Estimated 2020 budget shortfall is $700 million, says mayor, who won’t rule out property tax increase
The stay-at-home shutdown of the Chicago economy triggered by the coronavirus has blown a $700 million hole in the city’s 2020 budget, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday, refusing to rule out a property tax increase she wants desperately to avoid.
“We are hurting as a city: landlords, renters and workers. Our entire economy — the rug has been pulled out from under us because of the massive impact” that has affected every single business, the mayor said.
The $700 million figure is 40 percent higher than the $500 million figure Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett told the City Council’s Finance Committee about just over three weeks ago.
It’s also “conservative” and could go even higher, the mayor said, depending on how long it takes for consumers to regain confidence and whether there is a second or third surge in coronavirus cases.
7:55 p.m. Masks on, buffets off as Illinois gambling regulators set guidelines for casinos to reopen
Gamblers might be allowed back around the craps tables at Illinois casinos this summer for their shot at rolling a lucky seven — as long as they stay six feet apart.
But blowing on the dice for good luck? No dice, in the age of COVID-19.
And forget the buffet line.
A week after casinos beckoned gamblers back through their doors on the Las Vegas strip — and a week before they do likewise across the border in Indiana — Illinois gambling regulators issued a set of guidelines Tuesday for casinos to resume operations after the coronavirus forced them to fold for nearly three months and counting.
The Illinois Gaming Board’s plan doesn’t say exactly when the state’s 10 casinos will get the green light. Instead, each has to submit a plan outlining how operators will deep-clean their facilities, outfit employees with protective equipment and keep gamblers safely distanced, among other hurdles to get regulatory approval to reopen.
But a few customary industry perks are off the board from the get-go, per the Gaming Board.
6:35 p.m. Hospitalized ‘Days of Our Lives’ star Judi Evans nearly had legs amputated due to coronavirus
“Days of Our Lives” star Judi Evans has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
After a horseback riding accident in California on May 16 — which resulted in several broken ribs, fractured leg injuries, a broken collarbone and vertebrae in her lower back — Evans, 55, has been in the hospital for weeks, her publicist Howie Simon told USA TODAY.
The soap opera star requested that doctors test her for COVID-19 after being in close contact with other positive patients while at the hospital.
“She contracted COVID-19 while at the local hospital she was at,” Simon said in a statement. “They did not have her wear masks while being near COVID patients when awaiting x rays and other tests.”
4:25 p.m. Illinois passes 6,000 coronavirus deaths
Illinois remained on an apparent downward trend from its coronavirus peak with the latest figures released by health officials Tuesday, even as the state passed a grim milestone of 6,000 deaths since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 797 newly confirmed cases of the disease along with 95 more deaths attributed to it.
That raises the death toll to 6,018 from among the 129,212 people who have contracted the virus in the state overall since late January.
On top of that, state health officials this week began reporting “probable” cases and deaths under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning they fit medical and epidemiological criteria, but the person wasn’t tested. As of Monday, the state reported 178 probable deaths and 724 probable cases since the start of the pandemic.
3:20 p.m. Hotels make key changes to encourage guest stays amid coronavirus fears
Marriott, Hilton and other big hotel companies are used to competing on price or perks. Now they are competing on cleanliness.
From masked clerks at the front desk to shuttered buffets, hotels are making visible changes in the wake of the pandemic. Signage will tout new cleaning regimens: Red Roof Inns promise “RediClean,” while Hilton boasts of “CleanStay with Lysol.”
Hotels are still mostly empty; in the U.S., occupancy stood at 37% the week ending May 30, down 43% from the same period a year ago, according to STR, a data and consulting firm. But leisure travel is starting to pick up, and hotels see cleaning standards as a way to soothe jittery guests — and possibly win back business from rivals like home-sharing companies like Airbnb.
“I think, more than ever, customers are going to be looking for that seal of approval,” said Phil Cordell, Hilton’s head of global new brand development, who is leading the group developing the company’s new cleaning standards.
Some hotel brands are more stringent than others, says Larry Yu, a professor of hospitality management at George Washington University. He notes that Accor Hotels, a French company, has developed accreditation standards that its hotels must meet in order to reopen.
But Yu said enhanced cleaning is happening everywhere.
1:14 p.m. Craving normalcy during the pandemic? You can still get ‘charred’ by The Wiener’s Circle — curbside or via FaceTime
The Wiener’s Circle, the Chicago hot dog stand famous for its employees, who hurl insults at customers for fun, is continuing its tradition of doing exactly that — even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The iconic Lincoln Park spot is now inviting customers to order via FaceTime, so diners can get “charred from a safe distance.” That’s in addition to “curbside abuse,” which launched in the spring, when the shutdown first went into effect.
At the start of the pandemic, all sales were helping the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. Now, all sales also will support the Chicago Black-Owned Restaurant Relief Fund started by Black People Eats.
The announcement came in the form of a video the restaurant posted Monday.
12:37 p.m. U.S. employers laid-off 7.7 million workers in April
U.S. employers laid-off 7.7 million workers in April — a deep the economic hole that was created by the closure of thousands of offices, restaurants, stores and schools during the pandemic.
The Labor Department also said in a Tuesday report that job openings plummeted and hiring all but disappeared in April. The number of available jobs fell 16% from March, to 5 million. Hires declined 31% to 3.5 million.
The grim April — which followed an even bleaker March with 11.5 million layoffs — suggests that the economy could take time to recover nearly a decade’s worth of gains that vanished in about 60 days. Hiring did rebound in May as 2.5 million jobs were added on net, the government said in a separate report Friday. But those gains appeared to reflect temporarily laid-off employees returning to work and increases in people with part-time jobs, rather than an economy at full throttle.
