Coronavirus live blog, July 29, 2020: Here’s how CPS says it’ll decide if it’s safe to go back to school

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, July 29, 2020: Here’s how CPS says it’ll decide if it’s safe to go back to school

“We’ve made progress in Illinois,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday, “but we’ve also seen that it can be fleeting. And right now, things are not heading in the right direction.”

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


News

8:57 p.m. Here’s how CPS says it’ll decide if it’s safe to go back to school

CPS students at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side.

Sun-Times file

Chicago would need to average 400 new daily COVID-19 cases over the span of a week or otherwise see a dramatic spike in infections or hospitalizations for officials to consider entirely closing schools again, according to new health guidance released Wednesday.

The city has crept toward that decision since Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady first mentioned the 400-case threshold last week, and appears to have already met at least one requirement for officials to consider keeping students and teachers at home.

Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday codified Arwady’s view with a more detailed explanation of how the district would make its determination on school reopening. Other than the 400-case number, CPS could move to full remote learning if the city is averaging more than 200 cases per day while seeing a rapid increase of positive tests or inadequate hospital capacity, the district said.

Arwady also said a 5% positivity rate would mean the virus is not in control, schools chief Janice Jackson said in a WBEZ radio appearance Wednesday. Using a 7-day rolling average, Chicago is seeing 246 new cases per day, with an average positivity rate of 5.6%, according to city data. Representatives for CPS and CDPH didn’t immediately respond to questions about the positivity mark currently being met.

Reporter Nader Issa has the full story.


7:08 p.m. Pritzker warns public, pols on COVID-19 precautions: ‘If things don’t change, a reversal is where we’re headed’

A month after Illinois entered its latest phase of reopening, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday warned that another round of closures could be on tap if residents don’t take health precautions more seriously to stem the state’s steady rise in coronavirus cases.

“We are far, far from out of the woods,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during a Loop news conference.

“We’ve made progress in Illinois, but we’ve also seen that it can be fleeting. And right now, things are not heading in the right direction. I want to remind everyone that it doesn’t take long at all for a trajectory of success to turn into rising hospitalizations and deaths.

“And if things don’t change, a reversal is where we’re headed,” Pritzker said.

The Democratic governor offered his grim prognosis as the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the latest 1,393 cases of COVID-19 confirmed among 38,187 tests. That kept the state’s testing positivity rate over the last week at 3.8%, but raised July’s daily average to more than 1,100 new cases reported per day, compared to 764 per day last month.

Reporter Mitch Arementrout has the full story.

4:40 p.m. IHSA moves football to the spring

The Illinois High School Association has managed to squeeze all of its sports into a new four-season schedule it announced Wednesday. Seasons will be shorter and some sports are switching from fall to winter, but if the IHSA’s schedule actually happens all the athletes will get to play.

The major change has football, girls volleyball and boys soccer moving from the fall to the spring season.

“That is a huge relief for me,” Dunbar football player Mekel Fowler said. “I was really worried about the possibility of it being canceled.

The move comes after Governor J.B. Pritzker released a set of restrictions on high school, youth and adult recreational sports earlier Wednesday.

“My initial reaction is that it stinks,” Kenwood football coach Sinque Turner said. “That is going to impact football players that graduate early. If anything I thought they would cut some games and push us back to September. I thought the spring season was just a rumor. It stinks but I understand why things are going the way they are.”

Read the full report from Michael O’Brien here.

4:15 p.m. CPS parents question safety of students taking CTA if schools reopen this fall

Parents in a virtual Chicago Public Schools meeting for the Spanish-speaking community questioned whether students will be safe taking public transportation to schools if they reopen this fall, as planned, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The question on the CTA was one of several posed Wednesday to CPS officials, who are hosting a series of meetings on the district’s plans that would see most students attending school two days a week this fall. Officials answered a number of questions during Wednesday’s meeting but were unable to address the majority of concerns raised during a half-hour Q&A session with parents and others.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson acknowledged the risk some students and staff will take during their commutes.

“Of course, every time you enter a bus you are taking a risk,” she said. “We can’t control what happens on a CTA bus, the same way we can’t control what’s happening in each individual person’s home.”

