Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot or other officials will be streamed in the video player above.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered a COVID-19 warning on Wednesday, saying Illinois is moving in a “concerning direction” as the statewide coronavirus testing positivity rate continues to rise.

His warning came as the state released holiday guidance for family gatherings, travel and more as the pandemic continues.

Here are the latest updates from across Illinois on the coronavirus pandemic today (Oct. 15):

University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business Switches to E-Learning After COVID-19 Cases

Officials at the University of Chicago announced Wednesday that all classes in its Booth School of Business will transition to remote learning for at least the next two weeks after multiple students tested positive for coronavirus after attending an off-campus gathering.

According to an email sent out by the school, a large group of full-time MBA students at the business school gathered off-campus on Chicago’s North Side. Many in attendance did not wear masks, and in the time since the gathering, multiple students have tested positive for COVID-19.

As a result, all business school classes at the school’s Hyde Park and downtown Chicago Booth campuses will be conducted remotely for two weeks.

All students involved in the gathering will be required to quarantine and to get tested for coronavirus. In all, more than 100 MBA students are affected, and will need to quarantine for a period of two weeks.

“We ask everyone on campus to once again review the terms of the UChicago Health Pact and to uphold its principles,” officials said in an email to students and faculty. “It takes only one incident like this to put many others at risk.”

Chicago Fire FC Match Postponed After Minnesota United FC Reports Possible COVID-19 Case

Major League Soccer announced Wednesday that the match between Chicago Fire FC and Minnesota United FC has been postponed after a suspected case of coronavirus was reported among Minnesota’s team delegation.

According to a press release, the league postponed the match just over an hour before kickoff after word of a potential COVID-19 case was reported to officials.

There is no word on whether it was a player, coach or staffer that tested positive, and additional tests are being performed Wednesday.

No new date for the match has been announced. Chicago will next take the pitch on Saturday when they face Sporting KC at Soldier Field.

Students Petition CPS To Reduce E-Learning Hours, Screen Time Citing Health Concerns

Students have started an online petition against Chicago Public Schools, asking the state’s largest school district to reduce e-learning hours to just four.

The petition had more than 38,000 signatures as of Wednesday evening. 

At this time, CPS has no plans to reduce hours, but told NBC 5 that students don’t spend a full 8 hours in front of the screen for e-learning.

CPS released the following statement to NBC 5 on Wednesday: 

“Chicago Public Schools built upon lessons learned from the spring to create a more consistent, high-quality learning experience for students that guarantees live instruction every day, which is something parents indicated they wanted. Strengthened standards and structures were needed to ensure students have access to the daily live instruction they deserve and we are deeply sympathetic to the challenges and competing priorities families are balancing during this unprecedented time.” 

“I don’t even step outside,” Lizbeth Barajas, a senior at Solorio Academy High School, said. “If we reduced the number of hours that we have, then we can have more one-on-one conversations in their office hours.” 

Alexis Caballero, a senior at John Hancock College Prep, told NBC 5 she suffers from headaches after e-learning from 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m.  

“When I turn off my computer, my head is automatically pounding,” Caballero said. “At this point, it’s about passing. It isn’t about learning.” 

Caballero said the petition isn’t a jab at teachers. She wants to express how stressful the e-learning model is. 

Dr. Stewart Shankman, chief psychologist at Northwestern Medicine, suggested students read a book, take a walk when they can and make phone calls without using video chat. 

When it comes to your eyes, Lurie Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Matthew Davis said to follow the 20-20-20 rule.  “Every 20 minutes try to focus your eyes on something that’s about 20 feet away, and do it for at least 20 seconds,” Davis said.

Coronavirus Positivity Rate Has Increased in All of Illinois’ 11 Regions, Pritzker Warns

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that the coronavirus testing positivity rate has risen in all 11 of the state’s health care regions, warning that the state is moving in a “concerning direction.”

As of Wednesday, the statewide positivity rate in testing was up to 4.6%, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Pritzker said that marked an increase of more than a full percentage point in the last week alone. He also noted that in the same time period, hospital admissions for COVID-like symptoms have also increased.

Both indicators are metrics the state uses in determining each region’s response to the pandemic – if a region sees a sustained increase in its rolling average positivity rate as well as a 7-day increase in hospital admissions or a reduction in hospital capacity, or simply three days averaging higher than an 8% positivity rate, the region automatically triggers new restrictions like closing of indoor bars and restaurants, limits on group sizes and more.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers a coronavirus update for Illinois on Oct. 14.

“To date, Illinois has had relative success in keeping this virus at bay, and we’re still doing better than many of our neighbors, but we can’t let up – and these numbers are indicating a concerning direction,” Pritzker said Wednesday.

