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Coronavirus live blog, Aug. 19, 2020: Illinois sets nearly 3-month high with 2,295 new COVID-19 cases

Here is Wednesday’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

Illinois’ coronavirus climb took another dangerous step up Wednesday as health officials announced an additional 2,295 Illinoisans have contracted COVID-19, the latest nearly three-month high for the state.

Here’s what else happened in and around Chicago and Illinois as the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.


News

8:58 p.m. Troubling signs in state’s latest COVID-19 report: Yet another 2,000-plus caseload, rising testing positivity rate, younger deaths

A nurse helps a coronavirus patient at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at El Centro Regional Medical Center in Imperial County, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images (file photo)

Illinois’ coronavirus climb took another dangerous step up Wednesday as health officials announced an additional 2,295 Illinoisans have contracted COVID-19, the latest nearly three-month high for the state.

The newest cases were confirmed among a record-high 50,299 tests reported to the state, but they were still enough to raise Illinois’ testing positivity rate over the last week to 4.4%, the number experts look to to gauge how quickly the virus is spreading. It had been down to 2.5% last month.

Daily caseloads have surpassed 2,000 on four occasions so far in August, each marking a new high for the state since May 24. The state tallied 2,508 new cases that day, toward the end of the state’s initial pandemic peak.

Cases bottomed out in mid-June as the state reported an average of about 643 new cases per day between June 8-21.

The state’s daily case rate is now almost triple that figure over the last two weeks, as Illinois has reported an average of 1,816 new cases per day from Aug. 6 through Wednesday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team has sounded warning calls on Illinois’ steady case over the last month. The Democratic governor was scheduled a COVID-19 briefing for 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Read the full story from reporter Mitchell Armentrout here.


7:28 p.m. Eviction risk of 250K Cook County homes if state doesn’t extend moratorium, Sheriff Dart warns

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart Wednesday urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to extend the state’s evictions moratorium past the expiration date this weekend as residents await funding assistance that is still being doled out.

In a letter to Pritzker and Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, Dart warned that not extending the moratorium past Saturday would put as many as 250,000 households in the county at risk of eviction.

Evicting residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dart wrote, would force them to go to homeless shelters or the homes of friends and families, increasing the risk of exposure in the community.

“Like you, I have been tremendously concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, not just on the health and safety of residents, but on the economic future of the entire community,” Dart wrote. “The evictions moratorium set to expire on August 22nd has been a critical component of ensuring economic stability along with government efforts to aid both tenants and property owners.”

Reporter David Struett has the full story.

4:40 p.m. South Holland CDL facility closed after worker contracts COVID-19

A truck driver’s services facility in South Holland will be closed until Sept. 1 after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus.

Employees of the commercial driver’s license facility at 41 W. 162nd St. will self-quarantine for two weeks while the building undergoes cleaning, according to Secretary of State Jesse White’s office.

CDL drivers are encouraged to visit nearby facilities which in West Chicago, 1280 Powis Rd., and Bradley, 1111 Blatt Blvd.

In mid-March, all Illinois driver facilities were closed to fight the spread of coronavirus while White’s office extended expiration dates for driver’s licenses and stickers until Nov. 1.

They reopened in early June with social distancing measures and online preregistration to shorten wait times, but several Chicago-area locations have temporarily closed again after employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Read the full story here.

3:40 p.m. Lightfoot blames recruit negligence for COVID-19 outbreak that shut down fire academy

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday blamed recruit negligence for the coronavirus outbreak that shut down the Chicago Fire Department academy and denied that testing for promotions now going on at McCormick Place poses a similar threat.

The fire academy was closed for a deep cleaning, halting in-person training, after 46 instructors and firefighter candidates tested positive for the coronavirus.

Lightfoot said “a lot of precautions were put in place at the academy” to ensure training could continue safely during the pandemic. Recruits were “admonished over and over again what they needed to do when they left the academy” to stay safe and return the next day without endangering themselves, their families and their colleagues.

“Unfortunately, my understanding is that didn’t happen. And that was a significant problem. … People didn’t pay attention. They didn’t listen. They didn’t follow precautions. They were engaged in lots of activities after hours that put them and their colleagues at risk. I hope we don’t see a repeat of that. But [those are] the facts,” the mayor said.

Read the full story here.

2 p.m. Northwestern undergrads to take at-home COVID-19 test before returning to campus

Northwestern University announced Wednesday its three-step COVID-19 testing plan for undergraduate students returning to campus for Fall 2020.

Northwestern students will have to complete an at-home nasal swab test and receive a negative result before regaining access to campus buildings, according to an email from the university Wednesday. The university will also require testing upon arrival to Evanston, as well as ongoing testing of on- and off-campus students, with more details on those steps still to come.

