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Coronavirus In Illinois: 31 New Deaths And 899 New Cases In State

Illinois officials reported 11,256 cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday afternoon and 274 deaths. Worldwide, there were more than 1.2 million cases and more than 69,700 deaths as of Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Read below for details on latest developments: Lawsuit vs. Cook County Jail; rape reports drop during stay-home order; Brookfield Zoo staff layoffs; blacks are 70% of Chicago's virus deaths.

Useful COVID-19 Resources

Governor’s briefing: Every day at 2:30 p.m. (exact time is subject to change), Gov. JB Pritzker holds a briefing about the COVID-19 outbreak in Illinois. Tune in to the free State of Illinois multimedia live streams or this alternative videostream.

Frequently Asked Questions: How long does it take to recover from the virus? Is it safe to take a walk?

What to know about schools: What are ‘remote learning days?’

April 6

6:31 a.m. Lawsuit: Release some inmates from Cook County Jail as virus spreads

Advocates for detainees in Cook County’s massive jail are suing Sheriff Tom Dart in federal court, seeking the immediate release of elderly and medically vulnerable people as COVID-19 spreads quickly in the facility. The class-action suit, filed Friday evening, alleges that “none of the critical measures for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is available” for the jail’s roughly 4,660 detainees.

“You simply may not jail people in conditions that expose them to an intolerable risk of illness and death, Charlie Gerstein, an attorney with the Washington D.C.-based Civil Rights Corps, said in a press release.

Other organizations behind the lawsuit include the Chicago Community Bond Fund, the Chicago law firm Loevy & Loevy, and Northwestern University’s MacArthur Justice Center. In a statement Sunday, Dart’s office called the lawsuit “uninformed” and “counterproductive” to addressing the pandemic. As of late Sunday, according to the office, 234 jail detainees and 78 staff members had tested positive for the virus.

— Chip Mitchell


April 5

5:50 p.m. Rape reports fell as Chicagoans took shelter but advocates warn the numbers may be deceptive

As Chicagoans stepped up their fight against the deadly coronavirus last month, the city saw a steep drop in sexual assault reports. But advocates for survivors are warning that the drop may be deceptive.

Chicago this year had averaged 29 reported incidents of criminal sexual assault per week through March 14, according to the city’s data portal. During each of the next two weeks, however, the number was 14.

Officials from YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, a nonprofit that seeks to empower women, say there was a big drop in the number of sexual assault advocacy calls from hospitals to a rape-crisis hotline the organization runs for Chicago’s South Side and some suburbs. Those calls had been averaging about 15 a week but dropped to just 5 during the week that began March 14, the officials say.

Loren Simmons, the YWCA’s chief empowerment officer, said the changes might stem from Chicagoans heeding advice to stay at home to combat the spread of COVID-19. She said perpetrators in workplaces and other settings outside the home now have diminished access to potential victims.

But she said perps often attack members of their own household and, now, more victims might be avoiding the hospital because they are afraid of exposure to the virus.

“There are very few places to escape,” Simmons said. “You can’t go to a Starbucks or a Dunkin Donuts. You can’t go to a shelter because they’re at capacity. So you’re almost forced to stay in this home with your abuser.”

— Chip Mitchell

4:29 p.m. Pritzker comments on disproportionate deaths among blacks

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said today he was “deeply concerned” by the fact that COVID-19 is killing African Americans at a disproportionately high rate. A WBEZ analysis found that 70% of Chicagoans who have died from the coronavirus were black.

“I've seen these stats, not just for Illinois, but also for Michigan and for a couple of other states where it's also true,” the governor said.

Pritzker noted that Illinois’ response to the pandemic has included re-opening two hospitals in minority communities. But he added, “It's hard to make up for decades, frankly, maybe centuries, of inequality” in health care.

— Dan Mihalopoulos

2:46 p.m. 31 dead, 899 new COVID-19 cases in Illinois

Illinois state officials announced 31 new deaths and 899 new identified cases of the coronavirus this afternoon, bringing the state’s total to 274 deaths and 11,256 positive cases. In a statement, officials said 19 of those deaths were in Cook County.

– WBEZ staff

2:00 p.m. Brookfield Zoo announces temporary layoffs of staff

The Brookfield Zoo has put one-third of its staff on temporary layoff without pay as the nonprofit copes with the coronavirus outbreak. The announcement came today from the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages the zoo.

The zoo did not say how many staff members are affected by the action, which took effect Saturday. Brookfield Zoo has been closed since March 19. It says the layoffs don’t affect staff who “ensure the health and welfare” of the zoo’s animals.

“This is a very challenging and difficult situation,” the zoological society says in the statement. It adds that laid-off workers will continue to receive medical and other benefits “for a period of time,” and the duration of the layoffs is not known.

— WBEZ staff

12:50 p.m. Lightfoot lends Instagram page to local artists

Today, followers of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's Instagram feed are getting a taste of the city’s arts and culture while stuck at home. The mayor handed over her space to Chicago artists, including the Grammy-winning ensemble Third Coast Percussion, poet and singer Jamila Woods and DJ Steve “Silk” Harvey. They’re doing performances through the day.

The goal is to raise awareness of the new, multi-million dollar “Arts For Illinois Relief Fund” launched last week. The fund is giving grants to artists and groups impacted by COVID-19 closures and cancellations. Lightfoot, joined by her wife and the city’s First Lady Amy Eshleman, says in a video message today on Instagram, “During these last few weeks, Amy and I have appreciated more than ever our artists who have been keeping us nourished and entertained while we’ve been staying home and saving lives.”

That last part is a nod, of course, to Lightfoot’s now-viral video “Stay Home, Save Lives.” The mayor asks for donations to the “Arts for Illinois Relief Fund” during the video message, which as of last week had raised more than $4 million, according to city officials.

— Carrie Shepherd

12:30 p.m. Second inmate death reported at Stateville prison

A second inmate at Stateville prison in Illinois has died from COVID-19. The Grundy County coroner’s office announced this morning the death of Ronald Rice, 66. He died at Morris Hospital, where he was being treated.

Rice was a convicted murderer serving an 80-year term at the Joliet prison. There are 60 coronavirus cases among inmates at Stateville, state health officials noted today. Since the first COVID-19 death at the prison last month, inmates and families have raised concerns about the virus outbreak there.

— WBEZ staff

10:44 a.m. Seventy percent of Chicago virus deaths are among black residents

The COVID-19 virus is killing black residents in the city and Cook County at disproportionately high rates, according to early data analyzed by WBEZ.

Black residents are 29% of Chicago’s population but account for 70% of the COVID-19 deaths, according to data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. Countywide, blacks are 23% of the population but are 58% of the virus deaths.

Read the full story.

— Maria Ines Zamudio and Elliott Ramos

8:02 a.m. New nursing home deaths in DuPage County

Two new COVID-19 fatalities have been reported in DuPage County, both at “a long-term care facility,” county health officials say. The victims were a woman over 100 years old and a man in his 70s, according to a news release from the DuPage County Health Department on Saturday afternoon. Both individuals had underlying health conditions.

The release did not say whether the victims died at the same facility, nor did it identify where they lived. As of Saturday there were 111 new coronavirus cases in DuPage, bringing the county’s total to 606. There are now 19 deaths.

The two new deaths are the latest involving residents at nursing homes in DuPage. Seven people have died of COVID-19 at the Chateau Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Willowbrook. Thirty-four residents and 17 staff have been stricken there.

— WBEZ staff


April 4

5:50 p.m. Chicago cops enforcing Pritzker’s stay-at-home order write just 10 tickets, make 3 arrests

Chicago police officers have generally avoided writing tickets or making arrests to enforce an order by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker that banned nonessential gatherings of more than 10 people, according to department figures covering the 10 days through Friday.

The order took effect March 21. Four days later, after Chicagoans took advantage of spring weather and packed some local parks and the city’s lakefront, interim police Supt. Charlie Beck warned that people who didn’t heed police orders not to congregate and stay home would be ticketed.

Since that day, police officers have documented 1,039 dispersal orders but issued just 10 citations, according to Officer Steve Rusanov, a police spokesman. The number of arrests tied to violating Pritzker’s order total just three, he said.

A South Side patrol officer, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern for his job, said “people are losing jobs and wouldn’t have money to pay a $500 ticket.”

The officer added that his health may depend on avoiding the proximity that may be necessary to get a violator to sign the citation, not to mention arrest one who refused.

“No one I know is writing these tickets,” the officer said.

— Chip Mitchell

5:28 p.m. Pritzker: Feds should have pushed all states to adopt stay-at-home orders

Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said today every state’s governor should have issued a stay-at-home order to combat the coronavirus outbreak, and Pritzker accused the federal government of not doing all it can to ensure that happened.

“If you look at some of our border states who just went to stay-at-home or haven’t even gone to state-at-home yet, then obviously this has an effect on Illinois,” Pritzker said at his daily afternoon news conference.

Read the full story.

— Dan Mihalopoulos

2:48 p.m. Illinois COVID-19 cases pass 10,000 mark

Illinois state officials announced 33 deaths and 1,453 new identified cases of the coronavirus this afternoon, bringing the state’s total to 243 deaths and 10,357 cases. 

Today marks the first time the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Illinois surpassed 10,000. According to a release from the Illinois Department of Public Health, 23 of the 33 new deaths were in Cook County.

–WBEZ staff

11:21 a.m. Indiana cases approaching 4,000

State health officials say 14 more people have died from COVID-19, raising Indiana’s death toll from the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic to 116. The Indiana State Department of Health announced today that 523 more people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing to more than 3,900 the total number of Indiana residents known to have the disease.

Marion County, where Indianapolis is located, had the most new cases at 155. Lake County had 70.

— WBEZ staff

7:52 a.m. Fears grow as coronavirus cases and deaths rise at nursing home

A seventh resident at the Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in west suburban Willowbrook has died after testing positive for COVID-19, the DuPage County Health Department reported Friday. In all, 50 people associated with Chateau — 34 residents and 16 staff — have tested positive for COVID-19.

The mounting cases and deaths, coupled with communication issues and the lack of access to their loved ones, have sparked questions and concerns from relatives who fear they are only getting a glimpse of what happens inside the nursing home.

Read the full story.

— Adriana Cardona-Maguigad


April 3

3:02 p.m. McCormick Place field hospital prepares for COVID-19 patients

McCormick Place
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
McCormick Place Convention Center is temporarily being converted into a field hospital for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot toured the so-called “alternate care facility” or field hospital being constructed at McCormick Place Convention Center today, where workers in hard hats stood several feet apart, looking on.

Pritzker jubilantly thanked a host of teams who helped create the site, building out 500 beds and makeshift rooms in just a week to accommodate non-acute COVID-19 patients. McCormick will be able to accommodate 3,000 patients by month’s end, he said. But he also offered a sober assessment of why the station needed to be built, saying there was a real possibility the spread of the virus “may overwhelm” the existing medical facilities available in the state, as has happened in Italy and elsewhere.

Pritzker also gave new tallies for the spread in Illinois, saying 53 more people have died, for a total of 210 deaths since the outbreak began. Those deaths were included in 1,209 more identified cases announced today, for a total of 8,904 cases across the state.

And as the federal government considers whether to suggest that people wear masks when out in public, Pritzker stopped short of issuing any such order. But he said it is a “good idea” for residents to use masks when they have to go out in public, such as to grocery stores or other necessary travel.

— Angela Rozas O’Toole

2:33 p.m. Cook County closes one ER and shifts workers to prepare for expected COVID-19 surge 

The Cook County-run health system is temporarily suspending some services at its Provident Hospital, a small community anchor on the South Side, to redeploy staff elsewhere.

The emergency department, intensive care unit and operating rooms will shut down, a health system spokeswoman said in a statement. Health care workers at Provident are transferring to other parts of the health system, namely its flagship John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital on the Near West Side, to treat an expected surge in COVID-19 patients. Stroger is the largest medical safety net in the region for people who don’t have health insurance.

