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Coronavirus live blog, Sept. 24, 2020: Lightfoot’s pandemic conference calls with aldermen violated Open Meetings Act, state attorney general’s office says

Get the latest news on how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois. Follow here for live updates.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Thursday announced another 2,257 people had tested positive for COVID-19 and 30 more deaths from the virus.

The state’s test positivity rate — the number used to gauge how quickly the virus is spreading — between Sept. 17 and 23 remains at 3.5%, the lowest rate since late July.

Here’s what else happened in Chicago and around Illinois in coronavirus-related news.


News

8:55 p.m. Lightfoot’s pandemic conference calls with aldermen violated Open Meetings Act, state attorney general’s office says

Lori Lightfoot
Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over the monthly Chicago City Council meeting and delivers her first budget address at City Hall, Wednesday morning, Oct. 23, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot violated the Open Meetings Act by hosting conference calls with aldermen in the early days of the shutdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the Illinois Attorney General’s office has concluded.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeff Levine had argued the conference calls Lightfoot and top aides held with aldermen on March 26, March 30, April 6 and May 8 did not violate the Open Meetings Act because aldermen were acting as “community-based first responders” and no “legislative deliberation or action” took place.

“It was essential to disseminate public safety-related information as widely as possible to other city officers who could assist in implementing disaster relief and mitigation,” Levine wrote June 26 in response to a complaint filed with the Attorney General’s office by Pro Publica reporter Mick Dumke.

“These calls had no legislative aspect whatsoever. Rather, the sole purpose was to convey information regarding the city’s pandemic response to help the aldermen continue to serve effectively in the field as community-based first responders.”

Reporter Fran Spielman has the full story.

6:21 p.m. Early voting starts in collar counties, but Cook County voters will wait until October

Hand sanitizer and stickers are set up at a polling station in Chicago on March 17, 2020.
James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Early voting started in much of Illinois on Thursday — 40 days before the Nov. 3 election — but Cook County residents will be waiting until October to cast a ballot.

Chicago residents must wait another week until early voting kicks off Oct. 1 at the Loop Super Site, 191 N. Clark St. Two weeks later, early voting sites open in all 50 wards.

Five suburban Cook County voting sites open Oct. 7, including courthouses in Bridgeview, Maywood, Markham, Rolling Meadows and Skokie. More than 40 other suburban voting locations open Oct. 19.

Sites are open: weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; weekends, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Election Day, Nov. 3, voting lasts from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Thursday also marked the start of statewide mail-in voting, which has seen a huge boost amid coronavirus concerns.

Read the full story here.

5:07 p.m. Illinois reports 2,257 new COVID-19 cases, 30 deaths

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Thursday announced another 2,257 people had tested positive for COVID-19 and 30 more deaths from the virus.

The state’s test positivity rate — the number used to gauge how quickly the virus is spreading — between Sept. 17 and 23 remains at 3.5%, the lowest rate since late July.

Of the 30 new coronavirus-related deaths, seven were in Cook County, with the deceased ranging in age from their 50s to their 90s. More than 5,100 people have died of the virus in Cook County, according to the IDPH and the county medical examiner’s office.

IDPH data show that, over the past two weeks, Chicago’s seven-day positivity rate has fallen from 5.3% to 4.6%. In suburban Cook County, the positivity rate has dropped from 6% to 4.6% in that same period.

More than 8,500 people in Illinois have died of COVID-19 since the outbreak took hold earlier this year. The state has reported more than 281,000 positive cases out of nearly 5.3 million coronavirus tests administered.

Reporter Sam Charles has the full story.

2 p.m. Chicago loses another institution to pandemic shutdowns

Weeks after reopening amid the pandemic, the Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee Avenue), announced on Wednesday their intention to temporarily shut down due to the lack of new content from the film industry.

The theater, which opened in 1915 as the Paramount Theatre, released an online statement notifying would-be movie-goers of closing in the interim. A reopening date has not been announced.

“While our collaborative efforts to enhance safety standards have been effective in keeping The Logan a safe place to be, the lack of new film has forced us to close our doors after the last show on Thursday, Sept. 24,” the statement read. “As you may know, Hollywood continues to postpone the distribution of many highly anticipated films until later this year and/or into 2021. Once it becomes clear that there is a consistent flow of films to play, we will make plans to reopen the theatre.”

Read the full story here.

12 p.m. Native Americans feeling the double pain of COVID-19 and fires ‘gobbling up the ground’

When the first fire of the season broke out on the Hoopa Valley Reservation in Northern California in July, Greg Moon faced a dilemma.

