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Coronavirus live blog, May 9, 2020: Obama slams Trump’s COVID-19 response

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

Another 111 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois, state health officials announced Saturday, bringing the state’s total pandemic death toll to 3,342. Here’s what happened in the fight against the coronavirus in Chicago and around the state.

News

Obama slams Trump’s COVID-19 response

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.

Obama’s comments came during a Friday call with 3,000 members of the Obama Alumni Association, people who served in his administration. Obama urged his supporters to back his former vice president, Joe Biden, who is trying to unseat Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

Read the full story here.

4:45 p.m. FACT CHECK: How credible is President Trump on coronavirus death tolls?

WASHINGTON — Truth can be a casualty when President Donald Trump talks about deaths from the coronavirus in the United States.

He’s claimed that the United States is on par with Germany in keeping down COVID-19 deaths, which is not the case in mortality reports. He’s brushed off projections that deaths in his country will double from earlier forecasts, misrepresenting how the numbers were calculated.

These distortions emerged over the past week alongside his relentless bragging about the U.S. testing system, which failed in the crucial early weeks and remains globally subpar. Pushing to get the country back to normal, Trump also suggested that children are safe from the coronavirus, ignoring the several thousand kids known to have been sickened by it, some gravely.

Read the full fact check story by the Associated Press here.

2:35 p.m. Illinois records another 111 new deaths, 2,325 new cases of coronavirus

Another 111 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois, state health officials announced Saturday, bringing the state’s total pandemic death toll to 3,342.

The state also reported 2,325 new cases, bringing the total to 76,085 — although most of those have since recovered — with at least one recorded case in 98 of the state’s 102 counties.

But Saturday marked the fifth straight day with at least 100 deaths reported, the longest such streak during what Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has said is the peak of the pandemic.

Illinois received 16,617 new test results on Friday, down about 4,000 from Thursday’s daily record-breaking total.

The 13.99% positivity rate on those new test results is nonetheless comparable to the rate of 13.96% from a day earlier.

Under his “Restore Illinois” plan to slowly reopen regions of the state economy in phases, Pritzker has said a region must see a positivity rate under 20% for 14 consecutive days before reopening can begin to be considered in that area, something the northeast region of the state — including Cook County and neighboring counties — is nowhere close to reaching.

Read the full report from Ben Pope here.

2:09 p.m. Volunteers hand out face masks at Northwest Side church

Volunteers spent Saturday morning and afternoon handing out face masks and sharing prayers at a drive-thru station set up outside Midwest Bible Church on the Northwest Side.

Some 5,000 masks provided by former mayoral candidate Dr. Willie Wilson were distributed at the non-denominational house of worship at 3441 N. Cicero Ave. As drivers pulled up, volunteers walked up to vehicles and offered short prayers.

Wilson has said he’s providing 5 million masks for Chicago residents in need during the coronavirus pandemic. Many were distributed at several churches citywide Saturday, with a giveaway at House of Hope, 752 E. 114th St., slated to last until 6 p.m.

— Tyler LaRiviere

Volunteers with Midwest Bible Church stand in the center of Cicero with signs advertising free masks and prayers offered in the parking lot of Midwest Bible Church on Saturday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Volunteers pray in the parking lot of Midwest Bible Church on Saturday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

1:54 p.m. US approves new coronavirus antigen test with fast results

U.S. regulators have approved a new type of coronavirus test that administration officials have promoted as a key to opening up the country.

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday announced emergency authorization for antigen tests developed by Quidel Corp. of San Diego. The test can rapidly detect fragments of virus proteins in samples collected from swabs swiped inside the nasal cavity, the FDA said in a statement.

The antigen test is the third type of test to be authorized by the FDA.

Currently, the only way to diagnose active COVID-19 is to test a patient’s nasal swab for the genetic material of the virus. While considered highly accurate, the tests can take hours and require expensive, specialized equipment mainly found at commercial labs, hospitals or universities.

A second type looks in the blood for antibodies, the proteins produced by the body days or weeks after fighting an infection. Such tests are helpful for researchers to understand how far a disease has spread within a community, but they aren’t useful for diagnosing active infections.

Antigen tests can diagnose active infections by detecting the earliest toxic traces of the virus rather than genetic code of the virus itself.

Read the full report here.

1:08 p.m. Remdesivir being shipped to six states, including Illinois

WASHINGTON — The federal government is sending supplies of the first drug that appears to help speed the recovery of some COVID-19 patients to six states, where it will be distributed by health departments.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Saturday that it is delivering 140 cases of the drug remdesivir to Illinois, 110 cases to New Jersey, 40 cases to Michigan, 30 cases each to Connecticut and Maryland and 10 cases to Iowa. Each case contains 40 vials of the drug, the department said in a statement.

“State and local health departments have the greatest insights into community-level needs in the COVID-19 response,” the statement said.

Read the full report here.

12:45 p.m. Watch Bob Odenkirk deliver SIU’s e-commencement speech

Bob Odenkirk shared words of wisdom while delivering a five-minute e-commencement speech Saturday at his alma mater, Southern Illinois University.
Screenshot

Berywn native and “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk delivered an e-commencement speech Saturday for graduates at his alma mater, Southern Illinois University.

The Carbondale school canceled its face-to-face graduation ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the Emmy-winning alumnus and comedian popped up in more than 2,100 graduates’ inboxes instead.

“This is my opportunity to lecture you on all the things I’ve learned in life, so this will be a short speech,” Odenkirk said in his five-minute talk, reminiscing about his days hosting shows on the college radio station.

