COVID-19 in Illinois updates: Here’s what’s happening Wednesday

Later on Wednesday, the Illinois High School Association put the football season on ice due to continuing concerns surrounding the pandemic. According to a new plan introduced by the IHSA, there will be a streamlined football season from Feb. 15 to May 1. The only fall sports in 2020 the IHSA plans to conduct are boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls swimming.

Pritzker also announced that youth sports and adult recreational leagues in Illinois will be further limited under stricter state rules in an effort to slow the spread of the virus after outbreaks of the illness have been tied to organized sports. The new guidelines apply to school sports, travel teams, private and recreational leagues and clubs, and park district programs, but not to professional and collegiate sports.

Here’s what’s happening Wednesday regarding COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:

6 p.m.: Local Catholic school students face a tough choice: a full return to in-person instruction or remote learning, possibly by an outside vendor

With the start of classes just about a month away, many parents at Chicago-area Catholic schools are facing a tough decision: commit their children to five days of in-person instruction, or opt for more e-learning, possibly conducted by a third-party vendor.

The Archdiocese of Chicago announced reopening plans for its school system in early July, calling for a full return to in-person classes, paired with safety measures like that include face coverings and daily temperature checks.

Any families who aren’t comfortable sending their students back to the classrooms will have the option to continue remote learning, said Jim Rigg, superintendent of archdiocesan schools, which combined have more than 70,000 students in Cook and Lake counties. But as of Wednesday officials had not finalized any remote learning plans.

As in the public schools, plans to restart in-person instruction have been met with a range of reactions: Some families are pleased to see schools fully reopening with public health protocols in place. Other teachers and parents contacted by the Tribune said they have serious concerns about the safety of in-person instruction and what they see as insufficient options for remote learning.

5:21 p.m.: Coronavirus aid package talks stalemate as Trump scorns relief for cash-strapped cities

President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed Democratic demands for aid to cash-strapped cities in a new coronavirus relief package and lashed out at Republican allies as talks stalemated over assistance for millions of Americans.

Republicans, beset by delays and infighting, signaled a willingness to swiftly approve a modest package to prevent a $600 weekly unemployment benefit from expiring Friday. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., roundly rejected that approach as meager, all but forcing Republicans back to the negotiating table.

“As of now, we’re very far apart,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the White House’s top negotiator.

Stark differences remain between the $3 trillion proposal from Democrats and $1 trillion counter from Republicans putting aid for millions of communities at risk. Money for states and cites is a crucial dividing line as local governments plead for help to shore up budgets and prevent deeper municipal layoffs as they incur COVID-19 costs and shutdown economies.

Trump complained about sending “big bailout money” to the nation’s cities, whose mayors he often criticizes.

“It’s a shame to reward badly run radical left Democrats with all of this money they’re looking for,” he said at the White House.

Democrats proposed nearly $1 trillion for the local governments, but Trump and Republicans are resisting sending the states and cities more cash.

Instead, the GOP offers states flexibility to more broadly use an earlier $150 billion allotment that had been restricted to virus-only needs. At one point this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said states could just declare bankruptcy.

Governors and mayors who have been urging Congress for help, warned the failure to act would hit hard in local communities.

4:43 p.m.: US death toll from the coronavirus hits 150,000 

As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight for the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, whose death toll in the U.S. hit 150,000 Wednesday, by far the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Over a half-million people have died in the rest of the world.

3:40 p.m.: Navy Pier lays off employees amid COVID-19 slowdown

When Navy Pier reopened to the public June 10, it was early to do so among Chicago attractions, but it was also in a limited fashion.

Parking in the pier garage, normally an arm and a leg, was reduced to free or, in the metaphor, zero body parts. Indoor spaces and attractions like the Chicago Children’s Museum and Shakespeare Theater remained closed. The carousel did not whirl and the Ferris wheel did not spin.

Those mostly unavoidable compromises appear to have taken their toll. The pier this week laid off 11 administrative workers and 9 tradespeople, or more than 25 percent of full-time staff, President and CEO Marilynn Gardner said, amid a general economic malaise at the popular tourist destination.

There are essentially no tourists.

“Since reopening, we’ve been fortunate to welcome 335,000 people, but that’s compared to 2.4 million last year” in the same time period, said Gardner. “That’s 14 percent.”

3:34 p.m.: IHSA pushes football, some other fall sports to spring 2021

The long wait regarding the fate of high school football this fall is over. The decision? The kids will have to wait longer to take the field.

The Illinois High School Association on Wednesday put the football season — at least in the traditional sense — on ice due to continuing concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a new plan introduced by the IHSA, there will be a streamlined football season from Feb. 15 to May 1.

