Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot or other officials will be streamed in the video player above.
Coronavirus cases are rising steadily in Illinois, though the state appears to be "holding its own" in the pandemic while neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin have set records following sharp spikes in cases, an NBC 5 Investigates analysis has found.
Chicago updated its emergency order requiring a 14-day quarantine for anyone traveling to the city or returning from several states, issuing a warning to Indiana.
Meanwhile, students have returned to the classroom in some suburban communities, while members of the Chicago Teachers Union are urging Chicago Public Schools to extend remote learning, citing a recent ruling from an arbitrator who found CPS can't guarantee safety for employees.
Here are the latest updates from across Illinois on the coronavirus pandemic today (Oct. 6):
Illinois Reports 1,617 New Coronavirus Cases, 32 Additional Deaths Tuesday
Illinois health officials on Tuesday reported 1,617 new coronavirus cases and 32 additional deaths over the last 24 hours.
According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Tuesday's figures bring the state’s total to 305,011 cases and 8,836 deaths since the pandemic began.
Illinois health officials said 49,513 new tests were returned to state laboratories over the last 24 hours. Those tests put the state’s rolling seven-day positivity rate at 3.4%, level with the day before.
Hospitalizations in the state ticked up slightly again on Tuesday, with 1,673 patients currently hospitalized statewide. Of those patients, 384 were in intensive care units, and 159 were on ventilators.
Chicago Removes 2 States and Adds 1 to Coronavirus Travel Order, Issues Warning for Indiana
The city of Chicago on Tuesday removed two states, added one and placed Indiana on a warning list for the city's emergency travel order requiring a 14-day quarantine.
Chicago health officials removed Georgia and Texas from the list and added Alaska, the city said in a statement.
The travel order now covers 22 states and territories: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Travelers entering or returning to Chicago from "states experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases" will need to quarantine "for a 14-day period from the time of last contact within the identified state" under the order, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady says. Essential workers could be exempt from the quarantine requirement, however, as long as their employer certifies their work in writing.
States are added to the list if they have "a case rate greater than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 resident population, per day, over a 7-day rolling average." If they fall below that threshold, they could be removed as well.
The city also issued a warning that Indiana has surpassed the threshold for inclusion and will be added to the list next week if the state cannot bring down its daily average number of cases. It was not added this week to "allow residents enough time to plan travel to this border state," the city said.
Chicago's travel order, which began on July 6, is evaluated every Tuesday, with any additions taking effect the following Friday.
Last week, Chicago health officials added four states to the list: Kentucky, Wyoming, Texas, and Nevada. Wisconsin was one of several locations added to the order two weeks ago, along with Montana, Idaho, Minnesota and Puerto Rico.
Arwady said before adding Wisconsin that the state was "currently in very poor control when it comes to COVID," adding that the state had more than double the 15 average daily cases per 100,000 residents that is the threshold to be named on Chicago's travel order.
That number has continued to climb, as has the positivity rate, sitting at 17.3% as of Monday.
Under the Chicago travel order guidelines, those traveling to or from Wisconsin for work and those traveling through the state for travel will not need to quarantine, Arwady said. Those traveling to the state for leisure, however, even for less than 24 hours, will need to quarantine, she said.
The order is set to remain in effect until further notice.
Illinois Coronavirus Cases Steadily Rising as Neighboring States Set COVID-19 Records
Illinois appears to be "holding its own" in the fight against the coronavirus while neighboring states such as Indiana and Wisconsin have set records following a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in recent days, an NBC 5 Investigates analysis found.
In Illinois, cases have risen fairly steadily to the point where last week, the state's daily average new caseload topped the 2,000 mark once again.
But in Indiana and Wisconsin, where cases appear to be out of control, average daily coronavirus rates are far higher than they ever were when the pandemic first hit its peak in early May.
In Illinois and Chicago, cases never reached those original peak levels, but in the state as a whole, cases are beginning to inch closer to the May peak. Back then, when cases were raging across the state, Illinois reached a record average high of 2,565 cases per day.
By mid-June, however, Illinois accomplished a major feat as new cases fell all the way down to 596 average daily cases on June 18, according to the analysis.
Chicago has fared better than the state as a whole, and much, much better than neighboring states. Lately, the city’s trendline of daily cases has been rising slightly.
As of Monday, the city reported an average of 325 new coronavirus cases per day – which is less than a third the level of average cases the city saw when the pandemic peaked in Chicago on May 4.
There is reason for concern when it comes to Illinois' daily coronavirus-related deaths, which are averaging 27 fatalities a day.
That trendline has been slowly rising since mid-August, when the city reported an average of 13 deaths per day – so – if this trend continues – the average daily death rate in Illinois has now doubled from its low point seven weeks ago.
Lightfoot to Make Announcement on Chicago's Mental Health Services
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is expected to make an announcement about the city's "investments in mental health services" on Tuesday, according to her public schedule.
