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Coronavirus live blog, June 17, 2020: Pritzker announces $900M in COVID-19 relief grants for small businesses, struggling renters

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

A day after Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced he had the coronavirus, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced he had tested negative for the COVID-19 after attending an event with the Raoul.

The state continued its promising recovery numbers. Illinois saw its second-lowest daily case count since March 30 after Monday’s mark of 473 cases, as the state’s downward case trend from an apparent mid-May peak continues. The governor also announced a new grant program for small businesses and those who are struggling to pay their rents.

Here’s what happened in the fight agains the coronavirus in Chicago and around the state.

News

8:10 p.m. Pritzker announces $900M in COVID-19 relief grants for small businesses, struggling renters

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday announced a wide-ranging $900 million in grants to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19, as well as the many Illinoisans struggling to pay mortgages and rent amid the pandemic.

In front of a North Lawndale store that was looted about three weeks ago, Pritzker said about 3,500 businesses will be able to benefit from a $60 million grant program, as soon as early July.

The Democratic governor also announced that he would be extending a residential eviction ban until July 31. Pritzker first banned evictions when he issued a stay-at-home order on March 21.

Several progressive Democratic lawmakers tried to push through a more expansive rent relief measure that would have canceled rent and mortgage payments statewide for 180 days during a shortened legislative special session last month, but found resistance from realtors. Instead, a deal was reached to increase funds to the Illinois Housing Development Authority to administer a relief program.

Read the full story by Tina Sfondeles here.

6:03 p.m. 87 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, but another low daily case count

Public health officials on Wednesday announced another 546 people in Illinois have tested positive for COVID-19, while an additional 87 deaths were attributed to the virus.

That’s the state’s second-lowest daily case count since March 30 after Monday’s mark of 473 cases, as the state’s downward case trend from an apparent mid-May peak continues.

But the latest 87 deaths reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health are well above the state’s daily average toll so far this month. At least 1,103 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois so far in June, with about 65 deaths reported per day.

Compare that to May, when about 99 coronavirus deaths were reported per day for a total of 3,076 — nearly half the overall toll of 6,485 since the state’s first confirmed in mid-March.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

4:45 p.m. Biden rips Trump on coronavirus response, says president exercises ‘no leadership’

DARBY, Pa. — Joe Biden called on President Donald Trump to “wake up” to the damage being done by the coronavirus pandemic in remarks Wednesday that served as a scathing critique of the president’s leadership of the country during the economic reopening under the virus.

“Donald Trump wants to style himself as a wartime president. Unlike any other wartime leader, he takes no responsibility, he exercises no leadership, now he has just flat surrendered the fight,” Biden said at a recreation center in Darby, Pennsylvania, a town in the Philadelphia suburbs.

At times pounding his podium for emphasis, Biden charged that the president is trying to declare the pandemic over and done with even as it continues to kill Americans and wreak havoc on the economy.

“Mr. President, don’t leave the American people to face this threat on their own, with no guidance, resources or leadership from the federal government.”

He added, “Don’t waste any more of our time.”

Read the full story by The Associated Press.

1:40 p.m. WHO says more understanding needed on steroid

The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization welcomed the news this week that dexamethasone, a cheap steroid, was shown in a British trial to reduce deaths among patients critically ill with the coronavirus, but said it was too soon to change how patients are treated.

“It’s one of the breakthroughs we’re going to need to effectively deal with COVID-19, but it’s still preliminary data,” said Dr. Michael Ryan at a press briefing on Wednesday. “We will pull together the necessary expert group... and come to a decision around our clinical advice to countries.”

Ryan said that “this is not the time to rush to change clinical practice” and that it was crucial to understand issues like what dose should be used on patients, how patients would be assessed and if there were adequate supplies of the drug.

Read the full story from the Associated Press here.

12:58 p.m. Gov. J.B. Pritzker tests negative for COVID-19

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has tested negative for COVID-19. He got re-tested Tuesday after Illinois Attorney General Kwame Roaul said he had tested positive for the virus.

He has a press conference planned for 1:30 p.m. in North Lawndale.

