Coronavirus live blog, August 4, 2020: Chicago Public Schools will go fully remote to start the fall

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

SHARE Coronavirus live blog, August 4, 2020: Chicago Public Schools will go fully remote to start the fall

There was much upheaval in the education world today as it was learned that Chicago Public Schools will start remotely next month. This after the Chicago Teachers criticized a return to the classroom as “failed leadership” and authorized a strike vote.

Illinois has averaged about 1,500 new cases per day over those two weeks — almost double the daily case average in June. The increase of cases in Chicago is not as severe as the problem is downstate. Gov. Pritzker traveled to Carbondale Tuesday to urge local leaders to implement stricter health precautions to stem a rise in cases: ‘Unfortunately, right now the virus is winning in Jackson County.’

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

News

9 p.m. Chicago Public Schools will go fully remote to start the fall

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Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools students will start the new school year at home next month as officials plan to announce as soon as Wednesday that they’ll back off a proposal that would have put children in classrooms two days a week, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS administrators will “follow the science” to determine how long the district, the third largest in the nation with 355,000 students, will remain in full-time remote learning, sources said.

A source familiar with the decision said the situation will likely be “reassessed along the way” but that distance learning will take place “at least for the first quarter.”

“The data don’t look great,” the source said. “We are not as bad as other places, but the daily case rate is unto 273, and it’s rising.”

The source said the decision was based on the worsening health data and input from parents.

Read the full story by Fran Spielman and Nader Issa here.

8:40 p.m. Going South: Pritzker says southern Illinois coronavirus surge ‘worse than in Chicago’

Some southern Illinois politicians have spent months hammering Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 measures for bringing the downstate economy to a halt to solve what they have called a Chicago-area problem.

Now, southern Illinois is the problem, the Democratic governor said Tuesday.

“I’m here today because the COVID-19 pandemic, which once seemed tame in Carbondale and throughout the entire region, is surging here,” Pritzker said at Southern Illinois University. “It’s worse than in Chicago.

“And I’ll be frank, if we don’t see some change here, the virus will cause some businesses to close, and an increasing percentage of people to get sick, and some will even die.”

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

6 p.m. COVID-19 reshapes and reduces back-to-school spending

For Michelle Lynn England, back-to-school shopping always meant heading to Target and the local mall with her two girls and dropping about $500 on each of them for trendy outfits.

Not this year.

The Charlotte, North Carolina, woman cut her spending on clothing in half for her 10-year-old and 14-year-old and instead spent more on masks and other supplies as a surge in coronavirus cases forced her school district to extend online learning through the fall.

“The kids always looked forward to getting something new,” said England, who spent $500 in total this time around. “It didn’t make any sense to buy any extra clothes that won’t be worn.”

Read the full story here.

5:05 p.m. Park District workers ask for more safety, transparency around COVID-19 park closures

Park District employees want the district to provide better safety measures against the coronavirus and say there needs to be more communication with the public about closures due COVID-19.

“We are lacking transparency, communication and [the] implementation of policies equally,” a park supervisor Venus Roman-Valino said.

“Workers are scared, and the district is not easing workers’ minds by not communicating or being transparent,” Roman-Valino said. “Workers feel like [the district] is hiding information that could affect us ... so that the city can keep the parks open.”

The Park District has had seven COVID-19 cases that caused nine parks to close programs and facilities, according to spokeswoman Michele Lemons. Haas Park, Columbus Park, Davis Square Park and Rowan Park have reopened. Cole Park is to reopen Wednesday. While Cole Park, West Pullman Park, Ada Park, Piotrowski Park and Rigger’s Shop at Garfield Trade Yard remain closed until later in August.

Read the full story by Jade Yan here.

3:55 p.m. Teachers Union: Returning to classrooms next month would be ‘failed leadership’

As the debate heats up nationwide over the reopening of schools, Chicago teachers, activists and families rallied outside City Hall Monday to oppose a planned return to classrooms when Chicago Public Schools classes resume next month.

The protests are part of similar demonstrations in several cities across the nation and come just days before CPS parents are being asked to tell the district whether their children will go back to in-person learning or continue trying to learn from home.

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.

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

2:51 p.m. Chicago Teachers Union to call for strike vote at meeting next week

Less than a year removed from its longest labor stoppage in three decades, the Chicago Teachers Union is convening an emergency meeting of its elected delegates early next week to discuss another strike vote that would put pressure on Chicago Public Schools to back off its plan for a partial return to classrooms next month, a source told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The timeline for a potential vote is unclear, but any strike authorization would need the approval of three-quarters of the union’s 26,000 rank-and-file members. The meeting next week would mark the first steps of a member-based process toward another walkout.

Read more from Nader Issa here.

2:40 p.m. Fulton Market restaurants urge Lightfoot to restore 10-per-table limit

Restaurant owners fighting for survival in Chicago’s once-thriving Fulton Market district urged Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday to restore the 10-person-per-table maximum reduced to six to stop maskless young people from flocking to bars.

Last month, Lightfoot made good on a threat to roll back restrictions if young people didn’t stop their risky behavior.

She ordered taverns, breweries and other establishments without a retail food license to stop serving customers indoors and reduced the maximum party size and table occupancy at restaurants, bars, taverns and breweries from 10 people to six.

For restaurants limited to carryout only during the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, it was unfair punishment and yet another in a string of devastating blows.

