Coronavirus live blog, June 25, 2020: Illinois ready to step forward into Phase 4, but Pritzker unfazed about tugging it back if COVID-19 cases surge

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, June 25, 2020: Illinois ready to step forward into Phase 4, but Pritzker unfazed about tugging it back if COVID-19 cases surge

Everything is on course for every region of Illinois to move to Phase 4 of the reopening on Friday. Restaurants and gyms will be open Friday and even casinos will open (but on Wednesday). Nationally, many states are having to backtrack with their case numbers spiking. But for Illinois, it’s TGIF.

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

News

8:45 p.m. Illinois ready to step forward into Phase 4, but Pritzker unfazed about tugging it back if COVID-19 cases surge

With all regions of the state set to advance to Phase 4 of reopening on Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker vowed that while Illinois has seen a “trajectory of success,” he’s not afraid to return to more restrictions should COVID-19 cases see a drastic uptick.

“I’m not afraid to protect the people of Illinois by moving a region back to an earlier phase if we see a surge,” Pritzker said at a Chicago news conference. “Ours will not be one of the states that takes no action in response to a return to the peak.”

Asked whether that could mean reinstating a stay-at-home order, the governor said, “I’m not afraid to move us backward to the things that we’ve done in the past.” He also cited once again prohibiting elective surgeries to make more space for hospital beds — as Texas has done — as another option for the state should cases go up.

Pritzker’s warning came as his public health department announced another 894 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 41 additional deaths – more evidence of the state’s improving situation, although the daily case number is the highest in nearly three weeks.

Read the full story by Tina Sfondeles here.

7:15 p.m. Here’s what’s returning as Illinois enters Phase 4 of reopening Friday

More than three months after the coronavirus gripped Illinois and the economy was shut down with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, the state will take another step toward normalcy Friday as it enters Phase 4 of the governor’s reopening plan.

That means you’ll be able to hit the gym, grab a bite inside your favorite restaurant and maybe even catch a ballgame. Just don’t forget your mask — and keep that social distance.

Odds are it’ll be the way of life for awhile. Illinois isn’t expected to fully reopen until a COVID-19 vaccine or an effective treatment is available.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

6:30 p.m. Phase 4 mandates enforced by complaint only — not random inspections, top mayoral aide says

Compliance with the 25% cap on indoor capacity and other Phase 4 safety mandates will be policed by complaint only, a top mayoral aide said Thursday, urging Chicagoans who walk into crowded restaurants, bars and gyms to dial 311.

On the eve of Chicago’s cautious next step in reopening its economy, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno said her department has issued 160 violation notices during the coronavirus pandemic. Her inspectors are prepared to issue even more warnings and citations if Chicago businesses fighting for survival push the envelope.

But Escareno said the onus will be on consumers to report violations. City Hall simply doesn’t have the staff to conduct random inspections.

Read the full story by Fran Spielman here.

5:34 p.m. Illinois casinos back in the game next week — Pritzker deals them in with Wednesday reopening

All bets are back on in Illinois starting next week.

Following an unprecedented three-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration on Thursday gave the state’s 10 casinos and thousands of video gambling machine operators the green light to welcome back bettors next Wednesday.

That’s a few days behind other crowd-dependent industries reopening Friday with the statewide introduction of Phase 4, but it’s welcome news for casino executives eager to get the slots rolling again — and for the Democratic governor to jumpstart gaming revenue for a COVID-19-riddled budget.

“I’m not an expert about how many times you need to wipe down a video gambling terminal to make it safe,” Pritzker said during a Loop news conference. “Like other activities, we’re trying to do these things in measures, with lots of health and safety guidance. The No. 1 driving factor is people should not get sick while doing those activities.”

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

2:50 p.m. US coronavirus cases near an all-time high as governors forced to backtrack

NEW YORK — The coronavirus crisis deepened in Arizona on Thursday, and the governor of Texas began to backtrack after making one of the most aggressive pushes in the nation to reopen, as the daily number of confirmed cases across the U.S. closed in on the peak reached during the dark days of late April.

While greatly expanded testing probably accounts for some of the increase, experts say other measures indicate the virus is making a comeback. Daily deaths, hospitalizations and the percentage of tests that are coming back positive have also have been rising over the past few weeks in parts of the country, mostly in the South and West.

In Arizona, 23 percent of coronavirus tests conducted over the last seven days have been positive, nearly triple the national average, and a record 415 patients were on ventilators. Mississippi saw its daily count of new cases reach new highs twice this week.

Read the full story by The Associated Press here.

1:38 p.m. Pregnant women with COVID-19 are 5 times more likely to be hospitalized

Pregnant women may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, breaking from earlier guidance that found no difference in risk between the two groups.

