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Coronavirus live blog, June 20, 2020: Illinois announces another 45 coronavirus deaths as nursing home cases continue to rise

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

The numbers with Illinois coronavirus cases continue to fall as only 45 new deaths were reported on Saturday. However, an alarming percentage of overall COVID-19 deaths are from people who are living or working in nursing homes.

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

News

5:46 p.m. Illinois announces another 45 coronavirus deaths as nursing home cases continue to rise

Mike Grono, 45, of Chicago’s Norwood Park neighborhood, gets his blood drawn for a coronavirus antibody test. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Another 45 people have died of the coronavirus in Illinois, state health officials announced Saturday.

The state has so far avoided a spike in COVID-19 cases mirroring that of states like Florida and Arizona, but the new deaths bring Illinois’ total pandemic death toll to 6,625.

The state has historically seen much lower announced totals on weekends due to some hospitals not reporting deaths, but Saturday’s 45 deaths are actually one more than the 44 announced Friday and also dwarf the mere 19 announced last Saturday.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said an additional 634 people tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the state’s total case count to 136,104. Those positive cases were found among 25,965 new tests processed.

Read the full story by Ben Pope here.

1:55 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.

12:14 p.m. Trump looks to reset campaign amid pandemic with Tulsa rally

WASHINGTON — Pressing ahead in a pandemic, President Donald Trump looked to reverse a decline in his political fortunes Saturday by returning to the format that has so often energized him and his loyal supporters: a raucous, no-holds-barred rally before tens of thousands of ardent fans, this time in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The rally was shaping up to be one of the biggest indoor events in the U.S. since large gatherings were shut down in March because of the coronavirus, and it was scheduled over the protests of local health officials and as COVID-19 cases spike in many states. The event was expected to draw crowds of protesters to the area as well.

It’s been more than three months since the nation last saw a Trump rally. The unemployment rate stood at about 3.5% that March 2. The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. was estimated at 91. “Our country is stronger than ever before,” Trump declared.

Now, the unemployment rate stands at 13.3%, based on the most recent monthly report. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has soared to about 2.2 million. The number of deaths reported in the U.S. has surpassed 119,000.

Read the full report here.

10:53 a.m. Pandemic becomes a patchwork of small successes and setbacks

BEIJING — Authorities in China appeared to be winning their battle against an outbreak of coronavirus in Beijing on Saturday, but in parts of the Americas the pandemic raged unabated. Brazil surpassed 1 million confirmed infections, second only to the United States.

Europe, in contrast, continued to emerge warily from lockdown, with hard-hit Britain considering easing social distancing rules to make it easier for restaurants, pubs and schools to reopen. In Italy, once the pandemic’s European epicenter, Pope Francis told medics that their heroic efforts during the outbreak would help the country forge a future of hope and solidarity.

The head of the World Health Organization warned Friday that the pandemic is “accelerating” and that more than 150,000 cases were reported the day before — the highest single-day number so far.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva that nearly half of the newly reported cases were from the Americas, with significant numbers from South Asia and the Middle East.

The new coronavirus has infected more than 8.5 million people worldwide and killed more than 454,000, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The actual number is thought to be much higher because many cases are asymptomatic or go untested.

The global battle against COVID-19 is a patchwork of successes and setbacks at this point in the pandemic, quantified by the trajectory of the coronavirus in different countries.

Read the full report here.

7:15 a.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.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

11:28 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.

7:18 a.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.