Students will order a test kit from Picture Genetics and receive it within two or three days. After self-administering the nasal swab, students must ship the sample back by Aug. 27. The results, which will be shared with Northwestern, should arrive two to four days after shipping the sample. Students won’t be charged for the sample kit.

The COVID-19 testing kits can’t be sent to international students or people under age 18, so those students will be exempt from the first step of the testing process, according to the email.

Read the full story here.

1:35 p.m. How COVID-19 has changed even the most routine doctor’s visit

Bringing her 14-year-old son, Alessandro, into Chicago for doctor’s visits has been a heavy burden on Ramona Gonzalez.

As a baby, Alessandro’s brain was deprived of oxygen and, as a result, he needs a ventilator to breathe, a feeding tube to eat, he’s deaf and blind. In recent years, Gonzalez has had to bring her son from Matteson to La Rabida Children’s Hospital on the South Side, which specializes in caring for medically complex chronically ill children. Sometimes, she has to load him in an ambulance along with his medical supplies and equipment.

“It’s a lot,” she said.

But over the past few months, Alessandro was able to see six doctors from La Rabida in three exams conducted over video. It was a godsend for Gonzalez during a pandemic she feared would endanger her son’s life.

“It was really good,” she said. “I don’t want to risk him getting any disease.”

Read the full report from Brett Chase here.

12:45 p.m. Bulls, other non-playoff teams can train in individual bubbles

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Bulls and other teams that didn’t get invited to Walt Disney World now have instructions on how they can get back to basketball — in their own bubbles.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association finalized an agreement Tuesday that allows the Bulls and the other seven teams that didn’t qualify for the restart to have voluntary group workouts in their facilities beginning next month.

Much like the 22 teams that resumed play after the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, teams will need to have all players and staff remaining in a campus environment in which everyone will be tested daily for the virus.

A two-phase system will be used for the program that will run from Sept. 14-Oct. 6, which will have players “residing in a campus-like environment under controlled conditions.”

Read the full story here.

10:54 a.m. Empty Soldier Field will ‘definitely be different without fans’

One day after the Bears said they won’t have fans at Soldier Field for the foreseeable future, Bears coach Matt Nagy said Tuesday that health and safety should be paramount.

“Across the league, you are seeing there are different things going on and different rules that teams are implementing,” he said. “For now, that happens to be where we’re at. I trust in everybody that is making the decisions … and just we’ll see where it ends up.”

The NFL does not have a uniform fan rule, meaning some states might allow their stadiums to open at partial capacity. Others won’t.

Read the full story here.

8:44 a.m. Lightfoot warns of layoffs and furloughs without revenue replacement money from Congress

Saddled with a shortfall that’s $700 million and growing, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday she will have no choice but to order employee “layoffs and furloughs” without another round of stimulus money to replace revenue lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lightfoot has said repeatedly that raising property taxes is her last resort and layoffs and furloughs are next to last. She has called previous rounds of furloughs demoralizing to city workers.

But, during a panel discussion Tuesday at the virtual Democratic National Convention sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the mayor said she’s running out of options to avoid that painful choice.

“If we don’t get [revenue replacement] help from the federal government, we have nothing but bad choices, including looking at layoffs and looking at furloughs,” Lightfoot said.

“This is not the time for government to be putting people into an uncertain economy. We need to make sure that we do everything that we can — that we’re prudent fiduciaries of taxpayer dollars. But the last thing that we should be doing is putting people into the unemployment ranks because we can’t get help from the federal government for this once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis.”

Read the full story from City Hall reporter Fran Spielman here.


New Cases

  • Illinois’ coronavirus testing positivity rate inched up again Tuesday with the latest 1,740 cases confirmed statewide. Those new cases were diagnosed among 34,175 tests, or about 5.1% of them — the highest positivity rate for a single day in Illinois in more than 10 weeks.

Analysis & Commentary

8:17 a.m. COVID-19 makes clear the need for private and public investment in local water systems

It costs money to make the infrastructure investments needed to ensure people have clean, safe and healthy water. So, it makes sense that water rates are increasing — both for municipally run systems and for those run by water companies — as necessary investments from upgrading treatment plants to replacing aging water mains are made.

As rates increase to support clean drinking water, there are significant, valid concerns around water affordability. One driver of rates are wholesale water costs. For example, the cost of Lake Michigan water purchased from the City of Chicago, which water companies pass through in rates without any markup, has more than doubled over the past decade.

Concerns about affordability have led some municipalities to delay necessary investments for years or even decades. Deferring necessary investment keeps rates low but the resulting failing water systems deliver unsafe water and put public health in jeopardy.

Read the full guest column here.