Coronavirus in Illinois updates: 15,415 new COVID-19 cases reported Friday, the fourth straight day with record high; contact tracing data shows state still not reaching 90% target

Chicago News USA

The number of new confirmed and probable cases of the coronavirus in Illinois topped 15,000 for the first time Friday, setting a record for the fifth straight day.

The 15,415 cases state public health officials reported Friday was 2,713 more than the previous record set a day earlier. Over the past week, the state is averaging 12,345 cases of COVID-19 per day.

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The total number of known infections in Illinois now stands at 551,957 and the statewide death toll is 10,504 since the start of the pandemic, with 27 additional fatalities reported Friday.

The state on Friday updated the data it posts related to contact tracing, which involves reaching out to people diagnosed with COVID-19, urging them to isolate and asking them where they’ve been and whom they’ve seen during the two weeks prior to their positive test so those people can be asked to quarantine.

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The data — covering the period from Aug. 1 to Nov. 7 — shows that the state is short of its goal of launching contact tracing for 90% of cases, although some regions came very close. Others appear nowhere near that target. For example, in Region 4 in far southern Illinois, tracers reached out to 89% of sick people, while in Region 10, which is suburban Cook County, the figure was 17%, according to the state.

The suburban advisory, similar to the city’s version, goes into effect on Monday and lasts for 30 days. Additionally, Lightfoot is imposing a 10-person limit on weddings, birthday parties, funerals and some social events in Chicago starting Monday morning.

The mayor on Friday also defended her appearance last weekend when she joined a crowd celebrating the presumptive win of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as COVID-19 cases surge.

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

6:30 p.m.: No one fined for violating Chicago’s travel order so far

In the four months Chicago has had a mandatory travel quarantine order in place, only warning letters have gone out to people believed to have broken the rules, city officials said Thursday.

No one has been fined so far under the city’s order, implemented by Mayor Lori Lightfoot over the Fourth of July weekend, which requires travelers from states with high coronavirus infection rates to quarantine for 14 days after returning to Chicago, city spokesman Andrew Buchanan said in a statement. He said the city was not releasing information on how many letters have gone out.

4:30 p.m.: Pritzker extends moratorium on housing evictions

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday he was extending a host of coronavirus-related executive orders for another 30 days, including an extension of a moratorium on evictions.

Under the new gubernatorial order, which runs through Dec. 12, tenants must sign a form declaring that they meet certain qualifications, including an income limit of $99,000 for individuals or $198,000 for joint tax filers. They also must attest that they are unable to make housing payments due to a COVID-19-related hardship and would likely be homeless or forced to live in close quarters if evicted. Tenants also have to be making their “best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit.”

4:05 p.m.: As surging COVID-19 cases collide with Thanksgiving food shopping, city warns of a crackdown on crowds at grocery stores

Grocery shoppers making their Thanksgiving runs may encounter something they haven’t seen since the early days of the pandemic: Lines outside of stores as the city steps up enforcement of capacity limits during the holiday rush.

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When announcing a stay-at-home advisory that starts Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned businesses will face fines and potentially be shut down if they don’t follow social distancing rules or properly manage crowds.

Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection plans to proactively investigate retail stores to ensure compliance with capacity limits and other COVID-19 regulations, which carry fines up to $10,000 for violations, spokesman Isaac Reichman said.

4:04 p.m.: Evanston issues stay-at-home advisory after reporting record-high number of new COVID-19 cases last two days

Evanston officials Friday issued an advisory stay-at-home order for residents after the city reported its highest daily totals of positive COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started.

On Thursday and Friday, city officials reported 43 and 60 confirmed new COVID-19 cases, the city’s largest daily numbers since the pandemic began in March, according to a news release.

Evanston’s seven-day positivity rate now is 5.57%, still lower than the 15% in suburban Cook County, according to the release.Evanston’s advisory is in line with similar advisories already issued by the Cook County Department of Public Health, according to the release. Like the Cook County advisory, Evanston’s will begin at 6 a.m. Monday and last for 30 days.

“Our collective actions can reduce the rate of infections, prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed, and, ultimately, save lives,” said Health and Human Services Director Ike Ogbo, in the release. “We are asking residents to take these necessary actions today to prevent more restrictive mitigation measures in the future.”

