Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker or Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will be streamed in the video player above.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on businesses across the state and country, and in the Chicago area, restaurants have been hit hard.
Dozens have shuttered since the pandemic began earlier this year and as colder weather moves in, many worry what winter will bring.
Here are the latest updates from around Illinois on the coronavirus pandemic today (Sept. 18):
24 Illinois Counties Now at 'Warning Level' for Coronavirus, Health Officials Say
Twenty-four 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: Bond, Bureau, Cass, Clinton, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, DeWitt, Edwards, Effingham, Greene, Jasper, Jo Daviess, Lawrence, Madison, Marion, Rock Island, St. Clair, Shelby, Washington, Wayne, Williamson, Wabash, and Union.
Last week, 30 counties were at a "warning level."
"Public health officials are observing people not social distancing, gathering in large groups, and not using face coverings," the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a statement. "In some counties, local law enforcement and states’ attorneys are not enforcing important mitigation measures like social distancing and the wearing of face coverings."
"Additionally, some people refuse to participate in contact tracing and are not providing information on close contacts or answering the phone. Individuals are also waiting to get tested believing their symptoms are allergies or some other cause," IDPH continued.
Some of the common factors for increases in cases, health officials said, were "college parties, weddings, large gatherings, bars and clubs, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, travel to neighboring states, and spread among members of the same household who are not isolating at home." Some cases were also connected to schools and officials said "general transmission of the virus" was also increasing.
Illinois Confirms 2,120 New Cases of Coronavirus, 20 Additional Deaths Friday
Illinois health officials confirmed 2,120 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 Friday bring the state’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 270,327 since the pandemic began earlier this year.
The 20 new fatalities brings the statewide death toll to 8,411, according to officials.
On Friday, officials reported 61,918 new test samples turned in to state laboratories, bringing the total number of tests conducted statewide to 4,982,856.
The seven-day positivity rate held steady at 3.6%.
Hospitalization numbers in the state continued to drop slightly, with 1,481 COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals statewide. Of those patients, 329 are in intensive care units, and 149 are on ventilators, per new figures released Friday.
Increased Coronavirus Restrictions in 1 Illinois Region Will be Lifted Friday
One of Illinois' healthcare regions will see some of its added coronavirus mitigations lifted Friday as the area's positivity rate continues to decline, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.
Region 7, which includes south suburban Kankakee and Will counties, is set to return to the phase four guidelines most of Illinois is currently under at 5 p.m. Friday.
“Today, Region 7 – Will and Kankakee Counties – will return to the standard Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan because residents chose to be all in for each other, for their small businesses, for their bars and restaurants, for their kids, for their neighbors,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Let that be a testament to the power of a community that embraces doctor-recommended mitigations proven to reduce risk and slow the spread. We can’t outrun this virus, but with the tools we know to work – masks, distancing, handwashing, and respect for public health and each other – we can beat it back enough to keep our businesses open and our neighborhoods safer all at once. Don’t let up now, Region 7 – let’s keep this success going.”
The area on Wednesday marked its first day below the state's 6.5% average positivity rate threshold since the increased restrictions began last month. In order to have its mitigations lifted, that trend had to hold for three days.
As of Friday, the positivity rate in the area was 5.6%, state health officials said.
More Than 50 Chicago-Area Restaurants Closed Due to COVID-19
More than 50 restaurants in the Chicago area have permanently closed their doors because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Chicago Tribune reported the figure as part of a snapshot of the city’s restaurant scene six months into a pandemic which has forced closures and caused widespread job loss.
Overall, Illinois has reported 268,207 confirmed cases, including 2,056 new cases reported Thursday. The state's Department of Public Health said 8,392 people in Illinois have died since the beginning of the pandemic, including 25 reported Thursday.
The state's unemployment rate was 11% in August, the Illinois Department of Employment Security reported Thursday in its latest figures. While the rate fell .5% from the previous month, the rate is almost triple August of last year when it was 3.8%.
Restaurant owner have said they're particularly concerned about the winter months if things don't change and restrictions on indoor dining remain in place.
Chicago officials launched a competition last month for creative outdoor dining ideas for the winter months and have received over 600 submissions so far. They include tents, heated tables and domes. The winners get a $5,000 cash prize and the chance to try out the idea at restaurants and bars in Chicago.
ZooLights Returns to Lincoln Park Zoo as Ticketed Event
Lincoln Park Zoo's 26th annual ZooLights will return this year as a ticketed event, the Chicago zoo announced.
“Despite the loss of revenue this year brought on by the pandemic, we couldn’t fathom a Chicago winter without the joy of ZooLights,” said Zoo Director Megan Ross, Ph.D, in a statement.
ZooLights tickets are $5 per person and go on sale Sept. 24 for zoo members and 10 a.m. Oct. 1 for the general public. All ages must have a ticket to enter the event.