The good news is that pregnant women who are infected with COVID-19 aren’t at any greater risk of death than women who aren’t pregnant, said Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman, a COVID-19 deputy incident manager with the CDC.

The worse news is that infected pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized and are at increased risk for ICU admission and to require mechanical ventilation, according to a CDC study of thousands of women in the U.S. from January to June.

Among women with COVID-19, about 32% of pregnant women were reported to have been hospitalized compared with about 6% of non-pregnant women, the study found.

It’s possible, but not known, that the higher hospitalization rate might be due to doctor’s overall concerns for the health of pregnant women, so they could be more likely to admit them to a hospital, CDC officials said.

So far there’s no data on how a COVID-19 infection affects a woman’s pregnancy or the health outcomes of their babies, said Meaney-Delman.

Read the full story from USA Today here.

12:34 p.m. 20 million Americans have had coronavirus, US health officials believe

U.S. officials believe as many as 20 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus, suggesting millions had the virus and never knew it.

That’s nearly 10 times as many infections as the 2.3 million cases that have been confirmed and comes as the Trump administration works to tamp down nationwide concern about the COVID-19 pandemic as about a dozen states are seeing worrisome increases in cases.

The administration also looks to get its scientific experts back before the public more as it tries to allay anxieties about the pandemic while states begin reopening. Since mid-May, when the government began stressing the need to get the economy moving again, the panel’s public health experts have been far less visible than in the pandemic’s early weeks.

Twenty million infections would mean about 6% of the nation’s 331 million people have been infected, leaving a majority of the population still susceptible to the virus. Previously, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said that as many as 25% of infected people might not have symptoms.

The new estimate is based on CDC studies of blood samples collected nationwide. Many infections were not caught in early testing, when supplies were limited and federal officials prioritized testing for those with symptoms.

Read the full story from the Associated Press here.

11:39 a.m. Celebrating the final weekend of Pride Month virtually

While there’s no parade or street festival this year, there are plenty of online celebrations for the final weekend of Pride Month. We rounded up some options.

• Pride City Sounds: Chicago withSlo ’Mo Partyis a celebration of music and the LGBTQ+ community at 8 p.m. June 25. And celebrate withJanelle Monaewhen the singer performs an intimate concert at 7:30 p.m. June 28. For more information on both events, go to humanbyorientation.com.

• The Neo-Futurist Theater streams its annual Pride show,“The Infinite Wrench Gets Prideful: 30 Queer Plays in 60 Straight Minutes,”at 8 p.m. June 25. Tickets: $15. Visitneofuturists.org.

• A Queer Pride presentsChicago Is a [Digital] Drag Festival, hosted by Shea Coulee (“Ru Paul’s Drag Race All Stars 5”), at 8 p.m. June 30. Visit twitch.tv/aqueerpride.

“Porch Pride: A Bluegrass Pride Queer-antine Festival”offers more than 10 hours of music performed by two dozen musicians and singers. Begins at 3 p.m. June 27-28. Visit bluegrasspride.net.

• Through July 12, About Face Theatre streams“Packing,”Scott Bradley’s solo piece charting his journey of self-discovery. Tickets: $15. Visit aboutfacetheatre.com.

• Pride Films and Plays present a reading of Jonathan Tolins’“Last Sunday in June”(7 p.m. June 28), a story of friends and lovers set amidst a Pride Parade celebration. Tickets: $10. Visitpridearts.org.

• Playmakers Laboratory streams“That’s Queer, Grandma”(8 p.m. June 29, July 6), a romp through student-written stories centered on inclusivity, equality and what it means to be authentic. Visiteventbrite.com.

For more ideas for things to do in the coming week, check out our roundup.

11:15 a.m. Here’s what’s reopening Friday in Chicago

Public pools will remain closed unless there is a “heat emergency,” but beaches just might open some time next month with social distancing.

Lincoln Park Zoo will remain free, but with reservations required.

Gyms will be open, but you’ll need to work out with a face mask. Equipment will either be six feet apart — or, in smaller facilities, separated by clear plastic screens.

Movie theaters, as well as other theaters and live performance venues can open to audiences of 50 or fewer, but all but the smallest live theaters are likely to remain closed because production costs will far exceed the gate. Standing-room-only live music venues will remain closed — and likely will be the last to reopen.

That’s just a snapshot of what will — and won’t — happen starting Friday, as Chicago moves into Phase 4 of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to cautiously reopen the Chicago economy.

Read the full story from Fran Spielman here.

10:01 a.m. Jobless claims and depressed economy show damage from virus

The number of laid-off workers seeking U.S. unemployment benefits dipped only slightly last week, and the economy shrank in the first three months of the year — evidence of the ongoing economic damage being inflicted by the viral pandemic.