“I want to reiterate the call that IDPH and I have repeatedly made to local health departments and local officials: pay close attention to your community and have the courage to take action when the local data indicate a problem,” he added. “I have one simple message for everyone in areas with rising positivity: Mask Up! Just do that one simple thing, and it will make a tremendous difference in keeping infections down.”

Pritzker noted that Region 5, encompassing parts of southern Illinois, has surpassed an 8% positivity rate, up from 5.8% on Sept. 30. As of Wednesday, Pritzker said the region’s rolling average was at 7.7% but that if it surpassed 8% again and stayed there, it would face stricter mitigations.

One region is currently under the stricter mitigations: Region 1, home top Rockford, Dixon and Galena, which saw the restrictions tighten on Oct. 3 after surpassing the 8% threshold. Pritzker said Wednesday that the positivity rate has continued to climb and sits at 10.1%, though hospital admissions have stabilized in the area.

Regions 4 and 7 had previously seen tighter restrictions automatically triggered, but those mitigations were removed after the regions’ metrics fell below the state’s threshold.

Pritzker used those regions as an example to encourage the rest of the state.

“To the residents of Region 1: We’re rooting for you – each of you have a direct role in making a change to bring your numbers down. Region 4 and Region 7 have demonstrated that it is possible to bring down that positivity rate with the tools we know to work: wear a mask, keep some physical distance, and encourage those who flout public health guidance to act with consideration for the whole community,” he said.

Illinois To Calculate Region 6 Metrics Without UIUC Saliva Test, Responding to ‘Skewed Results’

Illinois health officials Wednesday said that the state’s Region 6 will have a new way of calculating coronavirus metrics after a university’s saliva test has potentially skewed calculations.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that Region 6 will now report metrics separate from those at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as the school’s mass saliva testing could give an inaccurate representation of the region.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been performing repeated saliva testing of staff and students twice a week since the school developed the test in August. That test enables the school, and thus, Champaign County, to report thousands of tests each day.

“The (Illinois Department of Public Health) determined that it would be better to measure the region by taking those and putting them aside as we’re measuring whether mitigations will be necessary in the totality of that region, putting apart just the campus of UIUC,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker explained that he agrees with the health department that this new way of measuring will be more accurate.

Illinois health officials said last month that the tests performed at that U of I campus can average up to 20% of all tests done in the state in some weeks.

“We think that’s a terrific thing, by the way, what they’re doing, and so more power to them,” Pritzker said. “We do want to spread it across the state as much as we can.”

Pritzker said the University of Illinois is working to expand its saliva testing statewide and to other colleges, but needs to ensure there are enough available resources.

Ezike Defends Illinois Coronavirus Death Statistics, Says Data Constantly Scrutinized

While the accuracy of the number of coronavirus-related fatalities in Illinois has been a source of discussion and debate since the pandemic began, health officials say that they are constantly auditing the number of fatalities to ensure as accurate of a count as possible.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, says that in her department’s accounting of COVID-19 related fatalities, they have found that less than 0.6% of the deaths classified as COVID fatalities involved another primary cause of death that wasn’t related to the virus itself.

“When we have looked at all the deaths that have occurred, and unfortunately there have been over 9,074 at this point, we have looked at those that were related to an accident or obviously not proximate to the COVID-19 virus,” she said during a press conference Wednesday. “It was less than 0.6% of those deaths were in that category where it was an accident, or homicide, or something where the COVID diagnosis was not the proximate cause of death.”

There have been multiple reports of deaths that were classified as COVID-19 related that turned out to have another “proximate” cause, with Ezike citing cases involving auto accidents, homicides or suicides that were erroneously included in the number of coronavirus deaths in the state.

Even with those numbers in mind, Ezike says that 2020 has seen uptick in the number of total deaths when compared to other years, and while not all of those additional fatalities can be attributed to the virus, she says that many can be either indirectly or directly tied to the ongoing pandemic that has cost over 9,000 Illinois residents their lives.

Ezike cited an increase in accidental overdoses as another factor in the increased number of fatalities in the state this year, along with individuals not seeking prompt medical care out of fear that they could be infected with the coronavirus when going to a doctor’s office or a hospital.

“It’s a conglomeration of all of those things that have caused the deaths to be much higher than they were in previous years,” she said.

IDPH Releases Guidance on How to Handle the Holidays, Family Gatherings Safely

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday released new guidance for how to celebrate the holidays and enjoy family gatherings safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s top doctor suggested tips for traveling, shopping and gathering with loved ones during Thanksgiving and other upcoming holidays.

“COVID-19 has changed the way we work, live, and play, and will now change how we plan to celebrate the holidays,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “While the safest way to celebrate is with members of your household and connecting with others virtually, we know, for many, the holidays are all about family and friends, so we want to provide some tips on how to celebrate safer.”

