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Coronavirus live blog, Sept. 29, 2020: Gov. J.B. Pritzker in self isolation after interacting with staff member who later tested positive for COVID-19

Here’s what we learned Tuesday about the continuing spread of the coronavirus and its ripple effects in Chicago and Illinois.

Public health officials on Tuesday announced 1,362 more people have tested for COVID-19 in Illinois, the lowest number of new cases confirmed in a single day statewide in almost three weeks.

That’s not all that happened Tuesday in coronavirus-related news. Here’s what else went down in Chicago and around the state.


9:13 p.m. Pritzker to self-isolate after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

Gov. J.B. Pritzker will self-isolate for 14 days after a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19.
AP Photos

Gov. J.B. Pritzker will self-isolate for 14 days after a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19.

The staff member, who was not identified by state officials, tested positive for the virus Monday after testing negative for the virus last week during weekly testing, according to Pritzker’s office.

That staffer attended events with Pritzker on Wednesday in Chicago, Thursday in Marion and Sunday in Marseilles; both the governor and the staffer were wearing masks during their interactions.

Read the full story here.

7:58 p.m. College in Grant Park? Columbia faculty move classes outdoors amid dispute over coronavirus protections

Columbia College instructors and students have been forced to trade-in their state of the art dance and theater facilities for Grant Park’s greenways and concrete walkways over a dispute about coronavirus protections.

After the college’s part-time faculty union, Columbia Faculty Association Local 6602, and school officials failed to come to a safety agreement for the fall semester, several faculty members decided to hold classes outdoors at 11th Street and Michigan Avenue rather than in classrooms that did not meet their safety expectations.

Last week the union filed an unfair labor practices charge against the school over coronavirus-related concerns. The union wants portable air purifiers in all classrooms where in-person instruction will take place, while the college said it’ll only take that precaution where “science shows there is a higher potential of risk,” like in classes that require singing, playing a musical instrument or dancing, according to Lambrini Lukidis, Columbia’s associate vice president for strategic communications.

Reporter Adam Mahoney has the full story.

6:17 p.m. 1,362 new Illinois coronavirus cases

Public health officials on Tuesday announced 1,362 more people have tested for COVID-19 in Illinois, the lowest number of new cases confirmed in a single day statewide in almost three weeks.

The latest coronavirus cases were detected among 45,624 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, lowering the state’s average testing positivity rate over the last week to 3.6%. Tuesday’s daily caseload is the lowest since the state added 1,337 new cases Sept. 9.

The state has logged about 1,930 new cases of the virus each day this month, up from an average of 1,812 new cases per day in August.

But the state has also run almost 7,000 more coronavirus tests per day in September compared to last month, leading to falling positivity rates in most regions — and cautious optimism from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team. Experts use the positivity rate to determine how quickly the virus is spreading.

Chicago is at 4.5% positivity, while all its surrounding regions are below 6%.

Reporter Mitch Armentrout has the full story.

1:46 p.m. Nearly 200 possibly exposed to COVID-19 after a dozen test positive at north suburban volleyball league

An outbreak of COVID-19 at a north suburban volleyball league may have exposed nearly 200 people to the virus in September, health officials said Tuesday.

So far, 14 positive cases were traced to people who played or watched league volleyball at Jesse Oaks Food & Drink in Gages Lake, the Lake County Health Department said in a statement Tuesday.

“This could potentially be a large outbreak, and we need the public’s help to contain the spread of this virus,” Dr. Sana Ahmed, medical epidemiologist at the health department, said.

Jesse Oaks has voluntarily suspended volleyball for 14 days, and may only resume once in compliance with state guidelines, said Larry Mackey, director of environmental health at the health department.

State guidelines limit volleyball games to intra-team gameplay, which excludes competitive team-versus-team games, Mackey said in an interview.

Health officials believe Jesse Oaks was violating those rules before the outbreak, Mackey said. The restaurant was not cited or fined.

Read the full story here.

