Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker or Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will be streamed in the video player above.
One of Chicago's more recognized restaurant groups has announced plans for mass layoffs as the restaurant industry continues to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, cases are spiking at colleges and universities as students return to campuses for the fall semester. NBC 5 Investigates has been tracking the outbreaks, putting all the info you need to know into a searchable tool to see how the pandemic is spreading.
Here are the latest updates from around the state on the fight against coronavirus today (Sept. 4):
29 Illinois Counties Now at ‘Warning Level' for Coronavirus, Health Officials Say
Twenty-nine 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: Boone, Bureau, Clinton, Coles, Cumberland, Edgar, Effingham, Fayette, Greene, Henry, Jasper, Jefferson, Jersey, Lake, Lawrence, Madison, McLean, Monroe, Pulaski, Randolph, Rock Island, Shelby, Stark, St. Clair, Union, Wabash, Warren, Williamson, Will.
Last week, 30 counties were at a "warning level," including suburban Cook County, which has since been removed from the list.
"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 Reports 5,368 New Coronavirus Cases After Test Backlog, 29 Additional Deaths
Illinois health officials on Friday reported 5,368 new coronavirus cases, a severe increase in cases that the state's public health department said is due to "a slowdown in data processing" within IDPH systems, as well as 29 additional deaths.
"Earlier this week, a slowdown in data processing within Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) systems affected the reporting of tests this week due to the large volume of testing occurring in Illinois," health officials said in a statement Friday.
"All available resources were deployed to improve the data systems, which are now fixed, and the backlog created by the slowdown has been cleared," the statement continued, pointing to two system upgrades put in place to "significantly" increase processing capacity.
"Although the slowdown did delay the reporting of some additional aggregate numbers, it did not affect the reporting of positive or negative results to individuals in any way," IDPH said.
Indeed, labs in Illinois reported 149,273 tests performed in the past 24 hours and an overall total of 4,309,941
Friday's figures brought the statewide totals to 245,371 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, according to new data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, with at least 8,143 deaths in all 102 counties attributed to the virus.
With Friday's new cases, the state’s rolling 7-day positivity rate dipped to 4.1% compared to 4.4% the day before.
In all, 1,621 patients are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the state of Illinois, with 360 of those patients in intensive care units and the number of patients on ventilators at 155.
Fauci Warns Illinois, 6 Other States ‘at Risk for Surging' of Coronavirus Over Labor Day Weekend
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, has reportedly issued a warning to residents of Illinois and six other states to be particularly vigilant over Labor Day weekend in order to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases.
"There are several states that are at risk for surging, namely North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois,” Fauci said in an interview with Bloomberg this week.
"Those states are starting to see an increase in the percent positive of their testing; that is generally predictive that there’s going to be a problem," he added, according to Bloomberg.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday that the U.S. had previously seen surges in coronavirus cases after earlier summer holiday weekends.
“The issue that we're facing right now is we're entering… into the Labor Day weekend and we know from prior experience that when you get into holiday weekends — the Fourth of July, Memorial Day — there's a tendency of people to be careless, somewhat, with regard to the public health measures that we keep recommending over and over again,” Fauci said.
"So I really want to use this opportunity almost to have a plea to the people in this country to realize that we really still need to get our arms around this and to suppress these types of surges that we've seen," he continued.
“You can have an enjoyable weekend, but you can do a couple of fundamental things that we talk about all the time,” Fauci added. “Masks, distance, avoiding crowds, outdoors much more than indoors, washing your hands."
Prominent Chicago Restaurant Group Announces Mass Layoffs During Coronavirus Pandemic
One of Chicago's most recognized restaurant groups has announced plans for mass layoffs as the restaurant industry continues to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and questions rise over how many will survive as temperatures cool.
Boka Restaurant Group filed a notice with the state showing its intent to let go of 516 workers at several of its 23 highly-acclaimed eateries.
The layoffs include employees at chef Stephanie Izard's famed Girl & the Goat, Little Goat, Duck Duck Goat and Cabra restaurants, as well as Momotaro, Swift & Sons, GT Prime Steakhouse and more.
