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Latest coronavirus news for May 19, 2020: Live updates
Here’s what we know today about the continuing spread of coronavirus and its ripple effects in Chicago and Illinois.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times

As some Illinois religious leaders push to reopen churches amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new Center for Disease Control report, released Tuesday, underscores the risk for widespread transmission of the contagious pathogen at group gatherings.

A 57-year-old pastor and his 56-year-old wife attended several church events in Arkansas in early March before the couple experienced symptoms of the coronavirus, including fevers, coughing and shortness of breath, in the following days, according to the CDC report. The pair ultimately became the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their rural county of about 25,000 residents, the report said.

The CDC ultimately found that 35 of the 92 attendees at those early March church events tested positive for the virus. The outbreak resulted in seven hospitalizations and three deaths, the report said.

Through contract tracing, the Arkansas Department of Health found 26 additional coronavirus cases and another death among community members who reported having contact with the churchgoers, according to the CDC report.

“Faith-based organizations should work with local health officials to determine how to implement the U.S. Government guidelines for modifying activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent transmission of the virus to their members and their communities,” the CDC study recommended in the report.

Over the weekend, several Illinois religious institutions flouted the state’s stay-at-home order and held services which welcomed dozens of worshippers.

Metro Praise International Church in Belmont Cragin, a neighborhood which has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, planned to welcome up to 60 people to each of its three Sunday services, far more than the 10 congregants allowed under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s revised order.

“We can gather and spread our hope, our love, our religion without interference from the government. And so 35 miles right now to Indiana — Hammond, just think of it like an extension of Indiana — this is not illegal,” pastor Joseph Wyrostek said. “This is perfectly fine.

“Now, people keep saying well that’s not the same thing as the infection rate, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. What is an infection rate, anyway? It’s people spreading a virus. A virus will get spread one way or another.”

— Madeline Kenney and Tom Schuba


News

9:12 p.m. Judge dismisses lawsuit against DCFS seeking reinstatement of in-person visitation during coronavirus pandemic

Parents of children in protective custody lost a legal fight that sought to compel the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to reinstate in-person visitation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Caroline Moreland Tuesday dismissed the lawsuit filed by the public defender’s office on behalf of four mothers who said their rights to equal protection under the Constitution were being violated by the indefinite suspension of in-person visits with their children.

Moreland pointed in her ruling that all the plaintiffs had pending emergency motions in their individual cases to deal with visitation.

The court also sided with DCFS, saying the Child Protection Act allows state officials the right to immediately suspend the visits in the interest of a child’s health and well-being.

All four women have pending child abuse cases in the Juvenile Court’s Child Protection Division, according to court records.

DCFS, in March, stopped supervised in-person visits to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so those women and many others have only been allowed to speak with their children by phone or see them on video conferencing calls.

Read the full report from Matthew Hendrickson here.

7:33 p.m. ‘Pro-Trump’ doctors sought to push rapid reopening of economy

Republican political operatives are recruiting “pro-Trump” doctors to go on television to prescribe reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet safety benchmarks proposed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The plan was discussed in a May 11 conference call with a senior staffer for the Trump reelection campaign organized by CNP Action, an affiliate of the GOP-aligned Council for National Policy. A leaked recording of the hour-long call was provided to The Associated Press by the Center for Media and Democracy, a progressive watchdog group.

CNP Action is part of the Save Our Country Coalition, an alliance of conservative think tanks and political committees formed in late April to end state lockdowns implemented in response to the pandemic. Other members of the coalition include the FreedomWorks Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council and Tea Party Patriots.

A resurgent economy is seen as critical to boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection hopes and has become a growing focus of the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence.

Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director, confirmed to AP that an effort to recruit doctors to publicly support the president is underway, but declined to say when the initiative would be rolled out.

Read the full report here.

6:53 p.m. Ford tour gives Trump another chance not to wear publicly required face mask

DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. has told the White House that it requires everyone in its factories to wear face masks to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, but it’s not clear whether President Donald Trump will wear one when he visits a Detroit-area plant Thursday.

Trump, who is scheduled to tour a factory repurposed to make medical breathing machines near Detroit, has habitually refused to wear a mask at the White House and in recent public appearances.

In a statement, Ford said its policy requires everyone in factories to wear personal protective equipment, including masks, and that policy had been shared with the White House. When asked if the company would require Trump to wear the equipment, spokeswoman Rachel McCleery said, “The White House has its own safety and testing policies in place and will make its own determination.”

Trump didn’t give a definite answer when questioned at the White House Tuesday, saying it would depend on how close he gets to others.

Read the full report here.

5:59 p.m. Judge dismisses lawsuit against DCFS seeking reinstatement of in-person visitation during coronavirus pandemic

Parents of children in protective custody lost a legal fight that sought to compel the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to reinstate in-person visitation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Caroline Moreland Tuesday dismissed the lawsuit filed by the public defender’s office on behalf of four mothers who said their rights to equal protection under the Constitution were being violated by the indefinite suspension of in-person visits with their children.