1:15 p.m. Four more states added to Chicago’s COVID-19 travel advisory list

Four more states are being added to Chicago’s travel quarantine list: Kentucky, Wyoming, Texas, and Nevada.

No states have been removed from the list, so when the additions take effect Friday, the tally will hit 22 states, as well as one U.S. territory: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Chicagoans returning from states on the travel advisory list are asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days. Exceptions are made for those who work in those states or commute to jobs there.

Read the full report here.

1:08 p.m. Activists, aldermen call on city to increase COVID-19 testing on South and West sides

Two South Side aldermen joined a coalition of activists Tuesday to call on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to increase COVID-19 testing availability in South, Southwest and West side neighborhoods of color.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) called for testing locations that are free, staffed by public health employees and available to anyone who shows up without an appointment, symptoms or an ID. The testing sites should be open seven days a week during daytime and evening hours, they said.

Extended hours would allow essential workers who have 9-to-5 jobs the opportunity to get tested without having to miss work, Taylor said at a news conference held outside a public health center in the Englewood neighborhood.

“This is not unreasonable for us to ask for,” she said.

To make access as easy as possible, she said, permanent testing sites should be located in places where people commonly go, such as Chicago Public Schools where families pick up daily meals through the Grab-and-Go program, grocery stores, laundromats, pharmacies, CTA train stops, parks, and churches.

“Too often we wait until it’s too late to do what’s right,” Taylor said. “So let’s do right by our community.”

Read the full story here.

10:21 a.m. Will extended hours be enough to save Chicago bars?

Hand sanitizer is seen between a cocktail and a beer tab at The Instiution bar in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week.
Hand sanitizer is seen between a cocktail and a beer tab. File photo.
Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

The news about the city easing capacity restrictions and extending hours for bars and restaurants was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark sky for many business owners.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Pete Douvalakis, owner of Pete’s Place — a tavern in Irving Park.

“Is it going to solve our problems? No. We’re way behind on bills, five months behind on rent, three months behind on insurance. So it’s day-by-day with us; the doors might close tomorrow,” he said.

The only reason he’s been able to make it this far during the pandemic is because he has a food license, which has kept people on barstools eating pizza and drinking beer.

His capacity will jump from 12 to 22 when the new rules kick in Thursday.

“The extended hours is the biggest thing because we make most of our money between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.,” he said, echoing a common refrain among bar owners.

Read the full story from Mitch Dudek here.

10:07 a.m. Titans stop in-person team activities amid ‘several’ positive COVID-19 tests

In what could be the NFL’s first significant in-season test of its coronavirus protocols, the Tennessee Titans announced Tuesday they would not be holding in-person activities after the team had “several” positive COVID-19 tests in the aftermath of Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.

“Out of the abundance of caution, the organization has decided to work remotely today as we follow NFL protocols related to the COVID-19 virus,” the team said in a statement. “Several tests have come back positive and [we] are working through the process of confirming them. We will have more information tomorrow.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that the Titans returned three new positive tests from players and five from team staffers on Tuesday morning. The Vikings also are suspending team activities as both clubs follow the league’s protocols on COVID-19.

“Both clubs are working closely with the NFL and the [NFL Players Association], including our infectious disease experts, to evaluate close contacts, perform additional testing and monitor developments,” Goodell said. ”All decisions will be made with health and safety as our primary consideration. We will continue to share updates as more information becomes available.”

Read the full story here.

8:53 a.m. Will CPS kids go back to schools this fall? Lightfoot says ‘we’re not there yet’

Public health conditions have not yet improved to a point that would allow Chicago Public Schools students to return to classrooms in November as officials have hoped, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.

Despite the challenges remote learning poses for 300,000 students and 30,000 teachers and support staff, Lightfoot and CPS officials have said health will be the main priority in a decision to resume in-person learning.

“We have to see more progress in order for us, I think, to have a conversation about in-person learning,” the mayor said at an afternoon news conference at which she announced an easing of restrictions on indoor seating at bars and restaurants. “We’re not there yet.”

