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Coronavirus live blog, June 19, 2020: Chicago restaurants can have restricted indoor dining starting next week, Mayor Lightfoot says

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

Another 44 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois as health officials on Friday announced the latest batch of 692 confirmed cases.

With the state still managing to avoid the massive case spikes seen in other states with loosening coronavirus restrictions, a total of 6,580 deaths have now been attributed to the virus in Illinois.

The latest reports bring the state’s total confirmed cases to 135,470, almost five months since the first person tested positive for the coronavirus in Illinois.

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


News

8:56 p.m. Mayor Lightfoot says indoor dining in Chicago can begin June 26, but with limits

Dolo restaurant in the Chinatown neighborhood of Chicago, IL on July 27, 2018.
This is a file photo of Dolo restaurant in the Chinatown neighborhood. Indoor dining at Chicago restaurants — limited to 25% capacity — can begin June 26, the city announced Friday.
Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday announced indoor restaurants will be able to reopen next Friday, the same day the state enters Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Phase 4 of reopening.

The mayor in a release said restaurants, bars, breweries and other eating and drinking establishments can open on June 26, “to align with the state’s plan to move to Phase 4 on the same day.”

The mayor also announced restaurants will be open to 25% capacity, with a maximum capacity of 50 people per room or floor. Customers must also be seated at tables 6 feet apart with 10 people or fewer per table. And seating at bars will be limited to a maximum of two hours per party.

The state plans to reveal its safety guidance for indoor restaurants next week. Last week, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she anticipated indoor restaurants, museums and gyms could reopen on July 1.

Lightfoot has repeatedly said she could not come to an agreement with Pritzker about indoor dining and noted the financial difficulties the industry is facing. But Pritzker’s plan allows all indoor restaurants to reopen June 26.

Read the full report from Tina Sfondeles here.


8:02 p.m. AMC Theaters now will require masks, reversing policy after strong backlash

LOS ANGELES — The nation’s largest movie theater chain changed its position on mask-wearing less than a day after the company became a target on social media for saying it would defer to local governments on the issue.

AMC Theaters CEO Adam Aron said Friday that its theaters will require patrons to wear masks upon reopening, which will begin in mid-July. Customers who don’t wear masks won’t be admitted or allowed to stay.

“We think it is absolutely crucial that we listen to our guests,” Aron said. “It is clear from this response that we did not go far enough on the usage of masks.”

Rival chain Regal followed AMC’s lead. Spokesman Richard Grover said Friday that moviegoers must wear masks in all its theaters as well.

Read the full report here.

5:31 p.m. Hand sanitizer on dashboard erupts into flames in Waukegan

A bottle of hand sanitizer left on a car’s dashboard erupted into flames in north suburban Waukegan Thursday, badly damaging the car.

Authorities believe that heat from the sunlight partly caused the fire, Waukegan Fire Department spokesman Steven Lenzi said in a statement.

“It appears sunlight shining through the windshield onto the sanitizer was enough to cause the ignition,” Lenzi said.

The fire appeared to extinguish itself due to lack of oxygen before firefighters arrived in the 400 block of Pioneer Road, Lenzi said. No one was hurt.

Read the full report from David Struett here.

4:25 p.m. Appeals court upholds federal judge’s coronavirus orders at Cook County Jail

An appeals court Friday upheld most of a federal judge’s order requiring widespread coronavirus testing and other measures to control the spread of COVD-19 at the Cook County Jail.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied most of a motion filed by Sheriff Tom Dart that asked the court to pause the preliminary injunction ordered by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly in April after a class-action lawsuit was brought against Dart on behalf of detainees.

However, the 7th Circuit Court said that while Dart is appealing that injunction, the sheriff’s office will no longer be prevented from holding detainees in double cells or in group housing. But the sheriff’s office has said it won’t use double cells and will continue to social distance detainees while appealing.

A spokesman for the sheriff’s office was not immediately able to comment Friday.

Sarah Grady, an attorney for the detainees, said she hopes the sheriff’s office follows through on that promise, saying advocates are concerned that if detainees are housed in close quarters new coronavirus cases could rise.

Read the full report from Matthew Hendrickson here.

3:45 p.m. Latest Illinois coronavirus numbers: 44 more deaths, 692 new cases

Another 44 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois as health officials on Friday announced the latest batch of 692 confirmed cases.

With the state still managing to avoid the massive case spikes seen in other states with loosening coronavirus restrictions, a total of 6,580 deaths have now been attributed to the virus in Illinois.

The latest reports bring the state’s total confirmed cases to 135,470, almost five months since the first person tested positive for the coronavirus in Illinois.