The only fall sports in 2020 the IHSA plans to conduct, starting Aug. 10 and ending Oct. 17, are boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls swimming.

2:51 p.m.: Two large Illinois teachers unions threaten ‘health and safety strikes’ without adequate school COVID protections

Illinois teachers and other school employees could strike if school districts implement in-person learning without meeting safety measures outlined by government entities or medical professionals, two of the largest teachers unions in the state in a joint statement Wednesday.

The Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers — representing around 238,000 employees in public and private schools, colleges and universities in the state, including Chicago Public Schools teachers — said they will pursue whatever means necessary to ensure that schools have adequate safety protections.

“No avenue or action is off the table — the courts, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board – nothing, including health and safety strikes,” the statement said.

2:28 p.m.: Traveling outside Illinois? Chicago residents must quarantine after visiting 22 states. Here’s what you need to know to avoid a large fine.

Vacations, rarely cheap, soon could get a whole lot more expensive for rule-bucking Chicago residents.

According to an order from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s health department, those who travel to any of the 22 states deemed a COVID-19 risk must implement a mandatory two-week quarantine upon their return or face hefty fines. The original order, which named 15 states where COVID-19 cases were spiking, was announced right before the long Fourth of July holiday weekend, catching off-guard many Chicagoans who already made plans to travel out of state.

Lightfoot’s administration Tuesday added Wisconsin, as well as three other states, to the list of 22 states considered risky enough to warrant self-quarantine because they had an average of more than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 resident population over a rolling seven-day period. Any state that in the previous week had an infection rate greater than that will be added to the evolving list each Tuesday and the emergency travel order goes into effect the newly-added states the following Friday.

1:58 p.m.: Pritzker warns of a possible ‘reversal’ as COVID-19 numbers rise

Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned on Wednesday that Illinois could be headed for a “reversal” in its reopening as the state continues to see a resurgence in coronavirus case numbers, and he called on residents to “defend our progress.”

If the trend continues or worsens, it could mean clamping back down in regions of the state on business restrictions, gatherings or even a return to a stay-at-home order, which Pritzker initially imposed in March, but since eased.

“We’ve made progress in Illinois, but we’ve also seen that it can be fleeting. And right now things are not headed in the right direction. I want to remind everyone that it doesn’t take long at all for a trajectory of success to turn into rising hospitalizations and deaths,” Pritzker said. “And if things don’t change, a reversal is where we’re headed.”

1:41 p.m.: Wendella suspends Chicago Water Taxi service for the rest of the year

Wendella Sightseeing Co. suspended its Chicago Water Taxi service for the rest of the year after determining its coronavirus restrictions wouldn’t work for the bright yellow commuter boats.

Since resuming its tour boat operations last month, Wendella put in place various safety measures like requiring guests to wear a face covering, not accepting cash transactions, limiting seating capacity and installing hand sanitizer stations on all its vessels. It also requires employees to wear face masks and gloves, and takes their temperatures when they arrive to work, according to Wendella’s website.

But those same safety measures aren’t practicable for Chicago Water Taxi boats, which carry commuters during rush hour around the Loop, because it would be hard to clean the boats at each stop, said Andrew Sargis, chief of operations for Chicago Water Taxi.

1:37 p.m.: Sketchbook Brewing launches ambitiously in Skokie on Friday in shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic

Sketchbook Brewing is betting big on itself. It is betting big on Skokie.

Rather than hope to pack in upward of 280 people when its sprawling 4,000-square-foot taproom opens Friday at 4901 Main St., Sketchbook will restrict capacity to 50. Tables will be spaced well more than 6 feet apart.

A pandemic was miles from anyone’s consciousness when Sketchbook began looking two years ago to expand beyond its original location in neighboring Evanston.

But pandemic or not, Sketchbook co-founders Cesar Marron and Shawn Decker are optimistic that boosting production, and doing it more cheaply due to increased scale, will serve modern times well. Canned beer sales have skyrocketed since people have mostly stayed home in recent months.

But COVID-19 has also injected uncertainty. The vision of having customers linger for hours over beers, games and conversation is in peril — at least in the short term.

“There was no way we could suddenly change our plans,” Decker said. “We’re just hoping that the business model is robust enough to survive.”

1:27 p.m.: As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, misinformation on the coronavirus is proving highly contagious

As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight to the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry that the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, which has been blamed for about 150,000 deaths in the U.S. and over a half-million more around the world.

“It is a real challenge in terms of trying to get the message to the public about what they can really do to protect themselves and what the facts are behind the problem., said Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

He said the fear is that “people are putting themselves in harm’s way because they don’t believe the virus is something they have to deal with.”