The outpatient clinic at Provident and about 25 hospital beds will remain open. The county may later use empty beds at Provident for low-acuity COVID-19 patients, and other low-acuity patients who don’t have the virus, to ease the number of cases at Stroger. That will depend on getting more health care workers, the county health system spokeswoman said. Cook County has asked state officials for staffing help.

— Kristen Schorsch

7:37 a.m. Illinois hospitals race to hire doctors and nurses for expected surge of COVID-19 cases

As Illinois expects the number of cases of the coronavirus — and hospitalizations of the sickest patients — to surge in the coming weeks, hospitals are racing to staff up.

Dr. Jay Chauhan, president of the Chicago Medical Society which represents physicians, looks to Italy, where dozens of physicians have died, and scores have been infected and unable to work.

“So what we’re concerned about is if that holds true here, we’re going to have a shortage of manpower,” Chauhan said.

Read the full story.

— Kristen Schorsch and Mariah Woelfel


April 2

3:00 p.m. State officials report 715 new cases, 16 additional deaths

Illinois public health officials reported 16 more deaths associated with COVID-19 today and identified 715 more cases, bringing the state total to 7,695 cases and 157 lives lost.

The tallies came as Gov. JB Pritzker announced the state had “exhausted” what can be done administratively to limit the spread of the pandemic, and urged residents that slowing the outbreak further would depend on Illinois residents’ compliance with the state’s “stay at home” order.

Pritzker also announced the state was planning a fourth field “medical station” to help provide more space for non-acute patients who contract COVID-19, to be built at Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park, which would provide 230 additional beds. Additionally field hospitals are being constructed at McCormick Place, and at facilities in Elgin and Blue Island.

— Angela Rozas O’Toole

2:28 p.m. Staff say conditions are unsafe at City Colleges after worker dies of COVID-19

Wright College
Marc Monaghan/WBEZ
A clerical worker at Wright College, which is part of the City Colleges of Chicago, has died after contracting COVID-19.

Employees at Wright College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, are mourning the death of a campus clerical worker, Carmelita Cristobal, who died of complications from COVID-19 on March 30.

“If you needed help, she helped you,” said Audrey Butler, executive vice president of the clerical workers union. She worked with Cristobal, who was 71, for years. Butler said Cristobal’s husband had contracted the virus as well.

City Colleges staffers are accusing the leadership at City Colleges of failing to ensure employee safety. Union leaders representing faculty and staff on today painted a chaotic picture of safety protocols across the seven colleges.

City Colleges officials denied they are putting other employees at risk.

“Please rest assured that from the outset of COVID-19, City Colleges has followed the direction and guidance of the Chicago Department of Public Health on all COVID-19 matters and has sought specific counsel, feedback and approval from CDPH on all COVID related actions and communications and will continue to do so throughout this pandemic,” spokesperson Katheryn Hayes said in a statement.

Read the full story.

— Kate McGee

12:25 p.m. Civil rights groups sue for immediate release of Illinois inmates

As COVID-19 spreads behind bars, an outbreak at Stateville prison has already led to one death, over a dozen hospitalizations and several men on ventilators.

For weeks advocates have been pushing for the mass release of prisoners to reduce the impact and spread of the coronavirus behind bars.

“Stateville’s reality might have been avoided if the governor and [the Illinois Department of Corrections] had acted with the urgency and scope required to mitigate the oncoming harm,” the lawsuit reads.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Pritzker has said in press conferences that the state has been reviewing cases of low-level offenders in prison and released at least 300. But officials have been scant on details about how the review process works and what criteria is being used.

Read the full story.

— Shannon Heffernan

10:52 a.m. CPD narcotics officer with COVID-19 has died

Chicago Police Officer Marco Di Franco, 50, died last night from complications of COVID-19, police said. The 21-year veteran worked in the narcotics division. He is survived by his wife and two children, ages 7 and 10, according to Interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck.

Di Franco's brother also works in the narcotics division, Beck said.

The death is the first fatality from the illness among the city’s cops. As of late yesterday, 62 sworn Chicago officers and two civilian CPD employees had confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to CPD.

Beck said the officer contracted the virus last week and was hospitalized over the weekend. He had previous health issues.

A police source, who wished to remain anonymous out of concern for his job, said the officer worked from the department’s Jefferson Park patrol station and that his office was sanitized last week due to the officer’s illness.

Read the full story

— Chip Mitchell

8:10 a.m. Chicagoans may be facing pandemic without running water at home

Jardine Water Purification Plant
Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
A Chicago Department of Water Management vehicle outside the Jardine Water Purification Plant. Some Chicago families may be facing the COVID-19 pandemic without water, according to reporting and analysis from WBEZ and The Chicago Reporter.

An unknown number of Chicago’s most vulnerable residents may be unable to wash their hands at home, a key defense against the mounting spread of the coronavirus, because their water had been shut off by the city due to unpaid bills, WBEZ and The Chicago Reporter have learned.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration acknowledged on Wednesday that they are still working to determine how many people in the city may be without water and what they can do about it.

The city established a temporary moratorium on water shutoffs in the first days of Lightfoot’s administration, but that move did not include plans to reconnect services.

“In order to ensure the health and safety of residents, the City is working in partnership with advocates and community-based organizations to develop a plan to assist residents that may not have access to water in their homes,” said Hali Levandoski, a spokesperson with the mayor’s office.

“Folks who need access right now can call 311 for help,” said Levandoski, but that would not necessarily mean water service would be restored. The city would help provide access to water in a number of other ways, she said, without specifying.

Read the full story.

— Maria Ines Zamudio, Fernando Diaz and Alden Loury


April 1

7:05 p.m. Illinois artists and cultural organizations can apply for financial help through state

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced today a new, multi-million dollar fund made up of public and private money to help provide relief to the cultural sector. The Arts for Illinois Relief Fund is open to individual artists and non-profits. Individuals who can demonstrate economic hardship because of the pandemic can apply for a one-time grant of $1500. Relief for nonprofits ranges from $6,000-30,000.

“This is for arts of all types, this is poets, this is painters, this is lighting designers, it’s actors, it’s dancers,” said Mark Kelly, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE). The department contributed $1 million to the fund, and is helping with the administration.

Read the full story.

— Carrie Shepherd

5:15 p.m. Illinois schools are in line to get nearly $600 million from D.C.

Approximately $569 million would be given to Illinois as a part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress last week, according to estimates from the Illinois State Board of Education.

Chicago Public Schools, the largest district in the state, is slated to receive more than $205 million of that. The allocations are based on the percentage of schools with students that qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

The State Board of Education encourages schools to use the money to strengthen remote learning. Final amounts won’t be determined until the U.S. Department of Education issues the funds. It’s unclear how soon the money will be released.

— Susie An

5:05 p.m. Chicago college students ask for tuition refunds as courses move online

Petitions are circling among students at the University of Chicago, DePaul University and Northwestern University as of today.

Students argue they no longer have access to resources they’re paying for, like libraries, science labs and performing arts classes. Northwestern University and the University of Chicago are on a quarter system, which means classes that are just starting will be entirely online.

“It’s not really fair for students to have to pay a price that bakes in an in-person experience when you’re not going to get any of that,” said junior Hiranya Kamdar, who organized the petition at Northwestern.

Nearly 5,000 people have signed that petition. University of Chicago students are asking for a 50% reduction in tuition and all fees waived, while Northwestern’s petition does not make a specific refund request. In a statement, Northwestern said it will continue to charge the same rate for spring quarter.

— Kate McGee

4:47 p.m. City officials won’t say where cops, firefighters who’ve tested positive were working

Chicago officials say 20 employees with the Fire Department and 64 with the Police Department have tested positive for COVID-19. But Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is refusing to identify the units in which they were working.

Kevin Graham, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents 12,000 rank-and-file Chicago officers, says the union wants to know where the ill CPD members were working so that other cops can take precautions.

“If this was somebody that worked in the station, you’d want to make sure you have the mask on before you got in,” Graham said. “If they are working in the squad cars ... you certainly want to do everything you can to disinfect the cars.”

Officers said knowing more about who has tested positive would help them protect themselves — and their families.

— Chip Mitchell

3:44 p.m. Nearly 3 million free meals have been distributed by Chicago Public Schools

CPS Free Meals COVID-19
Sarah Karp/WBEZ
Families pick up food at Tarkington Elementary School on Tuesday, March 17. Chicago Public Schools says it has distributed 2.8 million free grab-and-go meals since mid-March.

Chicago Public Schools says it has handed out 2.8 million free grab-and-go meals to its families since mid-March. The school district describes this as one of the nation’s “most ambitious” free-meal programs.

The school district says it will continue offering meals throughout the school shutdown, which is now scheduled through at least April 30, but at a smaller number of school sites.

Starting with spring break next week, meals will be distributed from 136 schools every day except on Good Friday. Then, beginning April 13, some schools where demand has been low will stop offering meals. CPS says 52% of schools will offer free meals daily, with the majority on the city’s South and West sides. It also will continue to offer free meal delivery.

The school district says it will need fewer lunchroom staff going forward, but all workers will continue to be paid. A list of meal sites is available at cps.edu/mealsites or by calling 773-553-KIDS.

— Kate Grossman

3:22 p.m. Today is the deadline to apply for Chicago’s housing assistance grants

Today is the last day to apply for $1,000-housing assistance grants provided by the city and the nonprofit Family Independence Initiative.

All applications must be received before midnight tonight.

In all, 2,000 grants will be awarded to Chicagoans who can demonstrate that they were hurt financially by the pandemic due to job loss or some other employment status change. Applicants will be required to show proof that their household income was at or below 60% of the area median income prior to job loss.

Half of the grants will be awarded through a lottery, and the other half will be distributed by community organizations.

— Natalie Moore

3:05 p.m. Chicago Housing Authority waives April rent payments for its residents

The Chicago Housing Authority announced today that residents in CHA-owned buildings can pay rent after the statewide “stay-at-home” order is lifted on May 1. During that period, CHA will not issue late rent notices or charge late fees.

The policy applies to 19,000 households in CHA-owned buildings, including senior, family and scattered site housing.

But the policy doesn’t apply to thousands of Section 8 voucher holders in the city who rent from landlords in the private market.

However, CHA says it will reach out to landlords in the program and ask them to work with tenants during the coronavirus pandemic.

— Natalie Moore

2:55 p.m. Pritzker urges residents to fill out census online and by phone as COVID-19 cases climb

census form
John Raoux/Associated Press
Gov. JB Pritzker is urging Illinoisans to fill out the 2020 census either online or over the phone to ensure the state’s population is accurately counted.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker today urged residents to fill out their census forms online and over the phone, despite the fight with the coronavirus pandemic, saying tax dollars for the state rely upon an accurate count.

“You might ask, ‘Why do we need to proceed with a census right now? Don’t we have bigger things to worry about?” Pritzker said. “Yes, we are in the biggest battle of our lifetimes … but it’s important to look beyond this fight today and to take this moment to think about our future.”

Illinois public health officials this afternoon also reported an additional 42 deaths and 986 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing Illinois' total to 141 deaths and 6,980 cases. That’s the single largest one-day spike in deaths since the pandemic began.

Pritzker also said the state has received more than 1,100 applications from former health care workers and out-of-state professionals who want to help as Illinois braces for a surge in COVID-19 in the coming weeks.

— Angela Rozas O’Toole

1:53 p.m. Chicago city worker dies of COVID-19

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot today revealed the death of a city worker from COVID-19 at an impromptu press conference.

Lightfoot said out of respect for the victim’s family, she wouldn’t release any personal details about the deceased or what role they played in city government and would only say they had a long tenure with the city. The mayor added she never had any contact with the employee.

"This sobering moment should remind us that the numbers that we report everyday are not mere statistics," Lightfoot said. "They are people whose lives have been forever changed."

