Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker or Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will be streamed in the video player above.
The future of fall youth sports doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon, despite decisions from major groups like the Big Ten Conference to begin play in October.
But Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said such situations are different and can't be compared.
Here are the latest updates from around Illinois on the coronavirus pandemic today (Sept. 17):
Illinois Confirms 2,056 New Cases of Coronavirus, 25 Additional Deaths Thursday
Illinois health officials confirmed 2,056 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, with 25 additional deaths attributed to the virus.
According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the new cases reported Thursday bring the state’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 268,207 since the pandemic began earlier this year.
The 25 new fatalities brings the statewide death toll to 8,392, according to officials.
On Thursday, officials reported 57,800 new test samples turned in to state laboratories, bringing the total number of tests conducted statewide to 4,920,938.
The seven-day positivity rate dipped slightly to 3.6%, a decease from 3.7% the previous day.
Hospitalization numbers in the state continued to drop slightly, with 1,558 COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals statewide. Of those patients, 359 are in intensive care units, and 144 are on ventilators, per new figures released Thursday.
Race in Chicago: COVID-19 Exposes a Digital Divide
When Chicago Public School (CPS) students were shifted to online learning in the spring of 2020, it was a reality check for the district, for parents, and for students.
During the immediate aftermath of the decision, CPS scrambled to hand out more than 128,000 devices. Another 39,000 were distributed when it was announced students would continue remote learning in the fall.
Not only were many students without the devices they needed, a large portion also couldn't use them because they don't have access to the Internet.
According to US Census data, 110,000 Chicago children under age 18 don't have access to broadband. The issue disproportionately affects Chicago's low income families and people of color.
In Englewood, 46% of kids under 18 don't have access to the Internet. In Austin, one in three households aren't connected.
Kids First Chicago is working to change that.
"One in five families in Chicago are disconnected," said Daniel Anello, the CEO of Kids First. "When you actually look at that by community area, it’s incredibly polar."
"We had families we were talking to where both [parents] had recently lost employment. They had four kids they were trying to make sure were getting their remote learning, had their devices, were able to get online. And they’re trying to figure out whether or not to put food on the table or get the Internet. It's something they have to actually weigh," said Anello. "Frankly, a country where we’re in a state where people are weighing that decision is heartbreaking."
Working with the city of Chicago and CPS, Anello and his team compiled data to shape a new program - Chicago Connected. Over four years, the $50 million project, funded through private donors and CPS, provides free high-speed Internet to 100,000 qualified households with no restrictive barriers.
"We always knew that the reality was there was a digital divide. What I think the COVID crisis brought home, was that maybe the numbers were larger than we thought they were," said Phillip DiBartolo, the Chief Information Officer for Chicago Public Schools.
Depending where they live, families will receive hot spots or wired access to their home, free of charge, as part of Chicago Connected. As it stands, 32,500 families are signed up, of the 100,000 who are eligible.
"The trust factor is very important here," said DiBartolo.
Unfortunately, Anello and others have found the trust factor isn't there because the digital divide is deep rooted and access is an historic issue. Many families are concerned there are hidden fees associated with the program or too much personal information will be required.
"The challenge for us is making sure people know it’s there and trust it’s a real program," said Anello. "Things like past debt, or having to hand over a social security, anything like that, none of that is part of the program."
Access is the leading factor contributing to the digital divide, but the issue is complicated and multi-faceted. Cost of devices and connectivity, and a lack of skills and education are also factors, so is the speed and reliability of service, according to Laura Lane, who's been serving on statewide committees to identify gaps and find solutions for years.
"Just like we have food deserts we do have technology deserts," said Lane, " the options are fewer, the service is poor. "
Lane says the same redlining that impacts the retail and housing markets in disadvantaged neighborhoods, also affects infrastructure there.
"[Internet is] a utility. If we treated it like that, attempted to regulate it like that, we would have more accessibility," she said.
In many of the neighborhoods with connectivity issues, there are also concerns about choice. Many only have one option for a provider, and the Internet they do have, isn't fast enough for the services now required to work and learn from home.
Nick Feamster is a professor of computer science and the director of the Center for Data and Computing at University of Chicago. Much of his work is dedicated to studying Internet speeds, including if the service provided through Chicago Connected will be enough.
"In the context of say a video streaming or video conference, typically somewhere between 50-100 Mbps down stream is more than enough to get a pretty good quality streaming video," said Professor Feamster.
That's standard for one user. Now, with multiple people at home at once, Feamster is studying if it's enough and what will be sufficient.
He says the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets national benchmarks for broadband Internet access. That benchmark is currently only 25 Mbps.
"Which we know is not sufficient to support most video streaming and video conferencing activities. Those federal guidelines needs to be updated," said Feamster.
While many questions remain about access, speed sufficiency and more, Chicago Connected is a first of its kind program and now a model for cities around the country, like Cleveland, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami and others. All who are studying its impact locally agree it's a first step in the right direction, but there's a long way to go to close the digital divide.
Nearly 90K Coronavirus Cases Reported at Colleges as IL Students Return
As of Wednesday evening, NBC 5 Investigates has found that nearly 90,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported at the colleges, universities, and HBCUs most-attended by Illinois students, just since students returned to campuses for the fall session.
