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Coronavirus in Illinois updates: 4 more deaths and 250 new cases reported, bringing state total to 16 deaths and 1,535 cases

Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Chicago Tribune

Officials announced 250 new cases of the new coronavirus in Illinois on Tuesday, and four additional deaths. The additional cases bring the state’s total to 1,535 since the outbreak began.

The latests deaths reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health on Tuesday were a Chicago resident in his 50s, two Cook County residents in their 60s, and a DuPage County resident in her 90s. Grundy County is now reporting a case, bringing the number of affected counties to 32.

Illinois’ COVID-19 testing capacity is nearly 2,000 tests per day now, and drive-through coronavirus testing began on Sunday and Monday in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday during his 16th daily coronavirus briefing.

Federal sites and private testing are going on in addition to what the state is doing at its three labs. Even with the “rapid expansion” of testing, Pritzker said Illinois needs tens of thousands more tests to provide a full picture of coronavirus cases exist within the state.

“Testing helps demonstrate the actual reach of COVID-19 and informs us how we can potentially isolate the outbreak,” Pritzker said.

The state has been taking a “multi-faceted approach” to increasing hospital bed capacity, setting up triage units and centers, Pritzker said.

“In a worst case scenario surge, the state would turn existing hospitals into almost entirely COVID-19 response hospitals,” Pritzker said, and many other patients would be moved to other outfitted locations, including closed hospitals that could temporarily reopen.

“I want to be 100% clear about what will drive my decision making in the weeks ahead: science,” Pritzker said. “I understand how difficult it is to see the economy slow down and watch friends and neighbors laid off from jobs. Those concerns keep me up at night, too. But I will say again, you can’t have a livelihood without a life.”

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike called the new statewide case count “sobering, as it is every day.”

"This disease has affected every group in our society," Ezike said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

--

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s public health department Tuesday warned against supposed miracle cures for coronavirus, including one touted by President Donald Trump. Fielding a citizen’s question on whether inhaling steam can kill COVID-19, Lightfoot said: “Folks, be careful. There’s no cure for coronavirus.”

Also on Tuesday, Illinois manufacturers are revamping production to make face masks, thermometers and more as the fight against the coronavirus escalates. The news comes a day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker called on companies to help supplement dwindling supplies of equipment.

Meanwhile, authorities say the U.S. — which had more than 46,000 infections and 530 deaths through Monday — is on track to eventually overtake China’s nearly 82,000 infections; how soon that happens depends on how seriously Americans take the state-at-home restrictions.

Here are the latest updates Tuesday on the coronavirus in the Chicago area and Illinois:

2:44 p.m.: Midway control tower reopens

Midway Airport’s air traffic control tower, which had been closed for cleaning when three employees tested positive for the new coronavirus last week, has reopened.

The employees tested positive on March 17, according to a Federal Aviation Administration website.

The airport remained open while the tower was shut down for cleaning, but with limited operations. Flights, which can be controlled from an alternate air traffic control facility, were initially being allowed to take off one at a time.

The FAA did not address questions about whether other employees at Midway had been tested or asked to self-quarantine.

Only 80 of the 220 Southwest Airlines flights that would normally be scheduled to depart Midway Tuesday are operating, a spokesman said in an email. Some cancellations were due to the tower’s closure, while others were canceled because of the decline in travel demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Southwest said it expects to cancel about 1,000 of its 4,000 daily flights across all U.S. airports through March 27, after which it will cancel 1,500 flights through mid-April. Read more here. —Lauren Zumbach

2:32 p.m.: Lightfoot says pulling back on coronavirus precautions ‘does not make sense at all’

Responding to President Donald Trump’s suggestions that widespread anti-coronavirus measures are not worth the economic toll to the country, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said easing efforts to fight the disease wouldn’t be smart and public health should remain the priority.

Lightfoot also criticized Trump for spreading disinformation about COVID-19.

As a practical matter, Lightfoot said, Trump can’t end the city or state’s stay at home orders.

“The CDC gives out guidance. They don’t give out mandates. The federal government hasn’t given out any specific mandate either. When and how conditions on the ground in Chicago and across the state happen is going to be dependent on us, not him,” Lightfoot said. “I don’t think it’s wise given what we’re seeing. It clearly seems most areas in the country (are) continuing to see an upward trajectory in the number of confirmed cases so pulling back now, in my view for Chicago, does not make sense at all.”