Another 1,000 are considered to have been “probable” cases, while an additional 204 deaths haven’t been officially added to the Illinois toll because those people were never tested.

Still, the recovery rate inched up to 94% with the latest figures, which also marked two full weeks since the state last tallied more than 1,000 new cases in a single day, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And that’s as testing capacity has expanded statewide. More than 27,000 test results were reported Friday, and about 1.3 million people have been tested overall.

Read the full report from Mitchell Armentrout here.

3:07 p.m. Pandemic keeps plumbers busy; housebound clients mean ‘a lot more toilets being flushed’

Plumbers say they’re busier than ever thanks to the coronavirus pandemic keeping most of us at home most of the time the past few months.

“It’s more use of the toilets,” says Tom Mascari, president of Mendel Plumbing & Heating in St. Charles. “Handles are breaking, valves inside need to be replaced.”

“We’ve been working seven days a week, 10-, 12-, 14-hour shifts,” says Jose Rivera, owner of A Solution Sewer & Plumbing in Bridgeview. “By the time I get home, it’s a shower, and off to bed I go.”

“We’ve been incredibly busy — beyond belief,” says William Taylor, owner of Four Seasons Sewer & Plumbing, 6807 W. Irving Park Rd. “There’s a lot more toilets being flushed.”

Pre-pandemic, “You’re using the bathroom facilities in the morning before you go to work or school and then in the evening,” says Brian Wilk, owner of Bishop Heating, Plumbing and Cooling in Des Plaines. But with people stuck at home, “You’re getting more clogged drain lines.”

Some clogs have been caused by people, perhaps worried about toilet paper shortages, who instead did what plumbers will tell you is a big no-no: They used paper towels or wipes that are advertised as flushable but don’t dissolve like T.P.

And sometimes kids, bored with being home so long, toss things in to the toilet that aren’t meant to be tossed into the toilet.

Read the full story from Maureen O’Donnell here.

2:25 p.m. Hiring rose in 46 states in May yet jobless rates still high

WASHINGTON — Employers added jobs in 46 states last month, evidence that the U.S. economy’s surprise hiring gain in May was spread broadly across the country — in both states that began reopening their economies early and those that did so only later.

Unemployment rates fell in 38 states, rose in three and were largely unchanged in nine, the Labor Department said Friday. The disparities ranged from Nevada, with the highest rate (25.3%), Hawaii (22.6%) and Michigan (21.2%) to Nebraska (5.2%, the lowest) and Utah (8.5%). The overall U.S. unemployment rate in May was a still-high 13.3%, a decline from 14.7% in April.

As a whole, the figures illustrate the unusually broad nature of the recession, with all states enduring unemployment rates that soared in April as the coronavirus forced business closures and then generally fell in May but remained painfully high. During the 2008-2009 Great Recession, by contrast, some Midwestern states such as Iowa and North Dakota managed to avoid high unemployment. Yet this time in May, Iowa’s unemployment rate was a high 10% and North Dakota’s 9.1%.

Read the full report here.

1:06 p.m. You can stop cleaning your groceries, but hugs are still risky: Ezike

For months, Dr. Ngozi Ezike has been the state’s go-to for public health guidance as Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s chief advisor on Illinois’ response to COVID-19. Sun-Times reporter Tina Sfondeles asked about her personal do’s and don’ts, and how she and her family are handling COVID-19 precautions. Here’s her Cliff’s Notes version.

Handshakes: “At least a year”

Hugs from friends: “A year or two”

Hugging your mother: “I would visit her, but I would not hug her” – At least a year

Visiting a parent who is over 65: At least a year

Visiting a parent who is over 65 with pre-existing conditions: At least a year “or wait ‘til there’s a cure.”

Going to an indoor restaurant: “Maybe” three months to a year.

Putting away groceries without cleaning them: Now

Attending a wedding: A year or more

Going to church: A year or more

Read the full list from Tina Sfondeles here.

12:04 p.m. Schaumburg DMV closes again after employee contracts coronavirus

A Schaumburg DMV that reopened earlier this month was closed this week after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

The Schaumburg drivers services facility will remain closed until July 2 “out of an abundance of caution,” according to a statement Friday from Secretary of State Jesse White’s office.

The public is not “directly impacted by this situation,” state health officials said. Employees will be quarantined for two weeks while the building, at 1227 E. Golf Rd., is cleaned according to federal guidelines.

The Schaumburg facility reopened June 2 after a statewide shutdown of all driver facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic in late March.

Click here for a list of nearby driving facilities that remain open.

