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Coronavirus live blog, Sept. 16, 2020: 8 Chicago Public School teachers have died of coronavirus since the pandemic started

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

Gov. J.B. Pritzker might soon lift the coronavirus timeout he imposed last month on the far south suburbs, as public health officials on Thursday announced the latest set of generally encouraging COVID-19 numbers.

That’s not all that happened in coronavirus-related news today. Here’s what went down in Chicago and around Illinois.


News

8:55 p.m. 8 CPS workers dead, another 250 COVID-positive since start of pandemic

A reminder to maintain social distance is posted at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior Academy of Social Justice library in Englewood. Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Eight Chicago Public Schools workers have died of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and another 250 have tested positive, with about half of those cases leading to a pause in operations at their schools.

The latest figures released by the school system this week are about triple the total number of cases reported by the beginning of May, a month and a half after schools shut down, when two workers had died among 85 total confirmed cases.

In all, CPS officials said they now know of 258 staffers, service vendors or charter school employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 between March and Sept. 9. Those include workers who are at home as well as ones who are reporting to work in person.

Of those cases, 123 have been deemed “actionable,” meaning operations at the school were paused because the infected person had been in or around the building.

Another 33 cases are believed to have been part of a cluster in which more than one possibly related cases were found at a school within a two-week period, CPS said, with 21 of those cases coming in the spring.

Read the full story from Nader Issa here.


7:04 p.m. Illinois racks up nearly $62M sports betting handle since pandemic-spoiled launch — and 90% is linked to state’s top grossing casino

Illinois’ new legal sports betting industry got off to a false start due to COVID-19, but it’s hitting pay dirt just as pro football teams return to the gridiron.

Gamblers plunked down more than $61.8 million statewide from the time the state’s first bet was placed in March, through the shutdown and to the end of July, according to the first sports wagering revenue reports released this week by the Illinois Gaming Board.

Most of that handle, about $52.5 million, changed hands in July as major American sports kicked back into gear — and that figure is a lock to skyrocket thanks to the bet-heavy NFL slate that kicked off last week.

The state’s first round of revenue reports only cover the first two sportsbooks to open in Illinois, at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines and at the downstate Argosy Casino Alton. Books have since opened at five more casinos and at Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney.

Thanks to its online betting application, Rivers took the vast majority of the state’s first roughly 1.4 million total bets, good for an average wager of about $44.

The house came out on top by about $4.1 million during the four-month stretch.

Reporter Mitchell Armentrout has the full story.

5:55 p.m. Pandemic Halloween is a mixed bag all around

NEW YORK — Roving grown-ups tossing candy at kids waiting on lawns. Drive-thru Halloween haunts. Yard parties instead of block parties and parades. Wider paths through corn mazes.

The family holiday so many look forward to each year is going to look different in the pandemic as parents and the people who provide Halloween fun navigate a myriad of restrictions and safety concerns.

Some were looking extra-forward to Halloween this year because it falls on a Saturday, with a monthly blue moon to boot.

Decisions are outstanding in many areas on whether to allow kids to go door to door or car trunk to car trunk in parking lots in search of candy, with Los Angeles first banning trick-or-treating, then downgrading its prohibition to a recommendation.

Other events have been canceled or changed, from California’s Half Moon Bay to New York’s legendary Sleepy Hollow — and points in between.

Read the full story from the Associated Press here.

4:02 p.m. Pritzker says indoor dining could be on the menu in south suburbs as COVID-19 numbers improve: ‘We’re all rooting for them’

Gov. J.B. Pritzker might soon lift the coronavirus timeout he imposed last month on the far south suburbs, as public health officials on Thursday announced the latest set of generally encouraging COVID-19 numbers.

Another 1,941 people statewide were confirmed to carry the virus among 52,311 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health. That raised the state’s testing positivity rate over the last week by a notch to 3.7%, but that key gauge of how quickly the virus is spreading is still down almost a full percentage point over the last two weeks.

And it’s sunk to 6.4% in Will and Kankakee counties, where Pritzker banned indoor dining in late August after positivity rates soared over 8% across the region. If it stays below 6.5% for three days, restrictions will be lifted.

“Masks, distance, hand-washing, enforcement — it all works, and Will and Kankakee counties are, so far, getting the job done. And we’re all rooting for them,” the Democratic governor said during a Loop news conference.