— Tina Sfondeles

11 a.m. Power play? Pols push for Chicago to serve as ‘hub city’ for NHL return from coronavirus shutdown

Illinois isn’t out of the coronavirus penalty box just yet, but Chicago should be on the first line if and when professional hockey returns to action.

That’s according to the state’s top sports betting legislator, who on Tuesday joined cheers led by Mayor Lori Lightfoot for Chicago to serve as an NHL “hub city” as the league aims to resume its season three months after the coronavirus pandemic iced sports around the world.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski pointed to Illinois’ improving COVID-19 case numbers, which have steadily declined from an apparent peak in mid-May. The state has seen the largest fall-off in cases over the last two weeks of any other state in the nation, according to a Fortune magazine analysis, while others with looser reopening regulations have seen spikes.

“Our state has shown it has the leadership, health care infrastructure, sports arena capacity and necessary precautions and cooperation to ensure athletes stay safe while bringing back the sports we love and miss so much,” the Riverside Democrat said.

But Cook County still has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 of any county in the nation with more than 85,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University analysis.

“We’ve done well with our hospitalization numbers, so it seems to me we have the health care bandwidth to manage if there were cases involving players or teams,” Zalewski said.

Noting the potential boon to a city hotel and restaurant industry decimated by the shutdown, Zalewski echoed points made by Lightfoot, who said she was “hopeful” Chicago would be picked as a hub city during a weekend interview with The Athletic.

“Although I expect the playoffs to be probably fan-less, we’re still very well situated to accommodate the league and the players,” Lightfoot told the sports news website. “We have plenty of hotel space and got a great culture life here. I think everything they would want to put on with a best-in-class playoff experience is here in Chicago.”

Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.

9:34 a.m. Pritzker, Foxx to get tested for COVID-19 after attending event with newly diagnosed state AG Kwame Raoul

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced Tuesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, prompting Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other Democrats to vow to get retested after attending a south suburban event with the attorney general 10 days earlier.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is planning to get tested for the coronavirus after attending the event.

But Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has no plans to get retested, even though she also was at the Calumet City event on June 6 that Raoul attended.

“Their paths never crossed,” Preckwinkle’s spokesman said.

Raoul said he began experiencing minor symptoms over the weekend and tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday. Raoul, 55, is the highest ranking Illinois politician known to have contracted COVID-19.

“I have been self-isolating since the onset of my symptoms and I will continue to do so in accordance with guidance from my doctor and public health authorities,” Raoul said in a statement. “Additionally, we are in the process of notifying individuals I may have come into contact with so that they can self-isolate and seek telehealth guidance.”

Read the full story here.

7:28 a.m. City officials urge protesters to get tested for COVID-19

City officials on Tuesday urged Chicagoans who participated in recent large protests to get tested for the coronavirus while announcing the expansion of eligibility for six city-operated testing sites.

Anyone with potential “high-risk exposure” to COVID-19 can get tested, even if they haven’t displayed symptoms, according to a statement from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office.

That includes residents who attended large gatherings or demonstrations in the wake of the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Public health officials have warned that protests over Floyd’s death, which swept the nation and spread to other countries, will likely lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.

Reporter Tom Schuba has the full story.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

7:37 a.m. To Chicagoans suffering from social distancing fatigue: Hang in there

Plenty of Americans have been ignoring the rules of social distancing all along. But most of these people, like that state representative from downstate Illinois, Darren Bailey, never took the science of the coronavirus seriously to begin with. Even as people in nursing homes were dying, they held fast to the view that the pandemic was little more than a lefty scare.

A face mask, to their thinking, was a sanctimonious liberal fashion statement.

We’re more concerned now about all those people who did not sleep through science class — who understand the very real danger of the coronavirus — but are beginning to burn out on all this stay-at-home stuff. They know they should keep wearing face masks and all, but they’re suffering social distancing fatigue.

Those are the folks rubbing shoulders outside bars in New York, and they’re the ones who could make a hash of Chicago’s own efforts to reopen safely. They’re not stupid; just normal.

To all those fellow Chicagoans, we say: Hang in there.

Get out and enjoy the city. Jog the lakefront path. Get a curbside beer. Support your local businesses.

But, for your own safety and that of everybody you encounter, stick with the social distancing. You will not be alone.

Read the full editorial from the Sun-Times’ Editorial Board here.