Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot or other officials will be streamed in the video player above.
Illinois health officials on Thursday reported the highest one-day total number of coronavirus cases since mid-May as the state's positivity rate in testing also increased.
Those figures were reported the same day Chicago announced the winners of its competition fielding ideas for how restaurants can continue outdoor dining in the colder weather months.
Here are the latest updates from across Illinois on the coronavirus pandemic today (Oct. 9):
26 Illinois Counties Now at 'Warning Level' for Coronavirus, Health Officials Say
Twenty-six counties in Illinois are now at a "warning level" for coronavirus, the state's health department said Friday
The warning means each of the counties saw increases in two or more COVID-19 "risk indicators," the health department said.
The counties now under a warning include: Case, Christian, Clay, Clinton, Coles, Crawford, Effingham, Fayette, Henderson, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Lake, Lee, Mason, Massac, Pulaski, Richland, Saline, Shelby, Union, Vermilion, Whiteside, Winnebago, Warren.
Last week, 28 counties were at a "warning level." The week before that it was 17.
"Although the reasons for counties reaching a warning level varies, some of the common factors for an increase in cases and outbreaks are associated with university and college parties as well as college sports teams, large gatherings and events, bars and clubs, weddings and funerals, family gatherings, long-term care facilities, correctional centers, schools, and cases among the community at large, especially people in their 20s," the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a statement.
IDPH said officials observed businesses "blatantly disregarding mitigation measures, people not social distancing, gathering in large groups and not using face coverings."
"Mayors, local law enforcement, state’s attorneys and other community leaders can be influential in ensuring citizens and businesses follow best practices," IDPH added.
Illinois Reports 2,818 New Coronavirus Cases, 35 Additional Deaths Friday
Illinois health officials on Friday reported 2,818 new coronavirus cases and 35 additional deaths over the last 24 hours.
According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Friday's figures bring the state’s total to 313,518 cases and 8,945 deaths since the pandemic began.
The death toll is lower than Wednesday's 42 fatalities, which marked the deadliest day in the state since June 24.
Illinois health officials said 71,599 new tests were returned to state laboratories over the last 24 hours. Those tests increase the state’s rolling seven-day positivity rate to 3.8%, up from 3.7% a day earlier.
Hospitalizations in the state also ticked up slightly Friday, with 1,812 patients currently hospitalized statewide. Of those patients, 395 were in intensive care units, and 153 were on ventilators.
After Weeks of Heightened Restrictions, Region 4 Returning to Phase 4, Officials Announce
After weeks of heightened coronavirus restrictions, Illinois' Region 4 can finally return to phase four guidelines alongside the majority of the state.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the area, also known as the Metro East region, could return to phase four beginning at 5 p.m. Friday.
The region - which includes Bond, Clinton, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties - had been under increased restrictions since Aug. 18, when the area had three consecutive days of rolling positivity rates at or above 8%. On Sept. 2, even more restrictions were put in place as the positivity rate climbed.
As of Friday, the area had a positivity rate of 5.8%.
“We are excited to see that after weeks of mitigation measures and sacrifice, Region 4 has reduced its positivity rate and can return to Phase 4,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “It takes communities working together to reduce the spread of the virus and lower the positivity rate. I want to thank Region 4 for its hard work to decrease the risk for all of Illinois.”
Pritzker had hinted earlier this week that the restrictions may soon be lifted as positivity rates continued to decline in the area.
"After falling from a peak seven-day average positivity of over 10%, Metro East then leveled off between an average of 7% and 8% positivity for several weeks, and has recently dropped to a new low of 6.3%," Pritzker said Wednesday. "As of this morning, that's enormous progress. And if the region sustains an average below the 6.5% threshold, Region 4 could see a return to the looser mitigations enacted in most of the state as soon as Friday."
Currently, only one other Illinois region is under heightened mitigations. Region 1, which holds Rockford, Dixon and Galena, saw increased restrictions begin on Saturday.
Illinois Reports More Than 3K New Coronavirus Cases, 32 Deaths as Positivity Rate Rises
Illinois health officials on Thursday reported 3,059 new coronavirus cases and 32 additional deaths over the last 24 hours, marking the highest one-day case total since mid-May.
According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Thursday's figures bring the state’s total to 310,700 cases and 8,910 deaths since the pandemic began. Wednesday's 42 deaths marked the deadliest day in the state since June 24.
