Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker or Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will be streamed in the video player above.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered another COVID-19 update Tuesday in Chicago.
Already this week the governor has called for more funding from the federal government, warning the state could face cuts and layoffs at a time when many are already struggling.
Meanwhile, parents and students athletes have been calling for state officials to reconsider the fall sports schedule and allow kids to play.
But Pritzker seemed to suggest that such an idea was not on the table.
Here are the latest updates from around Illinois on the coronavirus pandemic today (Sept. 16):
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.
Watch Live: Gov. Pritzker to Deliver COVID-19 Update at 12 p.m.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to deliver a COVID-19 update Tuesday afternoon.
The announcement is set for 12 p.m. at Chicago's Thompson Center.
It remains unclear what the governor's update will be focused on.
Watch live in the player above.
‘Millions in Losses:' Empty Dining Rooms Land Restaurant and Bar Owners in Courtrooms
At the close of business on Monday, March 16, 2020, thousands of restaurants and bars in Illinois were forced to close to dine-in customers.
“I mean it was definitely very difficult, our busiest week of the year is that specific week. St Patrick's Day corned beef, especially in Chicago, it's our busiest time so we had pre ordered 10,000 pounds of meat, and when you order that like you're stuck with the meat. So it went to waste,” Dan Raskin, owner of Manny’s Deli, told NBC 5 Responds.
The South Loop restaurant has been open for 78 years and is often the scene for glad-handing by politicians running for office. But as part of the shutdown order, no customers were allowed inside, and Manny’s famous sandwiches were available only for carry out.
“Typically 90% of our business is dine-in business. To get people to shift from dine-in to carryout is not very easy,” said Raskin.
Raskin applied for the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP loan, to help pay staff and keep them employed while business dropped as much as 80%.
To offset other losses and costs for items such as personal protective equipment, Raskin, like thousands of other business owners across the country, filed a claim with his insurance company, hoping the huge premiums he’s paid for an “all-risk” policy, would pay off.
But he says a denial came immediately, with no investigation. He’s not alone. At least 42 other owners of bars and eateries, Including prominent Chicago restaurant groups Lettuce Entertain You and Gibsons, experienced the same denials and are all now suing their insurance carriers over their “all-risk” coverage.
“They are what it sounds like. All-risk policies cover everything…they exclude some things that are specifically excluded,” said attorney Gabriel Gillett, of Jenner & Block, counsel for the plaintiffs.
According to their lawsuit, in denying coverage, “Defendant Insurers contend that Plaintiffs did not sustain ‘direct physical loss’ or ‘damage to’ property within the meaning of the Policies”.
“It is. It is a physical loss though because when you're physically not able to use the dining room,” says Raskin.
Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines state that in Phase 4 or reopening, Illinois businesses may offer indoor and outdoor on-premises food and beverage consumption. All businesses must maintain social distancing measures and provide a minimum of 6-feet between tables. And the maximum occupancy for indoor standing areas is 25% capacity.
“As soon as dining rooms were closed, and they had to put up physical barriers, alter restaurants, essentially rendering our restaurants nonfunctional, that's when we’re damaged, and at that point, that’s when insurance should have recognized that we suffered physical loss as a result of those orders, and paid our claims,” says attorney Gillett.
The American Property Casualty Insurance Association, which speaks for the insurance industry, responded to the NBC5’s request for comment.
“Business interruption insurance refers to property insurance policies that cover physical damage, such as from wildfires and tornados. These policies are not intended to cover diseases, or pandemic related losses”, writes Stef Zielezienski, Executive Vice President at APCIA.
She adds, “In the vast majority of cases, insurers did not price policies to include such coverage, and policyholders did not pay premiums to have this coverage”.
Now with fall around the corner, and outdoor seating diminishing, business owners worry about another dip in business.
“We've been working on trying to stay open and going along, but we're hoping that the insurance companies make us whole and do what we paid for,” says Raskin.
College Communities See Spikes In Virus Rates
With increasing evidence of raucous behavior and skyrocketing positivity rates on America's college campuses, there is growing concern over the spillover effect in local campus communities.
After all, college towns are just that, host communities that are home to thousands of students, faculty and staff. And many businesses earn their livelihoods from the influx of thousands of students who eat, shop and live in areas off-campus.
In ordinary years, that means millions of dollars for those local businesses, but with that largesse now comes the threat of increased exposure to coronavirus.
A good example is Dane County Wisconsin, home to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. As UWM struggles with its own increase in virus cases, the county has seen a similar spike. And that worrisome news is not lost on the larger community.
