and the alley behind 112-116 S. Michigan Ave. They include hand sanitizer and will be serviced twice a week, with additional cleanings from the CLA’s Clean Team.

The toilets will remain in the Loop through the end of May and possibly longer.

Alison Martin


6:05 p.m. Illinois students allowed to return to schools — to clean out lockers, official says

With school out the rest of the academic year, traditional locker clean-outs that are an end-of-year goodbye ritual won’t look the same in a socially distant world — but they can still happen, the top Illinois education official said this week.

Some suburban districts have already started inviting families back through an appointment-based system, while Chicago Public Schools is working on a plan to let students pick up their personal belongings left at schools in March when it was still unclear how long buildings would shuttered.

State Supt. of Education Carmen Ayala said schools are welcome to start allowing students to come by and pick up their possessions as long as proper social distancing is maintained.

“It has to be very well orchestrated for each school,” Ayala said in a Facebook live interview with State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch.

Reporter Nader Issa has the full story.

5:18 p.m. Pritzker urged to let restaurants open June 1 — but at 25% capacity, with employee safeguards

Gov. J.B. Pritzker was urged Thursday to relax his five-step plan to re-open Illinois, by allowing restaurants to open at 25% capacity on June 1 with strict safeguards for their employees.

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said without those changes, Pritzker’s plan would have a devastating impact on restaurants and bars because it would force them to wait until June 28 at the earliest to re-open to dine-in customers.

Instead, Toia proposed restaurants be allowed to move to Phase 3 on June 1 and relax restrictions every 14 days, instead of waiting 28 days between phases.

“We would have a lot of restrictions. Personal protective equipment. Face coverings. Social distancing. Taking the temperature of employees when they come in to work,” Toia said.

“June 1 is still three weeks away. ... Indiana, Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Tennessee are open. Let’s see if they have a spike. If they do, OK. If they don’t, I would really urge the governor to look at letting us re-open with 25% or less capacity, then use the 14-day model and, hopefully, by mid-June be at 50% capacity.”

Reporter Fran Spielman has the full story.

4:31 p.m. Illinois tops 3K coronavirus deaths, 70K cases; peak could last ‘awhile,’ officials say

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, speaks at Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily Illinois coronavirus update at the Thompson Center in Chicago, Thursday, April 23, 2020.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, speaks at Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily Illinois coronavirus update at the Thompson Center in Chicago, Thursday, April 23, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

Another 138 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, with total fatalities in the state now standing at 3,112.

And Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration on Thursday warned the state is in a death plateau that could last “awhile.” A Pritzker spokeswoman did not provide further details on just how long that could last.

Projections released by the governor’s office two weeks ago showed a range of 50 to 150 deaths a day into “early May.”

The state has seen 12 days in which more than 100 people died from COVID-19, mostly in the last few weeks.

The state also reported 2,641 newly confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide total to 70,873. The state received 17,783 test results on Wednesday and has administered more than 379,000 tests since the pandemic began.

Read more about Pritzker’s daily press briefing from reporter Tina Sfondeles here.


3:39 p.m. Best Buy opens 30 Chicago-area stores for appointment shopping

Best Buy has reopened 30 Chicago-area stores for customers who can shop via appointment. The electronics and appliance retailer closed its shopping aisles in March because of the coronavirus but has allowed customers to pick up items curbside that were bought online.

The local stores are among about 200 U.S. locations the company is opening. “Since each customer’s appointment will have a dedicated sales associate, there will be a limited number of customers in the store at any one time to ensure appropriate social distancing takes place,” said an article posted on Best Buy’s website. The retailer has about 1,000 stores in the U.S.

It outlined several safety protocols: Employees will be required to wear masks and face shields and check their temperatures before they start work. The customer and sales associate will shop together, and an employee will immediately wipe down all surfaces the customer touches.

Check out the full list of local stores offering shop-by-appointment.