10:47 a.m. When can CPS athletes begin summer workouts? Unclear
Chicago Public Schools athletes are still waiting to see when they can begin summer workouts.
Athletic directors in CPS received an email on Sunday that made it seem as if the district would not allow schools to participate in the the IHSA’s first stage of return-to-play. But Monday afternoon, CPS officials said that the email that was sent out isn’t the district’s official position.
“The district has not yet released official guidance regarding return to play for sports but in light of new guidelines from IHSA, we are working diligently to develop guidance and protocols to ensure our students can safely begin training,” said CPS spokesperson Emily Bolton.
Stage 1 of the IHSA’s plan mandates that temperatures be monitored at the start of the workouts and recommended that trainers be onsite.
Phillips football coach Troy McAllister says that CPS is probably destined to lag behind the rest of the state due to practicalities.
“Those things are difficult for CPS to set up,” McAllister said. “It is such a big district. Who is going to provide temperature testing? Smaller districts can get that done immediately and funding is probably better for the athletic departments.”
9:40 a.m. Can tear gas and pepper spray increase virus spread?
Police departments have used tear gas and pepper spray on protesters in recent weeks, raising concern that the chemical agents could increase the spread of the coronavirus.
The chemicals are designed to irritate the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat. They make people cough, sneeze and pull off their masks as they try to breathe.
Medical experts say those rushing to help people sprayed by tear gas could come into close contact with someone already infected with the virus who is coughing infectious particles. Also, those not already infected could be in more danger of getting sick because of irritation to their respiratory tracts.
There’s no research on tear gas and COVID-19 specifically, because the virus is too new. But a few years ago, Joseph Hout, then an active duty Army officer, conducted a study of 6,723 Army recruits exposed to a riot control gas during basic training. The study found a link between that exposure and doctors diagnosing acute respiratory illnesses.
Could tear gas lead to an increase in coronavirus infections? “I think it’s plausible, yes,” Hout said Monday.
7:43 a.m. McCormick Place loses biggest show of the year
Bowing to the inevitable impact of COVID-19, sponsors of the International Manufacturing Technology Show canceled the event Monday. It was supposed to be the largest convention on McCormick Place’s calendar for 2020.
Scheduled for Sept. 14-19, the biennial affair was to have drawn more than 129,000 people to Chicago. It also served as an unofficial kickoff to what ordinarily is a busy fall convention season in Chicago; its cancellation could cause other organizations to drop or postpone their physical events set for later this year.
Under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan for reopening the economy amid the pandemic, conventions could not happen until the state reaches Phase 5 of the recovery plan. It’s currently in Phase 3, and Phase 5 can’t occur until there’s a vaccine or effective treatment of COVID-19 and “the elimination of any new cases over a sustained period,” according to published guidelines.
7:05 a.m. Farm-to-table dining takes on new meaning amid pandemic
The farm-to-table movement in the United States has grown in recent years, as consumers have increasingly demanded locally sourced food. But in the past several weeks, the movement has grown out of necessity because some producers can’t rely on the complex web of processors, distributors and middlemen to get food to customers.
For some, the challenges have turned into opportunities — and new customers.
“When restaurants reopen, we’ll probably keep doing home delivery, because we’ve got a good base of customers,” Pray said.
But it’s not good news for many of America’s food producers. In late April and early May, U.S. beef and pork processing capacity was down 40% from last year, according to Jayson Lusk, head of the department of agricultural economics at Purdue University. Plants are now mainly back online but at reduced capacity with beef and pork plants running about 10% to 15% below last year, he said.
- The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 797 newly confirmed cases of the disease Tuesday along with 95 more deaths attributed to it. The state has now surpassed 6,000 total deaths.
- “Days of Our Lives” star Judi Evans has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and nearly had her legs amputated due to the disease.
- Two more detainees, employee at Cook County Juvenile detention center test positive for COVID-19.
- Federal health authorities have received reports of nearly 26,000 nursing home residents dying from COVID-19 across the country.
Analysis & Commentary
9:20 p.m. Senators call for independent probe of ‘Project Air Bridge’ and role of Medline, other companies
Three Senate Democrats are turning up the investigative heat on the Trump administration’s “Project Air Bridge,” which flew in — at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — high demand medical gloves, gowns and masks plus other supplies distributed by six for-profit companies, including the Northfield-based Medline Industries.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal and Charles Schumer asked the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to conduct an independent investigation in a Monday letter.
The senators said in their letter, “Project Air Bridge—like the broader Trump Administration response to the pandemic—has been marked by delays, incompetence, confusion, and secrecy involving multiple Federal agencies and actors.” They are trying to determine “the precise role” played by President Donald Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner in Project Air Bridge.
An issue for the senators is finding out why Kushner went to his connections in the business world to create “Project Air Bridge” rather “than using procurement and logistics experts” within the federal government.
Taxpayers paid at least $91 million for the air flights and no one knows if the goods were in fact delivered to the areas with the most need.
8:04 a.m. I’m a suburban teacher, and many of my students are losing out with remote learning
In a letter to the Sun-Times editors, Tara Ehrenberg of Melrose Park writes:
Thank you for covering the challenge of educating students during the pandemic. I am a third grade teacher in Melrose Park. Many of my students are among millions in the U.S. who aren’t getting the same educational opportunities as their peers because they lack adequate digital access.
It’s been challenging to switch to e-learning. I am missing 25% of my class because not all of my students have access to technology. They may have cell phones, but they don’t have internet access to the abundance of online resources available to schools right now.
That puts them at a disadvantage because their fellow classmates are able to watch educational videos or play educational games, while they’re just completing worksheets I give them.
Our superintendent had to ask for permission from the state government to allow teachers in schools to prepare learning packets for our students. We are going to school every two weeks to provide work for our students who can’t complete their learning online.