Illinois health officials said 72,491 new tests were returned to state laboratories over the last 24 hours, just shy of a single-day record. Those tests increase the state’s rolling seven-day positivity rate to 3.7%, up from 3.5% a day earlier.
Hospitalizations in the state also ticked up slightly Thursday, with 1,755 patients currently hospitalized statewide. Of those patients, 392 were in intensive care units, and 163 were on ventilators.
Feds Charge Skokie Medical Company Owner With Price Gouging N-95 Masks
Federal prosecutors in Chicago have charged the owner of a Skokie medical supplies company with price gouging customers seeking to purchase N-95 masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Krikor Topouzian, 60, allegedly sold the masks at more than three times what he purchased them, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago.
In March and April, he allegedly bought 79,160 respirator masks for an average price of approximately $5.08 per mask, prosecutors said.
Topouzian later sold the masks to customers for prices as high as $19.95 per mask, a markup of 185% to 367% per mask, prosecutors said. He allegedly sold the masks at a markup despite repeated warnings from law enforcement about the illegal nature of his conduct.
Topouzian, of Winnetka, faces one count of violating the Defense Production Act of 1950, a charge punishable up to one year in prison.
“Amassing and reselling personal protective equipment at large markups during a global health crisis is not only greedy, it’s illegal under the Defense Production Act,” U.S. Attorney John Lausch, Jr., said in a statement.
NIU Cancels Spring Break Next Year
Spring break is canceled at Northern Illinois University next year in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, according to school officials.
On Thursday, Beth Ingram, NIU’s executive vice president and provost, sent a letter to students, faculty and staff announcing a change in the 2021 calendar amid the ongoing pandemic.
“The spring semester will start Monday, Jan. 11, and will end one week earlier, on April 30,” the letter reads. “There will be no spring break and, instead, the university will offer all students, faculty and staff a three-day weekend beginning Friday, March 12, and one additional non-instructional closure day to be determined, where classes will not meet and university offices will be closed.”
University council met Oct. 7 and approved the revised spring 2021 schedule, according to the letter.
“These changes help reduce travel-related exposures but also allow for breaks in the semester to recharge,” said Ingram.
In the letter, Ingram also outlines the plan for commencement ceremonies noting May, August and now December 2020 graduates will be honored with a virtual ceremonies later this fall.
“While it’s likely that you expected this news, I recognize that it’s still heartbreaking for our graduates and their families,” Ingram wrote. “Even though the pandemic has stolen many important milestones from us, nothing can change the fact that through hard work, talent and perseverance, our graduates will have earned degrees from NIU and be able to begin their new paths forward.”
One notable plan that remains unchanged for next year are final exams which are still scheduled for late April, according to Ingram.
Winners of Chicago's Winter Dining Challenge Announced
The winners of Chicago's "Winter Dining Challenge" were announced Thursday as city officials prepare to launch a pilot program featuring the various ideas for dining outside during the colder months in the city.
Winners include "cabins" that will fit in a parking space, heated blocks that can be joined together or separated to create seating outside and a modified Japanese Kotatsu, or heated table.
The winners - Amy Young, Neil Reindel and Ellie Henderson- were selected from more than 600 submissions.
"As we approach the winter months and adapt our COVID-19 response accordingly, we owe it to our restaurants to make sure they have what they need to continue keeping their doors open and serving their communities," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. "Thanks to IRA and the outstanding creativity of our Winter Dining Challenge winners, we will be able to not only make this a reality, but do so in a way that is safe and showcases our city's innovative spirit. I extend a huge congratulations to each of our Winter Dining Challenge winners."
The city launched the challenge in August, asking residents to propose solutions for outdoor dining during the colder months.
"From architects to designers, restaurateurs, servers and dining enthusiasts, the city has received 643 innovative and exciting ideas for cold-weather outdoor dining in the first-ever Chicago Winter Design Challenge," the mayor's office said in a release last month.
Among the ideas were dining tents with sliding walls, inflatable igloos and even closing a multi-level parking garage to transform it into a food hall for several restaurants. Some suggested greenhouses or pneumatic pods or an outdoor event with rotating restaurants for those that don't already have outdoor space available.