2:30 p.m. Archdiocese launches call-in prayer service

FRANCE-HEALTH-VIRUS-RELIGION-MASS Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images

Last week, amid pressure from religious groups including a federal lawsuit from a northwest Illinois church, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker made a late revision to his extended order adding a provision for “the free exercise of religion.” Soon after, the local arm of the Roman Catholic Church announced it was planning to resume masses limited to 10 people under guidelines recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new order, effective through May, says leaving home is allowed “to 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.”

Many churches have made do with virtual services, including Easter and Holy Week masses that were live streamed online.

On Thursday, a group of parishioners from the Archdiocese of Chicago launched another remote religious service for Chicago-area Catholics: a prayer hotline.

“Open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., A Call to Prayer connects callers with volunteer parishioners who will pray with them, regardless of their faith identities,” the Archdiocese explained in a release announcing the new service.

Along with the prayer hotline, the service also offers voicemail, e-mail, and multilingual options, including Spanish and Polish.

“Before he died for us, Jesus prayed ‘may they all be one’,” said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago. “As people unite in this Call to Prayer, may they be consoled in knowing that it is the Lord Himself who is connecting them to one another,” Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago., said in a release from the Archdiocese.

The phone number for the service is (312) 741-3388. To connect via email, contact praywithme@calledtoprayer.org. To connect over email in Spanish, contact rezaconmigo@calledtoprayer.org, and for Polish, email pomodlsiezemna@calledtoprayer.org.

Lizzie Schiffman Tufano

1:29 p.m. Clorox wipes should be fully back in stock by summer, company CEO says

Clorox says retail shelves will not be fully stocked with its popular wipes and other disinfectant cleaners used to combat COVID-19 until this summer.

“We think that there’s going to be substantial improvement this summer,” Clorox chairman and CEO Benno Dorer told Yahoo Finance in an interview. “It’s going to be touch and go until then, unfortunately.”

Shoppers have become increasingly frustrated as they scour the internet and local stores for Lysol sprays and Clorox wipes, only to find shelves picked clean after households stocked up on cleaning products to protect against infection, especially in COVID-19 hot zones.

Manufacturers like Clorox were not prepared for skyrocketing demand in a sleepy sector with reliably steady sales that usually fluctuate only during flu season.

Read more on this story here.

10:01 a.m. Strike by 6,000 Illinois nursing home workers averted

A strike has been averted for 6,000 nursing home workers who threatened a work stoppage at 64 facilities beginning Friday if their demands were not met.

The workers, members of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, announced Thursday morning a tentative agreement on a two-year contract that includes a $15 minimum wage, hazard pay during the pandemic, additional sick days and provisions ensuring that employees are not required to work without adequate equipment to protect themselves from the virus.

“The tentative agreement was overwhelmingly supported by members of the bargaining committee, but must be ratified by the larger group of members who will be impacted by its terms,” according to a statement from the union.

The agreement covers more than 10,000 members of SEIU Healthcare who provide care to residents at more than 100 nursing homes.

Read the full story here.

8:02 a.m. Will students in Illinois go back to school in the fall?

Will students in Illinois go back to school in the fall?

The state’s top education official said Wednesday she doesn’t know.

But she said the 2020-21 academic year could start with remote learning, could feature students from different grades attending different days of the week or could involve “intermittent closings” if COVID-19 infections spike again.

State Supt. of Education Carmen Ayala in a Facebook live interview with State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch this week laid out a number of possibilities for how school might look in the fall, including a return at “full force” — but said it will all depend on how controlled the pandemic is statewide in the coming months.

She specifically referred to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s 5-point plan for reopening the state that he revealed Tuesday, which said schools could potentially be a part of Phase 4, requiring the region in which a district is located to have seen a “continued decline” in virus infection rates and hospitalizations.

“How soon we start the school year, that will all depend on the phase we are in, come August, come September,” she told Welch, a democrat from Westchester. “We will have to see where we are with the coronavirus to determine how much we can gather, if it’s going to be 10, if it’s going to be 50, what that might look like.”

Read the full story here.