As Hoopa’s fire chief and its pandemic team leader, Moon feared the impact on the dense coniferous forests of the reservation, near Redwood National and State Parks, where 3,000 tribal members depend on steelhead trout and coho salmon fishing. He was even more terrified of a deadly viral outbreak in his tribe, which closed its land to visitors in March.

“We’re a high-risk community because we have a lot of diabetes, heart disease and elders that live in multigenerational homes,” Moon said. “If a young person gets it, the whole household is going to get it.”

Eventually, the three major fires that burned nearly 100,000 acres around Hoopa were too much for the tribe’s 25-member fire team. Moon had no choice but to request help from federal wildland rangers and other tribal firefighters.

Native American tribes are no strangers to fire. Working with flames to burn away undergrowth and bring nutrients and biodiversity back to lands is an ingrained part of their heritage. But epidemics also are a familiar scourge. With the devastation that pathogens like smallpox and measles brought to Native populations following the arrival of Europeans, tribes are especially wary of COVID-19’s impact.

Read the full story here.

8:04 a.m. Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce calls for state ad campaigns to include more Black-owned media companies

The Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce Wednesday said there’s a lack of state spending on Black-owned media outlets, public relations firms and advertising firms, particularly in Illinois’ effort to convey health information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 campaigns focused on the black community are going to white firms, Larry Ivory, who heads up the chamber, said at a news conference.

Ivory called on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to ensure spending follows state law that establishes an “aspirational goal” of awarding 20% of contracts to businesses owned by people of color, women, and individuals living with disabilities.

“The state spends several billion dollars on media — advertising and marketing — when you take a look at the spending on Black media, it’s less than 1%,” Ivory said.

Ivory announced the ISBCC is launching the Coalition for Black Media Equity to bring attention to the disparity and demand fair and equitable awarding of state contracts to Black-owned businesses.

Ivory is seeking information on state spending and the state’s strategy to meet its minority spending goals, but couldn’t immediately provide figures.

Read the full story here.


New cases

Illinois saw an additional 22 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,848 new cases Wednesday, bringing the state’s death toll to 8,508 and the total number of cases to 279,114.


Analysis & Commentary

2 p.m. Leafy suburban paradise roiled by COVID stats

The media consisted of a camera crew, a helicopter, and me.

Although I was there in my unofficial capacity. Not as newspaper columnist but as local resident. I had heard the chopper, looked at my phone — 3:57 p.m. — and remembered that at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Lee Goodman would update the number on his sign to 200,000 to reflect how many Americans have died from COVID-19.

Lee is the sort of fellow no town should be without and, indeed, most towns have one. The local gadfly, or activist — lately I’ve referred to him las “the spoon that stirs the pot.” A retired lawyer, Goodman left the profession to devote his full energies to endeavors such as posting a sign at the busy corner of Shermer and Walters, an area set aside for free expression. It is significant that the other sign, already there, is promoting the annual Lobster Sale at The Episcopal Church of St. James the Less.

As much as I would like to dive into exploring the identity of St. James the Less — cousin of Jesus, apparently — let’s keep our focus on Goodman’s sign.

I witnessed its arrival Saturday — again, again, not in my journalistic capacity, but as a man smoking a cigar while walking a little dog. The sign drew reaction: a zealous spontaneous rally celebrating the glories of Donald Trump and the insulting absurdity of suggesting that a large number of Americans have died of COVID. I watched the commotion, briefly, then left with the conviction that this is going to be a very long six weeks, if not six months, if not six years.

Read the full commentary from columnist Neil Steinberg here.

8:30 a.m. ‘Waves of anger and fear’ fuel conspiracy theories

The COVID pandemic’s “unmentionable odour of death” appears to have driven many Americans to embrace preposterous conspiracy theories that provide simple storybook explanations for otherwise incomprehensible events.

Amid the devastating wildfires in Oregon last week, for example, the FBI needed to debunk rumors that the disaster was caused by left-wing arsonists. The agency’s Portland office posted a statement on Twitter stating that “the FBI has investigated several such reports and found them to be untrue.”

Trump and Attorney General William Barr have spoken of designating antifa a terrorist organization. Alas, writes Rutgers University historian Mark Bray in The Washington Post: “Trump cannot designate ‘ANTIFA’ as a terrorist organization because antifa is not an organization. Rather, it is a politics of revolutionary opposition to the far right ... You cannot subpoena an idea or a movement.”

Mostly an academic movement at that: graduate students and other university-affiliated types blowing off steam. If antifa’s a real threat, who are its leaders? Where’s its headquarters? Who’s paying those phantom arsonists?

The questions answer themselves: nobody and nowhere.

Read the full column from Gene Lyons here.