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

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday announced 2,295 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus, the highest daily case tally since May 24. The state has approached the late May number several times in recent weeks amid an uptick in statewide case counts and other coronavirus metrics compared with June and early July.

Officials also said more than 50,000 tests had been conducted during the previous 24 hours. That’s roughly twice the number that were being conducted in late May. As of Tuesday, the seven-day statewide average positivity rate was 4.4%, up from 3.9% two weeks earlier and 2.9% on July 18.

Later on Wednesday, state officials said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved an emergency use authorization for a University of Illinois-developed saliva test for COVID-19, which they characterized as a potential “game-changer” for surveillance testing.

The saliva test, which is being used at University of Illinois campuses for students and faculty members who are attending in-person classes, is less expensive, faster and requires “significantly less” raw materials than other tests, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a news briefing in Chicago with university officials.

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

8:20 p.m.: Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren says the decision to postpone fall sports ‘will not be revisited’

Facing criticism in the wake of the Big Ten postponing the fall sports season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Commissioner Kevin Warren released a statement Wednesday reiterating the conference’s decision was based on medical advice.

Warren also confirmed presidents and chancellors of Big Ten institutions voted “overwhelmingly in support” of a postponement and said the decision would “not be revisited.”

Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour cast doubt on the decision-making process earlier this week, telling reporters it was “unclear to me whether or not there was a vote.” Many presidents and chancellors, including Illinois chancellor Robert Jones, have not responded to media requests for comments about the voting process.

The Big Ten had declined to elaborate since the announcement made it the first FBS program to postpone its fall season, and Warren had not had media availability.

6 p.m.: Mary, Seat of Wisdom in Park Ridge delays school reopening after administrator becomes ill with COVID-19

A Chicago-area Catholic school has delayed the start of its school year after an administrator tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom School in Park Ridge was scheduled to open Aug. 25, but will now begin the school year on Sept. 8, according to the archdiocese. The administrator has not been at the school since early last week, and parents and staff members have been notified, the archdiocese said in a statement.

“The archdiocese takes the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, making our students’ and employees’ lives our top priority and being transparent with families and staff,” the statement read. “In conformance with public health guidance and out of an abundance of caution, we will perform a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the school building.”

The news comes as educators try to figure out how best to proceed with in-person and remote learning amid a pandemic. Unlike most public school systems in the Chicago area, which have decided to continue with remote learning this fall or open their buildings for limited in-person classes, schools in the Chicago Archdiocese will open full-time, with safety measures in place and remote learning options for parents who choose them.

5 p.m.: Dart urges Pritzker to extend eviction moratorium: ‘It would be incredibly harmful to proceed’

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday to extend the state’s eviction moratorium that’s been in place during the coronavirus pandemic, citing concerns that households need more time to catch up with rent while assistance fund applications are pending.

In a letter to Pritzker and Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, Dart urged the current Aug. 22 expiration date be postponed until all city and county rent relief grants are dispersed.

“Like you, I have been tremendously concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, not just on the health and safety of residents, but on the economic future of the entire community,” Dart wrote. “Obviously, it would be incredibly harmful to proceed with evictions when these funds are on their way to rescue so many tenants and landlords.”

Dart, whose office is in charge of enforcing evictions in Cook County, said while the current pause in evictions has helped, struggling renters remain anxious that the looming deadline on the moratorium is too soon. He wrote that waiting until the money is paid out will stop hundreds of thousands of Cook County residents from being pushed out of their apartments.

A spokeswoman for Evans said the chief judge intends to keep the deadline of the county’s eviction moratorium in line with the state’s end dates.

4:45 p.m.: Short-term rentals like Airbnb banned indefinitely in Naperville so stricter guidelines can be drafted

Naperville City Council members Tuesday voted to indefinitely ban short-term rentals like Airbnb from operating in the city until stricter guidelines can be put in place.

The ban goes into effect Sept. 1 with a 60-day grace period for rentals booked prior to Aug. 19 and scheduled to occur through Oct. 20. Those who try to skirt the ban will be fined $1,000 for the first violation and $2,500 for each subsequent violation.

The ban comes after the council discussed an ordinance earlier this month to regulate short-term rentals by making owners register their properties with the city, cap visitors at 20 people, ensure house parties are not held or advertised, and require owners to live in the residence as a permanent home for more than six months a year.

When questions were raised and opposition voiced about the proposal, council members opted instead for a ban in order to provide the time needed to come up with a regulations that satisfy residents, short-term rental property owners and elected officials.

3:50 p.m.: Metra falling further behind budget amid COVID-19 ridership decline, with cost cuts coming down the line

As the pandemic persists and people stay home in droves, Metra is falling further behind its revenue schedule.

The Chicago area’s commuter rail system upped its projected two-year budget deficit to $682.5 million at a virtual monthly board Wednesday, and warned that it will have to start cutting costs more aggressively without additional federal aid like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed in March.

“CARES funds won’t last forever,” Thomas Farmer, Metra’s chief financial officer, said during the meeting. “We must adjust costs if ridership doesn’t return soon.”