Free nights will occur on select nights -- Nov. 24, and Dec. 9, 17, 21 and 29 -- but will still require reservations. Reservations will be released at 4 p.m. on the Sunday prior to the event date, according to the zoo.
Ross said the coronavirus pandemic has left Lincoln Park Zoo "financially vulnerable," and even with sponsor help, "unfortunately we are not in a position to staff and operate the extended hours with the limited capacity of visitors required based on state guidelines without some public investment."
"We are charging a nominal admission in order to help us break even and still bring this beloved holiday tradition to the zoo," she said.
ZooLights will run from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Nov. 21-23, 25, 27-30, Dec. 2, 4-8, 11-16, 18-20, 22-23, 26-28, 30-31, and Jan. 1-3, according to the zoo.
According to the zoo's description, ZooLights encourages visitors to "enjoy a twinkling winter wonderland complete with festive activities, such as socially-distant visits with Santa, a holiday pop-up bar, an Enchanted Forest, Light Maze Presented by Invesco QQQ, sweet treats of all kinds, and much more."
Pekin Doctor's Experience with COVID-19 an Eye-Opener
As a primary care physician at UnityPoint Health Pekin East, Dr. Tom Luft is accustomed to seeing the hospital experience through the lens of a caregiver. This summer, he had an opportunity to view an emergency room through a patient’s perspective because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was really eye-opening for me,” Luft said. “I was very scared. In some ways, I was maybe more scared than people who aren’t in health care, because you kind of have that background knowledge and know all the bad things that could happen.”
As a health care professional, Luft knew he was at a higher risk than people working in other fields to contract the disease coronavirus causes. But when he began to experience a stuffy nose and a sore throat in early June, he dismissed it as a consequence of summer in central Illinois.
“Summer in Illinois is kind of an allergy time for me, so that wasn’t terribly unusual,” said Luft. “What clued me in that it wasn’t allergies was that I was taking some over-the-counter antihistamines, and I wasn’t really getting better.”
Even when Luft’s test for the novel coronavirus came back positive, he was not particularly worried, because his symptoms were initially mild.
“I was kind of thankful because I thought maybe I’d be a minimally symptomatic person,” Luft recalled. “I thought that would be good because maybe I could get some immunity and put some of the stress on me and my family behind us.”
Several days after he began to experience symptoms, however, Luft began to experience shortness of breath that could not be described as a mild event. When his wife remarked that he seemed to be breathing hard, Luft had not been aware of it and did not feel as if he was in any particular distress. But within 10 minutes, the severity had increased to the point where he required emergency treatment at UnityPoint Health-Methodist in Peoria and was hospitalized for several days.
“It certainly was scary,” Luft said. “Working in a hospital and helping patients and families through critical illnesses, I’d been on one side of that equation. I’d never personally been on the other.”
More than two months later, Luft continues to periodically experience shortness of breath and fatigue. His personal recovery routine includes multi-vitamins, meditation, and proper rest. He was initially not able to exercise because of the need for his lungs to recover, but is now able to at least take daily walks. He added that an important, but often underestimated, component to a COVID-19 patient’s recovery is the morale boost that can come from supportive families and friends.
“If you have a friend or family member who has this, it’s important to reach out to them and connect in any way possible so they maintain those social connections,” Luft said. “Whether somebody has a suspected case or a diagnosed case, when you’re quarantined, it’s very lonely. Our greatest strength as humans is also our greatest weakness during this pandemic. We’re social. It does make it very hard on somebody to quarantine, so I think reaching out to them by phone or through technology are really important.”
After nearly six months of observing social distancing and safety protocols due to concerns about the virus, it is understandable that some area residents may experience “pandemic fatigue,” according to Luft. But in spite of a very rational impatience to return to normal, pre-pandemic lifestyles, he said it is imperative that the region maintain vigilance.
“It’s hard to social distance and to not do the things we all did before,” Luft said. “But I think it’s still important to be doing those things. Cases are rising in our community. Over the last several weeks, we’ve seen a sharp increase.”
Historic Southport Lanes in Lakeview to Close Permanently After Nearly 100 Years
A 98-year-old bar, bowling alley and billiards hall in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood is set to close its doors for good this month, the bar announced.
Southport Lanes in Lakeview's Southport Corridor plans to close its doors permanently on Sept. 27, according to a spokesperson.
"Southport Lanes enthusiastically welcomes guests to stop by in the next week and a half to enjoy some craft beer and bar fare on the sidewalk cafe," a release stated. "There is also limited indoor seating, as well as carryout available. Due to COVID-19 safety concerns, bowling and billiards is not available."
First named The Nook, Southport Lanes was built by the Schlitz Brewery around 1900, according to its website. The name was changed in 1922 and bowling lanes were added.
Southport Lanes is the latest Chicago establishment to close its doors permanently during the coronavirus pandemic. Most recently, Redmond's Ale House, a popular sports bar in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood, closed for good Sunday.
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.