The video also included the conferral of degrees and a performance by the school marching band. Grads will receive printed commencement programs along with their diplomas in the mail.

After surveying graduates about potential alternatives, the school plans to hold “a traditional, in-person ceremony in August or December.”

Watch Odenkirk’s speech in the virtual ceremony here.

— Mitchell Armentrout

12:21 p.m. Nursing homes account for 48% of all Illinois COVID-19 deaths

More than 50 Illinois nursing homes have eclipsed double-digit coronavirus deaths as several facilities reported spikes in their number of cases and deaths in the past week, according to data released Friday by state health officials.

In all, 3,910 new cases were reported this week along with 472 new deaths, according to a count by the Chicago Sun-Times. That brings state nursing home cases to 11,437 and deaths to 1,553. Last week, the state saw one-week increases of 3,229 cases and 456 deaths.

Long-term care facilities now account for 48% of Illinois’ 3,241 COVID-19 deaths, records show.

As was the case last week, the numbers, reported weekly, have inconsistencies from week to week and, because of lags in reporting, appear to be lower than the real-time toll the virus is taking on those facilities. Some homes, for example, reported fewer cases or deaths this week than last, an issue officials have attributed in part to further investigation revealing non-COVID health issues.

This week, 18 more homes reached double-digit deaths, bringing that total to 51 facilities across the state. Twenty-two have reported more than 100 total cases, with two homes over 200.

Read the full report from Nader Issa here.

11:47 a.m. New coronavirus outbreaks in Germany, South Korea show the risks in easing up

ROME — South Korea’s capital closed down more than 2,100 bars and other nightspots Saturday because of a new cluster of coronavirus infections, Germany scrambled to contain fresh outbreaks at slaughterhouses, and Italian authorities worried that people were getting too friendly at cocktail hour during the country’s first weekend of eased restrictions.

The new outbreaks — and the fears of a second wave of contagion — underscored the dangers authorities face as they try to reopen their economies.

Around the world, the U.S. and other hard-hit countries are wrestling with how to ease curbs on business and public activity without causing the virus to come surging back.

Read the full report here.

10:37 a.m. ICYMI: Admiral Theatre sues over PPP loan delay, alleges regulations violate First Amendment

Chicago’s Admiral Theatre is suing the Small Business Administration, alleging the strip club’s First Amendment rights were violated when a ruling on its loan application has been stalled by regulations that discriminate against adult businesses.

The suit filed Friday in U.S. District Court names the SBA and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as defendants.

The lawsuit claims the SBA is taking too long to rule on the North Side strip club’s Paycheck Protection Program application, which provides forgivable loans to businesses which have fewer than 500 workers.

The delay is due to SBA regulations which prohibit funding for businesses that “present live performances of a prurient sexual nature,” the lawsuit states.

However, the suit continues: “All of the entertainment provided by the admiral is non-obscene (and thus cannot be deemed prurient),” the suit states. “No entertainer performing at the Admiral has even been charged with, let alone convicted of, the crime of obscenity.”

Read the full story from Emmanuel Camarillo here.

8:45 a.m. Sky owner hopeful WNBA will salvage 2020 season, but at least one player thinks it’s not worth risk

Sky forward Jantel Lavender said what a lot of people were thinking, as hard as it might be to accept:

She doesn’t think it’s feasible for the WNBA to have a 2020 season.

“For me, I just can’t see it happening, only because there’s no [coronavirus] vaccine,” Lavender said. “To think about having a season where everybody’s in one location and we play in one place, I don’t know, it’s just unrealistic, and I think it would make more sense to wait it out and just see where we go from here.”

The season originally was scheduled to start May 15, but it has been postponed indefinitely amid the pandemic as league officials continue to plan for different scenarios.

Although players such as Lavender are skeptical, Sky owner Michael Alter remains hopeful the season will go on in some capacity. One thing he’s sure of, he said, is that if the league does get a green light from public health officials, fans will not be in attendance, which would have a major affect on the revenue for a league already in financial distress.

Read the full story from Madeline Kenney here.

7:45 a.m. Chicago postal worker dies of COVID-19

A Chicago U.S. Postal Service letter carrier has died of COVID-19.

Unique L. Clay, 31, was pronounced dead at 8:47 a.m. May 5, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. She lived in Englewood.

Clay, a mother of three who had just given birth a week earlier, is the first active letter carrier in Chicago to die of the virus, according to a statement from the National Association of Letter Carriers. She worked for the postal service for two years.

An autopsy found Clay died of a novel coronavirus infection and ruled her death natural, the medical examiner’s office said.

More than 30 letter carriers in the city have tested positive for COVID-19, the union said.

Union representatives and employees at the Irving Park Post Office, 3319 N. Cicero Ave., will hold a balloon release in Clay’s honor on Saturday morning while wearing masks and practicing social distancing, according to the union.

— Luke Wilusz

7:15 a.m. Nonprofits distribute thousands of pounds of food, PPE in Bronzeville

Representatives from community groups, advocacy organizations and churches gathered in Bronzeville Friday afternoon to collect their share of thousands of pounds of food and personal protective equipment intended to ease the burden for those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s no question that the amount of pain that this virus has caused is incredible, but at the same time we have to recognize that a lot of the pain that’s being caused is because of a lack of information, because of a lack of access to resources,” said Todd Belcore, executive director of the nonprofit Social Change, one of the groups organizing the distribution.

“We have to respond to that and we also have to respond to the fact that people are terrified,” he added. “Not just terrified by the prospect of getting the virus but also terrified by the fact that they won’t have food to eat.”

Read the full story by Sam Charles here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

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.