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Coronavirus live blog, August 26, 2020: Illinois sees highest number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in weeks

Here’s what we learned on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

On Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health also said 2,157 more coronavirus cases have been confirmed, the seventh time the state has crossed the 2,000-case threshold so far this month. Cases have trended upward in Illinois since early July, and experts have warned that a spike in deaths would follow.

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

News

9 p.m. Coronavirus claims 37 more Illinois lives — worst daily toll in seven weeks — and infects another 2,157

People get tested for COVID-19 at the drive-thru portion of a one-day testing site arranged by the Community Organized Relief Effort at St. Mary Star of the Sea School, 6424 S. Kenneth Ave., in West Lawn on the Southwest Side, Wednesday afternoon, July 29, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

COVID-19 has killed 37 more Illinoisans, public health officials announced Wednesday, marking the state’s highest number of deaths attributed to the virus in a single day in seven weeks.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also said 2,157 more coronavirus cases have been confirmed, the seventh time the state has crossed the 2,000-case threshold so far this month.

Cases have trended upward in Illinois since early July, and experts have warned that a spike in deaths would follow.

Wednesday’s toll marked only the fifth time the state has tallied 30 or more deaths since July 7, when 37 lives were also lost.

The latest victims included a Cook County youth in her teens, officials said.

Read the full report from Mitchell Armentrout here.

8:30 p.m. Rapid $5 coronavirus test doesn’t need specialty equipment

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized the first rapid coronavirus test that doesn’t need any special computer equipment to get results.

The 15-minute test from Abbott Laboratories will sell for $5, giving it a competitive edge over similar tests that need to be popped into a small machine. The size of a credit card, the self-contained test is based on the same technology used to test for the flu, strep throat and other infections.

It’s the latest cheaper, simpler test to hit the U.S. market, providing new options to expand testing as schools and businesses struggle to reopen and flu season approaches. The FDA also recently greenlighted a saliva test from Yale University that bypasses some of the supplies that have led to testing bottlenecks.

Read the full story here.

7:08 p.m. Cook County medical examiner’s ‘absolutely unprecedented’ caseload: Deaths exceed 10,000 — and it’s not just COVID-19

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office is preparing for its deadliest year in history, already having investigated more than 10,000 deaths.

Standing outside the medical examiner’s office, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said this year’s case load is “absolutely unprecedented.”

Since the office was established in 1976, it has only exceeded 10,000 annual death investigations in three years in the late 1970s.

The county’s deadliest year was 1977, when pathologists examined 10,654 deaths. With four months left in 2020, Preckwinkle expects the tally to surge past that mark soon.

“These numbers point to a harsh reality as we come closer to the end of 2020. And Once again, the burden is being felt disproportionately in communities of color,” Preckwinkle said. “While a quarter of our county’s population is African American — about 24% — close to 43% of the cases this office sees are African American residents.”

Reporter Elvia Malagón has the full story.

1:37 p.m. Pritzker admits ‘mistake’ in suburban, downstate COVID-19 response

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens during a news conference in Little Village last year. Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared a “red alert” Tuesday for Will and Kankakee counties while issuing his coronavirus crackdown on the region due to rising COVID-19 testing positivity rates.

“This is a red alert for everyone who works and lives here, and it demands a renewed effort to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Pritzker said at a news conference in Joliet, the seat of Will County.

Indoor dining and bar service is banned in Will and Kankakee counties beginning Wednesday, a state “mitigation” effort that’s the result of the region reporting three consecutive days with an average testing positivity rate of 8% or higher. Experts use that number to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading.

“Let me just say it was a mistake, in my view, ultimately, to make the adjustment that we made in Region 4 [Metro East],” Pritzker said. “We wanted to listen to them and try to follow the suggestion that they had made. … I will readily admit that that was not a good idea, and that it appears now that we want to put those mitigations exactly in place as we had originally intended.”

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

12:37 p.m. U.S. health officials spark confusion after testing guidelines change

NEW YORK — U.S. health officials have sparked a wave of confusion after posting guidelines that coronavirus testing is not necessary for people who have been in close contact with infected people.

The new guidance was posted earlier this week on the website of a federal agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. But on Monday a CDC testing overview page was changed to say that testing is no longer recommended for symptom-less people who were in close contact situations.

There was a caveat, however. Testing may be recommended for those with health problems that make them more likely to suffer severe illness from an infection, or if their doctor or local state officials advise they get tested.

CDC officials referred all questions to the agency’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. That suggests that HHS ordered the change, not CDC, said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher.

Read the full story here.

11 a.m. Fire win home opener at empty Soldier Field

At 5:53 p.m. Tuesday night, the Fire emerged from the northeast tunnel and hit the playing surface at Soldier Field. The moment, anticipated by the club after effectively buying its way into an amended lease with the Village of Bridgeview, was met with blaring music that sounded like a regular match.

