Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Deaths from COVID-19 near 5,000 as hospitalizations drop to 6-week low

Chicago News USA

State officials expressed cautious optimism Tuesday as the four regions in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan remained on track to move into the plan’s next phase later this week.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at his coronavirus news briefing that hospitalizations due to COVID-19, which had been plateauing, have dropped to a six-week low. The percentage of coronavirus tests returning positive results statewide has dropped from a high of 23% in late April to an average of 9.2% over the past seven days, Pritzker said.

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Meanwhile, Officials announced 1,178 new cases of COVID-19 and 39 additional deaths, bringing the total number of known cases statewide to 113,195 and the death toll to 4,923. Dr. Ngozi Ezike said case numbers were lower in recent days, in part, because fewer tests are processed and reported over weekends. Ezike also said that the week ending in May 16 was the first week where there were fewer deaths than the previous week since the pandemic began.

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Here’s what’s happening Tuesday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:

3:47 p.m.: Radiologists group pulls November meeting — and 50,000 attendees — from Chicago

Just a few weeks ago, The Radiological Society of North America was undecided about whether it would go ahead as planned with its annual meeting at McCormick Place, an event that brings more than 50,000 people from 137 countries to Chicago.

On Tuesday, the Oak Brook-based trade group pulled the plug on the in-person event that was scheduled for Nov. 29 to Dec. 4. Instead, it will offer a virtual event Nov. 29 to Dec. 5.

In announcing its decision, Dr. James Borgstede, the group’s president, said the group “concluded it would be impossible to safety conduct” the event in person.

The group, whose history of annual meetings dates back more than 100 years, has canceled the event only twice before — in 1943 and 1945 — and those cancellations were tied to transportation and gas supply issues during and after World War II. If the meeting had occurred as planned, it would have been its 36th consecutive year in Chicago.

Between July and December, McCormick Place had been scheduled to host 67 events with an expected attendance of 781,168 people, generating almost $923 million in economic impact, including spending on food and entertainment. Read more here. —Mary Ellen Podmolik

2:57 p.m.: Officials express cautious optimism as state remains on track to move into reopening plan’s next phase

State officials expressed cautious optimism Tuesday as the four regions in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan remained on track to move into the plan’s next phase later this week.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at his coronavirus news briefing that hospitalizations due to COVID-19, which had been plateauing, have dropped to a six-week low. The percentage of coronavirus tests returning positive results statewide has dropped from a high of 23% in late April to an average of 9.2% over the past seven days, Pritzker said.

“The fact that we’ve seen these numbers trend in a good direction even after we opened things up in phase two demonstrates the importance of everyday actions,” the governor said, noting that the loosening of some restrictions on May 1 was accompanied by a new requirement for wearing face coverings in public.

Officials also announced 1,178 new cases of COVID-19 and 39 additional deaths, bringing the total number of known cases statewide to 113,195 and the death toll to 4,923.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said case numbers were lower in recent days, in part, because fewer tests are processed and reported over weekends. The state’s public health labs, which have been working multiple shifts per day for weeks, were able to give staff a day off over Memorial Day weekend, Ezike said.

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Ezike said that the week ending in May 16, there were 780 deaths related to COVID-19, the first week where there were fewer deaths than the previous week since the pandemic began.

“I am hopeful that this fact is the beginning of a downward trend,” Ezike said.

In the third phase of Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan, a wider range of businesses, including retailers, barber shops and salons, would be able to reopen with new safety measures in place. The Pritzker administration on Sunday outlined industry-specific public health guidelines. —Dan Petrella

2:35 p.m.: State officials report 1,178 new known cases and 39 more deaths

State officials on Tuesday announced 1,178 new known cases of COVID-19 and 39 additional deaths from 17,230 tests conducted in the previous 24 hours, pushing the statewide known case count to 113,195 since the pandemic began. The statewide death toll now stands at 4,923.

1:35 p.m.: The General Assembly adjourned its special pandemic session in the wee hours of a holiday weekend. Here’s what you might have missed.