Boka Restaurant Group did not immediately respond to NBC Chicago's requests for comment on the planned layoffs.
According to the notice, which is required for companies with 75 or more full-time workers under the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, more than a dozen of Boka's 23 restaurants will be affected. The layoffs are set to take effect beginning Sept. 20, according to the notice, which cites COVID-19 as the reason.
Restaurants across the city have been adjusting to delivery, take-out and outdoor dining as the coronavirus pandemic forced a citywide shutdown of indoor dining and has now left many at limited capacity inside.
According to Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia, restaurant sales are down 50 to 70 percent from last year, and it's predicted that 86 percent of restaurants won't make a profit.
In the West Loop, where many of Boka's restaurants are located, streets have been shut down to make room for more outdoor dining.
Still, restaurants across the city have been operating on different levels as they look to survive and brace for what will happen as colder weather looms. Others have been forced to close their doors for good.
Last month, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched a winter design challenge in an attempt to "reimagine the winter outdoor dining experience."
As it stands, Chicago restaurants can only operate at 25 percent capacity indoors, and Toia says increasing that number to 50% in the coming months, will be key.
"Our restaurants and bars are the heart and soul of the city, and we must do everything possible to keep them operational during the harsh winter months,” Toia said. “We need out-of-the-box thinking to address the hardship facing our industry."
At Least 28K Coronavirus Cases Reported at Colleges as Students Return: Track More Than 200 Schools Here
At least 28,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported at more than 200 colleges and universities in recent weeks as students return to campuses while the pandemic rages on.
NBC 5 Investigates is tracking cases at more than 200 colleges and universities - more than 60 in Illinois and the greater Chicago area, as well as more than 100 other schools most attended by Illinois students.
Those schools include dozens that don't appear to report their cases online - meaning the true total number of cases may be higher - and many where classes haven't started or began barely one week ago.
At colleges and universities within the state of Illinois, more than 3,270 cases have been reported as of Friday - though that total is likely higher because some of those schools don't reveal information on their cases online.
At the 14 schools in the Big Ten conference, more than 8,121 cases of coronavirus have been reported, even though some of those schools haven't started classes yet.
Nine of Illinois' 12 public four-year universities have reported a total of 2,966 new coronavirus cases on their campuses so far this fall. The other three - Northeastern Illinois, Governor's State and Chicago State universities - don't publish case information online. All three of those schools have a large population of commuter students, which could complicate reporting.
NBC 5 Investigates is only looking at cases that have arisen during the fall, purposely excluding cases that occurred on campuses in the spring and summer, in order to concentrate solely on how the pandemic spreads as students return for this semester.
You can use the tool below to see the number of coronavirus cases each school has reported, sorting by school, cases and more, or searching for a particular term (like Illinois or Indiana) to narrow down specific schools. This tool will be updated each evening.
Small Crowd, Big Excitement as Arlington Welcomes Back Spectators
A warm summer day, food and drinks being served, bets being madeand horses racing around the track.
After a long wait, it's all back at Arlington International Racecourse.
"Just being able to welcome our fans back – it’s going to bring an energy and enthusiasm and life to the facility we haven’t seen yet this year," said Arlington President Tony Petrillo.
Since July 23, races have been happening on Arlington's oval, but until Thursday, it was happening with nobody in the grandstand. Finally on Thursday, that changed.
After getting approval from the Arlington Heights Department of Health and Human Services, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Cook County Department of Public Health, Arlington ran nine races in front of about 200 spectators (the maximum number allowed is 300). For the fans who watched live racing for the first time this season, it felt incredible.
"The void has been big," said racing fan Michael Howatt. "I would come here, probably, at least three or four times a month ... now being here today, I’m all kinds of excited."
Linda Richard -- another horse racing fan -- said being at the track helped her forget the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"I just said to [my husband], 'I am out of the house. I almost feel like crying', Richard said. "It feels so good. This is normal. This is something normal. We haven’t done anything normal in months."
