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Coronavirus live blog, August 5, 2020: Coronavirus ‘rages on’ in Illinois, prompting Pritzker to warn locals to take action — or the state ‘will be forced to step in’

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

Chicago Public Schools confirmed yesterday’s reports that CPS was beginning the school year with remote learning and that it will continue that arrangement through Nov. 6.

Reaction from parents, students and teachers was mixed. Many preferred in-person learning, but they realize the challenges of keeping everyone healthy during the coronavirus pandemic was too much to chance everyone’s well-being.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools will open with in-person learning. They will have remote and online learning options for students who are unable to return or whose parents are unwilling to send them to in-person classes.

The numbers of coronavirus cases remained on a steady increase. Over the last four weeks, Illinois has had 23 days with four-digit caseloads — following a full month without hitting that level. Gov. J.B. Pritzker continued his downstate tour warning residents of continued danger from COVID-19.

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

News

9 p.m. Coronavirus ‘rages on’ in Illinois, prompting Pritzker to warn locals to take action — or the state ‘will be forced to step in’

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Health officials on Wednesday announced another 1,759 people have tested positive for COVID-19 across Illinois, marking the third-highest daily caseload in two months and the 15th straight day the state has reported 1,000 or more cases.

Over the last four weeks, Illinois has had 23 days with four-digit caseloads — following a full month without hitting that level.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also reported 30 more people suffering from COVID-19 have died, just the second time the state has tallied 30 or more deaths in almost a month.

Experts predict a spike in deaths during the next few weeks, the grim result of Illinois’ steady increase in cases since late June and an uptick in hospitalizations over the last two weeks.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here,

8:43 p.m. Chicago Catholic schools will stick with in-person learning as CPS goes online for the fall

As Chicago Public Schools change course for this fall, announcing Wednesday that the school year will begin with remote learning, the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools said it’s moving forward with its plan to return to the classroom next month.

In an email to families, Catholic Schools superintendent Jim Rigg said the archdiocese is committed to starting the school year with full-time in-person learning, saying it’s “in the best interests of children and our mission.”

Rigg called in-person learning “essential” for students to grow not only intellectually and emotionally but also in their faith.

Read the full story by Madeline Kenney here.

8:15 p.m. UConn becomes 1st FBS program to cancel football season because of coronavirus

The University of Connecticut canceled its 2020 football season Wednesday, becoming the first FBS program to suspend football because of the coronavirus pandemic, as other schools had taken the Huskies off their schedules and the governor was reluctant to allow UConn to travel to states with high infection rates.

“After receiving guidance from state and public health officials and consulting with football student-athletes, we’ve decided that we will not compete on the gridiron this season,” athletic director David Benedict said. “The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk.”

UConn had been scheduled to play its first season as an independent after leaving the American Athletic Conference.

The Huskies had already been taken off the schedules of Illinois, Indiana, Maine and Mississippi by those schools, and games against North Carolina and Virginia remained uncertain, UConn officials said. Many of the Power Five conferences are playing league-only schedules this season.

Read the full story here.

7:20 p.m. Disappointment, relief, uncertainty: CPS students, teachers and parents have mixed reactions to online school this fall

Nesean Smith’s fall of his senior year at Morgan Park High School was supposed to be full of memories he’s been looking forward to since he was a freshman: football season, homecoming and enjoying the last year of high school with his friends.

Instead, Smith, 16, of the South Side will log onto school virtually Sept. 8, since Chicago Public Schools announced the entire first quarter will be completely online.

“I didn’t really want it to happen, but I knew it would happen,” Smith said. “Most people prefer learning in-person over Zoom calls.”

CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday schools will remain closed beginning Sept. 8 through at least the end of the first quarter, Nov. 6. Many teachers and parents are relieved about the decision in light of worsening COVID-19 conditions.

Read the full story by Clare Proctor here.

5:40 p.m. With loan money gone, restaurants are at mercy of virus

The check has arrived and beleaguered restaurant owners across America are looking down on their empty wallets.

Government coronavirus loans in the spring helped eating establishments rehire laid-off employees and ride out the pandemic’s initial surge and wave of shutdown orders.

But that Paycheck Protection Program money has now been spent at many restaurants, leaving them in the same precarious position they were in during outbreak’s early days: Thousands of restaurants are being forced to close down again on mandates from state and local officials combating the virus’s resurgence, particularly in the South and West.

And even in parts of the country where the outbreak appears contained, restaurants’ revenue is far below normal because social distancing requirements — and wary diners — mean fewer tables, fewer customers and limited hours.

Read the full story here.

4:47 p.m. More than 100 CEOs warn Congress of pandemic impact on small businesses

The pandemic continues to eat away at the nation’s small businesses, and dozens of current and former CEOs are calling on Congress to do more to address it.

In a letter published August 3 and addressed to congressional leaders, a group of more than 100 high power executives emphasized the importance of small businesses in America.

They also warned the House and Senate about the potential for a more disastrous economic fallout ahead if more relief isn’t provided to small businesses.