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Evanston community centers remain open, but residents are encouraged to complete city business online. Parks and Recreation camp programs will also continue running for the time being, according to the city.

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—Genevieve Bookwalter

3:56 p.m.: State closing drivers services offices from Tuesday until Dec. 7 because of COVID-19

Illinois driver services facilities will close temporarily for in-person business starting on Tuesday due to the statewide resurgence of COVID-19, and Secretary of State Jesse White will again extend the expiration dates for driver’s licenses and ID cards, his office announced Friday.

The facilities are slated to reopen Dec. 7. The expiration date for driver’s licenses and identification cards has now been extended to June 1, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Anyone with a license that expires before the extended deadline will be considered to have a valid license until June 1, though commercial driver’s license holders are excluded from the extension due to federal requirements.

3:20 p.m.: Officials want you to stay home for the holidays. Still traveling? Here’s what to expect.

As COVID-19 cases rise and state and local officials urge residents to stay home as much as possible, fewer people are expected to board planes, trains and buses ahead of Thanksgiving.

AAA forecasts that 2.48 million people in Illinois, and 50.6 million nationally, are expected to travel for the holiday, with most people driving. The number of travelers could fall further as consumers monitor rising case numbers, new travel restrictions and guidance from health officials, AAA said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked residents to avoid nonessential travel and cancel traditional Thanksgiving plans, and suburban Cook County followed up with a similar advisory Friday. Gov. J.B. Pritzker advised those choosing to travel to self-quarantine for two weeks before gathering.

Still, the desire to celebrate with family — even with a smaller group, or without a lengthy feast — could convince some who have been avoiding travel to make the trip.If you’re considering travel, here’s what to expect.

2:55 p.m.: Chicago has a lot of cold storage space. But will it be cold enough to support a COVID-19 vaccine rollout?

Chicago plays a key role in the nation’s supply chain, which is gearing up for the logistics challenge of a lifetime: mass distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Yet the complexity of the vaccine rollout and unique facilities requirements mean Chicago’s sprawling network of warehouses — which includes more than 11 million square feet of freezer and cooler space — may not play a major role.

That’s because there’s a big difference between storing foods like hamburger patties, frozen peas and ice cream and preserving a promising Pfizer vaccine that must stay below Arctic-winter temperatures.

“Nothing that we’re building can even get that cold,” said Tony Pricco, president of Chicago-based developer Bridge Development Partners, which builds and owns cold storage buildings and other warehouses throughout the country. “I don’t think it’s even feasible to keep a large space that cold. This is not a conventional freezer type of use.”

No matter which vaccine emerges for mass distribution, the process of transporting and storing it could require a marshaling of public and private resources seen in only the rarest of instances.

2:46 p.m.: State’s attorney’s office reviewing coronavirus policy for staff, urging them to work from home

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office is urging its employees to stay at home, foreshadowing future “COVID policy changes,” and hinting that another court shutdown is looming, according to an internal email obtained by the Tribune.

As courtrooms began to reopen over the summer, more prosecutors returned to the office, sometimes on a rotating basis. Now, employees designated as “stay-at-home staff” by their supervisors will need to get prior permission to come to the office.

The Friday morning memo did not mention a shift in the way staffers are informed of COVID cases within the office — which has been a common source of concern among rank-and-file staffers.

Other county entities, such as the Chief Judge’s office and the Clerk of the Circuit Court, circulate regular memorandums notifying employees when a staffer tests positive. The memos include details about where the staffer worked and how many positive cases the offices have measured so far in the pandemic.

2:44 p.m.: Oak Park hospitals restrict visitors as COVID-19 cases increase; haven’t overloaded capacity yet

Due to an increasing number of COVID-19 cases throughout the region, Rush Oak Park hospital has again adopted its no visitor policy that had been in place earlier this year, and West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park has also reinstated limits. While public health officials worry the number of COVID cases could overwhelm the number of available hospital beds, that has not yet occurred at these two hospitals.

On Wednesday, the state reported a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, at 5,042, compared with a previous high of 5,037 patients on April 28. Some area hospitals have begun adding beds in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 cases and have delayed elective surgeries.