Lightfoot also spoke about contingency plans to transform McCormick Place Convention Center into a temporary field hospital — or "an alternative healthcare facility," as she described it. While it's unlikely people will be in beds there this week, but the facility will be built out in phases. Meanwhile, Lightfoot dismissed criticism from her former campaign opponent, one-time CPS CEO Paul Vallas, who has said the city isn't doing enough to plan for the fiscal fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

— Claudia Morell

7:44 a.m. Renters seek relief as payments are due

Today is the first of the month, and housing groups in Chicago are calling for the suspension of rent, mortgages and utilities due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In the Hyde Park neighborhood, tenants are organizing a rent strike against MAC Properties, a company with hundreds of apartments in the area.

Theodore Bourget lost his jobs at a bar and performance venue because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am the sole breadwinner of my house, so losing both of my jobs has been, I don’t want to say catastrophe, but it definitely turned our world upside down,” he said.

Bourget and others are asking MAC to suspend rent during the pandemic. MAC says it will work with tenants on payment plans.

— Natalie Moore


March 31

2:53 p.m. Pritzker extends “stay-at-home” order until April 30 as COVID-19 cases climb

JB Pritzker
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks at a news conference Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Chicago. Today, he extended the statewide “stay-at-home” order until April 30.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker today extended his order for residents to stay home until April 30, adding weeks to the directive he gave as numbers of coronavirus cases continue to climb.

The order will mean schools remain closed until at least the end of the month. Pritkzer said he decided to extend the order, which was originally issued March 21 and had been set to expire on April 7, because hospitals could face capacity issues in the weeks to come as COVID-19 cases are expected to surge.

“From all the modeling that we’ve seen, our greatest risk of hitting capacity isn’t right now, but weeks from now,” Pritzker said. “We must not let up now.”

As of March 30, Pritzker said 35% of ICU beds across the state and 24% of the ventilators are occupied by COVID-19 patients, though he said the state is working on expanding bed space and getting more equipment. Illinois state officials also announced 26 new deaths attributed to coronavirus today and 937 new identified cases, bringing the total to 99 deaths and 5,994 cases.

— Angela Rozas O’Toole

2:24 p.m. Hourly health care workers ask for hazard pay, better conditions

Low-paid health care workers in Chicago are demanding higher pay and improved working conditions as coronavirus cases continue to flood hospitals.

Employees and the service industry union SEIU today urged hospitals to give “hazard pay” — or time-and-a-half — to employees who often make less than $15 an hour. That includes staff such as housekeepers or emergency room technicians.

Union stewards said the state should allocate portions of a recent $2-trillion federal stimulus package to help increase pay.

Candice Martinez, who said she makes $14.80 cleaning rooms at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said she feels that maintenance employees are at the bottom of the list when it comes to workplace protections. She said she is currently quarantined at home with coronavirus after not being given proper protective masks when cleaning COVID-exposed rooms.

Northwestern officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

— Mariah Woelfel

2:02 p.m. Pritzker to announce extension of “stay-at-home” order

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is expected to extend his statewide order for residents to stay at home.

A source with knowledge of the decision tells WBEZ the order will be extended through April 30.

His order will also apply to schools. 

— Tony Arnold

2:00 p.m. College students show support for campus workers missing pay

College students and workers across the Chicago area are holding virtual rallies to urge their school administrations to make up lost wages for dining and service workers. Many employees are not currently working because campuses are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Students at Northwestern University planned to hold their rally at 3:30 this afternoon. Students at Dominican, Loyola and DePaul universities will hold virtual rallies over the next week.

“My kids and I are barely surviving this pandemic, with no income,” said Yasmin Vinalay, a cook at DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus. “The government stimulus package will help many people, but we can’t wait a month or more to pay rent or feed our families.”

The University of Chicago says it will continue to pay dining workers and other subcontracted staff during the pandemic.

— Kate McGee

1:41 p.m. Northwestern Medicine announces COVID-19 drug trial

Northwestern Medicine in Chicago has enrolled participants in a new clinical drug trial for COVID-19, making it one of 50 sites around the country doing so. They’re testing a drug called remdesivir, which was originally developed to treat Ebola. It’s been discovered to have antiviral activity against coronaviruses in animal models, including MERS and the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

The trial will study if the drug is safe and effective for adult patients in the hospital diagnosed with COVID-19. The first Chicago-area patient to receive the drug is an 89-year-old man currently in intensive care. Participants receive a placebo drug or remdesivir once a day for at least 10 days and will be evaluated for 30 days. Taiwo said the study will last three years but results may come in sooner.

“It puts something in our hands that we can investigate in a rigorous fashion in the quest for therapies that may be effective and widely adopted to treat the pandemic,” said Babafemi Taiwo, chief of infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

— Kate McGee

1:12 p.m. Cook County expecting more financial strain on its public health system

Cook County Health
Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
Views of John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital on March 6, 2020. Due to the spread of COVID-19, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said more patients will require Stroger’s intensive services.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said today the COVID-19 pandemic will have a “profound impact” on the county’s bottom line.

That’s because the county’s public health system makes up nearly half of the government’s $6.2 billion budget. The health system, which already treats more than half of all the uninsured people in the region, has less money flowing in after stopping elective surgeries but is spending more during the pandemic.

“We’re going to have considerably more patients in our hospital who are uninsured and who require the intensive services of Stroger,” Preckwinkle said, referring to the health system’s main hospital, John H. Stroger Jr. on the Near West Side. The health system plans to apply for any federal reimbursement that might become available.

Even before the pandemic, the health system’s finances were rocky. Leaders there have said they expected to provide nearly $600 million in medical care this year that they will not get paid for.

— Kristen Schorsch

1:02 p.m. Chicago books 274 hotel rooms for first responders 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced today that the city will begin providing 274 hotel rooms this week to help first responders avoid bringing the deadly coronavirus home to their families.

Lightfoot said the city struck a deal with Chicago-based Oxford Capital Group, the operator of Hotel Essex, to provide the rooms at that upscale inn, 800 S. Michigan Ave.

A news release from the mayor’s office said the hotel rooms are available — first-come, first-served — to Chicago first responders including police officers, firefighters, paramedics, dispatchers and 911 operators. Those employees total approximately 18,000, according to city records.

The rooms are not for individuals who require quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 exposure or for individuals who have tested positive for the virus, the news release said.

— Chip Mitchell

10:42 a.m. Indiana cases pass the 2,000 mark

Health officials said this morning that 14 more people have died in Indiana from coronavirus-related illnesses, increasing the state’s virus death toll to 49 as its confirmed cases surged past 2,000. The Indiana State Department of Health says the state’s number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 grew by 374 to 2,159, following corrections to the previous day’s total. 

Five of Indiana’s 14 new deaths involved Indianapolis residents and four were from Lake County, near metro Chicago. Lake County now has 146 cases.

8:03 a.m. Asian Americans feel the bite of prejudice

Soukprida Phetmisy
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang/WBEZ
Soukprida Phetmisy, pictured here with her dog, Wilbur, says she has experienced more anti-Asian attacks during the past two weeks of the COVID-19 crisis than she has in 10 years.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, there have been reports in Chicagoland and nationwide of Asian Americans being verbally abused, spat on and physically attacked.

“I have experienced more of these incidents, back to back, in the last two weeks than I have in the entire last decade of my life,” says one Chicago woman.

Read the full story.

— Esther Yoon-Ji Kang


March 30

3:06 p.m. State reports 461 new cases and 8 additional deaths, including an inmate at Stateville Correctional Center

Illinois state officials announced 8 deaths and 461 new identified cases of the coronavirus this afternoon, bringing the state’s total to 73 deaths and 5,057 cases. One of those deaths was an inmate in the Stateville Correctional Center, officials said.

The Illinois Department of Health said 12 more incarcerated men at that facility are now hospitalized, including some on ventilators, and 77 others with symptoms are being isolated, along with 11 staff members.

Gov. JB Pritzker also publicly announced the development of an “alternate care facility” at McCormick Place Convention Center, which was first disclosed by the US Army Corps of Engineers over the weekend. The McCormick space could be used for “non-acute” patients who have COVID-19, if the expected surge in patients over the next weeks occurs. The state is also looking at building out additional space at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin and MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island if needed, Pritzker said.

Pritzker also complained that the federal government continues to fail in sending personal protective equipment the state needs. He says shipments from the federal government have been coming in, but “pale” in comparison to what the state has asked for and is buying on its own.

— Angela Rozas O’Toole

1:56 p.m. Macy’s halting paychecks as sales plummet

Macy’s says it will stop paying tens of thousands of employees who were thrown out of work when the chain closed its stores in response to collapsing sales due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a statement released today.

The majority of its 130,000 employees nationwide will still collect health benefits, but the company says on its website today that it’s transitioning to an “absolute minimum workforce” needed to maintain basic operations.

Macy’s closed its namesake and Bloomingdale’s stores earlier this month. The company has more than 20 Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s locations in Illinois, including the Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s) store on State Street in Chicago.

1:42 p.m. Indiana cases approach 1,800

Health officials said today there are now 1,786 COVID-19 cases in Indiana, 272 more than March 29. Three more deaths were reported, for a total of 35.

Northwest Indiana has 125 cases and two fatalities. The majority of the confirmed cases are in Lake County.

12:47 p.m. Chicago Public Schools’ remote learning plan limited by the city’s digital divide

Chicago remote learning
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Sarah Marton talks with her son Cooper Marton while he does school work at his home in Chicago. Today, Chicago Public Schools released its plan for remote learning, which will begin April 13.

Chicago Public Schools will officially begin remote learning starting April 13, officials announced today.

Since school communities have varying tech capabilities and internet access, CPS is directing each school to develop its own remote learning plan. Plans will include daily digital as well as paper assignments.

Within the next two weeks, the school district said it will distribute more than 100,000 devices to its highest-need students. Still, officials recognize that the city’s digital divide is so great it would be impossible to erase it in weeks or even months.

Read the full story.

— Sarah Karp

10:03 a.m. Musician John Prine critically ill

Singer-songwriter John Prine, a Maywood native who was a major force in Chicago’s folk music scene, has been placed on a ventilator while being treated for COVID-19-type symptoms. A message posted on Prine’s Twitter page Sunday said the singer of “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone” and other songs has been hospitalized since March 26 and his condition worsened over the weekend, his family said.

Prine’s wife and manager Fiona Whelan Prine earlier this month said that she had tested positive for the coronavirus. She said the couple were quarantined and isolated from each other. The 73-year-old Prine has twice fought cancer.

8:31 a.m. When laid-off food workers don’t have enough to eat

Chicago restaurants are rallying around their employees who are out of work due to closings forced by the coronavirus outbreak. Today, some restaurants will launch an initiative to make and distribute food boxes for workers having trouble makings ends meet.

One of celebrity chef Rick Bayless’s restaurants that’s currently closed, Frontera Grill, will host an operation paying laid-off workers to make 30-pound boxes of food, including produce, bread and meat. The boxes will be available for pickup at restaurants throughout the city. The plan is to process 800 boxes each week.


March 29

3:25 p.m. Illinois reports 1,105 new cases and 18 new deaths

State health officials today reported 1,105 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the current total to 4,596. It’s the biggest daily spike in new cases since the pandemic began. They also reported 18 additional fatalities, for a total of 65.

The deaths were men and women in their 40s to 90s. Eleven of the new deaths were in Cook County.

Read the full story.

— Dan Mihalopoulos

1:05 p.m. Forest Preserves open, but buildings closed and staff monitoring crowds

forest preserves
Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
A biker travels through the Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve on September 20, 2019. For now, the Cook County Forest Preserves remain open.

Cook County Forest Preserves are staying open, but officials said today they’re closing public buildings and restrooms, and canceling events through May 11. 

The shutdowns announced today also include six nature centers, the Swallow Cliff stairs in the Palos Preserves and all campgrounds.

“We are trying to keep open as many of our trails, lakes, woods and open fields as possible to serve as a respite from everything we all are facing,” said forest preserves General Supt. Arnold Randall.

But officials said more places will be closed if people don’t practice social distancing or forest preserves staff observe risky crowd conditions. The system has installed signs on trails and in parking lots reminding people to keep a safe distance from each other.

