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Coronavirus live blog, June 12, 2020: Chicago on pace for next reopening phase July 1

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

Chicago and the state continued trending in the right direction as it emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. The state confirmed 595 new cases of COVID-19, which is the lowest total for new cases since March 30. Health officials say the city remains on pace to move on to the next phase in July.

The Chicago Riverwalk opened up and restaurants began set up their outdoor seating in the cordoned off sections that are closed for vehicles.

Here’s what we learned today in the fight against coronavirus in Chicago and around the state.

News

9 p.m. Chicago on pace for next reopening phase July 1: ‘If people can hang in there’

Chicago police blocked access to the Lake Shore Drive pedestrian bridge leading to the Lakefront Trail at North Avenue Beach in March after the city closed the area to pedestrians amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chicago police blocked access to the Lake Shore Drive pedestrian bridge leading to the Lakefront Trail at North Avenue Beach in March after the city closed the area to pedestrians amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago’s top health official expects the city to advance to the next phase of reopening from the coronavirus shutdown on July 1.

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Friday it’s not out of the question Chicago could keep pace with the rest of the state in moving to Phase 4 as early as June 26 — but that it could take even longer if pandemic conditions deteriorate.

“The real question will be of course what happens over the next few weeks,” Arwady said at a news conference announcing a new city coronavirus data portal.

The next reopening phase allows for gatherings of up to 50 people and lets museums, gyms, restaurants and additional businesses and institutions resume indoor operations at limited capacities.

But city and state officials are waiting to see the potential impact on the spread of the virus following limited Phase 3 reopenings of restaurants and businesses, as well as days of large protests following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

“I think the protests have served to remind people that there are risks, and so the fact that protesters broadly in Chicago have been wearing face coverings — I’ve been pleased to see that,” Arwady said, urging protesters to keep 6 feet of social distance and self-quarantine for two weeks.

Read the full report from Mitchell Armentrout here.

7:45 p.m. Hold the deep fried candy bars — Illinois State Fair nixed over COVID-19 concerns

SPRINGFIELD — For the first time since World War II, Illinoisans will not be able to look forward to a summer filled with corn dogs, lemon shake-ups, the Butter Cow – or politicians trying to look at ease in their summer togs and wingtips at the state fair.

After suggesting the possibility weeks ago, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday he was pulling the plug on the Illinois State Fair in Springfield and the DuQuoin State Fair in deep southern Illinois, making them the latest events canceled because of public safety concerns over the coronavirus.

The decision drew the ire of some downstate Republicans.

It’s the first time the fair in Springfield has been canceled since 1945, the final year of a four-year hiatus during the second World War.

Read the full story by Neil Earley here.

5:05 p.m. Sunday’s CPS virtual high school graduation features Oprah, Miguel Cervantes, Common, more

Oprah Winfrey is the commencement speaker for Sunday’s Chicago Public Schools’ citywide high school graduation, with Chicago native and “Hamilton” star Miguel Cervantes emceeing the 1 p.m. virtual ceremony that’s being held online because of coronavirus restrictions.

The “Graduation 2020” ceremony will be hosted by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and also feature rapper and Chicago native Common.

Others set to make appearances during the hourlong program, according to the mayor’s office, include: Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber from the Cubs; Tim Anderson from the White Sox; the Bears’ Charles Leno; Blackhawks star Patrick Kane; the Sky’s Diamond Deshields and Cheyenne Parker; the Bulls’ Daniell Gafford; and “The Voice” finalist Katie Kadan; with “after-party” appearances by DJ Khaled, Ellie King, X Ambassadors, “Jagged Little Pill” musicians, The Second City, Thomas Rhett, Andy Grammer and, Louis the Child.

Beside coverage on multiple TV and radio stations, it will be streamed live on the city’s website and the mayor’s social media channels.

CPS students have been remote-learning since Gov. J.B. Pritzker closed schools statewide in March to try to limit the spread of COVID-19.

— Satchel Price

3:50 p.m. Chicagoans flock to stretch of Broadway closed off for pedestrians in Lake View

A stretch of Broadway between Belmont and Diversey avenues is closed off for pedestrians as part of the city’s cautious reopening.
Anthony Vazquez/For the Sun-Times

Sarah Kraus was supposed to be on vacation in Italy now, with her buddy, Chelsea Stoyanoff.

Instead, the 30-somethings from Lake View found themselves sipping beers outside Dry Hop Brewers on Broadway on a blustery Friday.

“If I can’t be in Rome drinking wine and eating pizza, I guess being on a street drinking some beers in Chicago is as good a second best as you can get,” said Kraus, 31.

There were very few complaints, as long cooped-up Chicagoans flocked to a stretch of Broadway between Belmont and Diversey avenues closed off for pedestrians as part of the city’s cautious reopening.

