(NOTE: Daily press conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will be streamed live in the player above. Check back for updates.)
Legislators return to Springfield with extraordinary safety measures in place.
Could they be a sign of what's in store as Illinois prepares for its next phase of reopening?
Businesses are already making preparations for big changes to make them eligible to open their doors.
Here are the latest developments on the coronavirus crisis today (May 20):
All State Parks to Reopen, Restrictions on Boating, Golf to Ease in Phase Three of ‘Restore Illinois’ Plan
With the state on pace to move forward into Phase Three of the “Restore Illinois” plan, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced an easing of restrictions on many outdoor recreational activities, including the opening of all state parks.
According to the governor, all state parks that haven’t already reopened will be allowed to do so on May 29, and all concession stands at those parks will be permitted to reopen, with social distancing guidelines in place.
Under Phase Three of the plan, gatherings of 10 or fewer people will be allowed, with masks still required in situations where social distancing is not possible.
Boating restrictions will also begin to ease, as groups of 10 or fewer people will be allowed to share boats. Previously only two individuals were allowed to be on the same boat.
Campgrounds will also be permitted to reopen, with similar restrictions on group size and social distancing in place.
The governor also announced that many other changes will be coming to outdoor activities, including the reopening of driving ranges, indoor and outdoor tennis facilities and outdoor shooting ranges. All of those facilities will be allowed to reopen with proper social distancing and cleaning protocols in place, according to Pritzker.
For golfers, Phase Three will also usher in the return of foursomes on golf courses, as up to four golfers will be allowed to play in the same group. Previously only two golfers had been allowed to play.
Golf carts can also be used by one person only, according to the new rules.
Restaurants Can Open With Outdoor Seating in Phase 3 of Illinois' Reopening: Pritzker
Illinois restaurants will be allowed to open for outdoor seating in phase three of the state's reopening plan, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday.
The move is a shift from the state's original guidelines, though restaurants still cannot reopen for dine-in service until phase four.
"After listening to and working with restaurant industry representatives together with our epidemiologists, today, I’m announcing an additional option for bars and restaurants interested in resuming operations earlier: opening for outdoor seating when phase three begins, likely for everyone just nine days from now," Pritzker said during his daily coronavirus press briefing.
Illinois Coronavirus Cases Surpass 100,000 as State Reports 2,388 New Infections
Illinois health officials reported 2,388 new cases of coronavirus Wednesday, lifting the statewide total over 100,000.
Currently, the state's total number of confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began sits at 100,418.
Health officials also reported 147 additional deaths in the last 24 hours. The state's death toll is now at 4,525, according to data released by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Over the last 24 hours, 21,029 test results have been returned, with 11.4 percent of tests coming back positive. The total number of tests conducted since the pandemic began now sits at 642,713 as of Wednesday.
The increase comes at the same time the state reported a decrease in hospitalizations related to COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, 3,914 people were hospitalized, with 1,005 in intensive care units. A total of 554 patients were on ventilators.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said those were the lowest hospitalization numbers since the state began capturing such data.
Pritzker Withdraws Emergency Rule to Enforce Stay-at-Home Order
Gov. J.B. Pritzker reversed course Wednesday, withdrawing a recent emergency rule that allowed for businesses to face Class A misdemeanor charges if they opened in violation of the state’s ongoing stay-at-home order.
Pritzker said his administration withdrew the rule "in order to pursue legislation with the same intended mechanism in a phased manner in line with the Restore Illinois plan."
"Enacting this measure through legislation will allow us to have these tools throughout the Restore Illinois plan versus an emergency rule that would be withdrawn and rewritten at the start of phase three and then phase four," Pritzker said during his daily coronavirus press briefing.
Still, he defended the rule, saying it "brought Illinois in line" with a national practice and gave local officials "more flexibility in their ability to enforce this order with a citation."
State Police Say They Won't Arrest People Violating Stay-at-Home Order
Illinois State Police say they don't plan on issuing criminal misdemeanors to people violating the state's stay-at-home order, but will instead focus on businesses and corporations.
"No individual will be arrested or taken to jail for a violation of the executive orders or emergency rules," the department wrote on Facebook Tuesday. "We encourage all citizens to continue to do their part to maintain public health as we move forward in the days ahead with Reopening Illinois."
State police said they plan to continue educating citizens and businesses "and urging voluntary compliance."
"The Illinois State Police will only apply those emergency rules to entities such as corporations, LLPs or other business entities consistent with state and constitutional law," the post read.
Oprah Winfrey Gives Grants to ‘Home’ Cities, Including Chicago, During Pandemic
Oprah Winfrey is giving grants to the cities she’s called home through her $12 million coronavirus relief fund.
She announced Wednesday that her Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation will donate money to organizations dedicated to helping underserved communities in Chicago; Baltimore; Nashville, Tennessee; Milwaukee; and Kosciusko, Mississippi, where she was born.
Illinois Lawmakers Return to Springfield for Legislative Session
The Illinois General Assembly will return to Springfield for three days beginning Wednesday to take up a spring session workload long delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The extraordinary safety measures that will govern the session were delineated in a letter last week from Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan to the House minority leader. Legislators will have to pledge to follow Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines to prevent the spread of the highly contagious and potentially lethal coronavirus. They include pre-session testing of all legislators for COVID-19.
Eschewing the traditional Capitol setting, the House will be called to order six blocks away at the Bank of Springfield Center in downtown Springfield, to take advantage of the spacious convention center floor for social distancing.