2:40 p.m.: State says FDA has given emergency use authorization for U. of I. COVID-19 saliva test

State officials said Wednesday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved an emergency use authorization for a University of Illinois-developed saliva test for COVID-19, which they characterized as a potential “game-changer” for surveillance testing.

The saliva test, which is being used at University of Illinois campuses for students and faculty members who are attending in-person classes, is less expensive, faster and requires “significantly less” raw materials than other tests, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a news briefing in Chicago with university officials.

Work is currently underway to make the test more widely available, including on other public university campuses and in K-12 schools, Pritzker said.

Nasal swabs have been the primary method for conducting coronavirus tests.

The state set a new record for tests conducted during a 24-hour period on Wednesday, with more than 50,000 tests conducted.

A day after the first Illinois region was sent backward in its reopening, Pritzker said another pair of counties are showing “troubling trends” in their COVID-19 metrics.

The state imposed additional rules for bars, restaurants and gathering sizes Tuesday in the Metro East region outside St. Louis after the region surpassed a state-set threshold for reopening.

The region that includes Kankakee and Will counties, as well as the southern Illinois region, are the two Pritzker highlighted Wednesday as those with “troubling trends,” though the majority of the state’s 11 regions as defined in Pritzker’s reopening plan have seen increasing test positivity rates.

2:35 p.m.: Time Out Market Chicago re-opens next week for first time since March

Time Out Market food hall in the West Loop announced that it plans to reopen next Wednesday, joining a trickle of bars and restaurants around the city attempting to restart service.

Time Out becomes the city’s third food hall to open since March — joining Wells St. Market, which reopened after closing for the pandemic, and Dr. Murphy’s, a new venture — when the Illinois state guidelines required across-the-board shutdowns due to the pandemic. Given the multi-vendor set-up and high level of social interactivity in food hall’s business models, the shutdown seemed like it could have a dramatic effect on these types of operations.

The 53,000-square-foot Time Out Market will reopen with new safety guidelines to handle COVID-19, plus eight returning concepts/chefs: Arami, Chef Bill Kim (Urbanbelly), Chef Brian Fisher (Entente), Dos Urban Cantina, Duck Inn Dogs, Lost Larson, Mini Mott and Pretty Cool Ice Cream. The food hall’s two bars will also be open in full.

1 p.m. Glenview library’s Youth Services Department closed after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

The Youth Services Department of the Glenview Pubic Library will be closed until further notice due to a positive coronavirus case, but the rest of the library will remain open.

Library officials announced the department closure Tuesday, saying a staff member working in the Youth Services Department recently reported testing positive for COVID-19 and that a second staff member is reporting symptoms.

“While this is unfortunate news, we are thankful that both individuals are reporting mild symptoms,” officials posted on the library website.

The staff member with an official diagnosis last worked in the library Aug. 6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Officials said they will not release employee names or personal information due to confidentiality laws.

Library officials do not believe any patrons had “close contact” with either of the individuals, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC defines close contact as being within 6 feet of someone for at least 15 minutes, with varying factors.

Still, officials recommend that anyone who has recently visited the Youth Services Department and may be feeling symptoms get tested.

12:05 p.m. (updated at 1:20 p.m.): 2,295 new known COVID-19 cases and 25 more deaths reported

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday announced 2,295 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus, the highest daily case tally since May 24.

The state has approached the late May number several times in recent weeks amid an uptick in statewide case counts and other coronavirus metrics compared with June and early July.

The state also said more than 50,000 tests had been conducted during the previous 24 hours. That’s roughly twice the number that were being conducted in late May.

The state reported a total of 3,489,571 tests conducted.

As of Tuesday, the seven-day statewide average positivity rate was 4.4%, up from 3.9% two weeks earlier and 2.9% on July 18.

The state health department also announced 25 additional deaths of people with COVID-19, raising the statewide death toll to 7,806. There have been 211,889 known cases of COVID-19 in Illinois over the course of the pandemic.

As of Tuesday night, 1,519 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in the state, with 334 of them in intensive care units and 144 patients on ventilators.

10:25 a.m.: Remote work can continue forever, consulting firm Sikich tells employees months into the coronavirus pandemic

Professional services firm Sikich will allow employees to work from home permanently and plans to shrink the size of its offices in one of the most dramatic responses to the coronavirus pandemic in Chicago.

CEO Chris Geier recently told the Chicago-based company’s more than 1,000 employees that remote work can continue “indefinitely,” as part of a reduction in real estate already envisioned before offices all but shut down in March because of COVID-19. Sikich has 307 Chicago-area employees.

In the near term, employees have been told to stay away from the office unless absolutely necessary, Geier said.

Over the next few years, Sikich plans to replace its current 14 offices throughout the country with about 30 “micro offices” that the firm’s consultants and other employees can use when they’re not working at client offices or from home, Geier said.

“This was a path we were already going down,” Geier said. “The pandemic is just accelerating it.”

Companies of all sizes are grappling with the short-term impacts of the pandemic while trying to form long-term workforce strategies. Because many leasing decisions are made months or even years before a move, the coronavirus has added a level of complexity, said Savills office tenant broker Joe Learner, who is not involved in Sikich’s plans.