She added: “Keep in mind, even though it seems like dog years, the stay at home order was just issued last Friday.”

Lightfoot also ripped Trump as an unreliable leader, saying he makes statements “that are flat out wrong.”

“The things we’re hearing on a daily basis coming from the president are unreliable and, frankly, scary because there are people who still credit him as a reliable source of information,” Lightfoot said. “We’re not doing that here in Chicago.”

Asked about Trump saying that restarting the economy needs to take precedent over stay at home orders and business closures because continuing shutdowns will lead to an increase in suicides, Lightfoot said, “You can’t see us shaking our heads but that’s kind of the response.”

“It’s unfortunate that we have a leader with such a large platform every day who is not careful about their messaging. Daily, as you’ve seen the cycle, somebody has to come behind him and clean up the mess,” Lightfoot said. “The problem is, people hear what the president says and they don’t hear the facts. It’s really, really damaging to our country.”

The economy is important, Lightfoot added, “but our first responsibility is to make sure we don’t lose lives and we’re keeping people safe.”

Lightfoot also said Chicago isn’t in as dire a situation as New York City.

“We’re not in the same place by a longshot as New York by any means,” Lightfoot said. —Gregory Pratt

2:25 p.m.: Cook County employee tests positive for coronavirus

A Cook County employee who works on the 11th floor at 118 N. Clark Street has tested positive for coronavirus, Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a letter to county officials and employees.

The employee, who Preckwinkle did not name, hasn’t been in the building since March 17, according to her letter.

The room where the employee works will be deep cleaned and disinfected, as will elevators, washrooms and other common areas, Preckwinkle said.

Staff who worked closely with the positive employee are being notified of their potential exposure, Preckwinkle said. —Gregory Pratt

1:26 p.m.: Illinois manufacturers race to produce health care supplies

Illinois manufacturers are revamping production to make face masks, thermometers and more as the fight against the new coronavirus pandemic escalates.

Companies are heeding a call from Gov. J.B. Pritzker to help supplement dwindling supplies of equipment that could protect health care and other front-line workers from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and aid in the treatment of those already infected. Read more here. —Ally Marotti, Abdel Jimenez, Steve Johnson

1:22 p.m.: Coronavirus pandemic produces the inevitable for Chicago: Malort hand sanitizer

Malort, as any good Chicagoan knows, already tastes a bit like hand sanitizer. And now the coronavirus pandemic has willed it into existence. Yes — Malort hand sanitizer is here. Read more here. —Josh Noel

12:50 p.m.: Lightfoot warns against misinformation about so-called cures: ‘Be careful. There’s no cure for coronavirus’

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s public health department are warning against supposed miracle cures for coronavirus, including one touted by President Donald Trump.

Lightfoot appeared on public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady’s daily “Ask the Doc” Internet show on Tuesday, where they fielded a citizen’s question asking whether inhaling steam can kill COVID-19.

“Inhaling steam does nothing to protect you from coronavirus,” Arwady said. “It does nothing to treat, in case you had inhaled coronavirus, and it has major potential to damage your mucus membranes, your lungs.”

Lightfoot added: “Folks, be careful. There’s no cure for coronavirus.” Read more here. —Gregory Pratt

12:42 p.m.: First round of Chicago-area coronavirus response grants to nonprofits announced

Organizers of a fund set up in response to the coronavirus pandemic announced Tuesday it has earmarked more than $3.5 million in grants it will give out to some 42 nonprofits in the Chicago area.

The Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund was set up through a partnership between the city, the Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago and it has raised more than $13.5 million since its March 17 launch, according to a news release. In its first wave, $3.5 million will provide grant support to 42 local nonprofits that represent “a mix of broad reach organizations” that have experience working with the most vulnerable communities.

“The first round of funding prioritized support to nonprofit organizations that provide community safety nets, such as emergency food and supplies, mortgage and utility assistance, as well as direct financial assistance due to recent job loss as a result of COVID-19,” according to the release.

Nonprofits in the first round include: Alliance to End Homelessness, American Red Cross, Children’s First Fund, Cradles to Crayons, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Inner City Muslim Action Network, Lawndale Christian Health Center, Jewish Federation, Puerto Rican Agenda, Resident Association of Greater Englewood, Salvation Army, and the Resurrection Project - Lift Up.