In a special legislative session called in response to the coronavirus pandemic, state lawmakers debated bills through masks and the Illinois House met on the floor of a downtown Springfield convention center to provide proper social distancing.

1:02 p.m.: Summer camps are canceling and parents are scrambling: the search for sitters who embrace social distancing

It’s the question that has vexed Chicago-area parents for months: With no school, uncertainty about camps and parents working remotely, who’s watching the kids this summer?

Many families have found themselves scrambling for options to keep children entertained and the coronavirus at bay.

Skokie resident Rebecca Abraham hired a sitter with her best friends to create a minicamp for the families’ combined four children between the ages of 3 and 6.

All four parents have erratic schedules. Abraham is a nurse in an intensive care unit in a medical system in the northern suburbs, where her husband, Anub, is a doctor. Her best friends, a doctor and an architect who live a block away, also are busy.

Their original plan was to send their kids, who are best friends, to summer camp at the park district in Skokie, but this year, they opted out.

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“We said, ‘We’re going to need child care when school closes. Let’s split child care and we’ll help each other out on our days off,'” Abraham said.

The families brought a sitter into their isolated fold. The sitter moves between the families’ two houses, depending on the parents’ harried schedules and the kids’ quarantine activities.

Sometimes the kids do sleepovers, and almost always eat meals together. Once school ends, the kids and their sitter will shift from what they call “pandemic mini-school” to “pandemic mini-camp.” The families hope a summer of activities for their children will keep them away from screens.

“My parents sent a sandbox,” Abraham said. “At least it’s different, because when the kids switch houses, it’s not as boring as being trapped in your house for eight weeks. Now they’ve been trapped in two houses for eight weeks.”

Abraham and her friends aren’t the only parents creating “do-it-yourself” summer camps that cobbling together activities and hiring “camp counselors” who might be a sitter, nanny or an unemployed camp counselor. Read more here. —Corilyn Shropshire

1 p.m.: Lightfoot announces search for organization to lead Chicago’s virus contact tracing effort

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday announced plans to try to train hundreds of people to track the spread of the coronavirus and warn Chicagoans who’ve had contact with someone who’s carrying the disease.

Such a large contact tracing program is considered a key way to slow the spread of the virus by promptly warning people who’ve had significant contact with those who are sick so they can quarantine themselves before they spread it further.

But it will be difficult to get it up and running as quickly as experts would like, with the city and the state of Illinois moving toward phased re-openings that will bring more residents into close proximity with each other.

The effort to set up a 600-person contact tracing team with many members in city neighborhoods suffering the most from economic hardship, comes with a $56 million price tag, to be funded using federal and state money, Lightfoot said. She’s first looking for an organization “to lead coordination of contact tracing and resource referral efforts across the city,” her administration said in a news release.

At least 85% of the funds will then be distributed to “at least 30 neighborhood-based organizations located within, or primarily serving residents of, communities of high economic hardship,” according to the city.

Those community groups would be in charge of “recruiting, hiring and supporting a workforce of 600 contact tracers, supervisors, and referral coordinators to support an operation that has the capacity to trace 4,500 new contacts per day.”

Contact tracers will make $20 an hour, and supervisors will make $24 an hour, Lightfoot said. Read more here. —John Byrne and Hal Dardick

12:23 p.m.: Home Run Inn suburban Chicago factory churns out nearly 80,000 frozen pizzas a day to meet soaring demand during pandemic

In early March, Home Run Inn began building up its inventory of frozen pizza at its southwest suburban plant, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit home.

The family owned company was nonetheless unprepared for the surge in demand, as worried consumers loaded up on the stay-at-home staple before hunkering down for the foreseeable future.

“It was absolutely crazy,” said Nick Perrino, 33, who heads up the frozen pizza division for Home Run Inn. “The pandemic had people stocking up on frozen pizza, making sure they had product, just like with toilet paper.”

A 73-year-old pizza empire that grew from a single Chicago tavern, Home Run Inn operates nine restaurants in the city and suburbs, and a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Woodridge. Frozen pizza generates about 75% of the company’s revenue, but with its restaurants limited to pickup and delivery since March, the balance has shifted even more dramatically.