Read the full report from Emmanuel Camarillo here.

3:56 p.m. Chicago Water Taxis to remain docked until at least next spring

Wendella Sightseeing Co. announced Wednesday it’s suspending its Chicago Water Taxi operations until at least the spring of 2021 after determining coronavirus protocols aren’t feasible for its smaller vessels that operate as water taxis.

The company’s five water taxis haven’t been in operation since March.

Workers are able to disinfect Wendella’s three large tour boats that cruise the river and lakefront because there’s a predetermined amount of downtime where no customers are aboard between the 90-minute tours, Andrew Sargis, chief of operations for Chicago Water Taxi, told the Sun-Times.

“But there is no downtime on the water taxis,” Sargis said. “And to implement these measures, we would have had to rework the way we operate.”

Read Mitch Dudek’s full report here.

8:08 a.m. Suburban districts flip-flop, nix in-person learning for fall after initially planning to reopen schools

School districts in some of Chicago’s largest suburbs had planned to kick off the fall with students back in classrooms at least part-time.

But with the start of school less than a month away and pressure mounting from anxious parents and teachers during a raging pandemic, some of those very districts have backtracked and will start the year fully remote.

Others plan to stick with a hybrid model to get students in school at least occasionally, and most districts, whether they’re planning to bring kids back on a limited basis or not at all, are pledging to improve the online learning experience from the end of last school year.

Online learning will include more live teaching sessions in Elgin Area School District U-46 schools, the second-largest district in the state after Chicago Public Schools. That includes teachers and students using a single digital platform and having teachers evaluate all student work to determine performance. The district’s decision to go fully remote came after it had initially been leaning toward a hybrid model.

Diana Martinez, 43, of Streamwood, will have children in kindergarten and high school at District U-46 schools this fall. Martinez, a single mother who lost two jobs due to the pandemic, said she had waited to find a new job until she knew her kids’ schedules. She even started training her younger son to get used to wearing a mask, in case his kindergarten class had an in-person component.

Reporter Clare Proctor has the full story.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

6:41 p.m. Editorial: Unemployment relief must continue

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Joins GOP Policy Lunch On Capitol Hill

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

No sooner did professional baseball return last week, after months of planning to make the games safe during the pandemic, than the entire season was thrown into doubt when COVID-19 swept through the Miami Marlins.

There is a lesson in that not only for professional sports, which we’re really feeling the loss of right now, but also for lawmakers in Washington who are crafting a massive new pandemic relief bill:

All our man-made plans are doomed if designed for a wished-for world.

At the core of almost every disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about how big the federal relief bill should be — and what it should include — is a fundamentally different view about how long it will be before life in the United States can return to normal.

Democrats, listening to the scientists, think it could be many more months or even years. They are proposing a $3 trillion relief bill. Republicans are leaning hard into that wished-for world. They are pushing a $1 trillion bill.

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

8:13 a.m. I’m a teacher and parent. Our schools aren’t ready to reopen and keep children and families safe.

With the start of a typical school year right around the corner, discussions are taking place about what the eventual return will look like. As an educator and a mom, I am torn between options: Full remote learning to ensure that children and students stay healthy; or a hybrid, with some in-person instruction.

But two major questions loom in the minds of every educator and parent: Can our nation keep children and families healthy, even with limited classroom teaching? If remote learning continues, will students lose too much educationally?

As a former teacher in three Chicago public high schools on the South Side, I think the answer to the first question is a clear “No.” Our nation can’t keep our kids and their families healthy without strong federal leadership, which is needed to have any chance of slowing the spread of coronavirus.

A case in point: One of my grossest days in CPS was the time a student threw up in the library entryway. It was flu season and only two janitors were working that day, so it took around six hours for one of them to clean up the vomit. The student went to the nurse’s office, but she wasn’t at our school that day, so he returned, still sick, for his library lesson. Meanwhile, students and teachers continued to fill the room.

The custodian also found a dead mouse nearby.

Read the full opinion piece by Gina Caneva.

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