And it's not just fans who are glad to be back. About two dozen workers returned to their posts and started collecting paychecks for the first time all season.
"It’s been great to be able to come back, that Arlington was able to put in some employees and we’re able to work today," said Linda Krinke, a guest services representative. "I’m happy about that."
To keep spectators safe, Arlington is requiring masks to be worn unless people are eating.
Additionally, all food and drinks are pre-packaged, and social distancing is being encouraged. Eleven racing dates remain on the schedule, including Friday and Saturday, both of which are sold out. Saturday features the rescheduled running of the 2020 Kentucky Derby, which can be seen on NBC 5.
Lightfoot ‘Deeply Concerned' About CDC Request to Prepare for Vaccine by Election Day
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she is "deeply" concerned over the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recent request to government officials to prepare for a coronavirus vaccine by election day.
The CDC asked states to expedite the approval process for McKesson, a medical supply company, so it can begin setting up vaccination sites by Nov. 1, CNBC reported on Thursday.
“I’m very concerned about the fact that the CDC is now talking about vaccines in connection with elections,” Lightfoot said during a press conference on Thursday. “That should not be happening. We should always be focused, particularly when it comes to response to COVID-19, on what the science tells us.”
The CDC specifically recommended states to waive licensing and permit requirements that may result in slowing down the process, according to a letter the CDC wrote on Aug. 27 to state governors that was obtained by CNBC.
In the letter, CDC Director Robert Redfield said waiving licenses “will not compromise the safety or integrity of the products being distributed.”
Lightfoot joins other leaders whose skepticism grows amid concerns that health officials may be feeling pressure to rush a vaccine ahead of the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
"I would be shocked if that happens before election day," Lightfoot said. "That's why I'm deeply concerned about the CDC talking at all about anything other than what the science is what the results are the phase three trials.”
Trick or Treat? Chicago Doctor on How Halloween Might Look Different During Pandemic
With the coronavirus showing few signs of slowing down as fall nears, many are questioning what the next few months will look like as the pandemic continues to decimate traditions and beloved events.
Will there be candy in store for kids? Costumes? Apple picking?
Dr. Mark Loafman, chair of family and community medicine at Cook County Health, said Halloween may not be gone entirely, but things will certainly look different.
Loafman, who said the holiday was already a tricky subject for doctors as they work to battle an obesity epidemic, said the coronavirus brings even more challenges to the table.
"That's something we always struggle with regardless of COVID anyways, you know, encouraging families to find healthier ways to celebrate and to not sort of put candy and really empty calorie food up on such an altar to be celebrated. So that's sort of a backdrop so I think from a public health point of view where we always want to help families address opportunities to find other ways to celebrate it and, you know, the risks associated with that," Loafman said. "Now we have this COVID environment where people getting close together and in a celebratory way is one of our biggest challenges right now."
Trick-or-treating brings with it its own set of obstacles, but maintaining small groups and proper hygiene can ensure families are still able to celebrate, Loafman said.
"What we recommend is you know families get together, so it's safe houses where we know who's going to be going where and we know people are following the protocols and is celebrating, dressing up and the other occasions that would be useful, and good family traditions and that sort of thing," Loafman said. "We try to focus on healthy snacks, try to focus on teaching children safe ways to communicate and how to enforce public health principles. I think we anticipate living with this virus for quite a while and maybe indefinitely and we really have to learn how to retrain all occasions and all events to be able to do it in a safe way so this is an opportunity to do that."
When it comes to proper ways to dish out candy, there are challenges that come with multiple options.
"It would be good to know that the people that are preparing the candy are doing it in a way that's hygiene related and then safe for the kids so I think having a container out that we feel confident was prepared appropriately and then letting kids pick it up, but again, the issue then is that they're all putting their hands in this bowl," Loafman said. "So, you know, individual would be safer, individual handouts in some way so that there wasn't a common bowl everybody's reaching into- I think that's probably a risky scenario."