Among the guidance was:

Travel

  • Traveling increases the chance of spreading COVID-19. When planning travel, consider the mode of transportation. 
    • Traveling by plane, train, or bus can mean standing in lines and sitting less than 6 feet from people for long periods of time. 
    • Traveling by car may include stops along the way for gas, food, and bathroom break. 
  • Decrease your risk by consistently wearing face coverings during travel. 
  • If you are sick, do not travel and do not attend gatherings and celebrations. Even if your symptoms are mild, you may still be able to infect others.

Gatherings

  • If you are hosting a holiday gathering, limit the number of guests.
  • Try to have as many activities outside as weather permits.
  • If your gathering needs to be inside, try to increase air flow by partially opening a couple windows. 
  • Please prepare yourself and your guests to wear masks indoors when not eating and drinking.
  • Limit your activities in the two weeks before your gathering and ask your guests to do the same. This will decrease the risk of exposure to the virus and further spread.
  • Think about the seating arrangements if you are planning a meal. Keep members of the same household together and try to put space between one family and another. 
  • When serving food, avoid a buffet-style or potluck setting and consider having one person serve all the food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.
  • Try to limit the number of people going in and out of areas where food is being prepared – like the kitchen and dining room.
  • If you are sick, do not travel and do not attend gatherings and celebrations. Even if your symptoms are mild, you may still be able to infect others.
  • To help stave off illness, get your flu vaccine now. It takes the body several weeks after receiving the vaccine to build up antibodies that will help protect you from flu, so get it now to help protect you and others during the holidays. 

Shopping

  • Try to do gift shopping online by looking at local store websites and choosing pick-up options. 
  • Grocery shopping online with delivery and curbside pick-up is also available in many locations. 
  • If you need to shop in-person, try to go at a time when stores are not as busy.

“There is no free pass in the season of giving when it comes to COVID-19,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday. “When confronted with decisions about the upcoming holiday season, many people who have erred on the side of caution up to now might face new temptation to let their guard down.Let me be blunt: the virus isn’t taking a holiday. It only wants to find new hosts. And if you think it’s ok to let your guard down because some people seem fine after they get COVID-19, I’ll remind you that many young people in their 20s and 30s and 40s are experiencing ‘long-hauler’ symptoms of this virus — pulmonary issues, months long breathing and coughing issues, exhaustion. Even for healthy, young people, that’s not a walk in the park, so don’t treat it like one. The safest thing to do is take precautions.

“Dr. Ezike and I want to be with our families and friends during the holidays too,” he added. “We are all human beings, and we all want to see and spend time with our loved ones whom we’ve spent the better part of a year worrying about.”

Ezike declined to give more specific answers for families, stating that home layouts and space availability play a role in determining how many people should be allowed to gather at a time.

Illinois Reports 2,862 New Coronavirus Cases as Pritzker Warns of ‘Concerning Direction’

Illinois health officials on Wednesday reported 2,862 new coronavirus cases and 49 additional deaths over the last 24 hours as Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned that all of the state’s 11 health care regions have seen an increase in testing positivity rates.

According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Wednesday’s figures bring the state’s totals to 327,605 cases and 9,074 deaths since the pandemic began.

Nearly 53,000 tests were reported Wednesday, bringing the state’s seven-day positivity rate to 4.6%.

As of Tuesday night, 1,974 people in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 390 patients were in the ICU and 153 patients were on ventilators.   

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that the latest figures indicate the state is moving in a “concerning direction.”

“Unfortunately, all 11 regions have seen an increase in positivity compared to where we were at last week’s update. Statewide, our positivity rate has grown by more than one full percentage point in the last week alone. And in most regions, COVID-like hospital admissions have increased in the same time period,” he said during a news conference.

“To date, Illinois has had relative success in keeping this virus at bay, and we’re still doing better than many of our neighbors, but we can’t let up – and these numbers are indicating a concerning direction,” he continued.

“We are seeing changes in positivity averages around the state level off, with three regions that were decreasing last week now sitting at a stable level,” he said during a virtual update last Wednesday.

These Are the Coronavirus Metrics to Pay Attention to

Chicago’s top public health official has long warned that the city’s average new coronavirus cases per day was a number to keep an eye on, but as that number rises, she says it’s no longer the only statistic to watch for.

In addition to new cases and daily testing numbers, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady is also watching the city’s hospitalization numbers and daily death tolls, which have remained “steady,” she said.

“We continue to admit, on average, fewer than 15 new Chicago residents to the hospital every day with COVID-19,” she said. “That’s down from the more than 150 residents being admitted every day back at our peak in April and May. Similarly, we continue to see between two and three Chicago residents die from COVID every day. Now, that is still too many deaths and every one of those deaths has such ripple impacts in terms of families and neighborhoods that are impacted. That is, though, down from the approximately 50 deaths per day that we were seeing in Chicago.”