“We have been moved by the generosity of donors large and small that have come together to protect our most vulnerable neighbors,” Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust and an expert in disease control and emergency response said in the news release. “Through our collective action, we have been able to respond rapidly and provide valuable resources to those working on the frontlines to keep our neighbors fed, housed and cared for.”

Donations can be made to the fund here. —Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas

12:42 p.m.: Activists call for housing, healthcare, wage reforms to address inequality exacerbated by virus outbreak

In another move from progressive groups in Chicago to draw attention to how they say the coronavirus pandemic shows city policies continue to harm people who are already struggling, housing advocates are demanding the Chicago Housing Authority allow homeless people to self-isolate in thousands of vacant units.

While applauding Mayor Lori Lightfoot for making a thousand hotel rooms available to people who have the virus or think they’ve been exposed to it, The Chicago Housing Initiative said the empty CHA units should be used as well. Read more here. —John Byrne

12:12 p.m.: Forget bourbon and gin — in the era of coronavirus, distilleries (and even some breweries) go all in on hand sanitizer

When its first bottles of hand sanitizer left Koval distillery Monday afternoon, a pivot unimaginable even a month ago became complete: from high-end spirits producer to global health crisis warrior.

Whiskey-filled oak barrels continue to age in Koval’s 46,000-square-foot Ravenswood facility, but the 12-year-old distillery has transformed itself in a matter of days into, of all things, a hand sanitizer manufacturer.

As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates, Koval is one of at least four distilleries in the Chicago area, and dozens nationally, to begin hand sanitizer production in a bid not only to be an upright corporate citizen, but perhaps to carve a new revenue stream that keeps a struggling business afloat. Read more here. —Josh Noel

12:08 p.m.: Empty windows, boarded-up storefronts dot Magnificent Mile during coronavirus shutdown

Stores, like shoppers, got ready to hunker down during the coronavirus pandemic. Several shops on Michigan Avenue and nearby retail high streets have boarded up or emptied store windows.

It’s both a matter of preventing vandalism or theft and getting merchandise to places shoppers can purchase it while stores are shuttered.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order will remain in effect through at least April 7, which means no one will be visiting stores deemed nonessential for at least two weeks. Retailers that emptied stores are likely moving products to distribution centers where online shoppers can purchase them in the meantime, said Robert Moraca, vice president for loss prevention at the National Retail Federation.

“I think some might be looking in their crystal balls and saying it’s going to a month or six weeks,” he said. “Nobody knows.”

Some still had merchandise on display. But the Disney store and MCM Worldwide walled off storefronts with plywood. So did luxury shoe and handbag boutique Jimmy Choo, on nearby Oak Street, leaving a gap only for a sign with the shop’s illuminated name above the entrance.

Others, like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, left windows that usually display merchandise uncovered and illuminated but conspicuously empty. Read more here. —Lauren Zumbach

12:05 p.m.: Nurse says she was fired by Northwestern Memorial Hospital after warning co-workers that face masks being used were not the safest

A nurse is suing Northwestern Memorial Hospital, claiming she was fired after warning fellow employees the masks provided by the hospital would not properly protect them against the coronavirus.

Lauri Mazurkiewicz alleges that Northwestern required staff to wear a type of mask “less safe and less effective” than the N95 model of face masks. In fact, she claims, staff were specifically not allowed to wear the N95 mask on hospital grounds.

Mazurkiewicz said she raised concerns when the hospital began treating patients for the coronavirus this month and she was exposed to people diagnosed with the highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease.

Mazurkiewicz said she sent an email to about 50 fellow employees last Wednesday, warning them that the N95 face masks were “safer and more effective” than masks provided by the hospital. The next day, Mazurkiewicz said she wore an N95 mask to the hospital and was fired.

The hospital said it would have no comment on the lawsuit except to say “we take these matters seriously and we are currently reviewing the complaint.” Read more here. —Sophie Sherry

11:36 a.m.: Niles man taunts police officer, ‘now you have the corona’ after coughing, police say

A Niles man arrested on a DUI charge earlier this month is accused of repeatedly coughing on a Niles police officer and taunting the officer, telling him he now had coronavirus.