Read the full story here.

4:40 p.m. National high school sports federation announces guidelines for ‘opening up’ athletics

The National Federation of State High School Associations has released a set of guidelines for state associations to follow as they consider opening up high school athletics during the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines don’t mention any specific timelines, but are very specific about what should happen in each of its three phases. The Illinois High School Association has traditionally followed NFHS recommendations very closely.

The NFHS guidelines recommend that “state, local or school district guidelines for cloth face coverings should be strictly followed” and says that cloth face coverings should be worn by students during Phase 1 and Phase 2 of its plan. Exceptions will be made for swimming, distance running and other high intensity aerobic activity.

Read the full story on NFHS guidelines by Michael O’Brien here.

4:05 p.m. 146 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, but state still on track for next stage of reopening

Another 146 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois, officials said Tuesday, as medical statistics from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office showed all parts of the state are on track to see more restrictions lifted come May 29.

Illinois had recorded three straight days of fewer than 100 coronavirus deaths each, but the latest figure raised the state’s death toll to 4,379.

There were 1,545 new cases reported, bringing the state’s total to 98,030. The state received 18,443 tests results, with a running positivity rate of about 8.3% as the virus remains in 100 of 102 counties.

With the clock ticking until the end of Pritzker’s extended stay-at-home order May 29, many Illinoisans are itching to see more reopenings. Pritzker was set to discuss hospital metrics attached to the four regions in his reopening plan.

Read the full story by Tina Sfondeles here.

3:34 p.m. Puerto Rican fest and parade canceled

The annual Puerto Rican festival and parade has been canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The four-day festival, which highlights the Puerto Rican community in Chicago, was set for June 18-21 in Humboldt Park. It will be pushed back to June 17-20, 2021, according to a statement from the organizers.

“Now that where we live has become the place with the most people affected by the virus in the United States, it would be irresponsible for us to host an outdoor festival that exceeds 100,000 in attendance,” the statement read.

— John Silver

2:35 p.m. Churches’ reopening plan: take temperatures at the door, hand out masks and administer COVID-19 tests

“People need to have some hope in the midst of all of the things that they’re hearing,” said Rev. Floyd James of Greater Rock Missionary Baptist Church. “This is our calling. We were called into the work to be concerned for the least, the less and the lost.”

Rev. Robin Hood of Redeemed Outreach Ministries said “church is the household of God” but in areas where COVID-19 is spreading the “church has to be smart and safe” in protecting its congregation.

It’s unclear if every storefront church in the city would be capable of carrying out the plans, which include giving every congregant hand sanitizer, gloves and a mask upon entering the church.

Hood said they would also run two temperature tests at the door, using two different devices.

Read the full story by Manny Ramos here.

2:10 p.m. Madigan to make masks a must? Speaker seeks to have bare-faced members booted from session

With a Downstate legislator planning to show up bare-faced to the first General Assembly session since the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic hit, state House Speaker Michael Madigan on Tuesday proposed new rules requiring all members, staffers and observers to wear masks.

Anyone not adhering to those rules would be “asked to leave the premises immediately.”

Madigan previously asked House members to follow safety precautions recommended by the Illinois Department of Public Health, which also include submitting to temperature checks and following social distancing guidelines.

But with state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, insisting he’ll show up maskless to make a point to “Chicago legislators” at the session — the first ever held outside the state Capitol Building, to allow for distancing — Madigan said the rules will be formalized to prevent “needless distractions.”

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout here.

11:35 a.m. COVID-19 death toll in Cook County surpasses 3,000

Cook County marked a grim milestone Tuesday as the medical examiner’s office announced that COVID-19 deaths surpassed 3,000.

Officials said an additional 79 people died from the coronavirus, pushing the county’s death toll to 3,055, according to a statement from Cook County spokeswoman Natalia Derevyanny.

Statewide, there have been 4,234 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The state is reporting 96,485 total positive cases of the disease.

Cook County accounts for 72% of the state’s coronavirus deaths, even though the county comprises 40% of the Illinois’ population.

Read the full story here.

11:04 a.m. Federal Reserve chairman says new lending programs to launch by June 1

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the Fed’s lending programs for medium-sized businesses and state and local governments would begin operating by the end of this month.

Powell said that while the Fed has received a “good deal of interest” in those programs, if not enough companies or state and local governments seek to borrow, the Fed would consider changes to them. That could include expanding their eligibility.

The chairman’s comments came before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which held an oversight hearing on the $2 trillion federal relief package approved in late March. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is also testifying about the Treasury’s role in the government’s emergency relief programs.

Read the full story here.

9:46 a.m. County forest preserves to close more parking lots for Memorial Day weekend: ‘Enjoy the natural world in your backyard’

The Cook County Forest Preserves officials announced Monday that they plan to close additional parking lots for the Memorial Day weekend in an effort to curb crowding.

