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Coronavirus live blog, Sept. 14, 2020: Illinois reports lowest COVID-19 positivity rate since July as officials warn to stay masked

Here’s the day’s news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

Wisconsin has been an-on-again-off-again state on Chicago’s 14-day quarantine list. But it looks like the state might be going back on again.

That’s not the only headline in coronavirus news. Here’s what else happened today.


News

8:59 p.m. Lowest positive COVID-19 test rate since July ‘definitely encouraging,’ but officials warn to stay masked, socially distant

A sign on in a hallway at King Elementary School encourages social distancing as the school works to maintain a safe environment during the coronavirus pandemic on September 08, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Illinois public health officials on Monday reported 1,373 new COVID-19 cases and a seven-day positivity rate of 3.6% — the lowest the main metric used to measure the spread of the virus has been in more than seven weeks.

The rolling positivity rate has not been lower since July 25, when the metric dipped to 3.56%. The seven-day average rate of tests that come back positive is the figure experts rely on to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading.

Monday’s results were based on 35,930 test specimens processed by laboratories.

The coronavirus also claimed five more lives, the Illinois Public Health Department announced.

“Any time we see the positivity rate go down, it’s definitely encouraging,” said department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. “But until we have a vaccine, we have to keep up with what works: wearing masks and social distancing.”

The daily case count has been a roller coaster of ups and downs recently, which has kept the month’s averages high.

Read the full story from reporter Mitch Dudek here.


7:46 p.m. COVID test orders at Loyola, Illinois State thwarted by Trump Administration

A pair of Illinois universities were unable to receive their orders for COVID-19 test kits or test machines for the start of the fall semester because federal health officials directed a manufacturer to send supplies to other needy locations.

Loyola University Chicago hoped to start the school year with six test analyzing machines to help process potentially thousands of coronavirus tests at two locations but had to settle for four because the manufacturer Quidel was ordered by the Trump Administration to redirect orders to other areas deemed most in need.

“It limits our ability to increase the scope of our testing if we don’t have analyzers to give us the results of the tests,” said Joan Holden, director of Loyola’s wellness center.

The university already has the test kits in hand, she said.

Reporter Brett Chase has the full report.

6 p.m. Chicago poised for comeback, top mayoral advisers say, insisting downtown security top issue for Lightfoot

Chicago is poised for a comeback from the pandemic because of spending growth it has already seen after carefully managing its reopening, top mayoral advisors said Monday, even as they confronted the elephant in the room: downtown security.

Deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development Samir Mayekar and former White House chief of staff Sam Skinner were prime movers behind the roadmap to economic recovery released by Mayor Lori Lightfoot in early July.

But, since that time, downtown Chicago, River North and Lincoln Park were hit by a second wave of looting more devastating than the first that, once again spread to commercial corridors on the South and West Sides.

It shook peoples’ confidence in Chicago to the core and left downtown businesses and residents feeling unsafe.

During a virtual appearance before the City Club of Chicago, Skinner didn’t wait to be asked about the second round of looting and the damage it did to Chicago’s ability to reverse population losses and attract second corporate headquarters.

He anticipated the question and confronted it head-on.

Read the full story here.

5 p.m. Wisconsin in danger of returning to Chicago’s travel advisory

Wisconsin has been an-on-again-off-again state on Chicago’s 14-day quarantine list. But it looks like the state might be going back on again.

For the second time in two months, Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady is warning Wisconsin it is getting perilously close to joining the list, which it triggered by averaging more than 15 new COVID-19 cases-per-100,00 residents over a seven-day period.

The city’s travel advisory list is updated every Tuesday, with changes taking effect the following Friday. That list currently includes 21 states. Wisconsin was added July 31 and removed three weeks later.

“We are watching Wisconsin with huge concern. They had their highest-ever number of case of COVID reported last Thursday. They’ve had percent positivities in the 13-to-17% range,” Arwady said Monday.

In states that are “directly bordering,” the city has taken pains to give Chicagoans who travel there “pre-warning.” Such states have been put on notice for a week and added to the list the following week if they can’t turn things around.

“Indiana was able to make those improvements. Did not need to be added. We can hope Wisconsin turns it around, but” it doesn’t look good, Arwady said.

Read the full story from City Hall reporter Fran Spielman here.

4:18 p.m. Salvation Army starts kettle campaign two months early due to COVID-19

The familiar sounds of holiday handbells have come early this year.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Salvation Army launched its annual red kettle fundraising campaign Monday — two months earlier than the 135-year tradition usually starts.

To kick off this year’s effort, titled “Rescue Christmas,” 75 kettles were placed along 18 blocks of Michigan Avenue, from Walton to Madison streets.

Since the pandemic began, requests for help to the Salvation Army in the greater Chicago area are up about 500%, said Jackie Rachev, director of communications for the Salvation Army’s Metropolitan Division.

“We need to be out in the community to raise funds ... and help rescue Christmas for thousands of families,” Rachev said.

From the start of the pandemic through July, Rachev said the local Salvation Army has given out around 114,000 bags of groceries and almost $700,000 in emergency financial assistance for rent, utility bills and other expenses.

Read the full story here.

3:26 p.m. Another key player in CPS’ Barbara Byrd-Bennett scandal gets to leave prison because of COVID-19

A key player in the scandal that brought down one of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked schools chiefs is set to leave prison three years early because of the coronavirus, court records show.

Gary Solomon, 52, will be moved to home confinement Sept. 22 after securing approval on Aug. 27, according to a joint status report filed Monday by prosecutors and Solomon’s attorney. That approval followed a Bureau of Prisons review of inmates with COVID-19 risk factors.

