COVID-19 in Illinois updates: Here’s what’s happening Friday

Cook County is among the 30 counties the Illinois Department of Public Health sounded the alarm about Friday for a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

That’s the largest number of counties that had reached “warning level” since the agency began issuing those weekly reports earlier this summer, and the first time Cook County has been on it. The warning level applies to suburban Cook County and does not apply to the city of Chicago.

On Friday, state health officials also announced 2,149 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 20 deaths. Overall, Illinois has reported 229,483 cases, including 7,997 deaths.

However, the official COVID-19 death toll in Illinois may not account for at least 1,000 fatalities — and potentially far more — that could be attributable to the pandemic, according to a Tribune analysis of federal data.

Here’s what’s happening Friday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:

4:55 p.m.: Stimulus money Cook County formula meant to aid poorer towns could do more harm than good, some Southland mayors say

Some south suburban mayors say a Cook County formula that was intended to give poorer communities such as theirs a bigger share of federal COVID-19 stimulus money actually hurts more than it helps.

They say it could result in their towns leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table, money they say could greatly help them make up for revenue lost due to the pandemic.

“It’s smoke and mirrors,” said Terry Wells, mayor of Phoenix, as he and other leaders of the Southland Regional Mayoral Black Caucus shared their concerns with the Daily Southtown.

3:51 p.m.: After two-week shutdown and drop in new COVID-19 cases, Notre Dame will reopen

The University of Notre Dame’s president announced Friday the school plans to resume in-person classes and activities after tallying fewer daily COVID-19 cases during its temporary shift to remote instruction.

Speaking to the campus community in a video address, the Rev. John Jenkins called the move “a great comeback” and said some in-person classes will start again Wednesday. He cited a dropping positivity rate in testing but also said dozens of disciplinary hearings are scheduled for students who didn’t follow public health protocols.

3:47 p.m.: Tensions rise between college towns and universities as outbreaks emerge among students returning to campus

As more and more schools and businesses around the country get the OK to reopen, college towns are moving in the opposite direction because of too much partying and too many COVID-19 infections among students.

With more than 300 students at the University of Missouri testing positive for the coronavirus and an alarming 44% positivity rate for the surrounding county, the local health director Friday ordered bars to stop serving alcohol at 9 p.m. and close by 10 p.m.

Earlier this week, Iowa’s governor ordered all bars shut down around Iowa University and Iowa State, while the mayor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, did the same in the hometown of the state’s flagship university.

“What we’re seeing in our violations is they’re coming late at night,” said Stephanie Browning, head of the health department for Columbia, Missouri. “Big groups gathering. They’re not wearing their masks, they’re not social distancing.”

2 p.m.: Elgin restaurant owner charged with fraudulently obtaining $176,000 PPP loan

The owner of an Elgin restaurant was charged in U.S. District Court with fraudulently obtaining a $176,000 paycheck protection loan meant to keep businesses afloat during the pandemic even though she’d abruptly closed the restaurant weeks earlier and terminated all her employees.

Melissa Turasky, 43, who ran Gifford’s Kitchen and Social restaurant, was charged with bank fraud in a two-count indictment made public Friday.

According to the charges, the popular casual-dining spot in the 2300 block of Bushwood Drive was shuttered in early March — two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the state into lockdown — and Turasky was evicted from the property. By late March, Turasky had terminated all her employees, the indictment said.

1:55 p.m.: More Catholic schools delay opening because of COVID-19 cases as teachers at other Chicago-area private schools resist in-person classes

Many Archdiocesan and other private schools have now started their 2020-21 school year, while some teachers and parents continue to raise concerns about the return to in-person classes. In the Chicago area, a much larger proportion of private schools are reopening compared to public schools, which have mostly reverted to remote learning.

A group of parents and teachers, calling themselves Arch Teachers for a Safe Return, continue to demand the Archdiocese move all schools to remote learning, to provide the spread of COVID-19.

“We believe that the archdiocese is putting people in danger,” the Rev. C.J. Hawking, of Arise Chicago, an interfaith workers’ rights group, said in a press conference earlier this month.

Other non-religious, independent private schools — some with more resources and fewer students than public schools — are also set to reopen for the fall. Some parents with the means to do so are eyeing these schools as an option to send their children back into school buildings, and many parents whose children already attend private school have also said they’re grateful to have the option.

But some educators at those schools area also hoping for an 11th-hour reprieve from in-person classes.