The winners were selected by a panel of local restauranteurs, servers, designers, architects and chefs based on the following categories:
- Outdoor, standalone structures
- Indoor-adjacent spaces
- Cultural shifts making winter dining more appealing
Each winner will receive $5,000 and opportunities to start their idea at restaurants and bars around the city, the office said.
“We are excited to have had the chance to reimagine our public spaces and provide Chicagoans an opportunity to experience the city in a fun and unique way. Chicago has always been a resilient city when faced with difficult times," Reindel, whose submission included a "block party" that he described as "adaptable and easy to implement for many different sites and street configurations," said in a statement. “With Block Party we wanted to provide a warm place for people to reconnect as we move forward through the winter and into 2021.”
“We are honored that our concept was chosen for the Chicago Winter Dining Challenge. Our Cozy Cabins idea focused on creating a warm, welcoming experience to encourage Chicago residents to safely dine in rather than take out,” Amy Young, who submitted the idea for "small modular, adjoining cabins that can fit into a standard parking space," said in a statement. “We wanted to create an outdoor destination centered around new experiences, neighborhood connections, and a sense of community—elements lost while dining at home. We hope this idea helps support small businesses and safely bring people together during this difficult year.”
“I want to thank the City of Chicago, IDEO and the Illinois Restaurant Association for choosing my winter dining idea,” Ellie Henderson, who submitted the idea for heated tables and blankets, said in a statement. “My hope is that my proposal for using heated tables will help restaurants adapt, providing a novel open-air dining experience for their patrons that is safe and comfortably warm through colder months in 2020 and beyond.”
Earlier this month, the city of Chicago eased some of its coronavirus restrictions, allowing indoor bar service again and raising capacity limits on businesses, including restaurants, among other major changes.
Restaurants that had been limited to 25% indoor capacity were able to increase their maximum indoor capacity to 40%. The limit of 50 total customers within one room or space at restaurants, venues and other establishments will remain in place, as will the limit of no more than six people per table.
Chicago officials also recently released fall and winter dining guidelines for area restaurants, revealing establishments with sidewalk cafe permits or outdoor patio licenses can use tents, domes or other temporary structures that allow "adequate ventilation" for circulation. Some heating devices will also be allowed, but they have to meet a required set of safety regulations.
For places using domes or other enclosed spaces, placards must be posted "advising about increased risk of transmission within an enclosed space."
Restaurants will need to submit their fall and winter plans in writing.
According to the city, the pilot program for the winning designs will need to adhere to the guidelines.
As of last month, more than 50 restaurants in the Chicago area had permanently closed their doors because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to the winning designs, the city also announced Thursday that DoorDash plans to announce a financial support program for Chicago restaurants to "help cover the costs of winterizing their outdoor dining areas." The program will give $500,000 in grants to help local eateries with the costs of heating equipment, safety materials for indoor dining, air filtration system upgrades, blankets and more.
Applications open on Oct. 16 and funds will be distributed through the end of November, the city said. Restaurants must be located in Chicago and have no more than three locations operating currently with 50 employees or fewer and no more than $3 million in revenue from 2019 to apply.
Dominican University Professor Resigns Over Coronavirus Concerns
A professor at a suburban Chicago university quit his job after he said not enough was being done to keep students and staff safe amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday Dr. Gary Wilson said he resigned from his teaching position at Dominican University in River Forest after a student in his advanced anatomy lab class tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I told them I’m resigning because this is an unsafe workplace,” Wilson said. “All you need is one person to infect everyone. Look at the White House.”
Wilson said he advised school administrators his cadaver-based lab class should move online for a few weeks and asked for all 60 students in his class to be quarantined for 14 days.
“I sent emails to the dean. There was some push back,” Wilson said. “What bothered me was, even though I am doing it online, for the lecture portion, they had to go back in which defeats the purpose.”
School officials have confirmed one of Wilson’s students tested positive for the virus and said contact tracing was initiated adding that three individuals are now quarantining.
The school also says Wilson’s class will be meeting online for now.
“After hearing yesterday about some concerns about whether protocols are being followed, we took action for them to be meeting only online for the immediate future,” said Jill Albin-Hill, Dominican University’s Vice President for Operations and Technology.
The university’s campus reopened on Aug. 21 and has reported 31 total positive coronavirus cases.