“It’s a classification of a private event versus just being a small gathering. It’s a completely different tier from our private event spaces being able to be sold,” said Phil Walters, owner of Formento’s, 925 W. Randolph St.

“We do have lots of inventory that are large tables that can no longer be used now. It just doesn’t make sense for guests when they come in with five to six guests to be put at a giant table. Now, our spaces is no longer viable,”

Walters said lumping restaurants into the same category as bars threatens to allow “bad players to bring down an entire industry ... that is already heavily impaired.”

Read more from Fran Spielman here.

2:37 p.m. US far outpaces other countries, nears 5 million coronavirus cases

Fourth of July gatherings, graduation parties, no-mask weddings, crowded bars — there are reasons the U.S. has racked up more than 155,000 coronavirus deaths, by far the most of any country, and is fast approaching an off-the-charts 5 million confirmed infections, easily the highest in the world.

Many Americans have resisted wearing masks and social distancing, calling such precautions an over-the-top response or an infringement on their liberty. Public health experts say such behavior has been compounded by confusing and inconsistent guidance from politicians and a patchwork quilt of approaches to containing the scourge by county, state and federal governments.

“The thing that’s maddening is country after country and state after state have shown us how we can contain the virus,” said Dr. Jonathan Quick of the Duke Global Health Institute, who is leading a pandemic initiative for the Rockefeller Foundation. “It’s not like we don’t know what works. We do.”

The number of confirmed infections in the U.S. has topped 4.7 million, with new cases running at over 60,000 a day. While that’s down from a peak of well over 70,000 in the second half of July, cases are rising in 26 states, many in the South and West, and deaths are climbing in 35 states.

Read more from the Associated Press here.

1:20 p.m. Advocates seek increase to Supplemental Security Income to benefit people with disabilities

With the coronavirus heightening challenges already faced by people with disabilities, activists are calling for an expansion of monthly Supplemental Security Income.

The SSI Justice Campaign is proposing an additional $266 be added to people’s monthly SSI, a federal income program designed to help aged and disabled people who have minimal or no income. The current federal monthly maximum is $783.

The Chicago Disability Activism Collective launched the campaign with full support of Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya, who represents the 7th District on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Many people with disabilities can’t work and rely solely on SSI to cover rent, food and other basic needs, Anaya said. Coupled with a cost of living in Cook County that’s higher than the national average, Anaya said an increase to Illinois’ SSI is “far overdue.” The increase would also benefit undocumented people with disabilities, Anaya said.

Read more from Clare Proctor here.

12:20 p.m. Puerto Rico joins 22 states on Chicago’s 14-day travel quarantine list

Puerto Rico on Tuesday joined 22 states on Chicago’s 14-day travel quarantine list amid concern about a surge in coronavirus cases among travelers, in households and at social gatherings.

With “more than five dozen confirmed cases” among travelers, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady urged Chicagoans to curtail all but the most essential trips and work from home when they return if travel cannot be avoided.

Last week, Arwady added Wisconsin, Missouri, Nebraska and North Dakota to the travel advisory and warned compliance would no longer be voluntary.

This week, Puerto Rico was the only addition, having met the benchmark trigger of averaging more than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period.

Iowa, Kansas and Utah were identified as fast-improving states that could be removed from the travel order as early as next week.

Read more from Fran Spielman here.

11:33 a.m. Suburban bars, restaurants asked to take voluntary steps to combat COVID-19 surge: ‘In the carrot stage, not the stick’

Looking to crack down on a surge in coronavirus cases among young people in the suburbs, Cook County officials announced Monday they’re urging restaurants to seat fewer diners at each table and bars to only serve customers outdoors.

Fitness centers in suburban Cook County are also being asked to reduce the number of people in the classes they hold from 50 to 10.

“We’re really asking the public to really get on the bandwagon with this,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, a co-leader of the county’s Department of Public Health.

“These are not major changes, I understand that it does hurt some establishments or business owners, and we certainly regret that. The important news is that we really want to stop the spread of the virus or at least slow it down.”

The voluntary guidelines came as Illinois recorded another 1,298 coronavirus cases across the state on Monday, the 13th day in a row with a four-digit daily caseload.

The new infections pushed the state’s seven-day positivity rate just past 4% — up sharply from 2.6% a month ago.

The situation is worse in suburban Cook County, where the 10-day positivity rate shot up to 5.8% as of last Friday.

Read the full story here.

8:19 a.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.


New cases

  • Nationals reinstate Juan Soto from COVID-19 injured list.
  • 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

In Letters to the Editor, Sara Wohlleb of Uptown writes:

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot are asking parents to choose now between their in-school hybrid option or a fully remote option in September. If parents choose the first option, they can change their minds at any time. The second option locks them in until Nov. 9.

Most of the people in my circle are choosing the hybrid model, simply because it gives them the option to change their minds later, when we have more information about what these models will mean for our kids and the trajectory of the pandemic. The data CPS is collecting this week will not be a reflection of parents’ true learning preferences, but rather their logical desire to keep options open in such a high-stakes decision.

Let’s get real: Our collective decisions this week could mean the difference between life or death for teachers, staff and the kids themselves. My own kids really struggled with online learning, but if we can protect the lives of Chicagoans by going back to that model, we’re going to make the best of it.

There’s a bigger lesson to offer to our kids here — about what really matters when the chips are down. Chicago, we can do this.

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

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