“I don’t want to speculate about the chances. It’s something we are focused on every single day, and we’ll make an announcement relatively soon because we’ve got to give parents and the school community enough time to adapt if we’re going to make a change. But we’re not there yet.”

Reporter Nader Issa has the full story.

New cases

  • Illinois’ coronavirus death toll surpassed 8,600 on Sunday after Illinois state officials announced 14 more deaths due to the virus.
  • The state’s test positivity rate — the number used to gauge how quickly the virus is spreading — rose to 3.7 % Sunday after the latest batch of 50,822 tests were reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Analysis & Commentary

1:11 p.m. How COVID is hammering Chicago’s arts and entertainment scene

Two years ago, we visited Lifeline Theatre in Rogers Park to better understand the role of the arts in a community’s development.

We described in an editorial how Lifeline had been critical to a small but promising resurgence in that small corner of the neighborhood, as if a seed had been planted, leading to new energy and investment.

Now, as COVID-19 rages on, we visited Lifeline again last week, wondering how the theater and the neighborhood are faring.

We found that the symbiotic relationship between the arts and nightlife and a community — where one’s success begets the other’s — continues to hold, for better and worse, in hard times. We found a theater company and neighborhood struggling, yet determined, to hang in there — a story to be found all over town.

We also found ourselves wanting to reaffirm the message of our original editorial. Support the arts, fellow Chicagoans. Now more than ever. They are essential to our city’s identity and post-pandemic future.

Read the full column here.

10:29 a.m. Let Mr. COVID Answer Man help you cope during the pandemic

Dear Mr. COVID Answer Man: I’ve realized there are certain friends I haven’t talked to since mid-March. Is it too late now to reach out? — Lonely

Dear Lonely: Yes. The truth is, if you haven’t spoken to someone in more than six months of the most intense crisis to grip our country in living memory, you never need to speak again. This is sad, of course. Think of them like a neighbor you really liked who moves away. You hug and swear you’ll stay in touch. Then you don’t, because you aren’t living next door to each other anymore. That’s how life goes.

Dear Mr. COVID Answer Man: I work in a small store, where I’m required to wear a mask. But it gets claustrophobic, so I slip it below my nose. Occasionally a customer will say, “Would you mind putting your mask on properly?” This makes me very angry. Am I wrong to feel this way? — Miffed

Dear Miffed: Of course not. Tell yourself, you are WEARING a mask, technically, just not in the precise fashion that pleases every germaphobe fussbudget to walks in the door and starts issuing orders like they own the place, just because they don’t want to die a horrible death. The good news is that most customers are too inhibited to actually complain. Try saying, “Oh sorry, it slipped,” in a sarcastic tone, the way you would say, “Mind your own business loser,” and without moving the mask. That will convey your point in a witty fashion.

Read the full opinion piece here.

9:17 a.m. Even before any second COVID wave, many Chicagoans are still in need from the first one

The calls come daily to state Rep. Lindsey LaPointe’s office on the Northwest Side from people who need help navigating the state bureaucracy.

They call about unemployment benefits, housing assistance and food stamps. They call about utility bills, problems with state licenses and support for their small businesses.

Many of the callers these days are in tears, not knowing where to turn. Some can’t pay the rent. Others are worried about feeding their families.

Yet what’s striking to LaPointe’s chief of staff, Jessica Genova, is how apologetic many of the callers are, as if they’re feeling guilty about their predicament and needing help.

“I’ve never done this before,” they say.

It’s important to understand that the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic shocks have left many of our neighbors in crisis, facing financial strains they’ve never experienced.

With people isolated from each other to an even greater extent than normal, this isn’t always easy to see, especially for those lucky enough to still have their jobs.

But for those who have not been so fortunate, the disruption and pain are all too real, sometimes leading to an overwhelming sense of helplessness amid the uncertainty over when life will return to normal.

Read the full column from Mark Brown here.