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Latest coronavirus news for June 15, 2020: Live updates

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

The latest

Lakefront Trail to reopen June 22

A view of the Chicago lakefront from the observation deck of 875 North Michigan Avenue.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, closed since March, will reopen next week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office announced Monday.

The city also announced that on Wednesday, “bars, lounges, taverns, breweries” that don’t serve food can open, though only for outdoor service.

Lightfoot made the Lakefront Trail announcement on her official Facebook page:

“Excited to share the news... our Lakefront Trail will be reopening on June 22 for exercise and transit!

“To ensure we continue the progress we’ve made flattening the curve, Social Distancing Ambassadors will be along the route to ensure a safe experience for Chicagoans.”

Read the full story here.


News

9:22 p.m. Public League football coaches say CPS lacks a plan for return-to-play

Multiple Public League football coaches have confirmed that they were told by Chicago Public Schools on Monday that there is no timeline for the district to allow schools to participate in Stage 1 of the Illinois High School Association’s return-to-play plan.

“I’m very worried there won’t be a season,” Clemente football coach Conell Hayes said.

The IHSA released the guidelines for Stage 1 of its return-to-play plan on June 5. Schools with district approval were allowed to being voluntary strength and conditioning sessions on June 6.

A CPS spokesperson told the Sun-Times on June 7 that it was “working diligently to develop guidance and protocols to ensure our students can safely begin training.”

Those protocols may not be coming anytime soon.

Read the full story from Michael O’Brien here.

8:52 p.m. Saliva tests for COVID-19 could replace painful nasal swabs, U. of C. researchers say

Researchers at the University of Chicago are exploring digital saliva testing for COVID-19, which could serve as a welcome alternative to the unpleasant deep nasal swabs that are currently used to get a thorough sample.

Early results show the new method is at least as accurate as the existing testing option, the researchers say. What’s more, scientists now believe saliva testing can prevent inconclusive results for those who test negative despite displaying symptoms and help ensure that patients don’t hold trace amounts of the virus before being discharged from hospitals.

U. of C. Professor Nishant Agrawal, a surgeon-scientist who is working on the study, said that the method “could provide clinicians with a quantitative measure of how much virus is present, beyond a simple yes or no.”

The new test relies on a droplet-digital polymerase chain reaction system that researchers believe could more accurately detect asymptomatic cases and positively identify cases with smaller amounts of the virus in a sample.

Read the full report from Tom Schuba here.

7:36 p.m. MLB commissioner no longer confident there will be a season

A week after saying “we are going to play Major League Baseball this year,” commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday told ESPN he’s “not confident” there will be a season.

In a conversation with Mike Greenberg for ESPN’s “The Return of Sports” special, Manfred said that “as long as there’s no dialogue” with the Players Association, “that real risk is going to continue.”

Last week Manfred said the chances of a shortened season, due to the coronavirus, were “100%.”

On Monday, the tune was different.

“I’m not confident,” he said. “I think there’s real risk.

“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans.”

Disaster indeed. Weeks ago, baseball was positioned to be the first major North American sport to return after it was shut down during spring training. The expectation was that a shortened season, perhaps 50 games, would commence in early July after a three-week ‘spring training.’

Now, for the first time, no baseball at all has become a possibility, Manfred said.

Read the full story from Daryl Van Schouwen here.

3:25 p.m. Illinois sees lowest number of new coronavirus infections in more than two and a half months

Illinois logged another 19 coronavirus deaths Monday, and an additional 473 new cases of the deadly virus — the lowest number of new infections on any given day since the early days under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.

Those new cases bring the state’s total to 133,016 cases and 6,326 deaths in 101 counties in the state.

The 473 new cases is the lowest daily tally since March 30, which saw 461 cases. It also marks the first day with fewer than 500 new cases since late March. Pritzker’s initial stay-at-home order came on March 21, a day that saw 168 new case. The state appeared to hit its peak for new infections on May 12, when 4,104 were announced.

Just one week ago, Illinois Public Health Department officials announced 1,156 new cases.

Those new cases were among the 18,627 new processed tests. The state’s preliminary seven-day positivity rate for cases remains at 3%.

Read the full story here.

2:30 p.m. US revokes emergency use of malaria drugs for treating COVID-19 amid growing evidence they don’t work

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is revoking its emergency authorization for malaria drugs promoted by President Donald Trump for treating COVID-19 amid growing evidence they don’t work and could cause deadly side effects.

The agency said Monday that the drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are unlikely to be effective in treating the coronavirus. Citing reports of heart complications, the FDA said the drugs pose a greater risk to patients than any potential benefits.

The decades-old drugs, also prescribed for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.

The move means that shipments of the drugs obtained by the federal government will no longer be distributed to state and local health authorities. The drugs are still available for alternate uses, so U.S. doctors could still prescribe them for COVID-19 — a practice known as off-label prescribing.

Read the full story here.

11:15 a.m. UIC to test COVID-19 vaccine

A vaccine to protect those at risk of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus will be tested on at least 1,000 people in Chicago beginning next month.

University of Illinois at Chicago researchers will conduct the clinical trial to determine if a vaccine developed by Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna is effective in preventing people from getting the virus, which has killed more than 6,300 people in Illinois. The researchers also will study whether the vaccine prevents people from getting severely ill from COVID-19.

The study is expected to begin July 9. At least 400 of the people tested will be 65 or older and researchers hope to test a large number of African American and Latino residents because both groups have been shown to be at high risk of infection and death in Chicago, said Dr. Richard Novak, a UIC professor who is heading the trial.

The trial, administered by the U.S. government, will last two years, though researchers are hopeful that if the vaccine proves to be effective later this year or by early 2021 that it could be approved for use next year.