"UW-Madison is part of the Madison community and has an impact on all of us," Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said this week. "Yesterday, 82% of positive cases tested by UW were students who live off campus. The reality is that students are not confined to campus, they travel off-campus to work, volunteer, run errands, visit nearby relatives and explore area attractions."
"We need everyone to take precautions to help keep our community safe."
And it's not just Wisconsin. College communities across America are showing alarming spikes, which closely align with the return of students to local campuses.
Take McClean County, Illinois, for example, home to Illinois State University. The county saw a marked increase in cases, hitting a high of 292 new cases on Sept. 4, almost exactly two weeks after ISU classes resumed.
There were commensurate spikes in Champaign County after the start of classes at the University of Illinois; in Coles County, the home of Eastern Illinois University; and in Dekalb County, where Northern Illinois University reported Tuesday it currently had 58 students and two faculty testing positive.
Across America, there have been similar stories. Late Monday, students in Stillwater, Oklahoma, staged a noisy demonstration outside the Board of Education offices after the schools suspended athletic events due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
Stillwater is home to Oklahoma State University, which has reported 792 cases since students returned in August.
"Stillwater is consistently showing one of the nation's highest rates of spread and high positivity levels from testing," the schools said in a statement. "We ask that the people, businesses, and other organizations in Stillwater work to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in our community, so that in-person extracurricular activities and instruction may resume for the children of Stillwater."
In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday expressed confidence in the precautions being taken by officials in the Wisconsin university system. But he once again called on students to do their part.
"We just have to make sure that students, especially in the university system, really take on the issue of individual responsibility," Evers said. "That's the bottom line."
Healthcare Workers Turn To Virtual Reality Amid Pandemic
Due to physical distancing and mask requirements, medical training with hired actors halted in March at Northwestern’s Delnor and Central DuPage Hospitals.
But with virtual technology, clinicians are able to immerse themselves in just about any scenario.
Whether it’s an emergency room, operating room or an exact replica of the hospital, front-line workers have a variety of real-world situations they train in, including patients showing symptoms of the coronavirus.
The virtual patient can be programmed by gender, race or age.
“It really affords us the opportunity to maintain that distancing as well as the opportunity to maintain our masks while we’re learning,” said program director of simulation Michelle Olech Smith. “Ultimately, the translation from learning to practice is pretty significant.”
Nurses like Kristin Rafferty of Central DuPage Hospital are among the first to go through the virtual reality training.
“It was very real. I had a doctor pop up right behind me, and I had a conversation with him about orders and how to treat the patient,” said Rafferty. “We got real-time vitals on an actual screen in the virtual reality room.”
The program is also training medical professionals in high risk scenarios, like sexual assault cases.
“That really prepares nurses for forensic exams of patients,” said Smith.
Smith adds that virtual reality will be used on patients in the near future to understand their diagnosis and teach them self-care.
Pritzker Remains Adamant High School Football Won't be Allowed This Fall
Despite increasing pressure from parents and student-athletes to allow fall sports to commence in the state of Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is standing firm that he will not sign off on allowing sports like football to start now.
During a press conference Tuesday, Pritzker said that he is continuing to listen to “doctors and researchers,” and said that the choices of other states will not impact his decision.
“I’m not willing to sacrifice people’s lives or their health,” Pritzker said. “Neither the children nor their parents who would be affected also. I’m relying on doctors and researchers to give us the information. This isn’t a political decision.”
While all states that border Illinois are currently playing high school football, including Wisconsin and Indiana, Pritzker was adamant that he won’t be swayed by the decisions of the state’s neighbors when it comes to allowing fall sports to take place.
“Those are states, fine, if they decided to endanger children and families in those states by allowing certain contact sports to take place, then that is their decision. It is not something that is good for the families and the children of Illinois.”
Dr. Allison Arwady, the director of the Chicago Department of Public Health, echoed Pritzker’s comments in her own press availability, saying that the city’s focus should be on getting children back into classrooms instead of onto football fields.
“If we’re not in a situation where it’s safe to have Chicago Public Schools in session, I don’t feel that we’re in a safe situation to be playing sports, to be perfectly honest.”
Arwady says she agrees with the state’s policies on contact vs. non-contact sports, but also said she feels for those student-athletes who are working toward potential sports scholarships to college.
That being said, she still believes that the priority should be to get students back into classrooms before getting them all back on the playing field.
“Being able to prioritize having in-person education takes an even higher priority for me,” she said. “I don’t see a setting where we would make any different recommendation than the state has made, or to make a recommendation for having sports play when the school itself cannot be open.”