1:54 p.m.: Illinois exceeds 1.1 million mail-in ballot requests for November election, state may break previous record

More than 1.1 million Illinois voters have requested a mail-in ballot for the Nov. 3 general election following a new state law aimed at enhancing vote-by-mail efforts in response to concerns about COVID-19, state election officials said Friday.

The number of applications indicates the state will break its record for voting by mail set two years ago, when 430,000 votes or 9.3% of the total ballots were cast by mail, State Board of Elections officials said. In 2016, 370,000 votes or 6.5% of all ballots were through the mail.

The 1.1 million figure cited by state elections officials includes 291,874 applications from Chicago, 188,941 from suburban Cook County, 116,031 from DuPage County, 72,489 from Kane County, 26,656 from Lake County, 37,526 from McHenry County and 82,238 from Will County.

1:12 p.m.: State adds suburban Cook County to ‘warning level’ status

Cook County is among the 30 counties the Illinois Department of Public Health sounded the alarm about Friday for a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

That’s the largest number of counties that had reached “warning level” since the agency began issuing those weekly reports earlier this summer, and the first time Cook County has been on it. State public health officials said Friday “general transmission of the virus in the community” was on the rise.

Suburban Cook County’s addition to the state’s weekly warning list was triggered by 112 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people, well above the state-set target of staying under 50 new cases per 100,000 people. An increase in the number of deaths, 25 compared with 15 the prior week, was the other factor. The state’s goal is that the number of deaths declines or remains level from week to week.

County officials said the regulations that are in place now for bars and restaurants, fitness centers and other activities will remain consistent, but warned that if the county continues to see a backslide, additional rules may be imposed.

“The guidance will remain the same for now,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement. “But we are at a crossroads. We need everyone to wear a mask, watch their distance and wash their hands consistently to slow the spread of COVID-19 so we don’t lose the gains we have made.”

The warning level applies to suburban Cook County and does not apply to the city of Chicago.

1:03 p.m.: Babysitter bidding wars: As Chicago parents shell out $25 per hour, paid vacation and $1,000 signing bonuses during pandemic, ‘wealthiest families win out’

She expected to pay a nanny about $16-$20 an hour to care for one baby in Chicago’s easily accessible Lakeview neighborhood.

But when Hannah, a lawyer who didn’t want to use her last name to protect her family’s privacy, called a nanny search firm in March, she was told that demand was higher than usual, and that she should offer $18-$20.

Then, when interviews began, several nannies quoted rates as high as $25 an hour.

“We heard a couple of different (explanations),” Hannah said. “One was the market was more competitive and nannies were having several offers on the table. One of my friends who had a couple nannies turn her down was told, ‘I already have other offers.’”

With day care centers closing due to COVID-19, and parents seeking e-learning assistance for their children, nannies and sitters are in high demand, and now there are indications that pay is on the rise. Qualified sitters are getting minimum starting pay of about $18 an hour, up from $16 before COVID-19, according to Tori Ulrich, president of the child care search firm Chicago Super Sitters.

12:17 p.m.: COVID-19′s true toll in Illinois is likely higher than reported. A closer look at ‘excess deaths’ in 2020.

The Tribune, in its analysis of CDC data, found unusual rises in deaths labeled as flu/pneumonia in the early stages of the pandemic — as early as two weeks before Illinois logged its first official COVID-19 death. Health officials have said it could be easy to mistake COVID-19 for the flu or pneumonia, particularly when testing was scarce and knowledge of the virus limited.

Other possible contributing factors to the state’s overall higher death toll: larger-than-normal numbers of deaths blamed on heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and stroke. Add to that the more publicized jumps in homicides, suicides and fatal drug overdoses in communities that the virus has also hit hard.

12:13 p.m.: Young NWI residents talk life during pandemic, watch peers continue as normal: ‘Many are unaware they’re infected’

Lisa Tanis said when COVID-19 cases began picking up in Northwest Indiana, her doctor told her, then pregnant, that she needed to be cautious.

So she stayed home — and continued staying home.

“We had groceries delivered, didn’t see our friends, and barely even saw our parents,” Tanis, 26, of Dyer, said. “When we did see our parents, it was always outside at a distance.”

Since Tanis’ had her son, Nolan, on July 22 and the state enacted a mask mandate, she said her and her husband, Aaron, 26, have met up with few family members and friends to let them meet him, though they’ve continued limiting the places they go to.