Lightfoot, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, 6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer and other city leaders will make the announcement at 1:45 p.m. at City Hall, her office said.
The news conference can be watched live in the video player above.
Elmhurst Students React to Their Return to In-Person Learning
District 205 students in west suburban Elmhurst are now all back in their classrooms with the return of eighth graders, juniors and seniors to schools on Monday.
Students in other grades began returning to school buildings in September.
Superintendent Dr. Dave Moyer said he thinks District 205 did the right thing by bringing back students in shifts.
“I think that that’s given us an ability to make sure that we have the proper systems in place,” Moyer said.
Students told NBC 5 it is good to be back in the classroom.
“It’s nice being in school to actually see your teacher for the first time,” said freshman Adam Fennell.
However, the learning environment is quite different than students are used to experiencing.
“There’s going to be a lot of social distancing. You’re not going to be able to talk to your friends a whole lot because you’re gonna have to keep moving in the hallway,” said sophomore Connor Hess. “But it’s a lot better, more fun and it’s nice to be back in school.”
District 205 is operating on a hybrid model. High school students, for example, are learning at home some days of the week and they are at school for five hours on other days of the week.
“Our kids have been great following the social distancing guidelines in the hallways, following our procedures and protocols in the classroom and for a first day back with all our kids, they did an amazing job,” said York High School principal Shahe Bagdasarian.
The Elmhurst Teachers Council said it is happy that students are back, but it has concerns it would like addressed.
“A student or a teacher could be symptomatic and yet it might take one or two days to find out the results of the COVID test,” said ETC president Max Schoenberg. “In the meantime, the close contacts are not notified.”
In response, the district issued a statement reading in part:
"The safety of both staff members and students is very important to us. D205 follows IDPH guidelines and respects medical privacy when making notifications to staff and families.”
The district also said teachers deserve a lot of credit and are getting better at teaching in multiple ways simultaneously.
Arbitrator Rules CPS Schools Unsafe for Workers, Union Pushes for E-Learning Extension
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union on Monday urged Chicago Public Schools to extend remote learning, citing a recent ruling from an arbitrator who found CPS can't guarantee safety for employees forced to work in buildings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The arbitrator ruled that CPS violated a portion of the CPS/CTU contract by failing to provide safe working conditions—and that the poor condition of CPS facilities increases the risk of catching and transmitting COVID-19, according to a news release from the CTU.
"It raises the broader issue," Robert Bloch, an attorney who represents the CTU, said during a virtual press conference Monday. "If CPS can't make it safe for 1,000 employees, how will it ever be safe for 400,000 students and staff?"
The school district took issue with the arbitrator's ruling, saying it has worked closely with Chicago's Department of Public Health to keep everyone safe.
"The arbitrator’s deeply flawed ruling substitutes actual public health standards for her own judgement and doesn’t find any actual deficiencies in the district’s plan or a single building where conditions are unsafe," CPS said in a statement.
According to the CTU, the Illinois State Board of Education has said school districts should bargain over the terms of learning and working during the pandemic, and CPS has ignored the instruction for months.
NBC 5 talked to some CPS parents who believe the district is taking the proper precautions, while others aren't so sure about resuming in-person instruction just yet.
"We want all the buildings back open, but if science doesn't back up the safety of it, I don't have any problem keeping them home," said CPS parent Kelly Burns.
Evelyn Perez Horita, another CPS parent, said she doesn't think it is safe to return to the classroom yet, especially for children like her daughter Lia, who has an individualized educational program.
"They can argue on both sides, but we really need to understand the kids," she said.
Last week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said "we're not there yet" when it comes to resuming in-person learning at CPS schools, adding an announcement would be made "in the next few weeks."
As of Monday, an updated timeline hadn't been provided.
Lightfoot previously said the decision to start the school year remotely was "rooted in public health," but at the time said the district sought to establish a hybrid learning model in the second quarter, which is set to start Nov. 9.
The full statement from CPS is below:
“Chicago Public Schools has developed a comprehensive health and safety plan aligned to the strongest available public health guidance to help ensure the safety of staff who have been reporting to school buildings to support students, staff and families. The arbitrator’s deeply flawed ruling substitutes actual public health standards for her own judgements and doesn’t find any actual deficiencies in the district’s plan or a single building where conditions are unsafe. We will be moving to have the ruling reconsidered based on local and national public health standards and a complete assessment of the district’s efforts to protect staff.”
‘She Was Amazing:' Daughter Remembers CPS Teacher Who Died From COVID-19
Just days after Olga Quiroga, a veteran Chicago Public Schools teacher, died after a three-week-long battle with COVID-19, the beloved teacher and mother is being remembered as a fighter until the very end.
Quiroga most recently taught first grade at Funston Elementary in Logan Square, and according to her family, came down with cold-like symptoms after making several visits to the school.