Grzegorz T. Kuprowski, 52, was charged with aggravated battery to a police officer among other charges in connection with the March 14 incident, Niles police said. Read more here. —Jennifer Johnson

11:24 a.m.: Cook County ramps up efforts to release detained juveniles from detention center

With efforts to release inmates from Cook County Jail under way, Cook County officials have ramped up their efforts to address a younger at-risk population: detained juveniles.

Peter Parry, deputy public defender for countrywide operations, confirmed to the Tribune that hearings have been scheduled this week for 100 of the roughly 150 youth who have been named in juvenile petitions and are currently being detained at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Those hearings could lead to early releases.

Parry said there is concern not only about the spread of the virus but the increased isolation for the youth, with school and visits canceled.

Private attorneys are also bringing requests on behalf of individual clients. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said in a statement that her office was reviewing the cases.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to reduce the in-custody population and protect public health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is urgently reviewing juvenile detention cases brought to us by the Public Defender and private attorneys,” the statement read.

Cook County youths are ordered held in detention only after it has been determined that they pose an urgent risk to themselves or others.

No cases of COVID-19 have been reported inside the juvenile center. Two detainees at Cook County Jail as well as a jail guard have tested positive, officials said.

The pandemic has touched off great concern from advocates and officials alike about the potential of a widespread outbreak inside prisons and jails, which are confined spaces that make social distancing a challenge, if not impossible. Concerns over access to soap and sanitizers have also been raised.

So far Cook County officials have identified more than 100 adult inmates at the jail for potential early release, with a focus on those who do not pose a threat to public safety but have health issues, those who are older or those being held on bonds that they can’t afford. Hearings for those detainees were continuing this week.

The issues around juvenile detention include not only worries of the spread of the virus, but concerns over growing isolation of young people inside the West Side facility, where visits from parents have been canceled and school has also been cancelled, per the governor’s order to close all Illinois schools.

All youth have instructional packets from the Chicago Public Schools. Medical and mental health services continue to be provided and staff was trying to provide programming to the youth via video.

Time for phone calls had been increased, and cleaning and sanitation supplies have been made available, officials said. Recreational time also is still being allowed. —Annie Sweeney and Megan Crepeau

10:45 a.m.: How much did you pay for hand sanitizer? Illinois consumers file 700 coronavirus price gouging complaints.

Illinois consumers have filed more than 700 price gouging complaints accusing stores of raising prices on household goods during the rush to stock up because of the new coronavirus.

The city of Chicago received 175 price gouging complaints between March 1 and Monday. The state received 526 complaints during the same period.

Most of the complaints filed with the city involved toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but a few also cited price increases on food and beverage products, said Isaac Reichman, a spokesman for the city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department. Read more here. —Abdel Jimenez

10:40 a.m.: Buying online is no shortcut to getting items hard to find on shelves. ‘They’re not going to have any more success getting toilet paper than you are.’

Think you’re going to find online the frozen vegetables and toilet paper you can’t find in stores? Think delivery is going to be quick? Think again.

Grocery stores aren’t just battling to stock shelves in stores. They also are swamped with online shoppers who are placing more orders and buying more. The average order at grocery delivery service Instacart is up 20% so far in March compared with the same period in February, the company said.

Grocery chains say they’re doing their best to keep up with the surge, including hiring more workers, but still warn shoppers could face longer-than-expected lead times or issues with out-of-stock items. Read more here. —Lauren Zumbach

10:33 a.m.: Mundelein mayor announces COVID-19 diagnosis

Mundelein Mayor Steve Lentz announced Monday he has tested positive for the new coronavirus, making him the first local official in the northern suburbs to disclose a diagnosis of COVID-19.

Lentz addressed the issue while presiding remotely over a village board meeting that was conducted entirely online. Reading from a statement, Lentz also confirmed his wife has tested positive for the virus. Read more here. —James T. Norman

10:28 a.m.: Lightfoot, suburban mayors want to ensure jail detainees are symptom-free before release

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and suburban mayors are urging county officials to ensure jail detainees do not show symptoms of COVID-19 for a certain length of time before they are released early, as authorities ramp up efforts to reduce the jail population amid the public health crisis.