1:25 p.m.: Inside Eddie Goldman’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns

After the initial gut punch, after the natural disappointment and the sudden concern for how Eddie Goldman’s decision will affect one of the NFL’s top defenses, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace quickly found his way to acceptance. So did coach Matt Nagy.

Both men were bummed to learn of Goldman’s surprise decision this week to opt out of the 2020 season because of concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the Bears wanted to make certain Goldman had thought through everything, detailing for him all the changes to Halas Hall and the precautions the organization is taking to safeguard their work environment, in the end they had to respect his choice.

“You just recognize this is personal for everyone,” Pace said Wednesday morning. “And you’re just very respectful and supportive of that decision. Both Matt and I talked to Eddie. We relayed that to him. Eddie is an important part of our team and our family. And we’re going to welcome him back at the appropriate time.”

Added Nagy: “We completely support him. I think that’s very important for everybody to understand. And he knew that right away. We told him we support him.”

12:30 p.m.: Pritzker lays out new restrictions on youth sports

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that his administration is further restricting youth and adult recreational sports, after COVID-19 outbreaks have been tied to organized sports leagues.

Pritzker’s administration is releasing new guidance that classify sports as low, medium and higher risk, depending on the level of contact between participants, and potential for coronavirus transmission, involved.

The new restrictions do not include professional or collegiate-level sports. The new state guidance includes school-based sports, private and recreational leagues and park district sports programs.

”With rising rates of spread of the virus, with rising positivity rates throughout Illinois and the entire United States, this is a situation where the toughest choice is also the safest choice,” Pritzker said Wednesday at a news briefing in Chicago.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday announced 1,393 new confirmed cases of coronavirus statewide, and 18 additional deaths. The statewide totals now stand at 175,124 cases and 7,462 deaths since the pandemic began.

12:25 p.m.: Chicago food pantries anticipate more need as unemployment benefits end: ‘It’s been a roller coaster’

With a federal supplement to unemployment benefits expiring and no guarantee of another coronavirus relief package as unemployment remains high, Chicago residents will keep needing food. Local pantries are bracing for it.

“We’re going to see a bad situation get a lot worse here in the next few weeks,” said Greg Trotter, spokesperson for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “The need is still just as high as we’ve ever seen it.”

Most food banks affiliated with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Northern Illinois Food Bank have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic. But some locations were forced to close as food prices increased, older volunteers could no longer work and churches closed buildings.

About 75% of food pantries are open as part of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a network of more than 700 food programs in Cook County. The Northern Illinois Food Bank, which supplies food through about 900 programs in other Chicago-area counties, has at least 90% of its food pantries open. About 70% of its soup kitchens are open, a lower number because of social distancing guidelines.

11:15 a.m.: State Board of Elections’ Springfield office closes after staff member tests positive for COVID-19, several others show symptoms

The Illinois State Board of Elections closed its Springfield office Tuesday for at least a week after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, according to an agency spokesperson.

The board was notified Sunday that a staff member was showing coronavirus symptoms and had been tested after coming into contact with someone infected with it, the Illinois Times first reported. Test results came back positive Tuesday, which is when the office decided to close until at least Aug. 7, according to Matt Dietrich, a state board spokesperson.

Several other staff members began showing symptoms on Monday and Tuesday and have been tested, Dietrich said in an email.”

Pending those results, we are initiating procedures to have the office disinfected and thoroughly cleaned prior to staff returning to the office,” he said.

8:30 a.m.: How a German company with US headquarters in Chicago is tracking players’ daily interactions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in team facilities

After Bears players are cleared with three negative COVID-19 test results this week, they will enter Halas Hall for the first time this year.

But before they can dress at their socially distanced lockers each day for training camp, they will stop at a station to pick up a new piece of equipment that will be used during all team activities this summer.

The device is a proximity recorder made by Kinexon, a German company that operates its U.S. headquarters in the Chicago Loop. The system, called SafeZone, will assist NFL teams with physical distancing and contact tracing initiatives as they try to prevent the coronavirus from spreading through their facilities.

All team personnel will wear the lightweight SafeTag sensors on a wristband or lanyard within the facility and during team travel, and players will also have them in their jerseys during practices.

6:53 a.m.: Illinois High School Association expected to announce decision on high school sports

Illinois high school athletes were expected to learn Wednesday whether fall sports seasons will be played in the sate.

The Illinois High School Association announced last week that its regularly scheduled Board of Directors meeting would be postponed until Wednesday. Before the meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, IHSA officials planned to discuss their plans with leaders from the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education.

“We expect this meeting will provide important guidance on how the IHSA will proceed with fall sports,” Craig Anderson, the IHSA’s executive director, said last week.

Dealing with coronavirus safety concerns remains the top priority, according to the IHSA.

Check back for updates on the IHSA’s decision.

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