8:12 a.m. 33 million have sought US unemployment aid since virus hit

Nearly 3.2 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the business shutdowns caused by the viral outbreak deepened the worst U.S. economic catastrophe in decades.

Roughly 33.5 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the seven weeks since the coronavirus began forcing millions of companies to close their doors and slash their workforces. That is the equivalent of one in five Americans who had been employed back in February, when the unemployment rate had reached a 50-year low of just 3.5%.

In Illinois, 74,476 people filed first-time claims for jobless benefits last week, down from 81, 245 people a week earlier. Overall, nearly 900,000 Illinoisans have filed for unemployment since mid-March.

Read the full story here.

7:08 p.m. Attorneys for Cook County Jail detainees ask for records on COVID-19 testing

Advocates for Cook County Jail detainees are asking for the sheriff’s office to provide additional records to show that they are following a federal judge’s order to widely test inmates for coronavirus, including those who do not have symptoms.

Citing the most recent COVID-19-related detainee death — the seventh at the jail— advocates are questioning whether the sheriff’s office’s has the ability to meet U.S. Judge Matthew Kennelly’s previous order to enforce social distancing, test and protect those in custody.

In a response to the court-ordered report Sheriff Tom Dart’s lawyers released to Kennelly, attorneys for the detainees Wednesday asked the judge to consider beginning the process of convening a three-judge panel, which would weigh-in on the possible widespread release of older detainees and those with underlying medical conditions .

The attorneys also requested records from the sheriff’s office they said would shed more light on testing for coronavirus at the jail and social distancing procedures, writing that “the Report makes plain that the Sheriff’s Office has not achieved compliance, particularly with respect to coronavirus testing and social distancing.”

The lawyers for the detainees filed a class-action suit against Dart in March that sought to have elderly detainees and those who would be most seriously affected by COVID-19 released immediately.

Read the full story by Matthew Hendrickson here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

5:07 p.m. Essential workers include those who clean our wastewater to protect our environment during pandemic

Have you thought about what happens to your water once it goes down the your drain or after you flush your toilet? In most of Cook County, it ends up at one of Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and its water treatment plants.

These reclamation plants are run by dedicated professionals: plant operators, engineers, pipefitters, laborers, machinists and so many others. These front-line workers are backed by many more support staff who continue to ensure that our wastewater is cleaned and our environment is protected.

MWRD essential staff, like other essential workers, come in and perform their duties despite the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Contact with other workers and the water reclamation process increases their odds of contracting the virus. While MWRD takes many precautions to reduce these risks for staff, the threat remains while they perform their responsibilities.

The next time you wash your hands, flush your toilet or have a glass of water, take a moment to remember the MWRD staff who are working to protect our water, our communities and the environment.

Read more letters to the editor here.

7:22 a.m. Federal stimulus checks: No forwarding address for some recipients

It’s already been widely reported that the Treasury Department mistakenly sent out thousands of stimulus payments to dead people in its rush to get money out the door and revive the economy.

The explanation is there wasn’t time to cross reference the list of check recipients with the Social Security Administration’s death index, which is understandable to a point.

But couldn’t some computer whiz have fashioned a fairly simple program to weed out the people with “DECD” behind their names?

Keyser was hardly the only “DECD” person to get such a check with that fairly obvious clue printed right on the face. There have been similar anecdotal reports from other news outlets around the country, as well as from the mother-in-law of one of my bosses at the paper, which cinches it.

The question is what to do with such a check once it has been received.

Read more from columnist Mark Brown here.

6:18 a.m. We worry about what our very sick president will do next

Every parent has warily confronted the hypothetical question: What would you do if you suspected your child was unwell?

Not physically, but emotionally unwell, or mentally unstable? Imagine learning your teenager, for example, had been yelling demeaning slurs at the girls in his class, harassing them and calling them names.

And that he’d been secretly using his social media accounts to go on late-night rants against perceived enemies, attacking their looks, and again, calling them names in unending, seething, rambling posts.

Read the full column by S.E. Cupp here.