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

Chicago is adding Puerto Rico to its travel quarantine list, adding it to the 22 states from which people coming into the city from should remain quarantined indoors for two weeks when they arrive.

Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady announced Puerto Rico will join the travel list this Friday as she also warned of a shift in the way COVID-19 is being transmitted in Chicago, with households and social gatherings overtaking congregate settings like nursing homes and the Cook County Jail as the most dangerous situations.

Later on Tuesday, Illinois health officials announced 1,471 new known cases and 19 additional fatalities, including a teenager in Cook County. The total number of known infections in Illinois now stands at 184,712 and the statewide death toll is 7,545.

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

1:41 p.m.: Pandemic forces Open House Chicago to shift to exterior and online tours

For years, the Open House Chicago architecture festival has lured thousands of visitors with the promise of peeking behind facades and getting a look at splendid interiors, like the soaring Art Deco lobby of the Chicago Board of Trade Building.

This year will be different, a concession to the public health risks posed by COVID-19.

The Chicago Architecture Center, which runs the festival, announced Tuesday that this year’s event will offer exterior and online tours due to “the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Unless plans change, there will be no interior tours.

‘”We are not planing to coordinate or offer entry to any building,” Lynn Osmond, the center’s CEO, confirmed in an email.

As if to compensate for the loss of the event’s signature feature, the center will expand Open House Chicago to 10 days, Oct. 16-25, marking the event’s 10th anniversary. In the past, the festival was on a single weekend.

With access to interiors restricted, the event also will emphasize entire neighborhoods rather than individual buildings.

12:58 p.m.: Reputed mob boss Michael ‘the Large Guy’ Sarno wants out of prison 12 years early because of the pandemic

Reputed mob boss Michael “the Large Guy” Sarno says 10 years behind bars has reduced him to “a senior citizen with severe medical issues,” and he wants out of federal prison early because of the “deadly risk” of the pandemic.

A petition filed Monday seeks compassionate release for the 62-year-old Sarno, who was sentenced to 25 years in 2012 for ordering the bombing of a rival business in Berwyn to protect his illegal and lucrative video poker operation.

12:32 p.m.: As Americans resist COVID-19 restrictions, US nears 5 million infections

Big house parties and weddings, summer camps, concerts, crowded bars and restaurants, shopping trips without masks — Americans’ resistance to curbs on everyday life is seen as a key reason the U.S. has racked up more confirmed coronavirus deaths and infections by far than any other country.

The nation has recorded more than 155,000 dead in a little more than six months and is fast approaching an almost off-the-charts 5 million COVID-19 infections.

Some Americans have resisted wearing masks and social distancing, calling such precautions an over-the-top response or an infringement on their liberty. Public health experts say such behavior has been compounded by confusing and inconsistent guidance from politicians and a patchwork quilt of approaches to containing the scourge by county, state and federal governments.

“The thing that’s maddening is country after country and state after state have shown us how we can contain the virus,” said Dr. Jonathan Quick, who is leading a pandemic initiative for the Rockefeller Foundation. “It’s not like we don’t know what works. We do.”

The number of confirmed infections in the U.S. has topped 4.7 million, with new cases running at over 60,000 a day. While that’s down from a peak of well over 70,000 in the second half of July, cases are on the rise in 26 states, many of them in the South and West, and deaths are climbing in 35 states.

On average, the number of COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. over the past two weeks has gone from about 780 to 1,056, according to an Associated Press analysis.

12:20 p.m. (updated): 1,471 new known COVID-19 cases and 19 more deaths reported

Illinois health officials on Tuesday announced 1,471 new known cases of COVID-19 and 19 additional fatalities, including a teenager in Cook County. The total number of known infections in Illinois now stands at 184,712 and the statewide death toll is 7,545. Officials also reported 42,598 new tests in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide positivity rate is 3.9%.

12:09 p.m.: NBC Sports Chicago scales back programming amid staff layoffs due to pandemic

NBC Sports Chicago is scaling back its programming and laying off employees as part of cuts across parent company NBCUniversal, encompassing all of NBC Sports Group’s regional sports networks.