But fall doesn't just mean trick-or-treating. It also means hay rides, pumpkin patches and other seasonal treats.
According to Loafman, it's not necessarily what you do that you need to worry about, it's how you do it.
"It's small groups keeping distance, it's wearing masks and these things can absolutely happen and getting outdoors is, you know, safe and able to do when it's done in those constructs," Loafman said. "We want to avoid people getting into a situation where they don't have control of their surroundings and people that maybe are lax about their mask use and their hygiene are going to contaminate others. I think the best way to take care of our families is to not get ourselves in those situations where we lose control, and it becomes a spreading event."
The biggest risk, according to Loafman, is such activities becoming "super spreading events."
"Watch your distance, wash your hands and then wearing masks, those are the big three things for any kind of public activity, and you know whatever is done needs to be done in that way when those three things can be maintained," Loafman said. "And when we do that, we have very good luck controlling the spread of this virus and when we don't do those things we get spread and when it's a congregate event where there's a lot of people coming we get super spread. And that's what's really, really killing us right now is the fact that we don't just have low level one-to-one transmission but we get events where one person infects five and they infect 20 and then you get 100 before you know it. That's what we have to stop if we ever want to get get through this."
Loafman predicts many things may need to be adjusted as the world continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is no different than where we don't let our kids go on a road trip with parents who don't believe in seatbelts," Loafman said. "And we don't want to consider a secondhand smoke and, you know, we've relearned a lot of things about how to change the way we parent and just a constant evolution of that and I think this is just another phase of that."
UChicago Medicine Study Finds Possible Link Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Contracting COVID-19
A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine found a potential link between vitamin D deficiency and contracting the coronavirus.
Researchers looked at 489 UChicago Medicine patients and found those who had a deficiency in vitamin D that went untreated were nearly twice as likely to contract COVID-19 when compared to patients with normal levels of vitamin D.
“Vitamin D is important to the function of the immune system and vitamin D supplements have previously been shown to lower the risk of viral respiratory tract infections,” said David Meltzer, MD, PhD, Chief of Hospital Medicine at UChicago Medicine and lead author of the study. “Our statistical analysis suggests this may be true for the COVID-19 infection.”
The patients that were involved in the study had their vitamin D levels measured within a year prior to getting a COVID-19 test.
According to the study, half of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, and even higher rates of deficiency are found in Black and LatinX Americans as well as areas like Chicago where sunlight is limited year-round.
“Understanding whether treating Vitamin D deficiency changes COVID-19 risk could be of great importance locally, nationally and globally,” Meltzer said.
According to researchers, shelter-in-place orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19 may also decrease sun exposure, and in turn, potentially increase the need for vitamin D supplementation which should not exceed 4000 IU per day.
“Vitamin D is inexpensive, generally very safe to take, and can be widely scaled,” said Meltzer.
Illinois Reports 1,360 New Coronavirus Cases, 25 Additional Deaths
Illinois health officials reported 1,360 new coronavirus cases and 25 additional deaths on Thursday.
Those figures brought the statewide totals to 240,003 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, according to new data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, with at least 8,115 deaths in all 102 counties attributed to the virus.
Labs in Illinois reported 40,795 tests performed in the past 24 hours, back within the 40,000-to-50,000 range the state has conducted on average per day over the past week. The health department attributed the lower test results to "a slowdown in data processing within IDPH systems."
With Thursday's new cases, the state’s rolling 7-day positivity rate dipped to 4.4% compared to 4.5% the day before.
Hospitalizations ticked up slightly, health officials said. In all, 1,620 patients are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the state of Illinois, with 360 of those patients in intensive care units and the number of patients on ventilators at 144.
University of Illinois Taking Precautions After More Than 300 COVID-19 Cases Confirmed
The University of Illinois is ramping up enforcement of restrictions on student activity after more than 330 COVID-19 cases in two days on the school’s Urbana-Champaign campus, school officials said Wednesday.
In an email to students, Chancellor Robert Jones said he expects all undergraduates to ``limit their in-person interactions to only the most essential activities” for the next two weeks starting Wednesday evening.
