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Coronavirus live blog, August 15, 2020: Public health officials announce another 1,828 test positive for COVID-19 across Illinois

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

The month of August hasn’t been a good one for Illinois and the coronavirus. In the first half of the month, the state has seen some of its highest case counts in nearly three months, surpassing 2,000 daily cases three times. Previously, the state hadn’t eclipsed that mark since late May.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has attributed most of the state’s case rise over the last month to outbreaks among young people, mostly clustered downstate. However, the positivity rate has inched lower over the last week to 4%.

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

News

9 p.m. Illinois tallies 1,828 more coronavirus cases, 5 additional deaths

People take a stroll along the Riverwalk Friday afternoon, July 10, 2020. The Riverwalk is now open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. When the Riverwalk re-opened in June, hours were limited to prevent crowding and the spread of COVID-19.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Public health officials on Saturday announced another 1,828 people have tested positive for COVID-19 across Illinois, as five additional deaths were attributed to the virus.

Since the coronavirus pandemic gripped the state in early March, a total of 7,726 people have died among at least 204,519 who have contracted the respiratory disease.

Elderly residents accounted for Saturday’s fatalities, including a Cook County man in his 80s and a DuPage woman in her 90s.

But the Illinois Department of Public Health has attributed most of the state’s case rise over the last month to outbreaks among young people, mostly clustered downstate.

Read more from Mitchell Armentrout here.

8 p.m. In first games in 17 days because of COVID-19 outbreak, Cardinals sweep doubleheader from White Sox

The White Sox seemed to be catching the Cardinals at the right time — the visiting Redbirds hadn’t played since July 29 because of 18 positive coronavirus tests — but it was the Sox, with their ace right-hander on the mound, who looked rusty, sloppy and offensively weak in getting swept in a doubleheader.

The Sox lost 5-1 loss in Game 1 with their ace, Lucas Giolito, then fell 6-3 in the nightcap. They dropped to 10-11, mustering three hits in each seven-inning game.

Read the full story by Daryl Van Schouwen here.

6:55 p.m. Long-running Oklahoma Black rodeo rides on despite COVID-19

The oldest continuously held Black rodeo in the U.S. rode on in eastern Oklahoma despite months of uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic, though this year some cowboys wore face masks along with boots.

The 65th annual Roy LeBlanc Invitational Rodeo took place Aug. 7-8 in Okmulgee, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) east of Oklahoma City, with a crowd of about 1,000 and some 200 Black cowboys competing, according to co-owner Kenneth LeBlanc.

Most at the event wore masks and practiced social distancing, LeBlanc told The Associated Press

Read the full story here.

5:05 p.m. Nobody wants to take a COVID-19 test in Texas

Anyone can get a coronavirus test at the CentroMed clinic in San Antonio, but on a recent day, the drive-thru was empty. Finally two masked people in a maroon SUV pulled straight on through with no wait.

With hundreds of deaths reported each day, students returning to class and football teams charging ahead with plans to play, Texas leaders who grappled with testing shortages for much of the pandemic are now facing the opposite problem: not enough takers.

“We’re not having enough people step forward,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said.

The number of coronavirus tests being done each day in Texas has dropped by the thousands in August, mirroring nationwide trends that has seen daily testing averages in the U.S. fall nearly 9% since the end of July, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The problem is dwindling demand: Testing centers like CentroMed are no longer inundated by long lines that stretch for blocks, or closing hours early because tests run out.

Read the full story here.

3:30 p.m. Homes with grandparents weigh coronavirus risk as school starts

Zita Robinson, who’s 77 and diabetic, has been careful around her granddaughter since the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

A door connects Robinson’s apartment in Phoenix to the main house where 8-year-old Traris “Trary” Robinson-Newman and her mother live, but it mostly stays shut. Their only physical contact is if Trary walks in with her back toward Grandma. Then Robinson will kiss her own hand and lightly touch Trary’s back — “like I’m sending her a kiss with my hand.”

“It’s very hard,” Robinson said. “We live together, but we live apart.”

Not hugging Grandma is hard for Trary, too: “It’s like I can’t see her anymore.”

Read the full story here.