“Public health considerations post-release are also relevant in this time of crisis, and must inform the individualized release determinations,” a letter from Lightfoot and other leaders stated. It was sent to Presiding Judge LeRoy Martin Jr., who on Monday signed off on a plan to increase the court’s capacity for expedited bail hearings.

The letter was signed by Lightfoot along with the heads of organizations that represent mayors in suburban Cook County.

Two jail detainees and a correctional officer have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days.

The letter also asked whether detainees would be screened for symptoms prior to release and given information on release about how to protect themselves against the virus.

Sheriff’s officials have said they are testing and treating detainees who show symptoms of the disease, and on Monday Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli said in court she is working with advocates to help educate released detainees about the virus.

The letter also expressed “great concerns” that certain detainees would be homeless upon release and hoped they would be connected with “appropriate social services organizations.” —Megan Crepeau

10:05 a.m.: 2 staff members at Lovell Federal Health Care Center test positive for COVID-19

Two staff members at North Chicago-based Lovell Federal Health Care Center tested positive over the weekend for the novel coronavirus, according to the U.S. Navy.

One of the staff members, who tested positive Sunday, works at the main Lovell hospital while the other, an active duty member of the Navy who tested positive Saturday, works at the Lovell clinic at the Navy’s Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes, according to a news release.

The two staff members are currently at home in isolation in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to mitigate further risk of transmission to other patients and staff, according to the release.

The Lovell Federal Health Care Center was established in 2010 as a partnership between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, integrating both departments’ medical care into a single facility. Its staff treats active duty military, their family members, military retirees, veterans and the nearly 40,000 who transition through the Great Lakes training command each year.

An attempt to reach a Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Tuesday morning was unsuccessful. —Emily K. Coleman

9:40 a.m. Chicago Public Schools proposes $75 million set-aside to deal with coronavirus impact

The Chicago Board of Education is due to vote Wednesday – in its first-ever remotely held meeting – on a $75 million measure to fund its coronavirus response through June 30.

The funds will support efforts ranging from facilities needs to emergency workers. Find out more about how the money would be spent here. —Hannah Leone

9:30 a.m.: Manager at Willowbrook nursing home with 46 coronavirus cases denies claims of shortages

The top official at a Willowbrook nursing home with 46 cases of coronavirus on Monday denied a claim of shortages of staff and supplies, saying efforts have been successful so far to prevent further spread of the disease.

Chateau Nursing & Rehabilitation Center did not have any more cases of the virus discovered since last week, health officials reported Monday. The 33 patients and 13 staff members who had tested positive for the virus were kept in isolation, and six residents had been taken to hospitals.

The claim of shortages at the home was raised by a nurse who worked there.

Tonya Davis, a certified nursing assistant who had worked at the home through an agency for about a year, told the Tribune that she quit recently because of the lack of protective gear and appropriate cleaning supplies.

She was tested on March 15 and found to be negative, she said, but wasn’t given sufficient protective gear.“

They didn’t (give) me anything, really,” she said. “Just gloves. My face mask, I got at another facility.” Read more here. —John Keilman, Robert McCoppin and Joe Mahr

6:50 a.m.: City offers transportation discounts, including credits for unused CTA passes and free cabs for the disabled

The city announced on Tuesday a variety of financial breaks on transportation, including discounted Divvy memberships, credits for unused CTA passes and free cab rides for passengers with disabilities, to help residents cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

To help residents who don’t need their CTA passes because they’re staying home, the transit agency is offering a prorated credit for any unused days on active 7- and 30-day passes, the city said. Customers with active Ventra passes can receive a prorated credit for any remaining days, based on when the pass was last used, the city said.

All prorated credits will transfer automatically to a cardholder’s Ventra account, to be used to buy a pass later, or to pay for CTA trips on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, the city said. Read more here. —Mary Wisniewski

5:58 a.m. Illinois settles into stay-at-home as neighboring states take patchwork of approaches

As Illinois settles into its first full week under a stay-at-home order, neighboring states are taking different approaches to the coronavirus. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order went into effect early Tuesday, while Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s order is effective at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Meanwhile, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has ordered schools and what are considered nonessential businesses to close and limited gatherings to 10 people, but has not gone the further step of ordering people to stay home. And Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has not yet ordered people to stay home, even as mayors in Johnson County, of Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty, urged their residents to stay home. —Associated Press



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