The Senate, whose membership is half the House’s 118 seats, will meet in its regular chamber, Senate President Don Harmon said in a statement. The Oak Park Democrat rallied senators to return to action with the “cooperative spirit of bipartisan achievement" they've shown before.
COVID-19 Death Toll in Cook County Surpasses 3,000
Cook County marked a grim milestone this week as the medical examiner’s office announced that COVID-19 deaths surpassed 3,000.
Officials said an additional 79 people died from the coronavirus, pushing the county’s death toll to 3,055, according to a statement from Cook County spokeswoman Natalia Derevyanny.
Statewide, there have been 4,234 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The state is reporting 96,485 total positive cases of the disease.
26 Residents at Humboldt Park Assisted Living Facility Have Died Due to COVID-19 Complications
Numerous families have been left devastated as 26 residents and a staff member of a Chicago long-term care facility have died as a result of the coronavirus.
According to officials, 52 residents and 28 staff members at the Center Home for Hispanic Elderly in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.
Management at the facility says it has been adhering to all federal and state guidelines to try to help contain the spread of the virus, and that it will continue to enforce those protocols.
Doctors Fear Child Abuse is Underreported During Coronavirus Pandemic
While most stay home to stay safe, doctors are scared for children whose homes are not havens.
“One of the things that keeps me up at night is knowing that there might be children right now that are living under circumstances that are not ideal,” said Dr. Norell Rosado, Interim Division Head of Child Abuse Pediatrics at Lurie Children’s Hospital. “They don’t have a way of telling people outside their small nucleus, their home that something might be happening, and that really, really scares me.”
According to the Department of Children and Family Services, calls to the statewide hotline have decreased by 44 percent since January. DCFS has also received 42 percent fewer new reports the first week of May 2020 compared to the first week of May 2019.
Similarly, Chicago Police have seen a 50 percent decrease of child abuse reports, according to the department’s domestic violence program.
Doctors said the lower statistics are the direct result of shuttered schools during the stay-at-home order.
Coronavirus Illinois: Scenes From the Pandemic
Gyms Implement New Safety Procedures, Hope to Convince Governor to Allow Them to Reopen Sooner
Gyms are not eligible to reopen their doors until Phase Four of the governor’s Restore Illinois plan, but many are already preparing for the big changes necessary to help people stay safe while getting in shape.
Michael Ricchio, owner of Mar Health & Fitness, is hoping that his Downers Grove gym can reopen before Phase Four of the governor’s plan.
The gym focuses on small group classes and personal training, and says it can function with 10 or fewer people inside. Under Phase Three of the state’s reopening plan, gatherings of 10 or fewer people are allowed, and that’s why owners of boutique gyms like Mar Health & Fitness believe that they can safely reopen ahead of other larger facilities.
“The benefit of being a boutique is we don’t have to be all that different,” Ricchio said.
Ricchio, like many other gym owners, says he hasn’t received guidance from Gov. J.B. Pritzker on reopening procedures, including mandated safety restrictions and capacity limits.
Even still, Ricchio is proactively planning to implement temperature checks, extra cleaning, and closing the locker rooms at the facility.
“We also did a huge equipment order, so no one is going to share equipment for quite some time,” he said.
Other gyms are preparing for reopening, including Lakeshore Sport & Fitness.
“We’re going to ask all of our staff to wear masks,” managing partner Peter Goldman said.
The club operates two 200,000 square-foot facilities in Chicago, and Goldman says that there are plenty of changes being implemented to improve safety, including limiting group fitness class sizes, designating entry and exit paths, and setting up so-called workout “pods.”
“’Space’ is the new ‘safe,’ and we have plenty of space,” he said. “Those pods will be 10-foot by 12-foot, and it will be yours alone for an hour. We’ll clean it afterwards, so it’s a very safe environment for you to work out in.”
Both gym owners say they’ll require staff and gym members to sign waivers saying they are not sick, and that they haven’t been exposed to anyone with coronavirus. Lakeshore Sport & Fitness has also hired a person to fill an inspector-general role, aiming to help implement their new cleaning procedures.
Dentists Prepare to Reopen Practices With Enhanced Safety Protocols in Place
Thanks to new restrictions and safety protocols implemented due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, things are going to be different the next time you walk into your dentist’s office.
Many procedures will look different, including a simple teeth cleaning.
“As a patient, you might see that your hygienist or your dentist may not be doing that final polish at the end for right now, and that’s okay. You want to stay safe,” Dr. Terri Tiersky, a dentist and president of the Chicago Dental Society, says. “We might even look a little scary with all of our PPE, but the point is that the patients will see those differences, and they should know that it’s for their own safety, and for our safety as well.”
Other changes will also be made, including spacing out seats in waiting rooms and installing clear barriers at the front desk.
Ezike Defends State’s Calculation of Deaths Related to Coronavirus
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, says that the state is continuing to review data about deaths related to coronavirus, but that there are a number of challenges involved when trying to parse out whether a person died with COVID-19 as a directly contributing factor, or whether they just died while sick with the disease.
According to Ezike, that challenge is especially prevalent in respiratory illnesses and cardiac illnesses.
“It’s very hard to separate the respiratory illness from some of these other manifestations that could also be linked to COVID, so there is a reason to put them together,” she said. “Even if someone had heart disease, global data has established that (COVID-19 can cause) more serious complications, and we’ve seen that for heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
The director also said that the coronavirus is associated with causing embolic phenomenon, or dangerous blood clots, and that those clots can lead to death by causing stroke or a heart attack, especially in vulnerable populations and those residents with comorbidities.
Those factors can cause more challenges for those trying to accurately account for the coronavirus death toll in Illinois, which currently stands at 4,379.
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