1:52 p.m. House edges back? Illinois casinos rake in $82.6 million in first month since coronavirus shutdown

Masks, plexi-glass shields and an ongoing pandemic haven’t done much to dampen the hopes of Illinois gamblers looking to score a few bucks.

The state’s 10 casinos are limited to half capacity in the age of COVID-19, but they still raked in about three-quarters of the cash they did for a comparable period last year, before the virus slashed admissions.

And the looming specter of the coronavirus certainly hasn’t scared off bettors from returning to the thousands of slot machines that have been turned back on at bars, gas stations and other establishments — and which have gobbled up 24% more dollars than they did last July.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

11:57 a.m. Language barriers, fear of the government delay contact-tracing

Only a handful of contact tracers working to slow COVID-19 in 125 communities near Chicago speak Spanish, despite significant Hispanic populations. Churches and advocacy groups in the Houston area are trying to convince immigrants to cooperate when health officials call. And in California, immigrants are being trained as contact tracers to ease mistrust.

The crucial job of reaching people who test positive for the coronavirus and those they’ve come in contact with is proving especially difficult in immigrant communities because of language barriers, confusion and fear of the government.

The failure of health departments across the U.S. to adequately investigate coronavirus outbreaks among non-English speakers is all the more fraught given the soaring and disproportionate case counts among Latinos in many states. Four of the hardest-hit states — Florida, Texas, Arizona and California — have major Spanish-speaking populations.

In the ZIP code with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland, 56% of adults speak Spanish. But only 60 of Maryland’s 1,350 contact tracers speak Spanish.

And the language barriers go beyond Spanish: Minneapolis needs tracers who also speak Somali, Oromo and Hmong, Chicago needs Polish speakers and Houston’s Harris County is grappling with a population that includes Vietnamese, Chinese and Hindi speakers.

But even when health officials overcome language barriers, they still must dispel the deep suspicions raised among immigrants when someone with the government calls to ask about their movements in an era of hardline immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump.

Read the full story here.

7:35 a.m. Americans are drinking more during the COVID-19 pandemic. But how much alcohol is too much?

The coronavirus pandemic has Americans drinking more.

Sales of at-home alcohol, according to a Nielsen report from June, have spiked nearly 27% since the start of the pandemic. And while this doesn’t take into account shutdowns of bars and restaurants nationwide, it suggests people are turning to alcohol to cope with a life-altering global crisis.

Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary at Department of Health and Human Services and head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, told USA TODAY in May that more people reportedly sought treatment for alcohol misuse in regions where coronavirus has hit the hardest.

A drink or two to take the edge off may seem like a harmless idea. And given historic unemployment rates, a pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down and the ceaseless specter of racial inequality, a couple more bottles of beer or glasses of wine might sound appealing.

Read the full story from USA Today here.

7:05 a.m. Study: Survivor plasma fights COVID-19 — but can’t prove definitively

Mayo Clinic researchers reported a strong hint that blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors helps other patients recover, but it’s not proof and some experts worry if, amid clamor for the treatment, they’ll ever get a clear answer.

More than 64,000 patients in the U.S. have been given convalescent plasma, a century-old approach to fend off flu and measles before vaccines. It’s a go-to tactic when new diseases come along, and history suggests it works against some, but not all, infections.

There’s no solid evidence yet that it fights the coronavirus and, if so, how best to use it. But preliminary data from 35,000 coronavirus patients treated with plasma offers what Mayo lead researcher Dr. Michael Joyner on Friday called “signals of efficacy.”

Read the full story here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

7:05 a.m. Lakefront’s usual array of walks, runs for charity have gone virtual amid the pandemic

On a typical weekend morning from early spring to late fall, Chicago’s lakefront normally hosts a never-ending array of charity walks and runs.

There’s the Walk for This and the Race for That, each dedicated to its own worthy cause, all sharing the common goals of fundraising and community building.

You probably know the drill. Participants, who are often survivors of the particular illness being recognized, join together with family and friends, then don commemorative T-shirts and race bibs to amble, jog or sprint in mass through the parks as giant speakers blast rock music.

But not in 2020.

Read the full column by columnist Mark Brown here.