At colleges and universities within the state of Illinois, more than 5,100 cases have been reported as of Wednesday - though that total is likely higher because some of those schools don't reveal information on their cases online.
And as the schools within the Big Ten conference announce that they will, indeed, compete in college sports (including football), NBC 5 Investigates has logged more than 14,000 coronavirus cases among students and staff at those Big Ten schools, just since their fall semesters and quarters have begun.
NBC 5 Investigates is only looking at cases that have arisen during the fall, in order to concentrate solely on how the pandemic spreads as students return for this semester. This chart will be updated each evening.
Search the number of cases at nearly 400 schools here.
Pritzker Reveals Why the Big Ten Decision is Different From High School Sports
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker says a decision by the Big Ten Conference to resume football in late October won't have an impact on high school sports in the state.
"We have watched professional sports and even some college teams play, seemingly without many problems," Pritzker said. "But remember these programs are operating with daily testing or in a league-created bubble or with facilities that allow for outsized social distancing and are sanitized every day, and in some cases all of those precautions have been taken. That’s not what’s available to the vast majority of young people who play sports in Illinois."
Pritzker cited outbreaks that have infected players, coaches and family members during the coronavirus pandemic, including one as recent as last week in Wayne County, where 37 players have so far tested positive and nearly 100 forced to quarantine.
"To those claiming that putting your child in danger is about personal choice, I say: this is a pandemic. This is a terrible and unprecedented moment in our country. Living together in a free society means neighbors protecting each other so we can all enjoy freedom and safety," Pritzker said. "This deadly virus should remind us that there are some individual choices that have enormous, life-changing impact on others. While parents might 'choose' to send their children out onto the playing field, I can tell you that someone else who becomes ill because of that decision wouldn’t call that your 'personal choice.'"
Less than five weeks after pushing football and other fall sports to spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the Big Ten Conference changed course Wednesday and said it plans to begin its season the weekend of Oct. 24.
Increased Coronavirus Restrictions in 2 Chicago-Area Counties Could Soon be Lifted: Pritzker
One of Illinois' healthcare regions could see some of its added coronavirus mitigations lifted as the area's positivity rate begins to decline, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday.
Region 7, which includes south suburban Kankakee and Will counties, on Wednesday marked its first day below the state's 6.5% average positivity rate threshold since the increased restrictions began last month. If that trend holds for three days, the restrictions in the area will likely be lifted, Pritzker said.
"Will and Kankakee are so far getting the job done," Pritzker said.
Under the region's current rules, which are stricter than Illinois' phase four plan, indoor service at both bars and restaurants has been suspended, gathering sizes were limited to 25 people and several establishments were ordered to close by 11 p.m., among other requirements.
Region 7 reached the level requiring these new COVID-19 mitigation efforts after the area saw its rolling positivity rate meet or exceed 8% for three consecutive days.
Under the IDPH’s “Restore Illinois” plan, any region that has a rolling positivity rate of 8% or higher for three consecutive days would have coronavirus mitigation measures enacted.
Such measures were also implemented in Region 4, which includes counties adjacent to St. Louis in southwestern Illinois.
Once measures are enacted, the positivity rate must average less than or equal to 6.5 percent over a 14-day period to return to Phase 4 mitigations under the Restore Illinois Plan.
"If the positivity rate averages between 6.5 percent and 8 percent, IDPH will continue to monitor the region to determine if additional mitigations are needed," according to the health department's website. "If the positivity rate averages greater than or equal to 8 percent after 14 days, more stringent mitigations will be applied to further reduce spread of the virus."
Illinois Confirms 1,941 New Cases of Coronavirus, 35 Additional Deaths Wednesday
Illinois health officials confirmed 1,941 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, with 35 additional deaths attributed to the virus.
According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the new cases reported Wednesday bring the state’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 266,151 since the pandemic began earlier this year.
The 35 new fatalities brings the statewide death toll to 8,367, according to officials.
Wednesday, officials reported 52,311 new test samples turned in to state laboratories, bringing the total number of tests conducted statewide to 4,863,138.
The seven-day positivity rate rose slightly to 3.7%, an increase from 3.6% the previous two days.
Hospitalization numbers in the state dropped slightly, with 1,565 COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals statewide. Of those patients, 345 are in intensive care units, and 143 are on ventilators, per new figures released Wednesday.
Big Ten Changes Course, Aims For October Start to Football
Big Ten is going to give fall football a shot after all.
Less than five weeks after pushing football and other fall sports to spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the conference changed course Wednesday and said it plans to begin its season the weekend of Oct. 24.
Each team will have an eight-game schedule.
The Big Ten said its Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously Tuesday to restart sports. The emergence of daily rapid-response COVID-19 testing, not available when university presidents and chancellors decided to pull the plug on the season, helped trigger a re-vote.
The Pac-12 recently announced a partnership with a diagnostic lab that will give the conference's schools the capacity to test athletes daily. The Big Ten believes it can do the same and that it is a game-changer.
The move came amid sharp pressure from coaches, a lawsuit from players and pressure from parents and even President Donald Trump pushing for a Big Ten football season. The conference is home to a number of battleground states in the November election.
Get the latest news on COVID vaccines in your inbox. Click here to sign up for our coronavirus newsletter.