“We cannot stress enough the urgent need to act,” the letter said. “By Labor Day, we foresee a wave of permanent closures if the right steps are not taken soon. Allowing small businesses to fail will turn temporary job losses into permanent ones.”

The business leaders said that by year-end, the domino effect on goods and services in the country “could be catastrophic.”

Read the full story here.

4:10 p.m. They call themselves the ’Rona Quartet after the disease that has kept so many musicians apart

The music floats down a narrow, weedy gangway to a backyard on the North Side, where four French horn players sit, socially distanced, their instruments gleaming in the late-morning sunlight.

A cardinal somewhere up in the high branches of a huge silver maple adds its own accompaniment to the piece they’re playing, “Fripperies for Four Horns,” by Lowell Shaw. A middle-aged couple step out onto their deck overlooking the garden to listen.

“There are a lot of bees out here. What’s going on?” said Mary Jo Neher, swatting at the little insects buzzing around her ankles during a pause in the music.

It’s a small inconvenience for Neher, 42, and her fellow Chicago-area horn players, who are thrilled to be playing with other human beings after months of isolation at home.

“One of the things I’ve missed was the feeling of throwing my case on my back and going into the garage to go to work,” said Neher, a freelance musician. “There is so much in that moment: I have a purpose. I’m not just Mom, keeping everyone alive and teaching at home. I just yearn for that basic feeling.”

Read the full story by Stefano Esposito here

3:25 p.m. Big Ten players demand improved coronavirus safety procedures

A letter representing more than 1,000 Big Ten college football players was published Wednesday to express concerns over the conference’s protocols regarding return to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published at The Players’ Tribune through a collective called the College Athlete Unity (CAU), the players said the Big Ten’s proposal “falls short in certain areas” and offered an alternative proposal instead.

“The NCAA — which is known for its zeal for regulations and enforcement — has had ample time to prepare for the safe return of its athletes to competition, yet it has done nothing,” the players wrote Wednesday. “Its laissez-faire approach is forcing each conference and each school to create its own plan, resulting in inconsistent policies, procedures and protocols.”

Read the full story here.

2:45 p.m. With COVID-19 worsening, Biden scraps plan to accept Democratic convention nomination in Milwaukee

Former Vice President Joe Biden will not travel to Milwaukee to accept his Democratic nomination on Aug. 20 because the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening and instead will deliver his acceptance speech from his home state of Delaware, the Democratic National Committee announced Wednesday.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump confirmed on Wednesday he is considering accepting the Republican nomination from the White House, raising a legal question of whether a political speech could be made from a government building.

“I’ll probably do mine live from the White House,” he said.

The few other speakers and activities that were going to be in Milwaukee during the Democratic National Convention have also been scrapped, even after extensive daily testing and other preventative measures had been planned.

Read the full story by Lynn Sweet here.

2:20 p.m. Here’s what a virtual school day will look like for CPS students this fall

When school starts next month for more than 300,000 CPS students, all classes will be held remotely, the district announced Wednesday.

Officials promised fall learning will be different from the spring, when remote learning systems were put into place virtually overnight, and CPS had trouble getting many students to log on for a very limited amount of live instruction.

“We learned a lot from our remote learning experience last spring,” CPS said in an Instagram post. “This fall, we are prepared to provide your children with a robust, high-quality education aligned to guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education.”

While CPS plans to release more details later this week, the district provided an overall structure that students working from home will follow.

Read the full story here.

11:55 p.m. CPS guidance unclear on fall sports

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson held a press conference Wednesday morning to announce that CPS schools would go to all remote learning in the school year’s first quarter, which begins on Sept. 8.

Fall sports are scheduled to start almost a full month earlier. The Illinois High School Association allows practices to begin on Aug. 10. Under the IHSA’s revised sports calendar fall sports include boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys and girls cross country and girls swimming and diving.

The IHSA allows schools that are remote learning to participate in sports. The final decision rests with each school district. It appears that CPS is going to opt out of fall sports, but the announcement wasn’t exactly definitive.

Read the full report from Michael O’Brien here.

11:18 a.m. Spike in Illinois coronavirus deaths may be weeks away, experts say

As Gov. J.B. Pritzker and health officials sound the alarm on a rise in coronavirus cases, one look at a graph of the state’s COVID-19 deaths reported per day could easily give the false impression that Illinois’ pandemic curve has flattened.

Don’t be fooled, experts say — more deaths are looming.

“In the next two to four weeks, we’re really going to start seeing the effects,” University of Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon said. “We just started seeing an increase in patients in the hospital in the last week and a half. Deaths come into the picture a couple of weeks after that.”

That means the worst could be yet to come, as the Illinois Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported the latest 1,471 cases of the disease, marking two straight weeks with four-digit daily caseloads.

Illinois has averaged about 1,500 new cases per day over those two weeks — almost double the daily case average in June — but the 19 latest COVID-19 deaths reported Tuesday are just slightly above the average of 17 deaths per day during that time frame.

It takes some time for deaths to catch up to case trends in either direction. When Illinois’ coronavirus curve hit a valley with just 473 new cases reported June 15, the state still averaged about 42 deaths per day for the following two weeks, including 84 on June 17.