10:46 a.m. Pritzker: Expand Medicaid to cover COVID-19 treatment

Gov. JB Pritzker says Illinois has submitted waivers to expand residents’ access to Medicaid, the federal government’s health insurance program for poor people. Pritzker wants Medicaid coverage to be available to both uninsured and insured people for treatment if they’re diagnosed with the coronavirus. The state has submitted two federal waivers asking for more flexibility with Medicaid access.

Under Pritzker’s plan, Medicaid would cover the costs of COVID-19 treatment for every uninsured resident, regardless of income. And, Medicaid would be a backup for people who have insurance but need help covering out-of-pocket expenses for COVID-19 treatment.

8:20 a.m. Virus cases climbing at Cook County Jail 

The number of coronavirus cases among people in custody at Cook County Jail continues to climb. Eighty-nine detainees have tested positive for the virus, the Cook County Department of Corrections and Cook County Sheriff’s Office reported Saturday night. They also reported that 12 sheriff’s office workers have tested positive. In addition, 92 detainees have test results that are pending.


March 28

6:45 p.m. Pritzker to temporarily ban reusable bags at stores, but Chicago still collecting plastic bag tax

checkout shields
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Natural Grocers employee Brigette Williams, left, assists a customer with a purchase in Richardson, Texas, on March 26. Stores have begun installing plexiglass shields in checkout aisles as a precaution to protect clerks and help stop the spread the coronavirus.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced today recommendations to help protect grocery store employees and shoppers against spreading the coronavirus.

Among the steps is a temporary ban on reusable grocery bags and the placement of physical shields for cashiers and baggers.

The state’s largest retail union wants Chicago to suspend its tax on plastic bags, but a spokesman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city would only delay the time that retailers have to pay the tax.

Read the full story.

— Elliott Ramos

5:50 p.m. Third West Chicago factory employee tests positive for COVID-19

A West Chicago factory temporarily closed for cleaning after a third worker tested positive for COVID-19.

Jel Sert, which employs over 1,000 workers, will disinfect some parts of the facility including common spaces like bathrooms and the cafeteria. The manufacturer of beverages and foods, including medical food, will reopen on March 31, the company said in a statement.

Workers told WBEZ at least a dozen workers were under quarantine. A machinist said employees work close together and some workers, including her, already have symptoms.

“We’ve had a few conversations with the company and came to a mutual agreement to ensure that our members have the support that they need during this unprecedented crisis,” said Izabela Miltko-Ivkovich, SEIU local 1 spokeswoman.

There are three shifts at Jel Sert and each shift has hundreds of workers, and many of them are Latino workers, said Cristobal Cavazos, who founded Casa DuPage Worker Center, a worker’s rights organization.

Cavazos said workers want the entire factory closed and disinfected. He said the workers are afraid they will infect their families too.

“This caused a big concern. I spoke with a worker and he was telling me, I live with my mother, my wife and my father. We are a non-nuclear family, as many Latino families are,” Cavazos said. “We are afraid. We are at risk of not only exposing not only ourselves but exposing our whole communities.”

— María Ines Zamudio

3:24 p.m. Death of infant is first recorded in the world

Health officials say the latest COVID-19 deaths in Illinois include an infant, the first such case known in the world. Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced at his daily news conference that the child and a state employee are among the 13 new fatalities, bringing the state’s total to 47. Officials also announced 465 new cases of coronavirus, bringing Illinois’ total to 3,491.

Read the full story.

— Mark LeBien

12:08 p.m. U of C to distribute 225,000 meals for local communities

University of Chicago
Marc Monaghan/WBEZ
The University of Chicago plans to prepare thousands of meals in their dining halls and distribute them to nearby residents during the pandemic.

Starting March 30, the University of Chicago is launching services to help residents and businesses in neighboring communities as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to an announcement released today, the university will prepare at least 225,000 meals in their dining halls and distribute them to nearby residents over the next 10 weeks. That includes those living in Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park and Woodlawn.

“We know and have heard from local alderman and local residents that there is a deep immediate need to help families put meals on the table,” said Susana Vasquez, associate vice president of the university’s office of civic engagement.

Residents in need can look up distribution centers on the University’s website starting March 30 or reach out to their local alderman. The university is partnering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to make sure residents are aware of available meals.

The university is also pledging to help local small businesses and nonprofits in those same neighborhoods as they try to stay afloat during this emergency. Eligible businesses could receive grants up to $7,500. Vasquez said the goal is to help smaller businesses as they await federal, state or local relief programs.

— Kate McGee

11:30 a.m. Battered women’s shelters moving clients to hotels

Domestic violence prevention groups in Cook County are shifting victims to hotels from 12 shelters where residents share kitchens, bathrooms, dining halls and other closed spaces ideal for spreading the deadly coronavirus.

“We just can’t do enough social distancing in our shelters, the way they’re constructed, to make it safe for everyone,” said Amanda Pyron, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network.

Hotels could be better for social distancing. But traditionally they have not been ideal for keeping domestic violence victims safe during long stays. Advocates for victims say, now that hotels are desperate for business, they will be more willing to beef up security and set up protocols to keep abusers away.

Read the full story.

— Chip Mitchell

10:42 a.m. McCormick Place could become makeshift hospital

McCormick Place
Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
McCormick Place, above, could be converted to a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking into converting the massive McCormick Place on Chicago’s lakefront into a temporary hospital with up to 3,000 beds for patients with COVID-19.

Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite said March 27 that the Corps is exploring whether McCormick Place could be the proper environment for patients suffering at different levels. 

“Our goal is to have that one done somewhere around the 24th of April,” he said of contracting plans at McCormick Place.

The convention space is available because dozens of events have been canceled due to the virus outbreak.

9:58 a.m. Indiana cases pass the 1,000 mark

Health officials in Indiana reported this morning that there are now 1,232 confirmed coronavirus cases, up from 981 yesterday. They also say there are 31 deaths, up from 24 the day before. There have been 88 confirmed cases in Northwest Indiana, and one fatality.

7:53 a.m. State urges “pass” or “incomplete” grades during school shutdown

The Illinois State Board of Education last night said so-called “remote learning days” will officially begin March 31. This means they will count as instructional days and school districts should have firm plans for schooling from home starting then. Districts can use up to five days for planning.

The state said schools can implement e-learning or remote learning plans that provide “students with instruction and access to educators through whatever means possible.” This is a nod to the reality that many districts and families do not have adequate access to technology.

During this period, the state is urging school districts to adopt grading models of pass or incomplete. Previously, the state had been less specific, saying that that student work done during the closure should only count if it improves a student’s grade.

Also March 27, the state officially canceled state standardized tests for the spring, including the SAT for high school juniors and tests for elementary school students in reading, math and science. The Constitution exam also is canceled.

The state has closed schools through April 7, but it’s unclear when they will reopen.

Read the full story.


March 27

5:34 p.m. Cook County sheriff slams Gov. Pritzker’s decision to stop accepting new prisoners in state facilities

Tom Dart
G-Jun Yam/Associated Press
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, photographed at a 2017 news conference, said Gov. JB Pritzker’s decision to halt prison admissions will make his job of containing COVID-19 at the jail more difficult.

Instead of going into state prisons, those detainees will be held in jails under the supervision of county sheriffs.

“If someone thinks that is proper they need to get a new job,” Sheriff Tom Dart said. “People who do that clearly don’t look at it as we are in this thing together. That’s every man for himself.”

But criminal justice advocates have praised the governor’s move as a way to help slow the spread of COVID-19. They say Cook County has drastically reduced its population in recent years, so Dart has more space to facilitate social distancing. The advocates also say limiting transfers between facilities will help contain the spread of the virus. 

As of this morning, the Cook County jail had 38 detainees who had tested positive for the disease. Read the full story.

— Shannon Heffernan

2:58 p.m. Illinois reports 8 more deaths, 488 more cases

State public health officials announced 488 more confirmed cases today, including eight deaths. Illinois has now seen a total of 34 deaths and 3,026 cases across the state since the outbreak began.

Gov. JB Pritzker also asked every licensed health care provider in the state to sign up for a new emergency alert program, which would activate them to jump in to help the medical community if the crisis grows more dire. Pritzker asked anyone with any kind of medical background, from dentists to medical assistants, to register at illinoishelps.net.

The governor also criticized President Donald Trump’s comments yesterday about whether states really need as many ventilators as they have asked for.

“To say that these comments are counterproductive is an understatement and frankly, at worst, the comments are deadly,” Pritzker said. “We need exactly what we’re asking for, perhaps more. … If we don’t get the equipment we need more people will die.”

— Angela Rozas O’Toole

2:17 p.m. Chicago identified as a ‘hot spot’ for COVID-19 infections

lakefront social distancing
Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
Chicago residents ignore social distancing guidelines as they walk by the lakefront on March 25. According to the U.S. surgeon general, the city has been identified as a hot spot for COVID-19 cases.

Chicago is among a number of American cities identified as a COVID-19 “hot spot,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said today.

Along with Detroit and New Orleans, he warned that the city “will have a worse week next week” as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise.

Cases in Chicago and suburban Cook County account for about three-quarters of Illinois’ 2,538 positive tests so far, and 18 of the state’s 26 deaths.

Read the full story.

8:14 a.m. Undocumented workers have no safety net

The Illinois Department of Employment Security released rules this week outlining which workers qualify for unemployment benefits during the pandemic. The expanded benefits come as a welcome relief for many in Illinois temporarily left without work due to the outbreak.

But the measure means nothing for tens of thousands of undocumented workers in Illinois who don’t qualify for unemployment benefits. As a result, undocumented workers are left without a safety net, if they lose their jobs or if they decide to stay home to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19.

Read the full story.

 María Ines Zamudio


March 26

6:57 p.m. The Illinois Department of Corrections will refuse to take in new prisoners

The new order, which has very few exceptions, comes as the state seeks to slow the spread of COVID-19 behind bars. 

An executive order halting new prison admissions was issued today by Gov. JB Pritzker as a total of 12 corrections staff and prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19. The order will likely have the biggest impact on county jails, under the authority of sheriffs, where people are typically incarcerated prior to being admitted to the state prison system. 

The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association criticized the new order and said it puts counties at higher risk, endangers staff and prisoners, and makes local governments bear additional financial costs.

Criminal justice advocacy groups, which have been calling for such a move, praised the order. 

Read the full story.

— Shannon Heffernan

2:43 p.m. Illinois adds 7 new deaths, 673 new cases of COVID-19 

Illinois announced 673 new cases of COVID-19 today — the largest one-day increase in cases — for a statewide total of 2,538 cases since the outbreak began.

There were seven additional deaths, bringing that tally to 26 lives lost to COVID-19, state health officials announced at the daily press briefing.

With the cases growing exponentially, Gov. JB Pritzker gave another plea for Illinoisans to heed his “stay at home” order, saying the seriousness of the spread requires everyone to obey.

“I’m begging you please, if you don’t have to be out, stay inside,” Pritzker said. “This virus doesn’t care that you are bored and want to hang out with your friends. It has infected infants, it has killed people in their 20s and 30s and 40s … It has forced doctors to make terrible choices around the world about who will live and who will die.”

Pritzker also announced the start of a fund to raise money for basic needs for Illinois residents during the COVID-19 crisis, with his sister, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, chairing the effort that started with $23 million in initial contributions. The money will go to nonprofits across the state which are helping people hardest hit by the virus, Penny Pritzker said.

— Angela Rozas O’Toole

12:45 p.m. New data shows a massive spike in unemployment in Illinois, mirroring national trends

New data released Thursday shows that 114,114 people filed unemployment claims in Illinois, an increase of 1,338% over the same week last year and nearly 10 times more claims than the state fielded the previous week, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

The coronavirus outbreak has prompted stay-at-home orders from Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and the leaders of many other states. The situation triggered the greatest sudden spike in joblessness in the country’s history.

The Illinois numbers mirrored a national trend reflected in data made public by the federal government earlier Thursday. 