Dan Ryan Woods and Schiller Woods will join a list of six sites that have already seen their parking lots closed over the weeends due to concerns about social distancing and other public health guidelines.

The parking lots at the other six preserves — Busse Woods, Maple Lake, Saganashkee Slough, Catherine Chevalier Woods, LaBagh Woods and Bunker Hill — were already closed Fridays through Sundays in April and will remain closed on Memorial Day itself, a statement from the county agency said.

In that statement, Arnold Randall, forest preserves general superintendent, said Memorial Day is a “time when we pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country” — but this year that tribute might look different.

“As an unofficial start to summer, the holiday is always one of our busiest weekends in the Forest Preserves,” Randall’s statement reads in part. “This year, that’s not a safe way to celebrate. We hope that with Memorial Day at Home, our patrons will find other creative ways to honor the fallen and to be with family.”

Read the full story here.

7:17 a.m. Illinois to get over $286 million in federal funding to increase COVID-19 testing, conduct contact tracing

Federal officials announced Monday that over $10 billion in new funding is now being delivered to states, territories and localities to bolster coronavirus testing efforts and conduct contact tracing, including over $286 million for Illinois.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is doling out the $10.25 billion drawn from the Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Another $750 million will be provided to tribal and urban Indian health programs through the Indian Health Service.

The influx of funding “will provide critical support to develop, purchase, administer, process, and analyze COVID-19 tests, conduct surveillance, trace contacts and related activities,” the HHS said.

In receiving Illinois’ $286,317,362 in new funding, Gov. J.B. Pritzker must submit a testing plan to HHS that includes goals for the remainder of the year.

Read the full report by Tom Schuba here.

6:26 a.m. Trump taking anti-malaria drug in case he catches coronavirus

President Donald Trump said Monday that he is taking a malaria drug to lessen symptoms should he get the new coronavirus, even though the drug is unproven for fighting COVID-19.

Trump told reporters he has been taking the drug, hydroxychloroquine, and a zinc supplement daily “for about a week and a half now.” Trump spent weeks pushing the drug as a potential cure for COVID-19 against the cautionary advice of many of his administration’s top medical professionals. The drug has the potential to cause significant side effects in some patients and has not been shown to combat the new coronavirus.

Trump said his doctor did not recommend the drug to him, but he requested it from the White House physician.

“I started taking it, because I think it’s good,” Trump said. “I’ve heard a lot of good stories.”

He dismissed reports of side effects, saying, “All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK.”

Read the full report here.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

2:06 p.m. I risk COVID-19 to clean downtown offices. What’s Congress doing for people like me?

COVID-19 has made it clearer than ever that we are closely interconnected. Only by pulling together and meeting the needs of all workers — black, white, brown, immigrant, native-born — can we all get through this crisis.

Many essential workers are immigrants and people of color and it’s not an option for us to work from home or shelter in place. I face the fear and head to work every day so that others can work in a clean, sanitized space.

The public is grateful for our sacrifice, but it’s time leaders in Congress turn the gratitude for essential workers into tangible support in the next stimulus bill. We need essential pay, personal protective equipment and payroll protection.

Read the full commentary by Urszula Przybys, a member of SEIU Local 1, here.

9:39 a.m. With careful planning, we can resume essential religious gatherings

In a letter to the Sun-Times editors, Edward R. Kantowicz from Chicago writes:

Cardinal Blase Cupich (and other religious leaders) should pick up the phone and tell the governor he was wrong to omit religious services from the list of essential services. Even if no policy changes are made, this symbolic point must be insisted upon.

However, some easy policy changes could be made. If big-box stores can space out customers to keep social distance, so can churches. Ushers can make certain that every other pew remains empty and that only members of one household sit in each pew. Hand-shaking and hugging can be omitted.

For sharing Holy Communion, the priest or minister can carefully place sacred hosts on an altar table and the congregation can file up, six feet apart, and each take one sacred host. A health precaution would thus become a sacred ritual.

What about it, Cardinal Cupich? Pick up the phone. Insist that religion is essential and work out a reasonable and healthful plan for worship.

Read this and more letters here.

7:08 a.m. Closing streets for outdoor dining with safe social distancing? Sounds like a plan

We’re going outdoors.

We’re going to do it safely, respecting the rules of social distancing.

We’re going to avoid crowds and keep a healthy six feet or more from anybody we’re not living with, including friends. We’re not going to share food or forks or beverages if we have a picnic.

But we’re going outdoors — a whole lot more than we have been.

There’s a growing consensus among the experts that the risks of contracting or spreading the coronavirus are acceptably low outdoors if the proper precautions are taken. It’s safer than going back to the office or walking in a mall, and it’s a great deal safer than crowding into bars like people are doing in Wisconsin.

The challenge for government is to find creative ways to support our safe, socially distanced emergence from the cocoons of our homes. Along those lines, we’re intrigued by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s apparent plan to close streets so that restaurants can spread out.

Read the Sun-Times’ full editorial here.



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