Among those let go by the channel, sources said, are host Leila Rahimi and TV part-timer Laurence Holmes as NBCSCH is reducing its original programming, focusing on White Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls games and the studio shows that complement them.

Dropped programming includes “Sports Talk Live,” the channel’s roundtable show, which remained in production through the COVID-19 pandemic with panelists appearing from their respective homes.

“Due to the ongoing economic challenges caused by the pandemic and with the need to better position NBCUniversal for the future, we have made a number of difficult decisions to achieve cost savings, including eliminating some roles across the portfolio,” NBCUniversal said in a statement.

10:55 a.m.: Allstate, Geico, Progressive among auto insurers hit with lawsuits over coronavirus relief

Allstate and other large auto insurers are facing lawsuits alleging they failed to sufficiently reduce premiums to Illinois policyholders as more drivers stay off the road during the coronavirus pandemic.

In six separate lawsuits filed in Cook County Circuit Court last week, Illinois policyholders allege insurers failed to provide “fair and appropriate” rebates and unfairly profited from high rates.

After Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order, many drivers stayed inside, and the rush hour traffic on highways diminished.

In Illinois, miles driven by motorists dropped by nearly two-thirds in the spring, according to the suits.

Each insurer offered some form of premium relief, but the suits allege it wasn’t enough to account for the drop in claims.

10:30 a.m.: One of the biggest hurdles for COVID-19 patients is breathing. Respiratory therapists help make it happen, but the field is dwindling.

They are the people who help patients awaken from sedation and take their first breath.

Often unsung in the COVID-19 crisis, respiratory therapists focus on helping people breathe — job duties include managing ventilation and artificial airways and assessing breathing challenges — and that means they play a large role in the treatment of coronavirus patients.

During normal times, their work ranges from setting up ventilators in a neonatal intensive care unit to helping someone who recently had lung surgery. These days, many are paged to help patients struggling with COVID-19, which impacts the lungs and causes issues ranging from shortness of breath to a need for a ventilator.

“This is a very respiratory virus, and causing the (respiratory therapists) right now to be the tip of the spear here,” said Rush University Medical Center respiratory therapist and associate professor Brady Scott. “We are constantly in these patients’ rooms.”

Even as they are needed to help COVID-19 patients, many respiratory therapists say people don’t understand their role. Meanwhile, the workforce is dwindling. According to the National Board for Respiratory Care, more than 125 million patient visits each year are for respiratory-related illnesses, with an aging population increasing the need. Respiratory therapist jobs are projected to grow, but the number of people entering the field is shrinking, said board CEO Lori Tinkler. COVID-19 has even brought people out of retirement, she said.

10:15 a.m.: Chicago health commissioner supports students attending class in schools if virus under control

Chicago’s health commissioner on Tuesday said she wants children learning in schools this fall “if the outbreak is broadly in control.”

Dr. Allison Arwady warned that lots of COVID-19 spread in Chicago is taking place right now within households, but said if the city’s pandemic numbers look good, she feels Chicago Public Schools can handle in-person learning safely.

”Where the child is at school wearing a mask with the social distancing, with the appropriate procedures in place, I honestly do not think the risk of spread is significant,” Arwady said at her weekly news conference about the city’s travel list. “I wouldn’t be promoting this if I thought it was.”

The advantages to children who are around each other in school are significant, Arwady said.

”I’m a pediatrician, and I feel pretty strongly that there are benefits for in-person education, especially for younger children who don’t learn well from screens, and all of the social and emotional benefits, and all of the other things we’ve talked about,” Arwady said. “But it all comes back to what that local data looks like.”

Chicago Public Schools has told parents to choose by this Friday whether they want their children to learn in school as part of a hybrid model this fall, or stay at home.

As Chicago’s positivity rate for coronavirus cases continues to rise, Arwady said “I can’t say the risk is zero, of course.”