Due to the increase, Rush Oak Park, 520 S. Maple Ave., has again implemented a “no visitor” policy in most of its inpatient and outpatient areas.

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2:04 p.m.: River Forest District 90 to remain on remote learning through end of November

A pause on River Forest District 90′s return to in-person learning has been extended until at least the end of the month as administrators respond to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the area.

At the end of October, District 90 began a “blended in-person learning plan,” which allowed for students to gradually return to classrooms while still taking some courses remotely. The district began welcoming its pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students back to school buildings on Oct. 21, but increasing COVID-19 cases caused the district to take an “adaptive pause” on the plan just one week later.

Officials had hoped to re-start its blended learning plan on Nov. 16, however, the continued rise in coronavirus cases has caused administrators to extend that pause until at least Nov. 30.

1:25 p.m.: New contact tracing data shows state still not reaching 90% target

The state on Friday updated the data it posts related to contact tracing, which involves reaching out to people diagnosed with COVID-19, urging them to isolate and asking them where they’ve been and whom they’ve seen during the two weeks prior to their positive test so those people can be asked to quarantine.

The data — covering the period from Aug. 1 to Nov. 7 — shows that the state is short of its goal of launching contact tracing for 90% of cases, although some regions came very close. Others appear nowhere near that target. For example, in Region 4 in far southern Illinois, tracers reached out to 89% of sick people, while in Region 10, which is suburban Cook County, the figure was 17%, according to the state.

The data also shows outbreak locations, defined as places where there were five or more cases within 14 days, and exposure locations, or places that people with the disease reported going in the 14 days before diagnosis.

The top three categories of outbreak locations over the past 30 days were day care operations, workplaces and factories, which have their own classification. The top three exposure locations were schools, businesses including retail operations and then restaurants and bars, which share a classification.

Pritzker’s shutdown of indoor service at restaurants and bars has become a matter of fierce debate, with Pritzker saying it’s just not safe right now and restaurateurs contending he can’t prove that.

Finally, there’s also data on outbreaks and exposures at schools, showing a smattering of outbreaks in six counties including McHenry, and exposures across central and northern Illinois, with many in Chicago and its suburbs.

—Hal Dardick

1:13 p.m.: Indiana’s daily COVID-19 deaths near peak set in April surge; Gary mayor clamps down on bars, restaurants and churches

Indiana is averaging nearly as many coronavirus-related deaths now as it did during the spring’s initial surge of cases, with heath officials adding 50 more deaths to the state’s toll on Friday.

The new deaths occurring over several days have pushed the state’s moving seven-day fatality average to 40 per day, just short of highest average of 42 a day recorded in late April.

Indiana’s COVID-19 deaths average has tripled since Gov. Eric Holcomb lifted nearly all coronavirus-related restrictions in late September. During that time, COVID-19 hospitalizations have gone up 200% and the seven-day moving average of newly confirmed infections is six times higher.

12:30 p.m.: Daily coronavirus cases top 15,000 in Illinois for the first time, setting a record for the fourth straight day

The number of new confirmed and probable cases of the coronavirus in Illinois topped 15,000 for the first time Friday, setting a record for the fifth straight day.

The 15,415 cases state public health officials reported Friday was 2,713 more than the previous record set a day earlier. Over the past week, the state is averaging 12,345 cases of COVID-19 per day.

State health officials also reported 27 more fatalities Friday, bringing the statewide death toll to 10,504 since the pandemic began. While there were fewer deaths reported Friday than in recent days, the state has averaged 61 deaths per day over the past week, up from 41 at the beginning of the month.

In all, there have been 551,957 known cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, according to state health officials.

For the week ending Thursday, the average number of cases as a share of total tests was 13.2%, up from 8.1% at the beginning of the month and 3.4% at the beginning of October.

Hospitalizations, which are a key indicator of how the virus is spreading, also continue to surge. As of Thursday night, 5,362 people were in the hospital with COVID-19, 990 of them in intensive care and 488 on ventilators. Over the past three days, there have been more coronavirus patients in the hospital each day than at any time during the first wave in the spring.