Read the full report here.

9:56 a.m. Chicago Public Schools staying closed due to worsening COVID-19 conditions, Lightfoot says

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday cited worsening public health conditions and parent concerns about in-person schooling in backing off a proposal to return to classrooms in the fall and deciding to move Chicago Public Schools to fully remote learning next month.

Beginning Sept. 8, the previously scheduled start to the school year, the city will hold remote learning for CPS’ 355,000 students through the end of the first quarter Nov. 5. In the next month, the district will work to develop and unveil a more comprehensive at-home plan than the makeshift one used in the spring when the pandemic forced surprise school closures.

The mayor held a morning news conference with CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady to discuss the decision.

The mayor said the decision to keep kids home had little to do with the Chicago Teachers Union’s increasing pressure and threats to strike.

Read the full report from Nader Issa and Fran Spielman here.

8:24 a.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.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

8:20 p.m. Vote with your face? Masks one more thing voters will get to decide on Election Day

Chicago election officials plan to “strongly encourage” but will not require voters to wear face masks to their polling places this fall.

They say their decision was made in accordance with current COVID-19 guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Illinois Department of Public Health — neither of which mandate the use of face coverings for voting.

Election officials in suburban Cook, DuPage and Lake counties told me they are awaiting updated guidance from the state before finalizing their own face mask policies.

Read the full column by Mark Brown here.

7:45 p.m. Five ways you can help small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic

For millions of small businesses in the United States, the coronavirus has been a kick to the gut. Many fear they may never recover.

You can help them.

We all have favorite restaurants and other small businesses we frequent, and we all want to do what we can to make sure they’re still standing after the worst of this pandemic passes. We might not be able to walk through their doors right now, as we practice social distancing.

But we can support them in other ways.

Read the full list by the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board here.

7:15 p.m. When will Chicago’s schools reopen? When Chicago parents think it’s safe

Chicago kids aren’t going back to school, not in brick-and-mortar school buildings, until enough parents think it’s safe.

It’s as simple as that.

And right now, parents just are not there.

Nothing else — no technological challenges, COVID-19 data or reluctance on the part of teachers — better explains why the Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday abandoned plans for a hybrid reopening of the schools in September. Fully 41% of elementary school parents and 38% of high school parents, according to a CPS survey, said they would refuse to send their children back to school that soon.

Read the full editorial by the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board here.

5:10 p.m. Real games, big-league escapism, shots at Joe Maddon — life is good!

After a prolonged dryness, we now find ourselves awash in live sports. Yes, the presence of COVID-19 means that the whole thing is tenuous. Yes, it’s disorienting — NHL playoff games in August? Isn’t that like ice cream truck music in January?

But it’s also glorious.

We’ve gone from nothing to baseball, basketball and hockey in what feels like the blink of an eye. The virus can take it all away from us just as quickly. That can’t be emphasized too much. Actually, yes it can. I certainly have done it. Let’s put the pessimism on pause for a moment and enjoy the opportunity to watch great athletes do their thing. Did we take that for granted, pre-pandemic? The way we take oxygen for granted.

Read the full column by Rick Morrissey here.

2:30 p.m. A lesson from hospital workers and two hair stylists: Wear the mask and we’ll all be safer

As we begin to see another uptick in the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, I’d like to share some of what we’ve learned at Edward-Elmhurst Health in the past six months.

  • Most people who contract the coronavirus (85%) have no symptoms or mild-to-moderate symptoms.
  • Some people have more severe symptoms and need to be hospitalized. Those individuals are more likely to be older, immunocompromised, or have chronic conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disease, heart conditions or obesity. But not always.

Read the full Letter to the Editor by Mary Lou Mastro here.

8:30 a.m. Illinois has all it needs for a banner season — except for the one thing it can’t control

The team’s best player in 15 years, 2019-20 All-Big Ten guard Ayo Dosunmu, revealed Friday that he’s out of the NBA Draft and heading back to school for his junior season. The team’s best big man in longer than that, 2019-20 Big Ten freshman of the year Kofi Cockburn, announced the same a day later.

It’s just plain awful to think that Dosunmu’s and Cockburn’s championship dreams, Illini fans’ fervent hopes and a potentially glorious time of winning at a basketball-mad school might all be rolled into a ball and shot into a trash can by a virus that shows up whenever and wherever it can and hasn’t the slightest sense of sentimentality.

Nobody deserves this insidious brand of worry, but it surrounds and envelops sports these days and has a place in any honest discussion of any game, any season, any team, any goal.

For a supposed refuge from the harsh realities of life, sports is having a hard time holding up its end of the bargain. The Cubs are getting ready for a road trip through Missouri, home to a Cardinals team that is upside-down with COVID-19 cases and a quarantining process in Milwaukee that just won’t quit. The White Sox’ much-anticipated “Field of Dreams” game, scheduled for Aug. 13 in the cornfields of Dyersville, Iowa, has been called off.

Read the full column from Steve Greenberg here.