US Senate Candidate Willie Wilson, Campaign Spokesman Test Positive for Coronavirus
U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Willie Wilson and his campaign spokesman have tested positive for coronavirus, his campaign confirmed Thursday.
Wilson and spokesman Scott Winslow both tested positive and the rest of his campaign is now being tested, Winslow said Thursday morning.
In a statement, Wilson said he was experiencing mild symptoms but is "confident that we will beat COVID-19."
"Like so many fellow Americans, I am not immune from COVID-19," Wilson said in a statement. "This is a disease that does not discriminate."
He added that he has started a 10-day quarantine and "will bounce back from this stronger than before."
"I am suspending all in person campaigning for the United States Senate the next 10 days while I quarantine," he said. "I thank God for great doctors and first responders that care for all of us."
Wilson is running under the "Willie Wilson Party" against incumbent U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and four other candidates.
He previously ran for Chicago mayor in 2015, president in 2016 and then Chicago mayor again in 2019. Wilson is a millionaire businessman who owned several McDonald’s franchises and founded a medical supply company, in recent years using his personal wealth to fund his political campaigns.
Wilson has previously handed out masks in Chicago and surrounding suburbs and donated them to first responders. Earlier in the pandemic, he criticized stay-at-home orders that prevented religious gatherings in churches, even offering to pay fines for churches found in violation of Illinois' stay-at-home order in May.
“I have asked the federal government to step in and prevent religious intimidation tactics being deployed by Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker,” Wilson said at the time. “Clearly they have used the stay-at-home order due to COVID-19 to shred the constitution and treat churches as non-essential, while treating liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and big box stores as essential.”
Amid Surge in COVID-19 Cases in Wisconsin, Lightfoot Blasts Lawmakers Who ‘Politicized' Response
With Wisconsin’s case numbers and positivity rates on the rise, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot blasted Republicans who sought to roll back the state’s coronavirus mitigation measures.
Speaking at a press conference after Wednesday’s virtual City Council meeting, Lightfoot criticized the Wisconsin GOP for “politicizing” health and for putting party politics over the safety of the public.
“Wisconsin is what happens when you politicize public health. It’s chaos,” she said. “The governor put a lot of measures in place to keep people safe, and a highly-politicized group took the case to a stacked state Supreme Court that struck down everything the governor was trying to do to keep the state safe, and what have we seen? Chaos.”
Lightfoot’s comments come as Wisconsin announced that it is opening a field hospital because of an increase in the number of coronavirus cases statewide. Last week, Wisconsin reported the third-most new coronavirus cases in the country, trailing just Texas and California in that category. The state is also reporting one of the nation’s highest rates of cases per 100,000 residents, and the country’s fifth-highest positivity rate.
“The fact a state is having to open a field hospital because of the explosion of cases requiring hospitalizations is a disgrace, and it is solely tied back to the actions of a partisan state legislature and a partisan Supreme Court,” she said. “Public health should never be politicized. Those partisans put their party over public health. It’s shameful, and voters in Wisconsin should take note of that.”
Pritzker Says Illinois' Coronavirus 'Progress Has Cooled'
After "promising declines" were reported in nearly all of Illinois' healthcare regions last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that "progress has cooled" across much of the state.
"We are seeing changes in positivity averages around the state level off, with three regions that were decreasing last week now sitting at a stable level," he said during an update Wednesday, which was delivered virtually as the governor continues to isolate following a staffer's positive test last week.
Pritzker said Region 5 and Region 9, which is home to Lake and McHenry counties near the Wisconsin border, have flipped from decreasing positivity rates to increasing.
Still, Region 3, which contains Springfield and Quincy, was the only area to switch from increasing to decreasing, Pritzker said.
Currently, two Illinois regions are above the state's 8 percent positivity threshold, both requiring heightened mitigations.
Region 4, known as the Metro East region, has been under stricter guidelines since late August, and Region 1, which holds Rockford, Dixon and Galena, increased restrictions Saturday.
"After falling from a peak 7 day average positivity of over 10 percent, Metro East then leveled off between an average of 7 and 8 percent positivity for several weeks, and has recently dropped to a new low of 6.3 percent as of this morning – that’s enormous progress, and if the region sustains an average below the 6.5 percent threshold, Region 4 could see a return to the looser mitigations enacted in most of the state as soon as this Friday," Pritzker said.