Read the full story

— Dan Mihalopoulos

9:57 a.m. Lakefront Trail and some parks are now closed

People exercise along the lakefront
Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
People gather along the lakefront on March 25. The Lakefront Trail is now closed to ensure social distancing.

Chicago’s Lakefront Trail and some parks are now closed to the public, according to aldermen briefed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot this morning.

Ald. Harry Osterman, 48th Ward, sent an update to his constituents announcing that the lakefront trail and nearby park and beaches were closed starting today to ensure social distancing and help reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th Ward, said the Riverwalk and The 606 Trail are also closed because of a new executive order issued by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. She said aldermen were also briefed on new projections of coronavirus cases in the Chicago area. 

“We’re on the same trajectory as New York City,” Hadden said. “We can’t have people out in groups, enjoying the nice weather, as unpleasant and uncomfortable and inconvenient as that is, we will only flatten our curve, and only control the spread of the virus, if people absolutely stay home.”

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to WBEZ’s request for comment.

Read the full story.

— Becky Vevea

8:34 a.m. Chicago gun violence slows as residents battle COVID-19

Chicago has had only one homicide in the last seven days, according to police.

The slowdown in violence took hold March 19, two days before Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order was in effect.

The city had not had a one-homicide week in more than five years, according to a WBEZ analysis of data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Yesterday’s increase in temperatures did increase shootings. Since yesterday morning, Chicago has had 14 shooting victims, all nonfatal.

Northwestern University criminologist Wesley Skogan credited the relative peace to people staying inside and staying out of bars and restaurants. 

Read the full story.

— Chip Mitchell


March 25

6:34 p.m. Chicago Public Schools approves $75 million to spend on COVID-19

The Chicago Board of Education approved a measure today to give school district officials the leeway to spend up to $75 million for emergency COVID-19 expenses.

Chicago Public Schools plans to spend much of that money on ramping up a more robust remote learning program for students. Just this week, the school district put out a survey to try to figure out how many students need electronic devices and internet access. CPS CEO Janice Jackson told board members that, even with the extra spending power, it won’t be enough to give every student access. 

Jackson also said suppliers have a backlog, and the school district will have to get in line. She said students will be able to do school work in different ways, not just online. Board members gave unanimous approval, but admitted they still needed to figure out where the money will come from. They are hoping the school district gets some part of the federal stimulus cash making its way through Congress.

— Sarah Karp

5 p.m. The Illinois prison department confirms 6 COVID cases

Outside view of Sheridan Correctional Center
Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press
A staff member at Sheridan Correctional Center, located about 75 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, has tested positive for COVID-19.

Three Illinois prisoners and three staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Health experts said cases of the disease in correctional facilities are particularly alarming because it can spread quickly in the crowded and often unsanitary conditions.

One of the infected prisoners is incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, about 45 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. The other two prisoners were at the North Lawndale Adult Transition Center in Chicago. In addition, two staff members have tested positive at the Stateville prison and one at Sheridan Correctional Center, which is about 75 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.

Advocates have been arguing for weeks that the best way to stop the spread of the disease is to begin releasing prisoners, creating necessary space in crowded facilities.

“We’ve made sure that across our prisons … we are making space,” Gov. JB Pritzker said today.

Pritzker said his administration was looking at low level offenders and the opportunity to release people who are through most of their term. However, he didn’t provide numbers on how many people had been released yet. Read the full story.

— Shannon Heffernan

3:20 p.m. The United Center has been turned into a temporary logistics center

The United Center on Chicago’s West Side is the latest private partner in the city’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The arena where the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks play will serve as a logistics hub, a spokesperson for the center announced this afternoon. It will serve as a space for distributing food, staging first-responders and collecting medical supplies.

“On behalf of the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks, our athletes, our front offices and our dedicated United Center personnel, our thoughts and support are with the people of this great city and state,” the statement reads. “Together, we will get through this.”

— Claudia Morell

2:47 p.m. Gov. JB Pritzker pushes back state’s tax day as COVID-19 cases rise

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced today he is pushing back the state’s due date to file taxes to July 15 from April 15, bringing it in line with the changed date of the federal government in an effort to offer financial relief, particularly to small businesses.

Illinois Public Health officials also announced there were 330 more identified cases of the new coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to 1,865, and three more deaths, bringing that total to 19.

Among those newly identified cases were two correctional officers and one man incarcerated in Stateville Correctional Center, as well as a contractual worker at Sheridan Correctional Center. Both facilities are on 14-day lockdowns as a precaution, officials said.

Pritzker also announced new financial assistance programs for small businesses, which will offer tens of millions of dollars in emergency loans and grants.

— Angela Rozas O’Toole

1:31 p.m. Mayor Lori Lightfoot threatens to close parks

Chicagoans continue to gather at the lakefront
Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
Chicago's lakefront remains crowded on March 25, in spite of social distancing orders by both Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. JB Pritzker.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot threatened to shut down city parks and the lakefront if people continue to gather there in groups despite Illinois’ “stay at home” order.

Lightfoot’s administration said Chicagoans are largely obeying Gov. JB Pritzker’s order that’s meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. But she said some are not. Interim Chicago Police Superintendent Charlie Beck said officers will start cracking down on people gathering in groups.

“If people do not heed the warnings of our police department … then we are going to start issuing citations,” Beck said. “Not because we want to but because we must. Because if we do not do this, Chicago is at risk. Your families are at risk.”

The stay at home order does allow people to go outside for exercise, but Lightfoot said people need to be social distancing when they do — which requires at least 6 feet of distance from others.

— Becky Vevea

12:14 p.m. Cultural organizations have lost more than $80M in revenue

That estimate is due to cancellations and closures from COVID-19, according to a new report by the Arts Alliance Illinois. Chicago organizations make up more than $70 million of the estimated loss.

The survey asked 287 arts and culture organizations about estimated losses for a period beginning on March 16. Both large institutions and small event spaces are expected to remain closed until at least the end of April.

The report also looked at lost wages for those working in the arts. Part-time and contract workers took the biggest hit, with an estimated $33 million in lost wages.

“That’s how most of our artists get employed, through independent contracts,” said Claire Rice, executive director of Arts Alliance Illinois, adding that it’s too early to know if artists offering performances online are going to make money from those creative efforts.

But, she emphasized that those events are an important aspect of the collective response to COVID-19. “Our field is going to be a part of the solution when we’re providing that content to people in social isolation,” Rice said.

— Carrie Shepherd

10:27 a.m. Animal shelters see surge in people wanting pets

Phoenix dog
Megan Win
Phoenix, a 4-year-old golden retriever mix, found a permanent home after three weeks with foster owner Megan Win.

Coronavirus cabin fever is inspiring some people to adopt or foster pets from Chicago animal shelters. “We’re seeing so many people who want a buddy to ride this out with,” says a shelter director.

Read the full story.

— Minju Park

9:26 a.m. Indiana cases close to 500

Indiana health officials report 115 new cases of COVID-19, and two more fatalities. As of this morning, the state has 477 cases and 14 deaths, according to the Indiana State Health Department. Northwest Indiana now has 26 confirmed cases, five more than yesterday.

6:24 a.m. Police reducing stops and arrests

Chicago cops have been told to cut back the stops and arrests they make so they can reduce contact between citizens and police and slow the spread of the coronavirus. Interim top cop Charlie Beck says there’s been a “significant reduction” in traffic stops and pedestrian stops. 

Meanwhile, civil rights and community groups are pushing for the CPD to stop making arrests and other stops except when there’s a clear and present danger of physical harm.

Read the full story.

— Patrick Smith


March 24

3:05 p.m. Pritzker aims to grow hospital capacity as COVID-19 cases top 1,535

Despite calls from President Donald Trump today to “open” the economy by April 12, Gov. JB Pritzker said that he had no estimate for how long the state’s “stay-at-home” order may need to be in place.

“The answer is I don’t yet know,” Pritzker said at a news conference this afternoon, adding that he would listen to science when making that call to reopen the state. Pritzker was adamant he would not support rescinding the stay at home order if it put people’s lives in danger.

“In case there’s any doubt in your minds, I’m not willing to sacrifice anyone,” he said.

Pritzker focused much of today’s news conference on the state’s hospital capacity, saying that the state is using all tools available, including eyeing opening up closed hospitals to try to ensure there will be enough beds for those sickened by COVID-19. He also said that since calling for health care volunteer workers more than 180 have signed up.

Public health officials also announced that 250 new cases of COVID-19 had been identified in Illinois, bringing the state’s total to 1,535 cases. Four more people have died, bringing that total to 16.

— Angela Rozas O’Toole

1:12 p.m. Chicago hit with two more convention cancellations

McCormick Place has lost two additional big trade shows due to the coronavirus outbreak. The National Restaurant Association announced this morning it’s canceling its annual show that was scheduled for May 16-19. And the American Society of Clinical Oncology says it plans to hold an online conference rather than meet May 29-June 2 in Chicago.

The two events were expected to bring more than 100,000 people to McCormick, according to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. McCormick has seen a loss of more than 20 trade shows and other events since the outbreak began.

11 a.m. City announces rebates, subsidies for transit commuters

95th/Dan Ryan Station
Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
As Chicago commuters stay home, the CTA is giving riders a credit for unused days on active seven- and 30-day passes.

Chicago and local transit providers are giving some financial relief to commuters during Illinois’ stay at home order. City Hall announced the initiatives this morning.

The CTA will offer riders a prorated credit for unused days on active seven- and 30-day passes. Commuters with an active Ventra pass that they’re no longer using are eligible to get a prorated credit for any remaining days, based on when the pass was last used.

Pace is waiving its $3 fare on Taxi Access Program (TAP) rides for commuters with disabilities until further notice. And bikeshare company Divvy will cut its annual membership to $49.50 from $99, and reduce the cost of 30-minute single rides to $1 from the current $3.

“While the City continues to encourage all who can to stay home during this time, first-responders, healthcare workers and others must maintain access to reliable transportation to get to and from work, while residents must maintain access to essential services and goods,” the city said in a news release.

— Mark LeBien

9:58 a.m. COVID-19 fund announces $3.5 million in grants

The Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund has announced its first round of grants. The fund is led by the Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago. In a week, the fund has raised more than $13 million.

In this first round, the fund will provide $3.5 million to dozens of area nonprofits to provide safety nets for their clients, who are struggling with poverty. That includes money for rent, food, supplies and utilities.

“There are some basic needs that have to be met and met now to prevent further challenges later down the road,” said Angela Hurlock, executive director of Claretian Associates, one of the groups receiving a grant.

— Natalie Moore

6:47 a.m. Non-virus patients rethinking hospital procedures

COVID-19 has forced people with other health issues to make a tough call: Which is a greater risk? Putting off treatment or going to a hospital where you could be exposed to the life-threatening virus?

“COVID has just added a whole other dimension to their anxiety,” one oncologist says of cancer patients.

Read the full story.

— Mariah Woelfel


March 23

6:54 p.m. An Evanston senior center resident with COVID-19 has died

The Three Crowns Park senior center in Evanston released the news today through a letter to family and friends. The resident was hospitalized on March 15 and died the evening of March 22, according to the letter. The resident lived in a wing of the facility dedicated for people who needed constant nursing care. Another resident of that wing has also tested positive for COVID-19, and three residents at the facility have tested positive in total.

Family and friends of Three Crowns Park residents have been pushing for expanded testing of residents and staff, pointing to a nursing home in Willowbrook where state officials conducted widespread testing last week. But Three Crowns Park administrators said they’ve been told that there simply aren’t enough resources to test people who have not yet shown symptoms.

— Monica Eng

4:57 p.m. Cook County judge orders potentially thousands of inmate reviews

Potentially thousands of people in Cook County Jail could be reviewed for release under an order issued today by Cook County Judge LeRoy Martin. The goal is to reduce the county’s jail population, which is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to close quarters. 

The order would expedite the bail review process for a range of detainees, including those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their age or health, and those who are in jail on misdemeanor charges or non-violent felonies. The number of people who actually get released will depend on the decisions of the county judges who review individual cases. Two detainees and one correctional officer have already tested positive for the disease.