Why Wisconsin Isn't Being Added to Chicago's Quarantine List Just Yet
Chicago health officials warned against traveling to Wisconsin Tuesday, saying the state could be added back onto the city's travel order if its numbers don't come back down. But why did the city choose to wait another week?
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said that while Wisconsin had reached the threshold to be added to the order, the city recognized that "people need time for planning."
"There is a high chance that it may be added next week," Arwady said, noting the neighboring state saw a "sharp spike in one week."
According to public health data, Wisconsin's average daily case rate has soared in the last week, breaking an all-time record for average cases statewide on Thursday. Meanwhile, the state's positivity rate climbed from 8.3% at the end of August to 14.1% as of Sunday.
As of Monday morning, the daily case average per 100,000 residents reached 19.6.
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.
Pritzker Warns of Cuts, ‘Nightmare Scenario' If Federal Government Doesn't Step In
As Illinois prepares to deal with the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned of budget cuts and a potential "nightmare scenario."
"Until Republicans in Washington decide otherwise, middle class, working class and poor families across our state and across the nation will likely suffer from cuts to public safety, education, human services, and environmental safety," Pritzker said. "And the potential layoffs will make the economic recession worse. But the GOP leadership's decision to support big businesses, but not support working families has reached a critical point."
Pritzker said Tuesday his administration sent a notice to cabinet directors, telling them to prepare for the possibility of cuts amounting to at least 5% for the current fiscal year. The notice also urged directors to submit a potential spending outline for fiscal year 2022 that would have a 10% reduction in appropriations.
"I can promise you, that for everyone and anyone who got into public service who actually wants to serve for the public, this is a nightmare scenario," Pritzker said. "Because at the end of the day, this isn't just about local governments or state governments in Illinois. This is about support for local and state governments across the nation. This is about support for our nation's economic recovery that only the federal government can provide, just like it did for the corporate sector already, without that support our nation's schools, hospitals, universities, law enforcement, health care workers, and firefighters will pay the price and it will be a heavy price."
Pritzker couldn't say when the cuts might take place, but urged people to prepare for such moves now.
"You've already seen challenges, I think, you know, in our police departments, our fire departments across the state cities and counties," Pritzker said. "If they don't receive federal support, they won't be able to maintain their workforce. Yeah, when you include all of the cities and counties that are affected by this, we're literally talking about thousands of people who will get laid off. I can't tell you what the exact number would be."
In June, Pritzker signed into law an Illinois budget heavily reliant on federal assistance because of revenue lost to COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and social interaction.
But even short of revenue, Democrats who control the General Assembly sent the Democratic governor a $42.9 billion spending plan, 7.5% larger than the current year's outlay. It takes effect July 1.
The budget relies on billions of dollars that Illinois and other states hope come in the form of federal assistance to state balance sheets battered by COVID-19. It also authorizes borrowing up to $5 billion from a federal COVID-19 relief fund if grant funding isn't forthcoming.
Republicans objected to the plan during an abbreviated, four-day emergency session in May that stood for a full spring session's worth of work. They wanted spending cuts, but Democrats said balancing the budget with cuts would be too drastic.
Chicago Drops Several States From Quarantine List as City Issues Warning on Wisconsin
Chicago's travel order was lowered to 16 states Tuesday as city health officials warn that Wisconsin could soon return to the quarantine list if their numbers don't decline.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Utah was added to the city's order but Florida, Idaho, North Carolina, Texas, Hawaii and Nevada were all removed.
Last week, Chicago's quarantine list dropped to 21 states when California and Puerto Rico were removed and Kentucky added.
Arwady said that while Wisconsin had reached the threshold to be added to the order, the city recognized that "people need time for planning."
"There is a high chance that it may be added next week," Arwady said, noting the neighboring state saw a "sharp spike in one week."
Illinois Confirms 1,466 New Cases of Coronavirus, 10 Additional Deaths Tuesday
Illinois health officials confirmed 1,466 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, with 20 additional deaths attributed to the virus.
According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the new cases reported Tuesday bring the state’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 264,210 since the pandemic began earlier this year.
The 20 new fatalities brings the statewide death toll to 8,332, according to officials.
Tuesday, officials reported 39,031 new test samples turned in to state laboratories, bringing the total number of tests conducted statewide to 4,810,827.
The seven-day positivity rate held steady at 3.6%, its lowest in recent weeks.
Hospitalization numbers in the state increased slightly, with 1,584 COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals statewide. Of those patients, 373 are in intensive care units, and 144 are on ventilators, per new figures released Tuesday.