UIC is one of a number of sites across the country that will be testing the Moderna vaccine. In all, more than 30,000 people are expected to be tested. The vaccine is one of several being rushed to human testing through a U.S. government program called Operation Warp Speed.

While UIC is the first to test a COVID-19 vaccine in Chicago, Novak said he expects other Chicago hospitals will be involved in testing additional vaccines. UIC has been involved in other coronavirus-related studies, including testing the antiviral medicine remdesivir. There are more than 40 clinical trials that are either under way or completed at a number of sites in Chicago, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Volunteers interested in participating in the trial can contact the UIC researchers at (312) 413-5897 or email at ProjectWishDOM@uic.edu.

Read the full story from Brett Chase here.

10:15 a.m. Grant for minority business fosters sweet partnership

In times like these, we could all use good news, especially about minority-owned businesses expanding in Chicago. They’ve been dealt cruel blows lately, between the shutdowns forced by COVID-19 and the riots. Some business owners question whether it’s smart to rebuild in the city even if they can.

Yet some are. Last week, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity put out a list of 32 minority-owned business and business incubators who collectively were getting $11 million in grants to support expansions and revitalize their communities. Twenty-one were in Chicago.

Stephanie Hart and her Brown Sugar Bakery in Grand Crossing, known for its delectable and enormous cakes, is among them. She has both a retail store and manufacturing on 75th Street, and space was getting tight. So one day, Hart traveled about three and a half miles due west of her bakery to see John Stefanos, the owner of Cupid Candies. She heard he wanted to sell, and she was interested in the building.

They talked, laughed and bonded, and it ended up that Hart is acquiring Cupid Candies, the equipment and the building, ensuring a business known to generations survives while it gets a good sugar jolt of fresh inventory from her baked goods.

Hart also gets Stefanos’ good counsel with candy and ice cream, and they are already inventing new products, such as a brownie encased in an ice cream bar and with a pretzel for the stick, all edible and good for the environment, if not the waistline.

Read the full story from David Roeder.

9:15 a.m. Illinois seeing largest decrease of COVID-19 cases in U.S., report finds

For the first time in more than two months, Illinois has recorded a day with fewer than 20 new coronavirus deaths.

Public health officials announced Sunday an additional 19 deaths from COVID-19, bringing the state’s pandemic death toll to 6,308.

A Fortune magazine analysis — published Friday and touted by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Saturday — found that 26 of the 50 U.S. states had seen their COVID-19 cases stay flat or increase over the past 14 days, contradicting the popular sentiment the pandemic is fading away.

But the report found that Illinois had seen the largest decrease in cases of any state.

That positive trend is likely at least in part due to high testing availability; nearly 1.2 million people have been tested statewide, and Illinois ranks 10th among the 50 states in coronavirus tests per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Hospital numbers are also down: 562 COVID-19 patients occupied ICU beds as of Saturday night, with 328 on ventilators.

Read the full story here.

8:14 a.m. Despite pandemic, schools not taking advantage of state’s robust online course network

With little fanfare in January, Illinois debuted an upgraded collection of online courses featuring hundreds of classes from agriscience to anthropology offered by multiple providers. They were available to any school in the state.

Within months, the global coronavirus pandemic shut down school campuses and pushed every student in the state into remote learning.

The state’s fortuitously timed redesign was poised to fill a desperate new need — education delivered via the internet. But oddly enough, the courses under the state umbrella have remained unused in some areas, even as school districts rushed toward remote learning.

With the redesign, Illinois kept the non-profit Illinois Virtual School that is run out of Peoria and added five private providers into the mix. But one of those new online course providers, the experienced Arizona State University, attracted no — zero — Illinois students. And some district leaders say they know little to nothing about the newly expanded catalog of courses.

Read the full story from Chalkbeat Chicago here.

7:08 a.m. Trump rally called ‘dangerous move’ in age of coronavirus

After months away from the campaign trail, President Donald Trump plans to rally his supporters this coming Saturday for the first time since most of the country was shuttered by the coronavirus. Trump will head to Tulsa, Oklahoma — a state that has seen relatively few COVID-19 cases.

Trump’s rally will be held indoors, at a 19,000-seat arena that has canceled all other events through the end of July. Scientists believe the virus spreads far more easily in crowded enclosed spaces than it does outdoors, where circulating air has a better chance of dispersing virus particles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the highest risk events for transmission of the coronavirus this way: “Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.” The CDC recommends cloth masks in places where people might shout or chant.

Read the full report here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

8:10 a.m. Clinical trials press forward in age of COVID

Jim Butler is receiving his monthly 45-minute infusion of drugs.

What kind of drugs? He doesn’t know. Nor do the nurses administering them. Could be an experimental medicine that will help his brain fight Alzheimer’s disease. Or could be a placebo that does nothing.

Only one doctor conducting the medical research at Great Lakes Clinical Trials knows what drug Butler is getting, and even he doesn’t know what the effect will be.

None of this influences Butler’s determination to be here.

”I got an Alzheimer’s diagnosis four years ago,” said Butler, 71, who describes the disease as causing “multiple times a day, cognitive hiccups, confusion.”

One thing he is not confused about is the importance of participating in research.

”The simplest reason is I like to be very proactive about my diagnosis,” he said. “My game plan is not to get overwhelmed and unsettled at these things. To try to smile at them, dismiss them, let them go. A clinical trial is an enormously great way to do that.”

Clinical trials are the minor leagues of medicine. Before drug companies can sign up a star cure to wow the public, they need to know if it can deliver. To do that, they spend billions of dollars and commission hundreds of small clinics like Great Lakes Clinical Trials, which opened in Andersonville in 2014. There is a second location in Arlington Heights.

Read Neil Steinberg’s full column here.