Coronavirus live blog, Aug. 3, 2020: Big Star restaurant closes after employee tests positive for COVID-19

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, Aug. 3, 2020: Big Star restaurant closes after employee tests positive for COVID-19

Illinois recorded another 1,298 coronavirus cases Monday, pushing the state’s positivity rate just past 4%, state figures show.

Chicago and the rest of the state are still grappling with the virus and its effects. Here’s what happened Monday as the pandemic continued.


9:01 p.m. Big Star restaurant closes after employee tests positive for COVID-19


People dining on the patio at Big Star, located at 1531 N Damen Ave. File photo. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Big Star in Wicker Park, 1531 N. Damen Ave., announced it was closing late Sunday “for a few days” so the restaurant could undergo “a deep clean and complete sanitization” after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, according to a post on the restaurant’s Instagram. The statement didn’t specify whether the employee who tested positive had interacted with customers while at work.

During the closure, the restaurant will be coordinating testing for all Big Star Wicker Park employees, according to the Instagram post. The announcement made no mention of Big Star’s Wrigleyville location, 3640 N. Clark St., which opened in 2018.

Big Star reopened in June, with COVID-19 safety precautions that included temperature checks at the door, with entry denied to any patrons with a temperature above 100.4 degrees; mask requirements for anyone not seated at a table and a reduced capacity requiring deposits for reservations.

Future reservations will be rescheduled or their deposits refunded on a case-by-case basis “in the coming days,” the announcement said. The restaurant plans to reopen “as soon as we feel confident to do so.”

Big Star is owned by One Off Hospitality Group, whose other restaurants include avec, The Violet Hour and The Publican.

Lizzie Schiffman Tufano

7:19 p.m. Longtime vendor Nichols Farm and Orchard booted from Wicker Park Farmers Market amid violations of COVID-19 protocols

Nichols Farm and Orchard, part of the Wicker Park Farmers Market for two decades, was kicked out last week.

The Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce said Nichols Farms repeatedly violated COVID-19 protocol — not properly wearing masks, not having a rope to properly mark boundaries and not having a hand-washing station.

But Todd Nichols, a family owner of the farm, blames their removal on a “spur-of-the-moment decision” after three years of tension with market manager Alice Howe. And he expects the farm could lose $50,000 to $70,000 because of it.

The Wicker Park Farmers Market opened July 5 — later than usual, due to the pandemic. Vendors received COVID-19 guidelines beforehand, Howe said.

Many booths didn’t follow protocol perfectly the first week, said Pamela Maass, executive director of the chamber. Other vendors adjusted, but Maass said Nichols “stayed in non-compliance.”

Reporter Clare Proctor has the full story.

4:45 p.m. Northwestern suspends football activities after positive coronavirus test

Northwestern has halted football workouts after a person in the program tested positive for COVID-19.

The university tweeted a statement Monday saying the university “medical staff will implement the University’s rigorous contact tracing and quarantine protocols.”

Northwestern’s news comes shortly after Illinois’ athletic department announced it has recorded 23 positive COVID-19 test results since players started arriving on campus for voluntary team activities in early June.

The football team’s more than 100 football players have accounted for greater than 75% of the athletic department’s positive tests, the university said, though it’s unclear the exact number of players the virus has infected.

Read more from Madeline Kenney and Gene Farris here.

3:30 p.m. Warehouse party shut down as part of crackdown on large public and private gatherings

A weekend warehouse party that advertised itself as dragging on until 4 a.m. — without masks or social distancing — was shut down as part of a City Hall crackdown on large public and private gatherings that officials feared could turn into super-spreader events.

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno, concerned about what she called “go-rogue” large parties, formed a task force “with the goal of shutting them down before they begin.” The task force includes three other city departments — CPD, CFD and the Department of Buildings.

During the first weekend of operations, 23 investigations were conducted. That resulted in five cease-and-desist orders for illegal public places of amusement and three immediate closures.

The most egregious target was Trap Warehouse, a party at 4106 W. Chicago Ave., advertised on EventBrite as starting at 10 p.m. and lasting until 4 a.m. with $20 tickets sold at the door.

That set off alarm bells, since no place is supposed to be open after midnight, Escareno said.

Inside, city officials found patrons without masks, oblivious to maintaining social distance at what Escareno called an “unlicensed establishment” that was providing liquor with no liquor license.

Read more from Fran Spielman here.

1:00 p.m. Illinois logs another 1,298 new coronavirus cases; positivity rate creeps past 4%

Illinois recorded another 1,298 coronavirus cases Monday, pushing the state’s positivity rate just past 4%, state figures show.

The state also logged another nine deaths, bringing the total number of those killed by the virus to 7,526. There have been 183,241 cases of COVID-19 recorded in Illinois since the pandemic gripped the state.

The state has seen a steady uptick in new cases, pushing new case totals back to numbers not seen since May or June.

Monday’s latest tally means the state has logged at least 1,000 new cases for 13 days in a row. On Sunday, the state’s health officials announced 1,467 new COVID-19 cases, with the positivity rate hovering just below 4% at 3.9%.

But Monday’s numbers pushed the seven-day average positivity rate to 4.01%; it was the first time since early June the rate was over 4%. And Monday’s single-day statewide positivity rate of 4.56% was the highest since June 6.