Tables were all widely spaced apart and signs were posted every few feet, reminding patrons to wear masks.

“It feels so great today. You can see the energy on the street,” said Martin Cournane, co-owner of Wilde Bar & Restaurant. “The weather is beautiful. There’s a lot of hope from this. I’m really grateful to the mayor (Lori Lightfoot) for choosing us as one of the streets for this pilot program.”

— Stefano Esposito

3:15 p.m. NU professor accused of murder denied bail again

A Cook County judge Friday denied granting bail to a former Northwestern University microbiologist accused of murder.

Wyndham Lathem, who is charged with murdering his boyfriend in 2017, wanted to be released from Cook County Jail so he could assist in the battle against the coronavirus.

Prosecutors argued strenuously against granting Lathem release, saying he was adept at hiding his “digital footprints,” had previously evaded capture while on the run and had made a video-recording confessing his role in the murder to his mother.

Judge Charles Burns denied Lathem’s request to be released on $1 million bail once before in April.

When denying Lathem’s request again Friday, Burns said allowing Lathem to leave jail and having access to the internet would unleash a “plethora of problems.”

The judge also seemed skeptical that Lathem, a renowned infectious disease expert, could be of much help in battling the coronavirus, particularly with the significant restrictions Lathem’s attorneys had offered to impose upon him.

“Dr. Lathem alone is not going to get us out of this situation,” Burns said of the coronavirus pandemic and any help Lathem could offer.

Lathem’s attorneys, this time, were hoping their client could be released $1.5 million bail.

Read the full report from Matthew Hendrickson here.

2:36 p.m. City launches virtual ‘memorial wall’ for Chicagoans lost to coronavirus

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The city of Chicago launched a virtual memorial Friday as part of its its coronavirus communication portal and is inviting residents who have lost loved ones to the disease to share their stories.

A form on the website invites users to submit the name of someone lost to COVID-19, a photo of them, and asks “How did he/she/they bring joy to your life or the lives of others?”

Submissions will be displayed on the website to serve as a virtual public memorial.

“In light of the current situation, the way we mourn and celebrate one’s life needs to be reimagined,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a city release announcing the project. “The Virtual Memorial is just one way to help Chicagoans cope with the sudden loss of their loved one to COVID-19, but also to celebrate their lives and memories.”

Lizzie Schiffman Tufano

1:56 p.m. UChicago explore digital saliva testing for COVID-19

Scientists at the University of Chicago are exploring a new saliva-based test for COVID-19 that could be an effective and less intrusive alternative to the standard nasal swab testing, while also providing new information about the virus and the course of the disease.

Researchers have set up a booth at UChicago Medicine’s curbside testing center, where they’re asking volunteers to spit in a tube after undergoing a second nasal swab. In comparing the two methods, researchers have found the results to match up with the hospital’s results, the university said.

“The beauty of it is that it’s less invasive, and you could allow people to collect their own samples; everyone knows how to spit,” assistant professor and UChicago Medicine geneticist Evgeny Izumchenko said in a statement.

The saliva-test system could also eliminate inconclusive test results for patients who test negative but still show symptoms, the university said. Researchers believe by using a digital system that they could get a positive reading even if there are lower amounts of the virus in the sample. It could also provide a more accurate identification of asymptomatic cases, the university said.

“It could provide clinicians with a quantitative measure of how much virus is present, beyond a simple yes or no,” said professor Nishant Agrawal, a UChicago surgeon-scientist and an investigator on the study who has been working on digital PCR and saliva for over a decade.

“The amount of virus detected among these symptomatic patients varies by up to a million-fold,” associate professor and UChicago pathologist Jeremy Segal said in a statement. “There’s so much we don’t know about that, in terms of its relationship to what part of the infection cycle the patient is in, as well as how it might be affected by different sampling methods. But the extreme range and variability present a substantial challenge from a diagnostics standpoint.”

Though coronavirus case numbers have slowed in recent weeks, the university said the team will continue to research automated methods to conduct digital tests, which will be able to conduct tests faster, and with a larger group of people at a time, if the U.S. sees a future spike in cases.

— Madeline Kenney

12:18 p.m. The new coronavirus normal: An inside look at Chicago Christian athletes’ Stage 1 workout

No high fives. No spotters in the weight room. No crowding around the water fountain.

Will the new normal for prep football workouts take some getting used to?

“It’s gonna take a lot of getting used to,” Chicago Christian junior Tony Barclay said when the Knights resumed strength and conditioning work on Monday. “But you know, we’ll adapt, do what we have to do just to get back as a team and get back in shape.”

On June 5, the Illinois High School Association released long-awaited guidance on how high school sports could resume team activities after being idled since mid-March by the coronavirus pandemic.

Under Phase 3 of Illinois’ reopening plan, prep teams are allowed to do strength and conditioning with the now-familiar limitations: small groups, social distancing, masks where possible.