”And again, the more our numbers are going up in Chicago, the more concern I have about this. Because as our cases increase, the risk of people having COVID, especially asymptomatic COVID, does go up,” she said.

9:30 a.m.: Puerto Rico added to city’s emergency travel order

Chicago officials added Puerto Rico to its stay-at-home list for travelers Tuesday, meaning people coming into the city from there should remain quarantined indoors for two weeks when they arrive.

Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady announced Puerto Rico will join 22 states on the travel list this Friday as she also warned of a shift in the way COVID-19 is being transmitted in Chicago, with households and social gatherings overtaking congregate settings like nursing homes and the Cook County Jail as the most dangerous situations.

Arwady said households are now “10 times the risk of any other exposures,” and recounted a series of anecdotes about Chicagoans attending social gatherings where they and others were lax about wearing masks and social distancing, then came down with the virus.

People who live with high-risk relatives should consider social distancing and wearing masks within their homes after they have potentially high-risk exposures outside the home, Arwady said.

While adding Puerto Rico to the stay-at-home list because the island now has more than 15 cases per 100,000 residents, Arwady said Iowa, Kansas and Utah are now below that threshold. If they stay under 15-per-100,00 for another week, they would get removed from the list, she said.

6 a.m.: Parents who want schools to reopen this fall say it’s a matter of choice, not politics. ‘Students’ mental health … has got to be weighed.’

When Mairin Gradek’s local schools superintendent posted a cheerful YouTube video in early July describing tentative plans to welcome students back into the classroom, the Arlington Heights mother of three was excited that more remote learning was merely an option for parents, not the whole plan.

Gradek’s optimism that her neighborhood schools would reopen this fall was also buoyed by the results of a recent School District 25 survey, which found that around 75% of parents supported either an in-person or hybrid plan, with remote learning trailing as the least popular option in third place.

But in recent days, District 25 joined a rapidly growing list of suburban school systems that have abandoned hopes of bringing kids back into the classroom at the start of the new school year.

“In my naivete, I had assumed that I didn’t have to provide public comment on this issue, because it looked like my wishes for schools to reopen were being served, and that e-learning would only be one of the options,” Gradek said. “Parents like me are seeking at least some bit of in-person learning for our kids, so I’m still praying that the district’s decision will change.”

Now, with the start of school just weeks away, many parents say they feel like they’re part of a silent majority, whose desire to have their children back in school has been pushed aside by school officials who are buckling to pressure from teachers unions.

6 a.m.: In search for COVID-19 treatments, consumer group pushes drugmaker Gilead to test alternative to remdesivir

The pharmaceutical company that makes remdesivir — the only medication that has emergency authorization to fight COVID-19 — should also be conducting human trials on a related drug with strong potential, according to a citizen advocacy group that believes the alternative could be more effective, less expensive and easier to produce.

Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen sent a letter dated Tuesday to the CEO of Gilead Sciences and top federal regulators, urging the company and the government to work together to move forward with clinical trials of the drug “or publicly provide evidence why it is not scientifically or medically feasible to develop this drug in parallel with its close analogue, remdesivir.”

Failing either of those options, the company should “release permission so other researchers can pursue it,” said Public Citizen health researcher Michael Abrams, who crafted the letter. The nonprofit group, founded by Ralph Nader, has long advocated for greater corporate responsibility.

Officials from Public Citizen, joined by two drug researchers from Texas, suggested in the letter “there are significant financial incentives” for Gilead to stick with remdesivir over the lesser-known drug, known only as GS-441524.

Specifically, the patent on GS-441524 dates to around 2009, compared with remdesivir about five years later, meaning that Gilead has exclusive rights to produce remdesivir further into the future. Remdesivir is an expensive drug, priced at $390 per dose, which comes to $2,340 for each patient treated over the course of five days.

Gilead spokesman Chris Ridley said the decision to move forward with remdesivir was based on “available evidence” indicating that remdesivir generated more of a key virus-fighting molecule and was more effective against the new coronavirus than the other drug.

Here are five stories from Monday related to COVID-19:


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