But there were over 60,000 empty blue seats to greet the Fire, who beat FC Cincinnati 3-0. The authentic cheering that would’ve met the team beginning their pregame warmups for their planned March 21 opener was absent, and the only visible signs of supporters were large fan-created banners behind the south goal and a few social-media messages that were displayed on the video boards at Soldier Field.

Forty minutes after warmups, the Fire returned to the field. Unlike typical circumstances when the teams walk out side-by-side, the Fire walked out first. They were followed by the referees and then FC Cincinnati. Everybody was wearing masks.

Indeed, COVID-19 was hard to forget. It’s why the opener was postponed, why it was rescheduled for Tuesday, and why Soldier Field’s doors were closed to fans. There were some doubts the match would be played after an unnamed Fire player tested positive Friday.

10:15 a.m. Opening day: Dove hunting at Illinois’ public sites will be different with pandemic, but there’s hope

A very different dove season comes to Illinois’ public sites.

Dove hunting opens Tuesday, as usual on Sept. 1. That’s the only usual thing. At least there will be hunting at public sites (with strict protocols).

There will be no daily draws and no standbys. Hunting the first five days is by assignment for those who received a permit. Permit-holders should have received a letter with a field/stake assignment and other information. My letter arrived Monday.

Throw in one more curve.

Last week, a reader emailed, “Is there any talk about suspending the non-toxic ammo requirement for dove season in state controlled areas this year? No one seems to have the right steel shot in stock.”

I had no idea. I have plenty of No. 7 non-toxic shot left. But he was right. I found a couple boxes at one box store, otherwise empty shelves.

“Although we sympathize with hunters that may experience difficulty locating non-toxic shot this year, we cannot remove the non-toxic requirements from our state sites,” explained Mike Wefer, chief of wildlife for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “These rules were enacted to protect the wildlife and natural resources on our public lands. The hazards of ingesting lead shot for waterfowl, upland birds and other wildlife are well-known and most hunters support the switch.”

Read the full story from Dale Bowman here.

9:43 a.m. Dating during the pandemic creates lasting connections, even marriage

NEW YORK — If there’s one thing the pandemic hasn’t canceled, it’s the search for love.

Throughout the health emergency, daters have taken to apps, websites and matchmaking services in search of connection, with more meeting in person as the crisis drags on at a time when every touch is calculated and fraught.

Some daters insist on safety precautions before leaping into offline meetups. Others take no precautions, relying on mutual trust. A lucky few are on the ultimate step, marriage.

In March, the popular dating app Hinge experienced a 30% increase over January and February in messages sent among users. In June, compared to the same month last year, there was a 13% increase in the number of dates — virtual and in person — in the U.S. and U.K., said Logan Ury, chief researcher for the app.

Ury said the resolve to reach out amid coronavirus chaos is strong.

“Daters are feeling creative. They’re feeling resilient, and they’re not willing to put a year of their love life on hold because of the global pandemic,” Ury said.

Read the full story here.

7:47 a.m. Masks on the menu: Stricter face-covering rules at bars, restaurants under latest Pritzker guidelines

Unless a sip or a bite is going in, the mask pretty much has to stay on.

Facing a rise in coronavirus cases statewide, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a new set of guidelines for bars and restaurants Tuesday that require patrons to keep their masks over their mouths and noses during all interactions with wait staff and other food service workers.

That’s “including but not limited to when employees take patrons’ orders, deliver food and beverages and service tables,” according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The new guidelines go into effect Wednesday and also apply to other places that serve food, including museums, entertainment venues and “indoor recreational facilities,” officials said.

“It’s important that we treat hospitality employees just as you would in any retail store or establishment,” Pritzker said at a news conference in Joliet, part of the Will-Kankakee County region that is facing a full ban on indoor dining due to a rise COVID-19 testing positivity rate.

The new mask guidelines apply statewide to both indoor and outdoor dining and bar service.

“This new requirement will help keep people safe while moving the economy forward,” the Democratic governor said.

Read reporter Mitchell Armentrout’s full story here.


New Cases

  • Over the last two weeks, the state has averaged 1,885 new coronavirus cases per day, more than triple the state’s running rate on June 24.
  • Chicago Fire player tests positive for COVID-19
  • More than 37,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus over the first three weeks of August, compared to 22,925 in all of June.
  • Five Notre Dame football players test positive for COVID-19.

Analysis & Commentary

7:52 a.m. A summer sports season like none we’ve seen before

One thing’s for sure: You’ve never seen a sports season like this one.

It’s late August, and last weekend you could watch four NBA playoff games in a single day?

Watch the NHL in full Stanley Cup-playoff mode?

Watch the Indianapolis 500, which usually takes place in May?

Of course, the operative word here is watch. More precisely, watch on TV, because the idea of lots of spectators — or even anybody — attending these events is something of an anachronism.

People are learning, swiftly and sadly, to stay away from each other, especially from crowds. (That is, if you’re not at a beach party in Wisconsin or with protesters boycotting Costco over its mask-wearing policy.)

A pandemic changes the world in many ways, and some of those ways will not be fully apparent until the coronavirus has been wrestled into submission.

Read Rick Telander’s full column here.