The result of that decision is that all three defendants in the kickback scandal that once left the Chicago Public Schools reeling will be out of prison five years after they were charged in October 2015.

Officially, Solomon’s sentence still runs until October 2023, prison records show. After that, a judge also sentenced him to serve a year of supervised release. However, prosecutors asked a judge earlier this year to reduce Solomon’s seven-year prison sentence because of “substantial assistance” he’d provided to an investigation in Maryland.

Read the full story here.

2:45 p.m. An American family struggle as pandemic worsens U.S. food insecurity

NEW YORK — At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic this spring, Sharawn Vinson often woke up crying. A recurring thought was making the unemployed single mother desperate: That her kids could go hungry.

There was also fear of contracting the virus, which has disproportionately hit low-income Black families like hers. Meanwhile some of the largest protests against racial injustice in decades were transpiring right outside their window, after the family had experienced its own terrifying encounter with police earlier in the year. There were unpaid bills, and feelings of shame from having to go to a soup kitchen in search of a meal.

So Vinson made the painful decision to send 11-year-old twins Mason and Maddison to live with their father, six states to the south, knowing that way they’d at least be fed.

“I needed them to breathe,” Vinson said, wiping away tears in her living room of peeling gray walls in a Brooklyn housing development.

Vinson was not alone in struggling to put food on the table in this historically tumultuous year. In New York City alone, an estimated 2 million residents are facing food insecurity, a number that the city’s mayor estimates nearly doubled in the pandemic amid the biggest surge in unemployment since the Great Depression. The scope of the problem outstrips previous crises such as the Great Recession, according to those who are working to combat it, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Read the full story from the Associated Press here.

12:51 p.m. Anti-inflammatory drug may shorten COVID-19 recovery time

A drug company says that adding an anti-inflammatory medicine to a drug already widely used for hospitalized COVID-19 patients shortens their time to recovery by an additional day.

Eli Lilly announced the results Monday from a 1,000-person study sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The result have not yet been published or reviewed by independent scientists, but the government confirmed that Lilly’s statement was accurate.

The study tested baricitinib, a pill that Indianapolis-based Lilly already sells as Olumiant to treat rheumatoid arthritis, the less common form of arthritis that occurs when a mistaken or overreacting immune system attacks joints, causing inflammation. An overactive immune system also can lead to serious problems in coronavirus patients.

All study participants received remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug previously shown to reduce the time to recovery, defined as being well enough to leave the hospital, by four days on average. Those who also were given baricitinib recovered one day sooner than those given remdesivir alone, Lilly said.

Read the full story here.

11 a.m. Trump confronts criticisms of COVID-19 handling: ‘We did it just the right way’

In times of crisis — wars, hurricanes, pandemics — effective leaders strike a balance between inspirational rhetoric and leveling with the public about the tough times ahead.

Facing the coronavirus, Trump chose a different path, acknowledging that from early on he was intentionally “playing down” the threat from an outbreak that has gone on to kill more than 190,000 Americans. His rosy assessment of the peril confronting the nation spotlights the struggles he has faced in trying to steer the United States through the challenge of a pandemic.

Trump on Thursday placed himself in the august company of Roosevelt and Churchill for the way he has handled this crisis, adding that he had low-balled the threat to prevent “panic.”

He spoke with admiration of Roosevelt’s famous admonition against fear and Churchill’s ability to project calm during the bombing of London. Trump said of his own performance: “We did it the right way and we’ve done a job like nobody.”

“They wanted me to come out and scream, ‘People are dying, we’re dying,’” the president said at a campaign rally in Michigan. “No, no, we did it just the right way. We have to be calm, we don’t want to be crazed, lunatics. We have to lead.”

Read the full story here.

8:47 a.m. States brace for worsening teacher shortages as pandemic forces some to opt out

INDIANAPOLIS — With many teachers opting out of returning to the classroom because of the coronavirus, schools around the U.S. are scrambling to find replacements and in some places lowering certification requirements to help get substitutes in the door.

Several states have seen surges in educators filing for retirement or taking leaves of absence. The departures are straining staff in places that were dealing with shortages of teachers and substitutes even before the pandemic created an education crisis.

Among those leaving is Kay Orzechowicz, an English teacher at northwest Indiana’s Griffith High School, who at 57 had hoped to teach for a few more years. But she felt her school’s leadership was not fully committed to ensuring proper social distancing and worried that not enough safety equipment would be provided for students and teachers.

Add the technology requirements and the pressure to record classes on video, and Orzechowicz said it “just wasn’t what I signed up for when I became a teacher.”

Read the full story here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

7:51 a.m. Pritzker must get tough with Exelon to keep nuclear plants from closing

Gov. Pritzker needs to play hardball with Exelon. The energy provider is threatening to close its Byron and Dresden nuclear power plants, claiming they no longer are profitable. Prizker wants the company to be more transparent with its finances first; Exelon is reluctant to open its books.

To avoid shutting down the plants, Exelon is asking the state for more Zero Emission Credits. The inclusion of ZECs in the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act saved Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants and prevented Illinois from becoming more reliant on fossil fuels. Nevertheless, ZECs have their drawbacks.

According to the Future Energy Jobs Act, utilities in Illinois must purchase ZECs equivalent to 16% of the megawatt-hours they sold in 2014. The utilities then distribute the ZECs to approved power plants and recoup the costs by raising rates. In terms of preserving the state’s clean energy infrastructure, ZECs make sense. But now, more than ever, officials should worry about rate increases.

First, the economic impact of COVID-19 has left many Illinois residents devastated. A year ago, a modest increase in energy costs would be trivial. Now, keeping energy costs low is essential for a robust economic recovery.

Read the full Letter to the Editor here.