The economy, which contracted 5% in the January-March quarter, is widely expected to shrink at a roughly 30% annual rate in the current April-June quarter. That would be the worst quarterly contraction, by far, since record-keeping began in 1948.

The government reported Thursday that the number of laid-off workers who applied for unemployment benefits declined slightly to 1.48 million last week. It was the 12th straight drop. Still, applications for jobless aid have declined just 5% in the past two weeks, a much slower rate of improvement than in April and May.

What’s more, an additional 700,000 people applied for jobless benefits last week under a new program for self-employed and gig workers that made them eligible for aid for the first time. These figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn’t include them in the official count.

The steady if slow decline in applications does suggest that the job market is gradually healing from the pandemic, which shuttered businesses and sent the unemployment rate up to 14.7% in April, its highest level since the Great Depression. The total number of people who are receiving jobless aid also fell last week, to 19.5 million from 20.3 million, evidence that employers are rehiring some of the workers who had been laid off since mid-March.

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

8:32 a.m. University of Chicago closes special units for coronavirus patients

The University of Chicago Medical Center is no longer dedicating entire floors or units solely to care for COVID-19 patients as the number of hospitalizations for the virus fell significantly.

In a sign of the dwindling number of new coronavirus cases and the eventual return to normal operations, the Hyde Park hospital said in a staff email this week that it will continue to isolate COVID-19 patients but it will no longer need to block off large portions of the medical center.

At peak in mid-April, there were 140 virus patients hospitalized at the South Side medical center. As of Wednesday morning, there were 18, a hospital spokeswoman said. At one point, two full floors were designated for treatment of those infected with the virus.

“Going forward, our patients and community will be better served by caring for our COVID-19 patients in appropriate isolation rooms and allowing our COVID-19 units to return to serving their regular patient populations,” Krista Curell, vice president of risk management and patient safety, said in the email to faculty and staff.

The special units were designed to handle the onslaught of virus cases in recent months but are no longer needed, Curell said. Returning areas of the hospital to other uses will allow admittance of more non-COVID-19 patients, she added. The special units only applied to adult patients and did not have an impact on the university’s Comer Children’s Hospital, which has admitted a very small number of COVID-19 cases, she said.

Illinois has seen declining virus-related death and case totals for five consecutive weeks.

The University of Chicago’s actions are similar to those at other medical centers across the city.

Read the full story from Brett Chase here.

8 a.m. October Chicago Marathon still on (for now), organizers say

The New York City Marathon scheduled for Nov. 1 was canceled Wednesday because of the coronavirus pandemic; meanwhile, the 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon scheduled for Oct. 11 is still on.

“We are aware of the announcement made by the New York Road Runners today,” Chicago Marathon spokeswoman Alex Sawyer told the Sun-Times Wednesday. “At this time, we are unable to say definitively whether or not the Bank of America Chicago Marathon will proceed.”

Sawyer said organizers “are committed to sharing a decision with our runners soon as possible” and have been working with city officials to “prepare[e] for both outcomes.”

The Bank of America Chicago half marathon, which had been scheduled for June 7, was canceled in late April, and registered runners had the option to defer their registration for the 2021 race or request a refund of their entry fee.

Marathon officials haven’t announced whether the same options will be available to runners in the event of the October race’s cancellation, but Sawyer said organizers were exploring “unique options outside of our standard policies.”

Mitch Dudek

7:15 a.m. Disney delays Southern California theme park reopenings because of coronavirus

Disney is postponing the mid-July reopening of its Southern California theme parks until it receives guidelines from the state, the company announced Wednesday.

Disney had hoped to reopen Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in Anaheim on July 17 after a four-month closure due to the coronavirus. But the state has indicated it won’t issue guidelines until after July 4, the company said.

“Given the time required for us to bring thousands of cast members back to work and restart our business, we have no choice but to delay the reopening of our theme parks and resort hotels until we receive approval from government officials,” Disney said in a statement.

Read the full story by The Associated Press here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

7:35 a.m. Never forgive baseball’s owners and players for arguing over money during the pandemic

I’ll be excited about the return of major-league baseball when there are replacement players, replacement owners and a replacement commissioner.

Until then, I’ll stick with the sentiment that has been with me since the bickering began: What a bunch of selfish, tone-deaf jerks.

After months of everyone involved revealing their true colors, all various shades of green, baseball will begin its 60-game season July 23 or July 24. Can I get a “hooray”? How about a “huzzah”? Didn’t think so.

Let’s settle for a “Who cares?”

Read the full column by Rick Morrissey here.

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