"She was there for virtual training," her daughter Giovanna Quiroga recounted. "That Friday she came home and said she was tired."
Along with teaching, the dedicated educator was a beloved wife and mother of three daughters.
"She was amazing, and she is amazing. Always will be," Giovanna Quiroga said. "My mom - she was truly my best friend."
Olga Quiroga died on Oct. 1, one day after her 58th birthday. While it's not for certain, the teacher's family believes she may have contracted the virus at school.
In a statement, the Chicago Teachers Union said Olga Quiroga had "tremendous love and high expectations for her students, who knew she cared deeply for them and was committed to their success." And as a Mexican immigrant, the CTU said, Olga Quiroga "understood the plight of her immigrant student's families."
CPS also issued a statement of its own, saying its hearts are heavy upon learning of the loss of a dedicated member of its community.
The district added that through contact tracing, one direct contact of the teacher's was identified and was placed in quarantine. No other cases at Funston Elementary have been reported.
CPS Works to Address Privacy Concerns Over E-Learning Software
Chicago Public School students have been having to deal with plenty of issues as they’ve moved to e-learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, but they’re facing yet another obstacle: does the monitoring software installed on their laptops and Chromebooks allow teachers to see into their homes, even if the student doesn’t specifically grant permission?
Some parents are expressing concerns about a specific software called “GoGuardian,” which lets teachers keep track of classrooms full of virtual students.
“It can even check their screens and alert the teacher if they are doing something off-task,” Cassie Cresswell, President of Illinois Families for Public Schools, said. “We have had concerns about GoGuardian for several years.”
Cresswell says that the program’s potential vulnerability comes from a setting used in Google’s Meeting program.
“You could use it (GoGuardian) to open a Google Meeting, and because of the way the settings were configured, the camera and microphone would be running automatically,” Cresswell said.
Chicago Public Schools officials say they have fixed the problem.
“The district takes student privacy concerns seriously,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We acted swiftly upon learning of concerns from parents about the original default functionality of GoGuardian.”
The district says teachers never had the ability to turn on visual and audio settings for students, and that officials “addressed concerns with a change to the original default settings.”
That isn’t the end of the matter, however. Cresswell says GoGuardian is only one of a number of programs installed on machines that students use, and the data those programs collect raises concerns.
“As a parent, you really aren’t told even what software is being used and you are definitely not being told what data is being collected with that software, or who has access to it,” she said.
While students are still required to have specific e-learning software, especially on school-issued machines, there is one thing parents can do to protect their privacy: place a piece of tape or paper over the webcam when it is not in use, Cresswell suggests.
Illinois Reports 1,853 New Coronavirus Cases, 14 Additional Deaths Monday
Illinois health officials reported 1,853 new coronavirus cases and 14 additional deaths Monday over the last 24 hours.
According to new data published by the Illinois Department of Public Health, Monday’s new metrics bring the state’s total to 303,394 cases and 8,805 deaths since the pandemic began.
According to Monday’s data, 38,538 new tests were returned to state laboratories over the last 24 hours. Those tests put the state’s rolling seven-day positivity rate at 3.4%, rising slightly from the day prior.
The state’s current reported recovery rate, defined as the percentage of patients reporting no symptoms six or more weeks after their first positive test, remains at 96%, according to the IDPH.
Hospitalizations in the state ticked up slightly on Monday, with 1,631 patients currently hospitalized statewide. Of those patients, 382 are in intensive care units, and 155 are on ventilators.
Historic Lake View Theater Launches ‘Horror Drive-In' To Survive Pandemic
Since 1929, the iconic Music Box Theatre on Southport Avenue in Chicago's Lake View neighborhood has been showing off a unique experience for generations.
“The idea right now is to just stay afloat. Stay in business,” said Music Box Theatre general manager, Ryan Oestreich.
Since Chicago placed capacity limits on businesses, the theater has laid off more than half of its employees.
With the theater’s main auditorium able to seat 750 guests, the city’s 50-person limit only allows the auditorium to hold 6% of its total capacity. Oestreich said the theatre is lucky to break even.
“If I could sell 100 tickets, just 50 more tickets, I could easily sleep better at night,” he said.
The current 50-person capacity limit allows social distancing well beyond six feet in the large auditorium. Oestreich said social distancing is as much as 20 feet, currently.
The theatre has had to get creative in recent months.
For the first time in the theater’s history, it’s hosting a 31-night drive-in movie experience at 2342 S. Throop St. in the city's Pilsen neighborhood.
Appropriately called, “The Music Box of Horrors,” up to 130 cars can fit in the outdoor space. Classic horror movies will be shown every night during the month of October with a double feature on Friday and Saturday nights.
He’s hoping this will prevent a premature curtain call for The Music Box Theatre.
“We should have historical places that we can keep going to,” said Oestreich. “[To] know our history and actually live it.”