Martin’s order came in response to a petition by Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli for the mass release of detainees.

Locke Bowman, Executive Director of the MacArthur Justice Center, said he was pleased that Martin recognized the need to dramatically reduce the jail population but worries that the plan “may not result in the release of eligible prisoners fast enough.”

— Shannon Heffernan

2:59 p.m. Illinois companies ramp up PPE production 

A nurse uses hand sanitizer
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
There are critical shortages of testing swabs, protective masks, surgical gowns and hand sanitizer in hospitals across the country.

Gov. JB Pritzker said today that a coalition of private companies across the state is ramping up efforts to mass produce personal protective equipment (PPE) the state needs, and detailed how many masks, gloves and other items the state has requested from the federal government but hasn’t received.

State health officials also announced 236 new cases of COVID-19 — bringing the total identified number of cases to 1,285 — and three more deaths, bringing the total number of lives lost to 12.

“Illinois is acquiring PPE to compensate for what we haven’t received in our federal requests, but we are doing so while running up against obstacles that shouldn’t exist,” Pritzker said, pointing to two large-scale requests the state has made to the federal government in the past few weeks, of which only a fraction has been received.

Read the full story.

— Angela Rozas O’Toole

2:47 p.m. Empty hotels offer housing to COVID-19 patients

Five Chicago hotels have agreed to rent rooms for those who don’t have the ability to self-quarantine, either because they are homeless or can’t self-isolate at home. The city of Chicago will be covering the rents at a discounted rate, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced today at an afternoon news conference.

The deal will provide about 1,000 beds to start, with the potential to grow as more hotels sign up. Workers with the city’s health department will staff the hotels to ensure proper and safe healthcare is provided to those infected or waiting for their results. For security reasons, the city is not disclosing the participating hotels.

— Claudia Morell

2:26 p.m. Two detainees test positive for COVID-19 in Cook County Jail

The news comes after a March 22 announcement that a correctional officer also tested positive for the disease, according to a statement from the Cook County Sheriff’s office.

One of the people who tested positive is 42 years old. He has been in custody since late December 2019 on an aggravated DUI charge. He is being held on a $250,000 D-bond, meaning he would have had to pay 10% of his bond to be released.

The Sheriff’s office said the second person is 18 years old and has been held since February without bail on charges of aggravated discharge of a firearm.

“Cermak staff are closely monitoring the detainees on the living units where the individuals who tested positive were housed,” the Sheriff’s statement reads.

About 5,500 people are currently incarcerated inside the jail. Jails and prisons are particularly risky places for the pandemic because close quarters makes social distancing impossible.

This morning a Cook County judge issued an order to expedite bail hearings in the interest of public health for a range of detainees, including those who are at risk because of their age or health, and those who are in jail on misdemeanor charges. The order came in response to a petition for the mass release of detainees by Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli.

— Shannon Heffernan

11:52 a.m. Indiana latest state to be told “stay at home”

Indiana Govenor Eric Holcomb speaks during a news conference
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Gov. Eric Holcomb speaks during a news conference. As of this morning, Indiana has 259 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths.

The order came from Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb today, to go into effect March 25 through April 7.

“The next two weeks are critical if we are to slow the spread of COVID-19, and we must slow the spread,” Holcomb said. “You must be part of the solution, not the problem.”

Holcomb said Hoosiers should only go out for “essential” needs, such as work or buying food or groceries. Beginning March 24, all state government offices will be closed to in-person, public activity until at least April 7.

As of this morning, Indiana has 259 cases and seven deaths that have been reported. Officials say 1,960 COVID-19 tests have been completed. In Northwest Indiana, there are 13 confirmed cases, with 11 in Lake County and two in LaPorte County.

— Michael Puente


March 22

6:18 p.m. Correctional officer tests positive for COVID-19 in Cook County

A Cook County jail correctional officer has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the sheriff’s office. The officer had recently worked in the Residential Treatment Unit and Cermak Hospital and is in isolation at home, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

“The Sheriff’s Office used video to identify anyone who may have come into close contact with this correctional officer. After consultation with the Chicago Department of Public Health, a small number of staff have been advised to stay home, although none were symptomatic,” the statement said.

Prisons and jails are particularly risky places for the pandemic because social distancing is impossible.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli filed an emergency petition on March 20 to release a wide range of inmates from the jail, including those at risk because of age or health, and people incarcerated on misdemeanors. A Cook County court is expected to hear the motion on March 23.

— Shannon Heffernan

2:40 p.m. Illinois cases surpass 1,000, now includes an infant

Illinois officials today announced 296 new cases, including an infant, bringing the state’s total to 1,049. Officials also announced three new deaths, pushing the state’s number of coronavirus-related deaths to nine.

It remains unclear if pregnant women with COVID-19 can pass the virus to their children during pregnancy, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the head of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“We are still learning about this new novel coronavirus, and information and guidance is rapidly evolving,” she said, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have seen no transmissions of COVID-19 during pregnancy.

The infant is under the age of 1, according to a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health. 

— Hunter Clauss

12:40 p.m. War of the words heats up between Pritzker and Trump on Twitter

The tensions between Gov. JB Pritzker and the Trump administration boiled over on March 22 after the governor criticized the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on CNN.

Prtizker told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Illinois needs “millions” of masks and other critical supplies and blamed the federal government for the shortages. 

President Donald Trump on Twitter shot back, saying Pritzker and other governors “shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!”

Pritzker, responding on Twitter, said Trump “wasted precious months when you could’ve taken action to protect Americans & Illinoisans.You should be leading a national response instead of throwing tantrums from the back seat.”

And Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined the fight, urging Trump to “please step up and be a leader. While you have been yammering about hoaxes and fake news, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit all over America.”

The flare-up unfolded after Pritzker appeared on CNN to discuss a shortage of hospital supplies that could threaten efforts to stop COVID-19. Hospitals across the country have been sounding alarms about the dwindling supplies of personal protective equipment, also known as PPE, which includes things like gloves, masks and gowns. 

Pritzker said the situation has slightly improved with the Federal Emergency Management Agency taking a more active role in distributing items — but that Illinois has only gotten “a fraction” of the supplies it needs, and he is competing for items on the open market.

“We’re competing against each other. We’re competing with other countries,” Pritzker told Tapper. “It’s a wild west, I’d say, out there. And indeed, we are overpaying, I would say, for PPE because of that competition.”

— Hunter Clauss

11:11 a.m. Sittercity.com offering free service for “essential workers” to find child care

The Chicago-based website Sittercity is launching a new platform to connect workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic with child care. 

The website gives first responders and essential personnel free premium access for three months. The general public can get a 50% discount on subscription. 

Anyone over 18 can also volunteer to provide child care through the website. They can choose to work for free or they can set a desired rate. 

A release from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office is encouraging teachers, daycare workers, tutors, coaches and others whose jobs may be on hold right now to apply to be volunteer caregivers. More information about the program can be found here.

— Becky Vevea

8:30 a.m. How many retired doctors, nurses will answer Pritzker’s “call to action”?

A thank you sign for doctors and nurses sits on a lawn
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
The governor announced on March 21 that Illinois would make it easier for retired health care workers to have their licenses reinstated.

Some health organizations say Gov. JB Pritzker’s “call to action” for retired doctors and nurses might be a tough sell. 

The governor announced on March 21 that the state would make it easier for retired health care workers to have their licenses reinstated. The move comes as the state confronts the growing threat of COVID-19, now surpassing 754 cases in Illinois, and a potential shortage of crucial medical supplies, like gloves and masks. Pritzker said he has reached out to businesses and manufacturers to secure enough supplies. 

But some health organizations say the shortage of supplies may make the decision to return to work difficult for older retirees who face a higher health risk. 

Read the full story here

— Hunter Clauss


March 21

5:00 p.m. Pritzker said he’s “angry” about limited help from Trump administration

Gov. JB Pritziker said he is “frustrated and even angry” at the federal government for not helping the state secure crucial medical supplies to help stem the spread of COVID-19. 

Health experts say they fear a shortage of protective gear, like masks and gloves, if hospitals see a surge in patients, jeopardizing efforts to contain the virus and protect the health of medical workers.

Pritzker said he has reached out to manufacturers and businesses to help bulk up the state’s supplies of protective gear for doctors, nurses and first responders.

“We’re keeping a reasonable inventory count and making sure we’re not going to run out of those things,” Pritzker said.

But the governor added the state has received “limited help” from the Trump administration in securing supplies, saying he has been “frustrated and even angry at the failures of the federal government.”

With the threat of a supply shortage looming, hospitals and other health facilities are canceling elective surgeries in an effort to conserve protective gear, said Danny Chun, a spokesman for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, which represents the state’s more than 200 hospitals.

“They’re very concerned about the supplies,” Chun said of the state’s hospitals. “There will be serious challenges ahead if there’s a surge in patients.”

Heath professionals have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #GetMePPE in public appeals for gowns, eye protection and other equipment. 

Chun said the Illinois Health and Hospital Association has reached out to construction works, dentists and veterinarians for equipment, and the response has been very supportive.

— Hunter Clauss

2:30 p.m. Pritzker issues “call to action” for retired doctors, nurses

Gov. JB Pritzker, saying his “optimism has waned” with the Trump administration’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, issued a “call to action” to retired doctors and nurses today as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow.

Illinois officials announced 168 new coronavirus cases and one death today, bringing the total number of cases to 753 and the death toll to six. Officials said the latest coronavirus-related death was a Cook County man in his 70s.

Pritzker called on retired doctors and nurses to “re-enlist” to help front-line medical workers.

“We’re in the middle of a battle, and we need reinforcements,” Pritzker said, adding that the state will wave fees and streamline the application process for the reinstatement of licenses. Pritzker said license reinstatement forms will be available March 23 on the website for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

“This is hero’s work, and all of you have our deepest gratitude for your willingness to serve,” Pritzker said.

Read the full story here.  

— Hunter Clauss

1 p.m. Bears donate $250K to Chicago COVID-19 relief fund

The Chicago Bears announced it is donating $250,000 to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. The fund’s website says donations will help expand access to food, basic supplies and rent and mortgage assistance, among other things.

Donations to the fund will be siphoned to local nonprofit organizations, which will use the money to assist people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund’s website says. The fund says it will release a list of nonprofit groups that will receive the donations.

City officials, the Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago launched the fun earlier this week.

— Hunter Clauss

10:40 a.m. Emergency petition seeks to free some Cook County inmates

Cook County Jail
M. Spencer Green/Associated Press
Health experts say jails are a particularly risky place during a pandemic because it’s impossible to practice social distancing.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli filed an emergency petition March 20 to release some of Cook County’s 5,600 inmates in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

She said authorities have released about 100 people already, but the process is taking too long. Health experts say jails are a particularly risky place during a pandemic because it’s impossible to practice social distancing. 

Campanelli’s petition seeks to decrease the risk by releasing a whole range of people in the jail, including those who are at risk of COVID-19 because of their age or health conditions, and people who are in jail on misdemeanor charges or qualify for probation.

“The lives of our clients are at stake. There is a need to move swiftly, because if we fail to act now, there are people whose lives will be at risk, and that is something we cannot afford,” Campanelli said. The motion is expected to be heard March 23. 

— Shannon Heffernan

8:30 a.m. Illinois residents adjust to “stay at home” order

The state’s more than 12.6 million residents will be required to stay at home as much as possible beginning at 5 p.m. March 21. Gov. JB Pritzker announced the order on March 20 in an effort to “avoid the loss of potentially tens of thousands of lives.”

Residents of suburban Oak Park faced a similar order that went into effect March 20. Check out this story to get an idea of what a “stay at home” order looks like. 


March 20

6:08 p.m. Low-level drug cases in Cook County won’t be prosecuted during outbreak

Low-level, nonviolent drug offenses will not be prosecuted in Cook County during the coronavirus outbreak. 

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced today the policy as primarily a public health measure, but a letter from her top deputy shows the move resulted from a reduction in evidence testing at the Illinois State Police crime lab, which has trimmed on-site staffing due to the pandemic and curtailed its work on suspected narcotics.