Home Run Inn sells frozen pizza in more than 40 states and is the No. 12 brand in sales nationally, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. It is the No. 1 selling frozen pizza in the Chicago area.

“If we could make double, we’d be able to sell double,” said Perrino, whose grandfather began serving pizza at the family’s Little Village tavern in 1947. Read more here. —Robert Channick

12:04 p.m.: Allstate extends its rebate as motorists continue to stay off the roads during the COVID-19 health crisis

Allstate said Tuesday it will extend its coronavirus rebate through June 30, returning a total of roughly $1 billion in auto insurance premiums to customers over three months.

Last month, the Northbrook-based insurer introduced its “Shelter-in-Place Payback” program because fewer drivers are on the road as a result of coronavirus state lockdowns. The firm, one of the first insurers to offer rebates to customers, said at the time that it would return $600 million to Allstate, Esurance and Encompass auto policy customers. Most policyholders received 15% of their monthly premiums credited back to their accounts in April and May.

With the program’s extension, Allstate motorists will continue to receive a 15% credit through the end of June. In addition, Allstate extended the sign-up period for its free identity protection product to June 30. Customers who aren’t policyholders can also sign up for the service, which is free through the end of the year. Read more here. —Abdel Jimenez

11:35 a.m.: Advocate Aurora Health invests in US maker of N95 masks, other PPE

A Chicago-area hospital system is one of 15 across the country investing in a major American manufacturer of personal protective equipment, in an effort to reduce reliance on foreign companies and make it easier to acquire PPE in the future.

Advocate Aurora Health announced Tuesday that it has partnered with health care improvement company Premier to acquire a minority stake in a major manufacturer of PPE, Prestige Ameritech, that makes surgical and N95 masks among other products. As part of the deal, Advocate will also buy a certain portion of its masks from Prestige for the next six years.

Advocate did not disclose the amount of its investment.

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“It’s clear that over-reliance on foreign manufacturers has been a driving cause of the issues care providers across the country have faced these past two months,” Advocate Aurora president and CEO Jim Skogsbergh said in a news release. “By funding domestic production, we intend to change that landscape and create a more diverse, reliable supply chain so that we can keep our workforce safe and healthy and continue to provide high quality care to the communities we’re so proud to serve.”

Currently, about 80% of PPE used by health systems comes from China and Southeast Asia, according to Premier.

Other participating health systems include AdventHealth based in Florida, Adventist Health based in California, Ballad Health based in Tennessee, Banner Health in Arizona, Baptist Health South Florida, CommonSpirit Health headquartered in Chicago, Genesis Health System in Iowa, Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, McLaren Health Care in Michigan, Riverside Health System in Virginia, St. Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania, Texas Health Resources, Universal Health Services Inc., in Pennsylvania and University Hospitals in Ohio.

This is not the first time Advocate and other hospital systems have tried to take a more active role in the manufacturing of certain products. Advocate Aurora also joined an effort last year, called Civica Rx, in which a group of philanthropic organizations and hospitals across the country established a not-for-profit generic drug company in hopes of battling drug shortages and high prices. —Lisa Schencker

10:45 a.m.: Preckwinkle vetoes COVID-19 address-sharing with first responders, a first in her tenure

In the first veto of her administration, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday moved to block a controversial resolution to share with 911 dispatchers the addresses of individuals who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Cook County Board members narrowly approved the resolution last week following an emotional debate about the measure’s intention to safeguard front-line workers versus fears it would violate individuals’ privacy and civil rights. While the measure was only a recommendation, the Cook County Department of Public Health had said it would follow the address-sharing practice because of the board’s instructions.

Preckwinkle said Tuesday she has vetoed the plan, a move that requires three-fifths of the board’s vote to override. The resolution only passed with a 9-7 vote last week, signifying it is likely killed.