“The only thing I have regularly done is go for walks, which kept me sane,” Tanis, 26, said. “I haven’t eaten at a restaurant except for takeout since February and I’ve only been to the grocery store a handful of times.”

Even though some, like Tanis, are staying home, cases in the area continue.

12:09 p.m.: 2,149 new known COVID-19 cases, 20 additional deaths

The state Department of Public Health announced 2,149 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 20 deaths. Overall, Illinois has reported 229,483 cases, including 7,997 deaths.

12:06 p.m.: Two public relations experts at FDA ousted after blood plasma treatment for COVID-19 error

Two senior public relations experts advising the Food and Drug Administration have been ousted from their positions after fumbled communications about a blood plasma treatment for COVID-19. President Donald Trump and the head of the FDA had erroneously boasted on the eve of the Republican National Convention that the treatment sharply lowered mortality from the disease.

On Friday, the FDA commissioner, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, removed Emily Miller, the agency’s chief spokeswoman. The White House had installed Miller, who had previously worked in communications for the reelection campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz and as a journalist for One America News, the conservative cable network, in this post just 11 days ago.

Hahn notified senior leadership at the FDA on Friday that Miller would no longer be the official spokeswoman for the agency, and that he would be appointing someone to replace her in an interim capacity. Miller could not be reached for comment.

Miller’s removal came one day after the FDA’s parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, terminated the contract of a public relations consultant who had advised Hahn to correct misleading comments about the benefits of blood plasma for COVID-19.

10:15 a.m.: With many struggling to buy food during the pandemic, grassroots efforts have stepped up. ‘It’s my motivation to get up in the morning.’

Food insecurity, when people don’t have enough money to buy the food they need to live a healthy life, is projected to affect a record 54 million in the U.S. this year, up from 37 million pre-pandemic, according to the hunger-relief nonprofit Feeding America and Craig Gundersen, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Some fear the need could increase if government assistance fails to come through for those who continue to be out of work because of COVID-19.

Normally, food insecurity in Cook County is about 10%. As a result of the pandemic it is projected to affect 15% of residents — and 20% of children.

There is vast disparity by race. Among Chicago zip codes, the 10 with the highest rates of food insecurity are in neighborhoods that are more than 90% black, according to Gundersen’s analysis . In zip code 60621, which is in Englewood, researchers project food insecurity this year to reach 41%.

6:30 a.m.: Illinois counties rush to finalize early voting sites amid looming election deadlines, COVID-19 concerns

Illinois election authorities are confronting higher levels of pushback from polling sites wary of hosting this year because of concerns and closures related to COVID-19. With early voting scheduled to begin Oct. 19, and the deadline to finalize sites set for early September, election administrators don’t have much time left.

“It’s been difficult,” McHenry County Clerk Joseph Tirio said. “We have received word from a number of locations — and that changes from day to day — that no longer wish to participate.”

Election authorities can order public buildings or schools in their jurisdiction to host early or Election Day voting, according to state law. Privately-owned sites, however, have more say in whether or not to participate in the election — and many are choosing to withdraw from earlier agreements, primarily because of coronavirus-related health concerns, closures or lack of adequate spacing to accommodate social distancing.

“There’s always a lot of effort that goes into acquiring voting locations and so this year it’s just an even more intense process than usual,” said Adam Johnson, chief deputy of the DuPage County clerk’s office.

6:15 a.m.: Judge orders U.S. Postal Service to turn over records on changes

A federal judge in Washington state is giving the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service 10 days to turn over records and information about service changes that critics say could undermine mail-in voting in the November election.

More than 20 states filed lawsuits last week over the changes, including 14 states that sued in U.S. District Court in Yakima.

U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian on Thursday granted the states’ request to speed up discovery in that case. The Justice Department opposed the request, saying that much of the information the states are seeking is already in the public record, including in congressional testimony, and that responding to the states’ requests within 10 days would be burdensome.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said many questions remain about the Postal Service’s actions, whether the changes such as the removal of sorting equipment are being reversed, and whether mail delays will continue. He noted the case isn’t just about the timely delivery of mail-in ballots, but also about the delivery of prescriptions, Social Security benefits and other items people depend on.

Among the information sought by the states is a list of all mail sorting machines identified for decommissioning, including their locations, and whether they will be reinstalled if they have already been decommissioned.

Here are five stories from Thursday about COVID-19: