Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker or Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will be streamed in the video player above.
The state of Illinois surpassed a major milestone on Sunday - more than 4 million coronavirus tests performed since the pandemic began.
Of the new tests performed in the past day, health officials confirmed nearly 2,000 new cases as the positivity rate again ticked up to 4.2%.
Here are the latest updates from around the state on the fight against coronavirus today (Aug. 31):
Illinois Reports 1,668 New Coronavirus Cases, 7 Additional Deaths Monday
Illinois health officials reported 1,668 new coronavirus cases and seven additional deaths on Monday.
Those figures brought the statewide totals to 235,025 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, according to new data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, with at least 8,026 deaths attributed to the virus.
Labs in Illinois on Monday reported 47,379 tests performed in the past 24 hours, bringing statewide totals to more 4,064,161 tests performed.
The state surpassed the milestone of 4 million tests conducted on Sunday. It took Illinois just 22 days to perform the most recent 1 million tests, as the state had hit the 3 million mark earlier this month.
With Monday's increase in cases, the state’s rolling 7-day positivity rate dropped to 4.1% from 4.2% the day before, reversing the increase seen in that number on Sunday.
Hospitalizations ticked up slightly across the board on Monday, health officials said. In all, 1,492 patients are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the state of Illinois, with 347 of those patients in intensive care units. A total of 157 COVID-19 patients are currently on ventilators.
No Action From Pritzker's COVID-19 Price-Gouging Pursuit
The coronavirus pandemic had steamrolled Illinois, and amid the helter-skelter of counting hospital beds, keeping pace with ever-changing federal health guidance and maneuvering a market-turned-minefield of protective-gear prices, Gov. J.B. Pritzker made a pledge.
“Price-gouging will not be tolerated,” the Democrat declared in March, later promising that instances of unfair pricing would be brought to the attention of Attorney General Kwame Raoul.
During the chaotic spring, Illinois, like most states, was forced to pay sometimes eye-popping markups for lifesaving gear: $6 face masks previously costing $1 or less; ventilators listing for $25,000 selling for $40,000 or more.
Through Aug. 23 the state’s total outlay is $1.2 billion. But Pritzker has flagged no instances of price-gouging. An Associated Press public-records request disclosed one complaint, submitted by a consumer, forwarded to the attorney general.
Meanwhile, angry shoppers were pummeling Raoul’s consumer protection division with 1,800 price-complaints on everything from toilet tissue to whiskey. As for how they've been handled and whether they're resolves, officials say they’ve been unable to compile statistics because the pandemic has forced staff to work remotely. When asked for information about any price-gouging court action which Raoul's attorneys have initiated, Raoul spokeswoman Annie Thompson did not respond.
That perplexes experts in antitrust law, which encompasses price-gouging.
“Where the state is spending a lot of money, I would expect that there would be specific instances in which there would be a serious complaint or concern or an episode that would warrant more detailed examination,” said Bill Kovacic, a George Washington University Law School professor and former Federal Trade Commission chairman.
Before the pandemic, Illinois law prohibited only petroleum-product price-gouging. Asked for the new language, a spokeswoman for Pritzker’s COVID-19 response pointed to the governor’s March 9 disaster declaration, which prohibits “increases in the selling price of goods or services.” Nikhil Mehta, whose work for the Chicago law firm SmithAmundson includes antitrust action, said the rule doesn’t nix all increases. It piggybacks on the existing motor-fuel rules, which bar “unconscionably high” prices.
Other states have touted their action. King & Spalding, a multinational law firm with a Chicago office, reported in late spring on litigation by the federal government and in at least nine states, covering private as well as government action, such as lawsuits by Minnesota-based 3M and the nonprofit advocacy group Alliance for a Better Utah. As early as March 26, the Texas attorney general filed a lawsuit against an online auction of high-demand N95 masks for $11 a pop.
For Pritzker, speedy procurement was paramount, spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said — holding out for pre-pandemic prices would have been disastrous. But when it was pointed out that’s not what Pritzker promised and there’s no prohibition on post-purchase investigations, Abudayyeh then said that when the ordeal ends, the administration will act on “instances of price-gouging that warrant our referral to authorities.”
Chicago’s office of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection reported 747 complaints of price-gouging compared to two in 2019. Investigations uncovered few instances of unreasonable price-hikes, spokesman Isaac Reichman said. But the office issued four citations for price-gouging, ongoing cases that could result in fines, he said.
Shortly after Pritzker’s executive order, Raoul promised to “ put people before profits.” More than 1,100 complaints flew in during the first three weeks. But Raoul spokeswoman Thompson said the Democrat, who regularly issues news releases documenting his activities, has not decided whether he will publicly release outcomes.
According to copies of about 200 complaints the attorney general disclosed in response to an AP records request, complaints were varied: A Chicago corner grocer selling arrachera for $9 a pound when it’s usually $4. Lysol online for $9.99 — plus $12.99 shipping.
“I need to feed my children,” one store owner says when asked why disinfectant spray cost $25. Toilet tissue from multi-roll packets is wrapped individually for $5.49 each.
So quickly did they come in that Susan Ellis, chief of consumer protection, said her staff conducted “triage” on the “more egregious ones.” Ultimately, many were resolved informally, Ellis said. Lowered prices often result from contact from the state’s top law enforcer and his authority to assess $50,000 fines.
Mehta, the Chicago lawyer, said unfamiliarity with a new area of enforcement and pandemic-shuttered courts might have hampered the office. But he noted that the attorney general can seek emergency court action on serious consumer issues and finds it surprising “if there hasn’t been a single case filed.”
“I would have expected to have seen an injunction here or there,” Mehta said. “But if they’re getting people to comply, based on direct communication outside of the court, then it sounds like it’s been effective.”
Michael Volkov, whose Washington, D.C.-based law firm’s specialties include corporate compliance, said he expected more aggressive gouger pursuit by all levels of government. But he noted the late-summer resurgence of the illness affecting dozens of states and said another economic shakeup — and attempts to exploit it — could follow.
“It seems like the supply chains have gotten pretty much straightened out and you go to the grocery store and pretty much everything’s there,” Volkov said. “But that’s not to say that something couldn’t happen.”
Illinois' High Court Says Face Masks Must be Worn in Courts
Anyone entering a Illinois courthouse should be wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to an Illinois Supreme Court order.
The state’s highest court issued an order Thursday including face masks in its rules governing who is admitted into courthouses “in the interests of the health and safety of all court users, staff, and judicial officers during these extraordinary circumstances.”
The order also says people with flu-like symptoms, those directed to quarantine by a medical professional or people who have close contact with someone subject to a quarantine should not enter courthouses.
Chicago's ‘Tamale Guy' Hospitalized With COVID-19
Velez had a sore throat earlier in the week, and while waiting for the results of his COVID-19 test, his health rapidly declined in just a couple of days, the post added.
Velez was admitted to the intensive care unit and spent time on a ventilator. But as of Saturday, his condition was improving.
The prominent chef opened a standalone restaurant bearing his nickname, "The Tamale Guy," in Ukrainian Village earlier this month. As a precaution, the restaurant has been closed until further notice.
Suburban Cook County Reaches ‘Warning Level' for Coronavirus: Health Officials
Suburban Cook County is now at a "warning level" for transmission of the coronavirus, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
As of Friday, suburban Cook County was at 112 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, well above the state-established target rate of 50 cases per 100,000, officials with the Cook County Department of Public Health stated.
Additionally, there were 25 deaths in suburban Cook County last week, an increase of 15 from the week before.
Along with Cook County, 29 other Illinois counties have also reached the "warning level," meaning they saw increases in two or more COVID-19 "risk indicators," according to IDPH.
While the city of Chicago is located in Cook County, the city is listed as its own health care region as defined by IDPH and hasn't reached the "warning level."
In suburban Cook County, the following mitigation practices, which were issued on Aug. 3, remain in effect:
- Bar service outdoors only
- Restaurant and bar maximum party size of 6 people per table
- Indoor fitness class maximum class size of 10
- No personal services that require removal of face coverings (e.g. facials and shaves)
- Residential property managers should limit guest entry to 6 people per unit
- Remote work for high-risk individuals and continued support for telework for as many workers as possible
- Self-quarantine based on travel guidance to states with high rates of community transmission
Additionally, as announced earlier this week by Gov. Pritzker, patrons at Illinois restaurants must wear face coverings during interactions with wait staff and other employees.
“We need people to follow the current guidance," Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical with the Cook County Department of Public Health, pleaded in a press release. "If the numbers stay ‘orange’ or continue to worsen, we may need to implement additional restrictions, and we really don’t want to go there... We can beat this thing if we all work together."
30 Illinois Counties Now at ‘Warning Level' for Coronavirus, Health Officials Say
Thirty counties in Illinois, including Cook County, 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: Bureau, Carroll, Cass, Clinton, Cook, Cumberland, Effingham, Fayette, Greene, Grundy, Henderson, Henry, Jasper, Jersey, Jo Daviess, Johnson, Madison, Monroe, Morgan, Perry, Pike, Randolph, Sangamon, Shelby, St. Clair, Union, Warren, White, Will and Williamson.
Last week, 20 counties were at a "warning level," 14 of which remained on the list Friday.
Illinois Health Officials Issue Coronavirus Polling Place Guidance
Ahead of the 2020 general election this November, the Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday issued a set of guidelines aimed at ensuring the health and safety of voters amid the coronavirus pandemic.
All local election authorities will be required to develop written COVID-19 prevention plans for polling sites, according to a news release from IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.
Additionally, election authorities are being encouraged to relocate polls previously housed in long-term care facilities and senior living residences to protect voters and residents.
All polling locations will have signage to encourage voters to wear masks and maintain a distance of 6 feet while inside the polling places, as outlined in the guidance. If voters show up to a polling place without a mask, election authorities are required to offer them a face covering outside of the polling place.
Polling booths must also be set up at least 6 feet apart.
Election officials are also encouraged to implement the following: plexiglass barriers, large print instructions to facilitate communication, routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, and polling place personnel to remind voters to maintain physical distance.
Drivers Reminded Not to Hang Face Masks from Rear View Mirror, May Result in Fine
AAA Auto group and the Illinois State Police are reminding drivers not to use their rear view mirror to store face masks amid the pandemic.
As the coronavirus crisis continues, many people have been found oftentimes hanging several face masks on their rear view mirror.
And while doing do could lead to a citation, hanging any object from the mirror is considered illegal.
“We and the Illinois State Police both want to remind all drivers to not hang anything on the rearview mirrors,” said AAA Auto group spokesperson Molly Hart.
“It is against the law, and depending on the circumstances, either the size or the swinging movement of such items can interfere with a driver’s view of a pedestrian, a motorcyclist, bicyclist or even a full-sized vehicle. Drivers can receive a warning or citation.”
A citation for hanging an object on a rear view mirror can cost up to $164.