“These include things like taking twice weekly COVID-19 tests, attending class, purchasing groceries and food, going to work, engaging in individual outdoor activity, attending religious services and seeking medical attention,” Jones wrote.
The University of Illinois isn’t the only university in the state seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Illinois State University in Normal is reporting about 1,025 students have tested positive since the start of the fall semester two weeks ago, nearly 5% of the student body.
Since students returned to the Urbana-Champaign campus Aug. 16, more than 1,000 people on campus have tested positive. University officials say about 800 people are currently in quarantine. Jones says there is no evidence the spike of the coronavirus among students has spread to instructors or to the local community.
Illinois requires everyone on campus to take a saliva-based test it developed twice a week, wear masks, and show proof of a recent negative test before entering campus buildings. School officials decided the precautions would allow students to return to campus for the fall term. About two-thirds of the university’s classes this semester are entirely online. A third of the classes have in-person components.
Jones is blaming the rise of COVID-19 cases on campus on the behavior of a small number of students. He pointed to students going out in public despite being tested postitive, avoiding contact tracers and joining large gatherings.
“Students who do not comply with campus COVID-19 rules or who fail to follow any instructions from Champaign-Urbana Public Health District will face immediate suspension,” Jones wrote.
Officials say students who host parties or fail to comply with quarantine or isolation directions will face ``immediate suspension.” As of Wednesday, two students and a fraternity have been suspended, with more than 100 students facing discipline.
The university is reporting 182,060 saliva tests have been performed since July. The school’s seven-day average positive rate stands at 1.16% , up from .75% last week.
Jones said the number of new cases in recent days has progressed at a rate that will double every seven days if students don’t follow the actions he suggests. At that pace, as many as 8,000 people could be infected this semester.
Since Aug. 17, Illinois State has conducted around 4,400 tests at three on-campus locations, yielding a testing positivity rate of about 24% in the past week, officials said.
“As our surveillance testing ramps up, we expect that expanded testing will result in a lower positivity rate,” said John Baur, professor of chemistry and ISU’s COVID-19 testing coordinator.
Pritzker Warns of Positivity Rate Increase in Most Illinois Regions
While only two of the state’s 11 healthcare regions currently have enhanced coronavirus mitigation rules in place, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker says that positivity rates are rising in the vast majority of those regions, causing concerns among health officials as fall approaches.
According to the governor, nine of the state’s 11 healthcare regions have seen their positivity rate increase over the last two weeks, with four of those regions seeing an increase of more than one percentage point.
Region 3, which includes Quincy and Springfield, and Region 6, which includes the Champaign-Urbana area and Decatur, are the only two regions that have seen their positivity rates go down over that time, Pritzker said.
“We continue to closely monitor every region, so I want to emphasize again that local elected officials and health officials should pay close attention to the data for their communities and, where necessary, step up and impose greater mitigations on a targeted basis to bring down the number of infections and the positivity rate,” Pritzker said.
Here is where each region stands as of Wednesday, with increases and decreases calculated over the last week:
Region 1 – 5.8% (up 0.8%)
Region 2 – 7.1% (up 0.6%)
Region 3 – 5.0% (down 0.5%)
Region 4 – 9.6% (down 0.1%)
Region 5 – 6.9% (down 0.2%)
Region 6 – 1.7% (up 0.1%)
Region 7 – 8.8% (up 0.5%)
Region 8 – 5.9% (up 0.3%)
Region 9 – 6.5% (up 0.7%)
Region 10 – 6.6% (down 0.2%)
Region 11 – 5.7% (up 0.4%)
Of those regions, Region 4 (located near St. Louis) and Region 7 (comprised of Will and Kankakee counties) are currently above the 8% threshold that triggers new coronavirus restrictions. Region 4’s restrictions were bumped up on Wednesday to match those in Region 7.
Both regions have had to suspend in-person dining and bar service, and are both required to lower the maximum allowable gathering size to 25 or fewer people, according to guidelines set forth by the state.