—Dan Petrella

11:27 a.m.: Lightfoot on joining crowd celebrating Biden-Harris win as COVID-19 cases surge: ‘There are times when we actually do need to have … relief and come together’

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday defended her appearance last weekend when she joined a crowd celebrating the presumptive win of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

During a morning interview on MSNBC, the mayor was asked about joining revelers Saturday amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in Chicago and nationwide — a surge so bad that on Thursday she announced a stay-at-home “advisory” while Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned a second statewide mandatory shutdown order could be coming.

The mayor nodded to the fact that crowds were taking to the streets across the country last weekend after news outlets declared Biden the winner in Pennsylvania, giving him the 270 electoral votes he needed to beat Republican President Donald Trump. She delivered a celebratory message to a tightly packed crowd via bullhorn that was shared on social media.

“I will tell you in that big crowd a week ago, everybody was wearing masks,” the mayor told MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle.

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10:56 a.m.: Following in Chicago’s footsteps, suburban Cook County issues stay-at-home advisory, urges holiday plans to be postponed

The suburban advisory, similar to the city’s version, goes into effect on Monday and lasts for 30 days, according a Friday news release from the Cook County Department of Public Health. Both of the notices stop short of a mandatory stay-at-home order because they are intended to be a final attempt at curbing the coronavirus’ recent resurgence before more drastic measures are taken.

“Now more than ever, we must come together to stay apart,” Dr. Rachel Rubin, Cook County’s public health department’s senior medical officer, said in the release. “We know limiting gatherings with friends and family can be hard, but we also know that virtual celebrations will save lives.”

9:38 a.m.: Aurora hospitals treating record numbers of COVID-19 patients, as health executive pleads with public to take precautions

Aurora’s Rush Copley Medical Center and AMITA Health Mercy Medical Center both treated record high numbers of COVID-19 patients this week, as the virus continues to surge in the region and another layer of COVID-19 mitigation measures takes effect.

Mercy hospital, on Aurora’s near West Side, was treating 41 inpatients for COVID-19 Thursday, and another 11 people were under investigation for the virus, AMITA Health system spokesman Tim Nelson said. One week prior, the hospital had 24 inpatients who were positive for the virus and 15 people under investigation, he said.

Rush Copley, on the city’s Southeast Side, had 82 COVID-19 patients at one time in the past week, also marking the highest number it treated at once since the start of the pandemic, Chief Operating Officer Mary Shilkaitis said.

By Thursday afternoon the number of virus patients at the hospital was 77. That, too, amounted to more people than the hospital ever treated at once during the first wave of the pandemic in March, April and May, Shilkaitis said.

8:59 a.m.: Number of COVID-19 cases and deaths climbing at Edward Hospital in Naperville

The number of patients being treated and hospitalized for COVID-19 continues to climb at Edward Hospital, with a record 93 patients as of Thursday morning, hospital officials announced.

The Naperville hospital’s daily count this week changed from 72 on Monday, 82 on Tuesday, 85 on Wednesday, and up to 93 inpatients Thursday morning.

“When you look at the first of October, we had 14 patients (being treated). By the end of the month it was 51. And two weeks later, we are now at 93. Those are pretty dramatic spikes, things that happened practically overnight,” said hospital spokesman Keith Hartenberger.

8:29 a.m.: Leyden District 212 delays return to in-person learning due to rising COVID-19 cases

Leyden High School District 212 again delayed its planned return to in-person learning, citing rising cases of COVID-19 in the area.

Students in general education were tentatively scheduled to return Nov. 6, which was then delayed until Nov. 16, but now officials say they will stick with remote learning until the region is no longer under COVID-19 mitigation measures.

“We saw the positivity rates begin to rise, which prompted our (initial) announcement to delay that return,” Superintendent Nick Polyak explained in a memo to parents. “Over the last couple weeks, we had been hoping to see this positivity rate decrease. Unfortunately, after leveling off slightly, our local positivity rate has continued to rise.”

Students in English language learning classes, special education services and those in the Bridge, Transition and LIFE programs began a four-day-a-week, hybrid learning plan on campus in early November.

7:40 a.m.: Ticketmaster may require proof of coronavirus vaccination to attend future concerts

While the timing of live music’s return remains uncertain, Ticketmaster has already begun reimagining the future of concert safety.