Read more from Rachel Hinton here.

12:30 p.m. South Siders revel in Jeremiah Collier’s ‘uplifting’ porch session music jams

Jeremiah Collier and the REUP’s name is getting out there via social media as well as good, old-fashioned word of mouth.

Since mid-July, Collier and his band have been playing every Thursday from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. in front of his parents’ Park Manor bungalow in the 7300 block of South Indiana Avenue in an event providing free entertainment to his neighbors, and anyone else who shows up, dubbed “Porch Sessions with JC and the REUP.”

Collier, 20, plays drums and is joined by a rotating set of musicians. For a recent set, he enlists his cousin, bass player Micah Collier (filling in for regular collaborator Jeremy Jones), 19; keyboardist Chris Allison, 22, and Isaiah Collier, 22, Jeremiah’s brother. who plays the saxophone in his own band, Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few.

Other artists including poets, singers and other musicians are invited to join in the sessions.

And as the band plays a meticulously curated set featuring original music and jams from Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu and Slum Village, among others, the crowd around them starts to rise in numbers as the young, the not-so-young and the “seasoned” members of the community turn the weekly event into a “kickback” — an impromptu, small gathering.

“We play mostly jazz standards,” said Jeremiah Collier. “We just take those and rebasing them with our own little spin because not everybody wants to hear the same stuff all the time.”

The gatherings have grown week by week, the band says.

Read more from Evan F. Moore here.

12:20 p.m. Teachers, activists rally to keep CPS schools closed during COVID-19 pandemic

Chicago teachers, activists and families are holding rallies Monday to oppose reopening Chicago Public Schools for in-person learning when classes resume next month.

The protests, which will be held at different sites and converge at City Hall, are part of similar demonstrations in several cities across the nation as the debate over whether to reopen schools during the pandemic heats up.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS officials have proposed a return to schools that would put most students in classrooms two days a week and school staff, including teachers, four days a week. They’ve asked families signup children for in-person or fully remote learning by this Friday.

One of the leaders in the push to keep school buildings closed is the Chicago Teachers Union, which has said it believes in-person instruction is not safe for teachers or students as COVID-19 continues to spread.

Members of the union are set to gather at the CTU’s Near West Side headquarters at 11 a.m., then plan to hold a car caravan to head to City Hall by noon.

Read more from Nader Issa here.

8:18 a.m. Illinois records 12th straight day with over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases

Illinois on Sunday notched its 12th straight day with a four-digit daily coronavirus caseload as health officials announced 1,467 new COVID-19 cases.

The new infections, which brings the state’s total to 181,943 cases, account for roughly 3.8% of the 38,945 tests results reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health in the last 24 hours, keeping the state’s testing positivity rate over the last week at 3.9%.

Illinois averaged 1,503 new cases a day over the last week. The last time the state averaged that many cases over a seven-day span was the last week in the peak month of May.

For weeks, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been worrying about what he has called a “mild uptick” in COVID-19 cases could be a sign the state is “heading the wrong direction.”

Pritzker sounded the alarm Thursday, saying Illinois was at a “danger point” as cases continue to trend upward. And one day later, health officials put 11 of the state’s 102 counties on notice for being at a “warning level” after a series of outbreaks — mostly among young people — tied to risky activities, including large gatherings and crowded bars, churches and restaurants where social distancing guidelines weren’t enforced.

Read the full story here.

New cases

  • Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant was scratched from the Cubs’ lineup minutes before Saturday’s game due to gastrointestinal issues – which fall under the list of COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Health officials on Sunday announced another 1,467 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Illinois.
  • Lena Dunham says her body “revolted” in a debilitating month-long struggle with COVID-19.

Analysis & Commentary

8:53 a.m. We continue to fail to protect the elderly in nursing homes and their caretakers from COVID-19

In Letters to the Editor, Pat Comstock, Director of COVID-19 Response for the Health Care Council of Illinois, writes:

I couldn’t agree more with Bob Gallo of AARP Illinois, who wrote in the Sun-times last week that our elected leaders must do more now to protect nursing home residents and their staff against COVID-19. There should be a stronger effort everywhere to support skilled nursing facilities.

While measures to combat COVID have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic, all the masks, gloves and disinfectant in the world can do only so much given the great danger in congregate settings — community spread.

Consider the example of Major League Baseball. The league has attempted an elaborate reopening experiment. But extensive infection control procedures, daily rapid testing and strict physical distancing have not prevented an outbreak of COVID-19 among players.

Professional athletes — young men in pristine health — could not be protected despite limitless resources. How can we expect that nursing homes would be any different? The answer is, we can’t.

As studies by Harvard and University of Chicago researchers have shown, COVID-19 gains a foothold in nursing homes whenever the virus is rampant in the surrounding community. At the end of the day, even when the strictest infection control measures are put in place, nursing homes are congregate settings and home to the most vulnerable members of our society.

Now more than ever, we call on elected leaders and society in general to put a greater priority on the safety of the elderly and their caretakers. As Gallo wrote, it is truly a matter of life or death.

Read this and more letters from Sun-Times readers here.

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