9:41 a.m. Masks will be required in all University of Illinois classrooms next year

In-person instruction will take place in the fall at the University of Illinois, with COVID-19 safety precautions in place to protect students if the state has moved into Phase IV of its reopening schedule, officials said Thursday.

Students who don’t or can’t return to the central Illinois campus can take classes online, according to the university. Those who have signed up to live in university housing or freshmen required to live on campus will have to submit special documentation and receive approval to learn from a distance.

In announcing the plans, Chancellor Robert Jones said there will be as much in-person instruction and residential occupancy as restrictions of space, health and safety allows. Classes will be in spaces that allow adequate social distancing between students and professors. As an added precaution, face coverings will be required in all instructional spaces and classrooms.

Similar plans are being put into place for Illinois’ campuses in Chicago and Springfield, according to university officials.

Read the full story here.

7:57 a.m. Hugs, haircuts, handshakes — Dr. Ezike’s do’s and don’t’s. (Spoiler alert: Handshake time frame ‘between a year and never again’)

Dr. Ngozi Ezike didn’t let her kids see their friends until this week.

And that was a carefully supervised backyard get-together — with masks.

She’s all for outdoor dining with the safety guidance she helped craft. And she got a manicure behind plexiglass from a woman who has done her nails for 15 years.

But handshakes?

“Not now. Between a year and never again,” the head of the Illinois Department of Public Health told the Sun-Times in a wide-ranging interview about her personal do’s and don’ts as she helps Illinois navigate through the pandemic.

A hug from a friend?

“No, we can show love virtually. I think that might be for a year or two,” she said.

For months, Ezike has been the state’s go-to for public health guidance as Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s chief advisor on Illinois’ response to COVID-19.

Read the full story from reporter Tina Sfondeles.

7:03 a.m. Unique Chicago COVID-19 virus linked to early cases in China

A unique COVID-19 virus that spread through Chicago appears to link directly to an early outbreak in China and may not spread as easily and as rapidly as the virus prevalent in New York and elsewhere in the U.S., according to new research.

In a preliminary study of genetic makeup of the coronavirus in Chicago, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine researchers discovered a unique type that is more likely to be found locally than other parts of the country. The goal of better understanding the genetic difference in virus outbreaks is to use that information to develop effective vaccines.

After studying the genetic makeup of dozens of virus samples of nearly 90 people, the Northwestern researchers determined that there were three main types of the virus found locally.

Almost 60 percent of the samples studied were closely related to the virus that is prevalent in New York, which has been traced to Europe.

Reporter Brett Chase has the full story.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

6:47 p.m. Illinois politicians start to get serious about fundraising as the state reopens

As Illinois slowly begins the reopening process, some state legislators have decided to start hosting in-person fundraisers.

For the past few months, most legislative incumbents and challengers have abandoned fundraising. The global pandemic, accompanied by an international economic crash, made the idea of raising campaign money seem crass, inappropriate and even dangerous.

Eventually, some folks began hosting online fundraisers. It’s an election year, after all, and elections cost money. So, for a price, contributors could pay for a password to attend Zoom events and support their candidates of choice.

Several candidates also began dialing for dollars. But April was not a good month for campaigns. $2.87 million in A-1 reports (contributions of $1,000 or over) were filed in April. That’s about a third of the $7.7 million reported in April of 2016, a similar election cycle.

Just $3.6 million in A-1 contributions were reported this May, which is about a fifth of the $15.5 million reported in May of 2016.

Read Rich Miller’s full column here.

8:13 a.m. A ‘last responder’s’ COVID-19 message: ‘If they won’t listen to a doctor, maybe they’ll listen to an undertaker’

In a normal month, Symonds’ Funeral Home in north suburban Highwood handles five to eight funerals.

As the COVID-19 pandemic peaked here in May, that number jumped to 44.

The vast majority of those were COVID cases, said Irving Symonds III, the second-generation funeral home operator who is only just now starting to see his workload ease slightly.

“It’s still busy. It’s not like what it was. We really got slammed,” said Symonds, who spent much of May with families lined up outside his office door seeking to make arrangements while he got only three hours sleep per night trying to keep up with the work.

As Illinois continues with its reopening process and life returns to some semblance of normal, it would be a tragedy if people failed to keep in mind that what we’ve been dealing with is real — and continues to be real.

And I can’t think of any place better to bring home that point than a funeral home, where death gets about as real as real can get.

“We’re the last responders,” said Symonds, drawing on a reference to his profession that has been popularized during this pandemic.

Read the full commentary from columnist Mark Brown on a local funeral home operator at the front lines of COVID-19.