Most of the state’s 11 regions have seen stable or declining positivity rates over the last two weeks, including the downstate Metro East region, the first one that Pritzker’s health team clamped down on as rates jumped to double digits. It’s down to 8.9%, which the governor called “a testament to the fact that these doctor-recommended mitigations can work if they are followed.”

All Chicago-area regions are below 6.5%, with the city at 5.1% and suburban Cook County at 5.5%.

Read the full story here.

1:52 p.m. Free COVID-19 vaccines would be available under new federal plan

WASHINGTON — The government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans, assuming a safe and effective shot is developed, even as top health officials faced questions about political interference with virus information reaching the public.

In a report to Congress and an accompanying “playbook” for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defense Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or even late this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon would be involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers would be the ones giving shots.

But the whole enterprise is facing public skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they’d get vaccinated in an Associated Press-NORC poll taken in May.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield discussed the plan before Senate lawmakers Wednesday amid concerns that his agency had been pushed to revise several scientific assessments of the virus by Trump appointees.

Redfield told members of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee that the “scientific integrity” of the CDC’s output “has not been compromised and it will not be compromised under my watch.”

Read the full story here.

12:49 p.m. Metra hopes sanitizing stations, air purifiers and mask mandates will boost ridership amid COVID-19 fears

Cleaning crews stand near a Metra train at Metra’s Western Avenue Coach Yard at 2801 W. Grand Ave. Tuesday morning, Sept. 15, 2020. Metra launched a campaign Tuesday that informs riders about the steps they are taking to keep their trains clean and their passengers safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cleaning crews stand near a Metra train Tuesday at Metra’s Western Avenue Coach Yard, 2801 W. Grand Ave.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Metra is launching an ad campaign to convince people it is safe to ride its trains.

Its rail cars that have been outfitted with hand sanitizing stations, “hospital grade” air filters, mask requirements, frequent deep cleaning efforts and air circulation that replaces the air in each car once every four minutes, Metra officials said at a news conference Tuesday.

Staggered seating aims to keep train cars from exceeding 70 passengers — or half full.

“We stand ready with open doors to welcome riders back and invite new riders in,” Metra President Jim Derwinski said.

Metra’s daily ridership is about 25,000 passenger trips a day, less than 10% of the 270,000 trips daily before the pandemic.

Read the full story from Mitch Dudek here.

12:01 p.m. Free COVID-19 vaccines would be available under new federal plan

WASHINGTON — The government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans, assuming a safe and effective shot is developed, even as top health officials faced questions about political interference with virus information reaching the public.

In a report to Congress and an accompanying “playbook” for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defense Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or even late this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon would be involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers would be the ones giving shots.

But the whole enterprise is facing public skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they’d get vaccinated in an Associated Press-NORC poll taken in May.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield discussed the plan before Senate lawmakers Wednesday amid concerns that his agency had been pushed to revise several scientific assessments of the virus by Trump appointees.

Redfield told members of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee that the “scientific integrity” of the CDC’s output “has not been compromised and it will not be compromised under my watch.”

Read the full story here.

9:23 a.m. Big Ten reverses course, announces plan to play football beginning Oct. 23-24 weekend

Big Ten is going to give fall football a shot after all.

Less than five weeks after pushing football and other fall sports to spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the conference changed course Wednesday and said it plans to begin its season the weekend of Oct. 24. Each team will have an eight-game schedule.

The Big Ten said its Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously Tuesday to restart sports. The emergence of daily rapid-response COVID-19 testing, not available when university presidents and chancellors decided to pull the plug on the season, helped trigger a re-vote.

“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students. The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference,” Morton Schapiro, Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and president of Northwestern University, said in a statement. “We appreciate the conference’s dedication to developing the necessary safety procedures for our students and the communities that embrace them.”

Read the full story here.

9:19 a.m. Hinsdale South football player tests positive for COVID-19

Hinsdale South officials have confirmed that a football player tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.

The student was participating in a football camp at the school. The Illinois High School Association recently allowed sports not currently in-season to conduct 20 days of workouts supervised by coaches.

Arwen Pokorny Lyp, the Hinsdale South principal, sent a letter to families in the football program on Monday.