While some programs were still working this week on plans that would meet school district and local guidelines, the Knights were ready to get out of the gate fast.

Read the full article from Mike Clark here.

10:57 a.m. Downtown Riverwalk now open — but with strict guidelines

Starting Friday, the Riverwalk will be open to the public from 5 a.m. and 9 p.m., according to the city. Visitors must wear a face mask and maintain social distance from others, and bars and restaurants must space out tables at least six feet apart.

For now, the Riverwalk will only be accessible via Lake Street and through ramps between Franklin and Lake streets and State and Columbus streets.

To limit crowding, the city has established designated hours for certain activities. From 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., the Riverwalk will be open for running, walking and biking between Lake Shore Drive and Lake Street. At 10 a.m., it will close for cleaning.

Then, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., the Riverwalk’s bars and restaurants will be open by reservation only. Those businesses won’t all reopen at once, but will instead be phased in during the next few weeks. During this block of time, the city said there will also be several “passive recreation areas” for outdoor use.

Read the full story here, and see a list of restaurants that are open.

9:41 a.m. How do you plan to spend your (coronavirus) summer vacation? We asked, you answered

Summer’s just about here, and, with the coronavirus pandemic still gripping Illinois, we asked Chicagoans what they plan to do for their summer vacations this year. Some answers have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

“Staying in Chicago, supporting as many local businesses we can. If COVID-19 continues to decline, I may think about a driving trip within 250-300 miles in September or October.” — Robert Smolen

“All of my daughter’s travel softball games in Missouri and Indiana.” — Jim Cooper

“As much as I LOVE to travel, it won’t be happening this summer.” — Jo Ann Fields

“Same as the last three months: staying in the house, rewatching the same thing on Netflix over and over.” — Kristin Annicks

Read the full story here.

8:05 a.m. McCormick Place, Park District fieldhouses could be alternative sites for CPS classes, alderman says

The chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee on Thursday said McCormick Place, Navy Pier, Park District fieldhouses and public libraries could be used as alternative sites to safely reopen Chicago Public Schools this fall.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is determined to reopen the Chicago Public Schools on time this fall but do it safely, perhaps by using staggered schedules to maintain social distance and limit the number of students in classrooms at any given time.

She has promised to be creative in crafting plans in concert with neighborhood leaders, perhaps by using community centers as alternate learning sites.

Now, Lightfoot’s hand-picked Education Committee chairman is being really creative — by suggesting the massive McCormick Place complex.

McCormick Place can’t host conventions until there’s a vaccine for the coronavirus, or a “highly effective treatment widely available” or the elimination of any new cases over a sustained period.

Read the full story from City Hall reporter Fran Spielman here.

7:07 a.m. MacArthur Foundation, 4 other groups pledge $1.7 billion to support nonprofits battered by the coronavirus

Five philanthropic organizations, including the Chicago-based John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, say they plan to donate $1.7 billion over the next three years to help nonprofit organizations around the globe that have been crippled by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the United States alone, nonprofits employ about 10% of the private workforce, and in a recent survey, 73% of those organizations said they expect to see a 20% drop in revenue in the coming year, according to the MacArthur Foundation.

“At this moment of massive disruption, we see opportunity,” MacArthur Foundation President John Palfrey said in a statement. “The pandemic is wreaking tragedy across the world and, in particular, in African American communities. In the face of an extraordinary social and economic crisis, our city, country, and global communities require a transformation. Our response to the pandemic will focus on supporting the reinvention of systems that create a more just, equitable, and resilient world.”

The money is expected to fund efforts that would tackle topics such as racial equity, social justice and climate change.

Read the full story from Stefano Esposito.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

8:17 a.m. The NFL can guard against COVID-19 all it wants, but players still have to tackle each other

The NFL really has this pandemic thing figured out, doesn’t it?

The latest science-driven protocols will be in place when players return to team facilities in the coming weeks. Testing for COVID-19 will be a regular occurrence. Proper social distancing will be observed. Masks will be mandatory at team meetings. Locker rooms will be cleansed and disinfected so often you might mistake them for operating rooms.

We expect that from a league that prides itself on military-like precision.

But there’s one little thing that keeps tugging at the sleeve: Eventually, the players are going to have to touch each other. Touching is sort of a necessity when it comes to huddling and blocking and — this is a biggie — hitting, which is the whole point of football.

Touching goes against the concept of keeping 6 feet away from the person closest to you. Tackling sneers at social distancing and, further, would blow it up like a defenseless receiver if it could. And what’s gang tackling but a renunciation of everything we’ve learned about keeping the coronavirus at bay?

A football game is a buffet table of germs. This virus will be on the menu. There are too many people involved in the NFL for it not to be.

Read the full commentary from sports columnist Rick Morrissey here.