Billboard reported this week that the ticketing juggernaut, which shares ownership with Live Nation — the world’s leading concert promoter — is discussing plans that would require patrons to provide either proof of a coronavirus vaccination or a recent negative Covid-19 test to gain entry to a concert.

This would be done through a combination of third-party entities: A fan would need to request that its vaccine or test provider send their results to a health pass provider, such as CLEAR Health Pass or IBM’s Digital Health Pass, who would then verify the results to Ticketmaster, who would not store or have access to customers’ medical records, Billboard said.

In lieu of a vaccine, a negative test would need to be produced approximately 24 to 72 hours before the event, according to the plan, which remains in developmental stages.

6 a.m.: Lincoln-Way and Bremen high school districts switch to remote learning Thursday and Homer Elementary District to do the same starting Monday as 100s of students quarantine

Lincoln-Way Superintendent R. Scott Tingley told families this week that as of Monday about 600 students in the district’s three schools were in quarantine due either to a positive test result for the coronavirus or being in close contact with someone who had tested positive.

Tingley said that, based on reports from contact tracing, there was little evidence that any of the cases resulted from students and staff contracting the virus in school buildings, and that most were traced back to social gatherings or family settings.

He said district officials expect the number of students not being able to attend school due to self-quarantine will rise as positivity rates increase in the suburbs the district serves, which include Frankfort and New Lenox.

“There are simply too many students not able to attend in person learning at this point due to exposure or a close contact,” Tingley said.

Homer 33C Superintendent Craig Schoppe told families Thursday that 64 staff and 224 students were quarantined due being symptomatic for the virus or having had close contact with someone who had tested positive. There were 10 positive coronavirus cases and four probable cases among district staff, and 9 positive and 10 probable cases among students, he said.

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The district had “reached a point where we will be unable to cover classrooms and bus routes next week,” Schoppe wrote.

District 228 Superintendent Bill Kendall said Thursday that COVID-19 guidance from public health officials showing the schools are located in an orange warning zone prompted the move to remote learning.

“We’re being cautious for our students, staff and community,” he said.

Rising positivity rates have led High School District 218, with schools in Blue Island, Oak Lawn and Palos Heights, to put off plans to bring students back on a limited basis, parents were told this week.

5 a.m.: Arbitrator rules against Chicago Public Schools in labor dispute over clerks, but district will still require them to work mostly in person, saying COVID-19 measures in place

The Chicago Public Schools has indicated it will continue to require certain staff members to work in person, despite an arbitrator’s ruling Thursday that they should be allowed to work mostly from home until CPS proves it’s minimized the risk of COVID-19 at each school.

Thursday’s ruling applies to clerks, technology coordinators and other select staff whom the independent labor arbitrator presumed should be permitted to work from home at least four days a week, except where duties can’t be performed remotely.

It also requires CPS to determine which schools pass certified hazard assessments and provide the union with all the information they need to confirm the district’s determination. If a school is in compliance with health and safety requirements, 100% in-person work “is appropriate,” according to the arbitrator.

5 a.m.: One-third of Springfield firefighters in quarantine because of COVID-19

More than one-third of Springfield’s firefighters are in quarantine as a COVID-19 outbreak spreads through the department.

Seventy-three firefighters are quarantined, including 19 who have tested positive for the virus.

All fire stations remain open and are providing service to residents.

But two of the city’s 12 fire engines will not be in operation until further notice, according to city officials. The engines in question are each part of a multi-company station house.

“While this is not ideal, it is our current reality with so many of our members who have been exposed,” said Springfield Fire Chief Allen Reyne. “The department will begin working with our regional hospitals to determine if our methodology for quarantine, which we have used since day one, is still supported by CDC.”

The engines taken out of operation are from Station 2, 2810 Stevenson Drive, and Station 12, 2925 S. Koke Mill Road.

The stations are also each home to one of the city’s three truck companies, which carry features like ladders and extrication equipment.

Reyne said the decision to take the engines out of operation were done due to the manpower shortage as well as a desire to better socially distance as the stations in question are both small.

So instead of two companies with six people present at each station, there will be one with three.

“So they’re taking those off and that brings down your manning level to alleviate individuals that are needed,” said Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder.

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