“We are coordingating our efforts with the DuPage County Health Department to promptly identify and monitor individuals who have had recent contact with this student to prevent further spread within our school and community,” Lyp wrote. “ We will be suspending all football-related activities for 14 days and requiring all students and staff who participated in the camp to quarantine through September 24.”

There have been a handful of rallies to bring back football, other fall sports and in-person learning in the Hinsdale community over the past week.

More rallies are scheduled all over the area this week, including one at the Thompson Center on Saturday that is expected to bring a large crowd.

Read the full story from Michael O’Brien here.

8:13 a.m. Experts worry as US virus restrictions are eased or violated

State and local officials around the U.S. are rolling back social-distancing rules again after an abortive effort over the summer, allowing bars, restaurants and gyms to open. Fans are gathering mask-free at football games. President Donald Trump is holding crowded indoor rallies.

While some Americans may see such things as a welcome step closer to normal, public health experts warn the U.S. is setting itself up for failure — again.

“Folks are becoming very cavalier about the pandemic,” said Mark Rupp, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Nebraska’s governor ended nearly all of his state’s restrictions on Monday, even with new cases of the coronavirus on the rise.

“I think it is setting us up for further transmission and more people getting ill and, unfortunately, more people dying,” Rupp said.

The virus is blamed for more than 6.5 million confirmed infections and 195,000 deaths in the U.S., by far the highest totals of any country, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Read the full report here.


New Cases


Analysis & Commentary

4:04 p.m. Somebody forgot to let the adults in the room when the Big Ten voted to play football

Here’s a standard exchange between someone who is growing up and someone who is grown up:

Child: But everybody else is doing it!

Parent: That doesn’t make it right.

It’s an understandable sentiment from a young person who wants to fit in, and it’s a wise response from a parent who has a wealth of life experiences and a constant low level of terror regarding the welfare of their offspring. I wish a certain conference had followed its parental instincts and stuck to its guns.

The Big Ten, supposedly the adult in the room, gave in to pressure Wednesday, announcing that it will start its football season the weekend of Oct. 24, reversing an earlier vote to postpone the 2020 schedule. That makes the Big Ten like almost every other conference that chose something, anything, over health. Money? A welcome distraction during COVID-19? Entertainment value? Let’s go with money.

Not surprisingly, Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa were the prime movers behind getting the conference to reverse course. They live for college football in those states, and they weren’t going to let a silly, deadly virus deprive them of 20-year-olds ramming into each other on Saturdays.

Read the full column here.

11:35 a.m. Commentary: Big Ten’s shameful decision to play football a blemish on conference’s rich history

For decades, the Big Ten has thought of itself as a different kind of sports conference, one that proudly touts the academic achievements and Great Lakes values of its like-minded, highly-regarded, internationally-ranked research institutions. The Big Ten wasn’t the SEC; it wasn’t the Big 12. It was better than that, and it was happy to tell you all about it.

As proof, one only had to look at the conference’s prudent August decision to shut down fall sports in the midst of the global pandemic. It was only natural that the Big Ten would follow the Ivy League, and that the Pac-12 would follow the Big Ten. It was a tough decision, heartbreaking and costly, but it was the right one.

That’s the Big Ten for you, concerned about science, medicine and safety. Let the football factories of the SEC, Big 12 and ACC (Clemson’s playground) continue playing; the Big Ten was doing the right thing looking out for its student-athletes, treating them almost no differently than the student body at large, and that was all that mattered.

Then came Wednesday, the darkest day in Big Ten history, the day the vaunted conference caved. It choked. It got scared. It became the SEC.

Read the full column here.

8:25 a.m. Remote learning is largely on track, but some Chicago schools have a ways to go

There’s good news, and some alarmingly bad news, with respect to remote learning in Chicago’s public schools this fall.

After the dismal showing last spring, Chicago Public Schools made an extra effort to get students logged on for digital learning. Attendance-taking would be mandatory. A major back-to-school campaign was launched, with a massive barrage of phone calls, text messages, emails, radio ads and other outreach to parents.

So far, it’s largely paying off.

According to CPS data released this weekend, 84.2% of students logged on to the learning platform on the first day of school last week. That’s a major improvement over the 59% figure last spring.

And by the end of the week, attendance had risen to 90.2%,

But there can be no letting up on the ultimate goal: To get every one of the district’s 355,000 students engaged in remote learning, the only educational option available until the city curbs the spread of COVID-19.

Read the full column here.