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Coronavirus live blog, August 28, 2020: Suburban Cook County ‘at a crossroads,’ hitting COVID-19 ‘warning level’ — as 2,149 more test positive statewide

Here’s how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois today.

On Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health slapped the “warning level” label on 30 of the state’s 102 counties — up from 20 last week — as officials announced an additional 2,149 new cases of the virus were confirmed statewide. That’s the eighth time this month that 2,000 or more new cases have been logged in a single day, which hadn’t happened previously since mid-May when the state was suffering through its initial pandemic peak.

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

News

9 p.m. Suburban Cook County ‘at a crossroads,’ hitting COVID-19 ‘warning level’ — as 2,149 more test positive statewide

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle attends a news conference at Cook County Health’s Professional Building in July. Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Nearly a third of all Illinois counties, including Will and suburban Cook, are now at a COVID-19 “warning level” amid the state’s summertime coronavirus resurgence, public health officials announced Friday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said officials aren’t scaling back business operations any further for now, “but we are at a crossroads.

“We need everyone to wear a mask, watch their distance, and wash their hands consistently to slow the spread of COVID-19 so we don’t lose the gains we have made,” Preckwinkle said in a statement.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

8:15 p.m. Health agencies’ credibility at risk after week of blunders

The credibility of two of the nation’s leading public health agencies was under fire this week after controversial decisions that outside experts said smacked of political pressure from President Donald Trump as he attempts to move past the devastating toll of the coronavirus ahead of the November election.

The head of the Food and Drug Administration grossly misstated, then corrected, claims about the lifesaving power of a plasma therapy for COVID-19 authorized by his agency. Then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly updated its guidelines to suggest fewer Americans need to get tested for coronavirus, sparking outrage from scientists.

Trump’s own factual misstatements about COVID-19 are well documented, but the back-to-back messaging blunders by public health officials could create new damage, eroding public trust in front-line agencies. That’s already raising concerns about whether the administration will be forthcoming with critical details about upcoming vaccines needed to defeat the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

6 p.m. UIC to conduct 2nd COVID-19 vaccine study seeks more volunteers of color

University of Illinois at Chicago researchers are planning to conduct another study of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine as the race for an effective treatment accelerates.

Researchers plan to recruit as many as 1,500 volunteers for a late-stage study of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine possibly in September, said study leader Dr. Richard Novak.

Having shown effectiveness in early studies, the J&J vaccine will be studied in multiple sites across the country.

Read the full story by Brett Chase here.

4:50 p.m. Suburban restaurant owner allegedly took $170K in PPP loans after laying off staff

A suburban restaurant owner allegedly took a $176,000 government coronavirus stimulus loan a month after laying off staff and being evicted from her Elgin restaurant’s location.

Melissa Turasky, owner of Gifford’s Kitchen and Social, used some of the stolen money from the Paycheck Protection Program to make payments on her credit card, federal prosecutors said in an indictment unsealed Friday.

Turasky, 43, was evicted March 2 from her restaurant’s location, 2300 Bushwood Dr., and had laid off all her employees by the end of the month, the indictment states.

Read the complete story by David Streutt.

3:45 p.m. Trying to buy a desk or a chair for your child’s virtual schooling? There’s a pandemic-fueled shortage

It’s not just pepperoni, coins and Clorox wipes that are hard to find lately.

As many parents are finding out, there are also shortages on desks and chairs in some parts of the nation with more students starting the school year virtually. Select office furniture is in short supply or backordered depending on price, region and item.

It’s the latest in a long list of COVID-19 fueled shortages that started with toilet paper, hand sanitizer and face masks.

“Supply and demand have been at tremendous odds this year, and back-to-school is no different,” said Sarah Hofstetter, president of analytics company Profitero. “The biggest difference is that it’s easier to find crayons and whiteboards than it is to find the less obvious yet most necessary items for home schooling or hybrid learning, like desks for students.”

Read the full story here.

2:15 p.m. College towns growing alarmed over coronavirus outbreaks among students

RALEIGH, N.C. — As more and more schools and businesses around the country get the OK to reopen, some college towns are moving in the opposite direction because of too much partying and too many COVID-19 infections among students.