In her veto announcement, Preckwinkle repeated her points made last week when she said she was “profoundly disappointed” the resolution passed because she believed it would contribute to systemic racism that black and Latino communities suffer.

“I don’t see how anyone who understands the endemic nature of racism in this country, and the discrimination that black and brown people have experienced, will assume that this resolution is somehow going to be immune from that discrimination,” Preckwinkle said.

Preckwinkle also said the resolution violates people’s privacy, harkening back to the stigma of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as the ongoing fears that immigrants living in the country without legal permission face when it comes to interactions law enforcement. The potential for first responders to harass individuals and other concerns may lead to less testing as well, Preckwinkle said.

“I cannot support the release of this information and am wholly disappointed in the decision to dispute the opinions of our public health experts, including the advice provided by CCDPH’s medical expert, Dr. Rachel Rubin,” Preckwinkle wrote in her veto.

Commissioner Scott Britton, D-Glenview, has said the limits of the resolution, which expired in 60 days and only shares addresses, not names, will ensure there will be no government overreach. But Rubin retorted last week that the resolution could backfire, as there are scores of residents who may have not sought testing because they are asymptomatic.

“This is not good public health practice,” Rubin said. “Pushing out addresses to first responders does not help to maintain the safety of the first responders or of the individuals that they’re trying to respond to for aid.”

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, said Tuesday although he had voted yes, he accepts that the resolution is probably defeated. Now, Suffredin said, he has to focus on the dearth of personal protective equipment that he and other commissioners cited when talking about the need for providing addresses to first responders.

“It is what it is,” Suffredin said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. You don’t fight battles that you can’t win. You deal what you can do to help make people safer. This will stand.” Read more here. —Alice Yin

6:55 a.m.: Officials see signs COVID-19 is contained at Cook County Jail, while experts caution measures need to remain in place

COVID-19 tests are now standard during the intake process for all new detainees entering Cook County Jail, one of several measures that officials said has helped them turn a critical corner on the pandemic. At its worst, over a two-month period, the deadly virus infected just over 700 inmates, including seven who died. Two correctional officers have died, with hundreds also infected.

But Dr. Connie Mennella, who oversees medical care at the jail, told the Tribune testing data indicates the facility has moved beyond the stage of flattening the curve and into containment, with a positive test rate that is below 10%. Read more here.Annie Sweeney

6:40 a.m.: Packed pool party gone viral in Missouri earns rebuke from state health director

Missouri’s health director issued a dire warning Monday after photos and video showed Memorial Day weekend revelers partying close together: The coronavirus is still here, and the spreading of illnesses could have “long-lasting and tragic” results.

One video on social media showed a crammed pool at Lake of the Ozarks, with people lounging and playing close together, without masks. The lake draws people not only from as far away as Arkansas and Iowa. Read more here. —Associated Press

6:30 a.m.: A different Memorial Day in Chicago: Crowds are out, livestreamed ceremonies are in

Chicagoans marked Memorial Day in a different way Monday, as local leaders tried to balance paying respect to those who died serving their country while also respecting the coronavirus-driven stay-at-home rules.

Throughout the city and suburbs, parades and solemn ceremonies with large crowds were out, replaced by smaller events streamed online or recorded tributes. One exception unfolded at Buckingham Fountain in Chicago, where a crowd marked the holiday with a protest against the restrictions. Read more here.Hal Dardick, Sophie Sherry and Stacy St. Clair.

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6:20 a.m.: Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces reopening rules for businesses as Illinois is poised to move to next phase and loosen restrictions

With all four regions of the state as defined under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s phased-in reopening plan slated to advance to the next stage Friday, the state rolled out detailed guidance Sunday for what precautions restaurants and bars need to have in place to be able to serve customers outdoors, how manufacturers and some offices can resume operations with restrictions and how barbers can offer those badly needed haircuts.

The industry-specific guidance the state released Sunday for the sectors of the state’s economy that will see loosened restrictions in the third phase of the governor’s plan provides a glimpse at a gradual return to normalcy after more than two months under a stay-at-home order meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Read more here.Jamie Munks

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