In the letter dated March 19, First Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Magats explained to a top Chicago Police Department official that without the testing prosecutors lack the evidence they need to prove up charges.

Read the full story.

— Chip Mitchell

4:55 p.m. Evanston nursing home reports a third COVID-19 case

The newest case is a resident who lives in a different part of the facility than the two elderly patients there who’d previously tested positive, according to a letter released by the Three Crowns Park senior center. 

Family and friends of residents have been lobbying state officials to do more extensive testing. But state officials reiterated on March 19 that they will not test asymptomatic individuals, even among elderly who reside in the same wings of the facility where the infected individuals live.

However earlier this week, state officials tested all residents and staff at a nursing home in west suburban WIllowbrook.

Read the full story

— Monica Eng

3:26 p.m. Pritzker issues “stay at home” order

Oak Park Shelter In Place
Linda Lutton/WBEZ
Oak Park's main commercial strip was nearly deserted today as businesses have complied with the village's shelter in place order.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker issued a “stay at home” order this afternoon, giving even stricter guidelines for Illinois’ nearly 12.7 million residents in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The order, which goes into effect at 5 p.m. March 21, requires that all so-called nonessential workers stay home. The order is issued until April 7, he said, and the statewide school closure is also extended until at least April 7. Schools were to reopen on March 31.

Essential employees — such as manufacturing workers — will still be allowed to report to work, so the supply chain can keep running. Other essential workers include grocery store workers, first responders, news reporters and food delivery workers. 

Grocery stores, banks, doctors’ offices, gasoline stations and at-home food delivery services will remain open.

Pritzker also announced the death of a Cook County resident in her 70s due to COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths to five. Officials said 163 new cases of COVID-19 were identified.

Read the full story.

— Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold

11:10 a.m. Public health officials project 3,400 new cases in the next week

Those numbers are if the coronavirus continues to spread at its current pace, WBEZ has learned — an eight fold increase.

If 20% of cases are severe, about 650 more infected people would need to be hospitalized, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Department of Public Health is making contingency plans should people who get sick, but don’t need to be hospitalized, need a place to isolate themselves. Chicago officials are planning for potentially thousands of people to need alternative housing.

— Kristen Schorsch

9:30 a.m. Midway headaches continue after control tower shutdown

Airport Flights Canceled
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
More than 340 flights have been canceled at Midway International Airport today.

More than 340 flights have been canceled at Midway International Airport today. That’s because of an ongoing change in operations due to the cleaning of the air traffic control tower. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered the tower to be closed and cleaned after three technicians tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Midway is open, but reduced operations are in effect until March 26. Midway is using a backup facility for air traffic control.

7:18 a.m. Two senior citizens homes seek answers and relief during COVID-19 crisis

The discovery of COVID-19 cases at two Chicago-area nursing homes has families and officials scrambling for testing, supplies and answers to help minimize the impact on elderly residents — those most vulnerable to the disease.

The cases have occurred at Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in west suburban Willowbrook and Three Crowns Park in north suburban Evanston. 

Read the full story

— Maria Ines Zamudio and Monica Eng


March 19

7:45 p.m. Cops don’t know how to enforce Lightfoot’s new COVID-19 order

Chicago police officers say they’re baffled by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan for them to enforce a city public health order that requires people with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home.

A statement today from the mayor’s office says “anyone who violates the order could be subject to citations issued by the Chicago Police Department or CDPH.”

But coronavirus symptoms are often indistinguishable from a common cold or the flu. And officers in several parts of the city said the Police Department has not issued protective equipment that would enable them to be near contagious people, much less write them a ticket.

A CPD statement this afternoon said officers who believe that someone has the symptoms will “follow our protocols, which would be to request [Chicago Fire Department] medical services respond to the scene to evaluate the individual and maintain distance when possible.”

Meanwhile, police officers who were exposed to a colleague who tested positive for COVID-19 have been told to continue coming to work.

Read the full story.

— Chip Mitchell, with Patrick Smith

5:07 p.m. CPS will stay closed until April 21

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is ordering all the city’s public schools to remain closed until April 21.

“We need to give parents and guardians plenty of advance notice about this reality and the ability to plan,” Lightfoot said during an evening address today. “CPS and the city will continue to support you in the ways that they have through these early days of the school closures.”

3:35 p.m. Families say prisoners lack soap, cleaning supplies

Advocates and families of prisoners in Illinois say that while the Department of Corrections has presented a good plan to protect prisoners, some individual facilities aren’t implementing it.

The Illinois Department of Corrections promised last week that “hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, and cleaning supplies are being made available to all staff and incarcerated individuals.”

But Jobi Cates, Executive Director of Restore Justice, told WBEZ, “We’re getting reports of inmates using their own soap that they’ve purchased through their commissary to clean common areas themselves. Once that runs out, where is it coming from?”

Read the full story.

— Shannon Heffernan

2:53 p.m. Three new deaths, 134 new cases

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced three more deaths due to COVID-19 this afternoon, bringing the total number of deaths in Illinois to four.

One death was a man in his 50s in Will County; a second was a woman in her 80s in Cook County; the third was a Florida resident visiting in Sangamon County.

There were 134 new cases identified today, for a total of 422. “We did expect to see this rise … as you test more you will identify more,” said Ngozi Ezike, head of the state’s Department of Public Health.

“These moments will not get easier, nor should they,” Pritzker said at an afternoon press conference. “We are fighting this fight for every person in Illinois.”

12:46 p.m. Metra temporarily cutting weekday service 50%

A Metra Train Comes Into A Station
M. Spencer Green/Associated Press
Metra is the latest train service to announce a reduced weekday schedule, after Amtrak's new schedule took effect today.

Metra is the latest train service to announce a reduced weekday schedule as ridership has fallen because of coronavirus concerns. Metra announced this afternoon that, effective March 23, it will cut about half of its normal weekday service. The changes will affect every train line except the Heritage Corridor, which will continue as normal.

The South Shore line had already announced changes to its weekday schedule that take effect March 23. The train line offering service between downtown Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, called the changes “a modified weekend/holiday schedule with the addition of two morning and two afternoon rush hour trains.”

And changes in Amtrak’s schedule took effect today. They include canceling trains from Chicago to Grand Rapids, Michigan. The CTA has made no changes to its train schedules so far.

12:22 p.m. Malls begin to close

Simon Properties Group, the largest mall operator in the nation, has closed all its properties for 11 days. Orland Square, Woodfield Mall, Gurnee Mills and outlet stores in Aurora and Michigan City closed last night at 7 p.m. 

WBEZ reported earlier this week that some employees at Orland Square wanted the mall to close — there was little business, and they felt their health was being put at risk.

Other malls, including 900 N. Michigan Shops, Oakbrook Center and Lincolnwood Town Center, still remain open. Some say they’re fighting coronavirus with reduced hours and by stepping up cleaning.

— Linda Lutton

11:57 a.m. Mayor Lori Lightfoot orders anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or virus to stay home

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is ordering all residents with confirmed cases of coronavirus or people with any symptoms of the illness to stay home.

Anybody who violates the order could be fined by the police or the city’s department of public health. It is not clear how much a citation might cost.

According to a press release from the mayor’s office, the symptoms are defined as: fever, cough, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue. Sick residents are allowed to leave home for medical treatment or to get food or medicine.

The new executive order will stay in place until Chicago’s public health commissioner Allison Arwady issues a written order stating that the public health threat has diminished. 

— Becky Vevea

11:33 a.m. Cook County launches COVID-19 hotline

A Person Calls A Telephone Hotline
Jenny Kane/Associated Press
The hotline opened this morning and there are six staff answering calls at this time.

Cook County is opening up a hotline and email for residents to get “rapid, simple, and direct” updates about the coronavirus pandemic. 

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said people can call 708-633-3319 to speak with county public health professionals or email questions to ccdph.covid19@cookcountyhhs.org. The county is also launching a text alert system that people can sign up for by texting ALERTCOOK to 888-777. 

Dr. Terry Mason, the chief operating officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, said the hotline opened this morning and there are six staff answering calls at this time. He said they will adjust if more staff are needed.

“If the lines get overwhelmed there is an answering service that will take and record those questions and staff will get back to the people offline,” Mason said.

— Becky Vevea

9:35 a.m. Two ER doctors test positive

Rush Oak Park Hospital says two of its emergency room doctors have tested positive for COVID-19 and are quarantined at home. The hospital says one of the doctors had not been seeing patients for several days prior to being confirmed with the virus, when he would have been contagious.

The other doctor may have had contact with patients and hospital staff. Rush says it’s “assessing the overall risk of exposure, working with the Illinois Department of Public Health and advising patients and peers as appropriate.”

8:17 a.m. Illinois Senate cancels session next week

The Illinois Senate has canceled its session scheduled for next week in Springfield due to coronavirus concerns. Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, released a statement this morning saying senators will not meet Tuesday through Friday, as planned.

“For now, we are taking it day by day and urging everyone to heed the advice of health care professionals by practicing social distancing, regularly washing hands and avoiding unneeded travel,” Harmon said in the statement.

7:03 a.m. More cancellations at Midway due to tower shutdown

Operations at Midway International Airport remain limited again today after federal authorities on March 17 closed the control tower after technicians tested positive for the coronavirus. The city’s second-largest airport is open but the Federal Aviation Administration says the air traffic control tower is still closed for cleaning.

This morning more than 400 flights were canceled. Hundreds were scrubbed March 18. Officials say travelers should check with their airline about flight schedules before heading to Midway.

6:49 a.m. Shelter-in-place order in Oak Park

Oak Park Shelter In Place
Linda Lutton/WBEZ
Kim Humphrey closed her bead store Friday to comply with the Village of Oak Park's shelter in place order. She says she has enough cash in the bank to get through mid April.

Oak Park has issued an order requiring residents to shelter in place starting March 20 and continuing to April 3. The order urges residents to stay home and to venture out only for necessities. It exempts businesses providing “essential services,” which includes grocery stores, banks, convenience stores and pharmacies.

Oak Park officials issued the order and declared a state of emergency yesterday afternoon as the suburb reported its first case of the COVID-19 virus, a man in his 30s who is quarantined at home.

The shelter-in-place order affecting Oak Park’s more than 52,000 residents is the first of its kind issued in Illinois.


March 18

5:41 p.m. Patricia Frieson, first COVID-19 Illinois fatality, is remembered

Patricia Frieson loved to sing with her sisters at Progressive Beulah Pentecostal church not far from her home in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

“I remember hearing her sing, and it was like her voice would send chills up my back,” said her nephew Tarah Frieson. “Everywhere I went I would hear someone say ‘Pat, sing a song, sing a song.’ They would love to hear her sing.”

Patricia Frieson died March 16 night, on Tarah’s birthday, at the University of Chicago Medical Center where she had tested positive for COVID-19. She is the first known Illinois death of the coronavirus, and a woman who didn’t fear death.“The thing about my auntie, is the more people that knew her, her love grew. She believed we were all sisters and brothers. She was a positive-energy person. She was very spiritual,” Tarah said.

Read the full story

— Natalie Moore

3:39 p.m. U.S. Census Bureau suspends field operations for two weeks

The 2020 census is underway, but the U.S. Census Bureau is stopping all of its field operations for two weeks amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a statement today, the bureau said that the move is designed to protect the public, census bureau employees and people who are applying for census jobs. The census, which seeks to count every person in the U.S., is conducted every 10 years.

Residents are encouraged to fill out the census questionnaire online or over the phone, which would lessen the need for enumerators to visit households in the coming months.

According to the statement, more than 11 million households have already responded to the census, and that completing the census form online or over the phone is the quickest and safest way to participate amid the ongoing health crisis.

— Esther Yoon-Ji Kang

3:32 p.m. Illinois cases nearly double

Reported cases of coronavirus in Illinois nearly doubled today, with 128 new cases, Gov. JB Pritzker and public officials announced at an afternoon briefing.

That brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in the state to 288. Twenty of those new cases are connected to the DuPage County long-term care facility where 22 cases had been identified last week. 

Officials urged residents to check the state’s new website, coronavirus.illinois.gov, for information about the pandemic.

While owing the spike in part to more testing, officials continued to offer a sober assessment on the spread of the disease.

“The grim truth is these numbers will continue to grow significantly,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.

Pritzker also said that he’s been working with both federal officials and private companies to get access to more COVID-19 tests, saying that some companies have shared their access to supplies. He said he expected in the coming days that thousands more tests will be available.

— Angela Rozas O’Toole 

2:21 p.m. Ford halts production at its North American factories

Chicago Assembly Plant
Amr Alfiky/Associated Press
Employees work on a Lincoln Aviator and Ford Explorer lines at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant in Chicago's Hegewisch neighborhood, Monday, June 24, 2019.

Ford Motor Co. is temporarily suspending production at its factories in North America, including its two plants in the Chicago area, due to worker fears about the coronavirus.

Ford said in a statement this afternoon that it’s taking the step, effective after Thursday’s evening shifts and lasting to March 30, “to thoroughly clean and sanitize the company’s plants”

Detroit’s two other big car makers, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, announced similar moves today.

Ford’s announcement halts production at the Chicago Assembly Plant in the Hegewisch neighborhood on the city’s Far South Side near Hammond, Indiana. It also affects a stamping plant in south suburban Chicago Heights. More than 6,000 people work at the plants.

The Ford factory in Chicago had already been hit with shortages of parts from a Northwest Indiana supplier, Lear Corp., that shut down after two workers were diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus.

Michael Puente

2:15 p.m. Evanston retirement community reports two virus cases

Two residents at a retirement community in Evanston have tested positive for COVID-19, according to letters management sent to residents and family members obtained by WBEZ.

A resident at Three Crowns Park retirement community had been taken to the hospital and tested positive for COVID-19. A second resident tested positive on March 17. Both residents remain in the hospital. The retirement home has banned visitors and has asked residents to stay indoors. No further details were provided.

Management at Three Crowns Park did not immediately return calls.

— Maria Ines Zamudio

11:55 a.m. CPS changes policy on student work during schools shutdown

Chicago Public Schools is now telling teachers they can count student work during the coronavirus closure toward grades. Previously, the state had said work should not count, but now it says it can as long as it improves a student’s grade.

Both the state and Chicago schools want to make sure that students who don’t have access to technology or other resources are not hurt by schoolwork requirements during this time. Gov. JB Pritzker ordered the closing of schools from March 17 to March 30. Students return on March 31.

Read: Stay up-to-date with WBEZ’s FAQ blog about the outbreak’s impact on schools in the Chicagoland area.

11:17 a.m. Chicago aldermen: Suspend fees and taxes, halt parking tickets to give relief

Parking Tickets On A Car
Katie Campbell/WBEZ
The measure asks Chicago police and the Department of Finance to stop issuing parking tickets and calls on the city to halt building code violations and fines for 60 days.

Chicago’s progressive aldermen are proposing the city create an emergency fund to support employees and small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The draft resolution released today calls on the mayor, the governor, the president, large utility companies, big banks and even the chief judge of Cook County Court to temporarily suspend a number of fines, fees, taxes, and other regulations to provide financial relief to those affected by the COVID-19 virus.

It also asks Chicago police and the Department of Finance to stop issuing parking tickets and calls on the city to halt building code violations and fines for 60 days.

A number of the measures in the progressive bloc’s proposal would require action far outside of City Council. For example, they ask President Donald Trump and Congress to stop deporting undocumented immigrants and also want the nation’s banks to suspend mortgage payments for at least the next 60 days.

They also ask Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans to suspend foreclosure and eviction lawsuits and they call on Sheriff Tom Dart to stop enforcing eviction orders.

“During this crisis, people need to know that they can count on having a roof over their head, food on the table, and dependable utilities,” Ald. Matt Martin (47th Ward) said in a statement.

— Becky Vevea

7:05 a.m. Midway flights limited after air traffic workers test positive

Chicago’s Midway airport is open today, “but operations will be limited until further notice.” That’s according to a statement by the city’s Department of Aviation. The move comes after the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily closed the air traffic control tower at Midway the evening of March 17 after “several” technicians tested positive for coronavirus. The FAA ordered a brief ground stop March 17 that halted flights to and from Midway before it was lifted.


March 17

7:35 p.m. Medical examiner identifies Chicago woman who tested positive for COVID-19

A 61-year-old Chicago woman who tested positive for COVID-19 and died the evening of March 16 has been identified as Patricia Frieson of the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, according to Natalia Derevyanny with the Cook County medical examiner’s office. 

Derevyanny said Frieson was pronounced dead 9:40 p.m. March 16 at the University of Chicago Medical Center. The medical examiner’s office will conduct a review on March 18 of all medical records to “determine Frieson’s cause and manner of death.”

5:14 p.m. First public university cancels graduation

The University of Illinois system announced today it will cancel spring commencement ceremonies at its universities in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign. Graduates will be mailed their diplomas, and university officials are looking into possibly rescheduling the ceremony at a later date.

“Even small turnouts, however, would far exceed the guidance issued last weekend by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the virus,” President Timothy Killeen wrote in a letter to the university community today.

The CDC is recommending no gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks — well past the University of Illinois’ May commencement dates.

The Urbana-Champaign and Springfield campuses announced this week that they are requiring all students who can return home safely to do so. UIUC is ending all face-to-face instruction for the rest of the spring semester.

— Kate McGee

3:07 p.m. City implements work-from-home policy for non-essential employees

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the city will be implementing a citywide work-from-home policy for all non-essential government services and warned that city workers and the public should limit their access to City Hall. Non-essential government services will be put on hiatus until further notice.

Public safety agencies — including the Police Department, Fire Department and Office of Emergency Management — will continue to operate at normal staffing levels. Critical services at the city’s Water and Sanitation Departments will also remain at regular staffing levels, as well as operations at the city’s two airports.

The mayor said no employee’s pay or health care benefits will be diminished during the temporary workforce change and that she’s working with department heads to finalize a list of which employees will be impacted.

Meanwhile, the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago will remain open after an employee has tested positive for COVID-19. The employee last visited the courthouse on March 12.

— Claudia Morell with Vivian McCall

2:39 p.m. Gov. Pritzker announces Illinois’ first COVID-19 death 

Gov. Pritzker in a press conference
Amr Alfiky/Associated Press
Gov. Pritzker expressed frustration at the federal government's response to the outbreak in a press conference today.

The victim was a Chicago woman in her 60s with an underlying health condition, state officials said. The woman was exposed to the virus from another person who had previously tested positive for the virus.

Officials announced 55 new cases of COVID-19 today. As of this afternoon, Illinois has 160 confirmed cases in 15 counties.

Those cases include an outbreak at Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in west suburban Willowbrook. On March 14, a patient at the facility tested positive. As a result, all of the residents and staff at the nursing home were tested. A total of 22 people — 18 residents and four staff members — tested positive for COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, the McHenry County Department of Health is confirmed two of the new cases of COVID-19. This brings the McHenry count to four. The new cases are both women, one in her 40s the other in her 50s. Both cases are considered to be community acquired, according to the health department, as neither woman had traveled to a high risk country with a known COVID-19 case. MCDH Public Health Administrator Melissa Adamson said the county’s two other COVID-19 cases have recovered.

Read more about the governor’s growing frustration with the federal government’s response to the outbreak here

— Maria Ines Zamudio

2:17 p.m. Chicago Fire Department employee tests positive

The latest positive COVID-19 case in Chicago is a Fire Department employee, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady announced in an afternoon conference call.

Neither would detail the individual’s position, whether it is an EMT or firefighter, or which firehouse the individual worked at.

“There is no indication that the member contracted the virus during a service call,” Arwady said. “The case is doing well in isolation at home.”

Arwady said the patient’s close contacts, “for example the partner,” are in quarantine. She added that the city’s health department is conducting its standard contact investigation and taking extra precautions as the firehouse is cleaned.

— Claudia Morell

1:56 p.m. Low turnout, polling glitches and political venting

Voting Illinois Primary Election
Marc Monaghan/WBEZ
A man votes in the 22nd Ward in Little Village.

An aide to Gov. JB Pritzker says she’s “disgusted” by a Chicago election official’s complaint that the governor wanted to proceed with today’s voting despite the coronavirus.

The squabbling between Pritzker people and the Chicago Board of Elections came as voter turnout was low, some polling places didn’t open on time due to delays with machines or poll workers, and some sites didn’t have enough hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes for voting machines. Read more details about Chicago’s rocky primary election day.

11:10 a.m. Chicago City Council puts off March 18 meeting

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has postponed the monthly City Council meeting scheduled tomorrow, citing new guidance on COVID-19 precautions from Illinois Governor JB Pritzker’s office.

Just yesterday, Mayor Lightfoot had defended her decision to keep the meeting on the books, as crucial legislation needed to combat the virus was up for consideration. The monthly gathering of the city’s 50 aldermen, though heavy with insignificant ceremony, is a crucial part of how the city does business.

But on March 16, Pritzker ordered no gatherings of more than 50 people be held, putting such a meeting in jeopardy.

In lieu of the meeting, the mayor will take “several emergency executive actions over the next few days to allow for the continuance of government,” according to a statement by the mayor’s office. This includes covering payroll for city workers, entering contracts without the council’s approval and dispersing any federal aid that might arrive to combat the virus.

— Claudia Morell

10:57 a.m. CTA says ridership down in recent days

CTA train with Chicago skyline background
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
CTA train ridership was down 19 percent over three days last week, according to the Chicago Transit Authority.

The Chicago Transit Authority says the coronavirus appears to be having an effect on ridership. The agency says that train ridership was down 19% and bus ridership dropped 6% from March 11-13, the latest preliminary ridership statistics available.

The agency also says there appeared to be fewer riders over the weekend, possibly due to all the event cancellations, including the St. Patrick’s Day parades previously scheduled for March 14. But the CTA doesn’t have hard numbers for the weekend yet.

9:49 a.m. Indiana reports second fatality

Health officials say a second person has died from COVID-19 in Indiana. The Indiana State Department of Health says the person, who was older than 60 and had been hospitalized, was from Johnson County, which is south of Indianapolis. Indiana recorded its first COVID-19 death on March 16, when an Indianapolis resident died.

The health department also reported this morning six additional confirmed COVID-19 illnesses, giving Indiana 30 cases across 15 counties. The new cases involve two people each from Franklin, Lake and Marion counties. Those are the first cases in Lake County, in Northwest Indiana.

Franciscan Health announced that local testing for the COVID-19 virus will begin at its hospitals in Crown Point and Michigan City this week. It will be the first such testing in Northwest Indiana since cases began showing up in the state. People who have a referral from a doctor can use the drive-up service, but they need to call to register. The number is 219-879-8511.

Meanwhile, all of Indiana’s Catholic bishops have suspended public Sunday and weekday Masses until further notice as a precaution against the spread of the virus.

— Michael Puente

8:16 a.m. Virus doesn’t stop Illinois election

Voting Hand sanitizer
Marc Monaghan/WBEZ
A hand sanitizer is at the ready at Shoesmith Elementary School, a polling place in the Kenwood neighborhood on Chicago's South Side.

Ohio, Georgia and other states may have postponed their elections due to coronavirus concerns, but not Illinois. 

Gov. JB Pritzker vowed this week that voting would go ahead as planned March 17, despite warnings about staying away from crowds and calls for social distancing.

Polls are open today, but be aware that many voting sites have been relocated due to a shortage of judges or locations backing out because of coronavirus precautions. Before you go to vote, check your local election website: City of Chicagosuburban Cook CountyDuPage CountyKane CountyWill CountyLake County and McHenry County

And here’s a WBEZ crib sheet with everything you need to know about voting today.


WBEZ’s blog to cover the coronovirus outbreak in Illinois went live on Jan. 24. Read earlier updates here.

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