8:25 a.m.: Target’s online sales surge 195%, in-store sales up 24.3%

Target reported recorded-setting sales growth online and at established stores over the past three months, more evidence that big-box retailers have become essential points of supply during the pandemic.

Online sales surged 195% and same-store sales spiked 10.9%, second-quarter growth that is unprecedented in the company’s 58-year history.

Walmart, Home Depot and now Target have reported eye-popping sales over the past three months as Americans limit their supply runs to fewer stores and do more cooking and do-it-yourself projects at home.

The shift in behavior is reshaping the retail landscape at the expense of mall-based retailers and other stores forced to close this year. Many were struggling before the pandemic because of what Americans buy and where they buy it.

The pandemic has put those retailers in further in peril.

7:40 a.m.: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris take to virtual stage on night 3 of Democratic National Convention

Democrats hoping to create a surge of enthusiasm behind Joe Biden’s presidential bid will look to Wednesday’s convention headliners to broaden the party’s focus from a multipart rebuke of President Donald Trump to a message of change.

Former President Barack Obama, a transformational figure for the Democratic Party who picked Biden as his running mate a dozen years ago, has top billing for the third night of the all-virtual Democratic National Convention, starting at 9 p.m. EDT.

Before Obama tries to tap into the broad coalition that elected him as the country’s first Black president, the lineup is set for America to hear from Sen. Kamala Harris in her first prime-time appearance as Biden’s history-making running mate. Hillary Clinton, another barrier breaker as the first female presidential nominee of any major party, will also speak.

7:35 a.m.: More south suburban schools abandon, for now, plans to bring students back to classroom

More south and southwest suburban school districts are dropping plans, at least for the foreseeable future, to try to bring students into the classroom based on new guidance from state health officials.

Elementary schools including Kirby District 140 in Tinley Park, Tinley Park District 146 and Homewood District 153 say they will now shelve hybrid learning plans that mixed in-person and remote teaching.

School officials have used terms such as “unsustainable” and “untenable” in describing updated guidelines rolled out last week by the Illinois Department of Public Health which could have students and staff exhibiting just one symptom of COVID-19 being sent home.

In a message to families Tuesday, leadership in District 153 said the “new guidelines are unattainable at this time,” and that remote learning would continue “until such time that we can meet the revised safety measures and ensure it is safe for staff and students to return to our buildings.”

6:50 a.m.: ‘Dear tooth fairy, you may already know this but there is a national coin shortage’

One of the side effects of the pandemic is a shortage of coins across the United States. Quarters, dimes and nickels aren’t circulating as freely as they usually do because many businesses have been closed and consumers aren’t out spending as much.

The problem weighed especially heavy on the 10-year-old daughter of Jen Vicker from Bollingbrook. The girl woke up with a loose tooth recently and worried the tooth fairy wouldn’t be able to pay because of the shortage.

So she wrote a note: “Dear tooth fairy, you may already know this but there is a national coin shortage in America. You usually leave me dollar coins, but until this situation is resolved, I would like cash for my teeth. I apologize for the inconvenience.”

There was no immediate word from the tooth fairy.

6:45 a.m.: Coronavirus test used by hospitals and laboratories under scrutiny by federal health officials

A widely used coronavirus test is under scrutiny after federal health officials warned it could deliver inaccurate results if laboratory technicians don’t follow the the latest updates from the manufacturer.

The Food and Drug Administration’s warning over Thermo Fisher’s TaqPath test underscores the complexity of COVID-19 tests and how easily they can be skewed by faulty processing and equipment. The FDA action follows a report last month by Connecticut public health officials that the test resulted in at least 90 people receiving false positive results for the coronavirus.

Thermo Fisher’s test is one of the standard tools used to screen for COVID-19, run on large, automated machines found in many U.S. hospitals and laboratories. The FDA flagged two separate issues that could potentially result in false results: the chemical mixing process and computer software that runs on the company’s machine. Thermo Fisher has provided new instructions for mixing. And a software update fixes the second problem, the FDA said.

For all positive results, FDA said labs should review the instrument settings.

Thermo Fisher said in a statement that its data shows the issues are rare and most users get accurate results by following company directions.

6:30 a.m.: CPS fall plan includes full days of remote and live learning, but still prompts union grievance

Chicago Public Schools had barely released its fall remote learning plan Tuesday when the Chicago Teachers Union announced it had filed grievance over the guidance that union President Jesse Sharkey said was made “without imagination or input from teachers.”

The fall plan has a stricter structure and more accountability measures than the spring, when schools were suddenly forced to figure out remote learning amid an evolving pandemic.

Under the fall framework, students in kindergarten through 12th grade will get at least three hours of live instruction from their teacher. Between that, small group activities with classmates and independent learning, the district is expecting students to “be engaged” for the entire length of a typical school day, Monday through Friday. Other expectations include daily attendance and graded assignments.

But CTU leaders said the district has not done enough to meet students’ needs and that CPS didn’t spend enough time on their remote learning plan because they so badly wanted to include in-person classes.

Here are five things that happened Tuesday related to COVID-19.


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