Iowa’s governor ordered all bars closed this week in the counties that are home to the University of Iowa and Iowa State, while the mayor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, did the same in the town where the state’s flagship university is situated.

The outbreaks since students began returning to campus in the past few weeks have heightened town-gown tensions and led to recriminations between local politicians and university officials.

Read the full story here.

1 p.m. Coronavirus patients are occupying 10% of Illinois’ ICU beds

The latest 1,707 COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths attributed to the virus statewide by public health officials Thursday are unfortunately typical for Illinois’ summertime coronavirus resurgence — but the number of patients being hospitalized with serious symptoms is even more troubling.

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 390 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in intensive care units across the state as of Wednesday night, the highest number of people receiving critical care due to the virus since June 29.

Of those, 151 patients were on ventilators, the most since July 28.

Those numbers are still well within Illinois’ overall hospital capacity, accounting for about 10% of the state’s ICU beds and 3% of its ventilators.

At the height of the pandemic in mid-May, the state’s ICUs were treating close to 1,300 coronavirus patients per day, with almost half of those on ventilators.

Read the full story here.

11:12 a.m. We asked: Post-pandemic, which activities are you less likely to go back to?

We asked Chicagoans: Which activities are you less likely to go back to post-pandemic? Some answers have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

“As an old guy who still takes college courses, I don’t think I’ll go back to the classroom. Online school and remote learning is the way to go from here on in. In fact, I may not go back to the office for work, either. Working from home is too convenient; I’m saving time and money working from home.” — Joseph A. Simonson

“Everything: going out to eat, going to arcades, just being in public. I don’t feel safe.” — Olivia Castellano

“Riding public transportation.” — Amber Benson

“I won’t be trying any of the samples at grocery stores or eating from salad bars.” — Stacy Tsihlopoulos

Read the full story by Alice Bazerghi here.

8:02 a.m. Pelosi, Meadows talk $2.2T virus aid, but no deal in sight

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows resumed talks Thursday over a stalled COVID-19 aid package, but the outlook for any swift resolution appeared bleak as President Donald Trump’s team and congressional Democrats have been unable to agree on a compromise.

Pelosi said she told Meadows the Democrats would be willing to meet halfway — at $2.2 trillion — a slight reduction from her last proposal before talks collapsed earlier this month. The White House, which has stuck with its initial $1 trillion offer, had no immediate response.

“We have said again and again that we’re willing to meet them in the middle — $2.2 trillion. When they’re willing to do that, we’ll be willing to discuss the particulars,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol.

Read the full story here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

6:45 p.m. Pritzker did not handle Metro East pandemic mitigation well

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the state COVID-19 “mitigation” plan for the Metro East on Aug. 16, he said it was done in conjunction “with local officials in the Metro East region and across the border in St. Louis.”

Last week, though, the governor admitted the cross-border arrangement to try to contain the virus’ spread was a “mistake.”

Man, was it ever.

Instead of sticking to the state’s original mitigation plan, which would’ve included things like reducing indoor restaurant capacity and shutting down all indoor bar service, Pritzker only ordered bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m., which was in line with what St. Louis was planning at the time.

Read the full column by Rich Miller here.

7:56 a.m. What coronavirus? At GOP’s convention, pandemic is largely ignored

WASHINGTON — It was a scene from a bygone era: Vice President Mike Pence shaking hands with and fist-bumping audience members who had rushed forward, standing shoulder to shoulder, to greet him and the president after Pence’s speech at the Republican National Convention.

No one appeared concerned about social distancing. Few wore masks. Some told reporters they had not been tested for the coronavirus before Wednesday night’s gathering at Fort McHenry in Baltimore

A more striking scene could unfold Thursday night, when more than 1,000 people were expected to assemble on the South Lawn of the White House for President Donald Trump’s renomination acceptance speech. That’s an eye-popping crowd in a global pandemic that has forced the cancellation of large gatherings, from sports events and concerts to weddings and funerals.

As Trump has tried to push past a virus that has tanked the economy and threatened his reelection, GOP organizers have worked to stage a convention that puts the pandemic in the rear view mirror and highlights the nation’s progress, even as it continues to kill. More than 42,000 new cases were reported on Wednesday alone and 2,700 more have died since the week began.

Read the full story here.