In addition, the city’s reproduction number, also known as the r-naught or RT, is currently just above one. The number is an indicator of how many people a single person with coronavirus, on average, spreads it to.

“If the RT is two, this means that every one person in Chicago with COVID spreads it to, on average, two other people. And that might not sound so bad – one person, spreading to two other people does not sound like a very infectious disease and in fact there are many diseases that are more infectious than that,” Arwady said.

But if one person spreads the virus to two people and those two people spread it to two more “we very quickly see a big increase in cases in Chicago.”

“If on average, one person in Chicago with COVID is spreading to an average of one other person, our outbreak actually stays flat,” Arwady said.

Early on during the city’s outbreak in March, the number was at 3.62. After weeks of stay-at-home orders and as the curve began flattening, the number dropped as low as .85.

“A reproductive number of just over one does not make me very happy, it does not make me extremely worried. But if we see this number going up, it means that our outbreak is out of control,” Arwady said. “If it stays where it’s been, really June to October, even if the numbers are going up, as long as the testing and the other number is part of what’s driving that, we remain broadly in control. But all around us there is trouble. Wisconsin has a very poorly controlled outbreak, Indiana has a poorly controlled outbreak, Iowa, Missouri, and parts of downstate Illinois are not in as strong control as we are here in Chicago. And we are not in a strong control in Chicago this week as we were last week. So what I want you to hear is that now is the time to get even more serious. As we’re moving indoors. As colder weather is coming. We know the things we need to do.”

Arwady Expects Chicago to Reach 400 Cases Per Day This Week, a Number She Has Long Warned About

Chicago’s top public health official says she expects the city to reach an average of 400 new coronavirus cases per day this week, a metric she has been warning about for weeks.

Currently, the city is averaging 364 cases per day, 10% higher than at this time last week, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.

“I expect this number to continue to increase,” Arwady said. “And in fact, I expect that this number will cross the 400 mark likely this week.”

Previously, Arwady had said an average of 400 cases per day would likely mean a rollback to phase three of the city’s reopening plan. But she said while the number is alarming, the situation not as drastic as when she made that claim in July.

“The news needs to be in the context of our testing rates,” she said.

According to data, the city currently has a test positivity rate of 4.4%, well below the goal of under 5% and the second-best region in the state behind only Urbana-Champaign.

In addition, the city has reported record testing numbers with an average of 10,000 tests per day. One month earlier, that number was between 7,000 and 8,000.

“This is highlighting that, in part, the increase in cases that we are seeing is because of an increase in testing,” Arwady said. “It is not the full story, but it is part of the story and I want people to understand that the reason we expect to see these cases continue to grow is partly reflected because of tests.”

As of Tuesday, the city would need to test an average of 24 people to find one positive coronavirus test. Last month, that number was 20.

“We want that number to stay flat,” she said. “Even better, we want it to be going up.”

Arwady Warns of Indoor Gatherings Ahead of Winter Months

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Alison Arwady warned Tuesday of the risks associated with indoor gatherings before colder temperatures hit.

Arwady said for an indoor space to be considered “safe,” people should be wearing a mask, keeping six feet of distance and avoiding large crowds.

Increased ventilation can slow the spread of COVID-19, according to Arwady citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can be done by opening windows to bring in outdoor air.

Arwady recommended focusing on the flow of outdoor air circulating indoors as opposed to turning on fans, which could bring airflow downward toward individuals.

Health officials said that ultra violet lights that individuals can “just buy” are not recommended to clean surfaces from the coronavirus, unless they are used at a “very high” level.

Arwady said that though air filtration and open windows can aid in decreasing the spread of the virus, it cannot other replace important precautions.

For people visiting another home, Arwady said that person should be “in the same bubble.” The top health official suggested that people not within the social distancing bubble, should meet outdoors.

“Generally speaking, always fewer interactions are safer from a COVID perspective,” Arwady said. “If you have to the think twice, safer activities broadly are ones that avoid crowds, where everybody can wear a mask, everybody can keep a six foot distance and they’re outdoors. As outdoors is less of an option, you got to double down on those other things.”

Lightfoot Says Discussions Ongoing With Bears About Allowing Fans at Soldier Field

The Chicago Bears are off to a 4-1 start on the season, but could there be a time in the near future when the team’s fans will be allowed to catch some football action in person at Soldier Field?

At a Tuesday press conference, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot left the door open for just such a possibility, saying that her administration is having conversations with the team about allowing limited numbers of fans into the team’s remaining home games.

“Like any other Bears fan, I would like to be there,” she said. “We’re having conversations with the Bears and we’ll see where they lead. We’ll see.”

The debate over whether to allow fans into professional sports stadiums has ratcheted up in recent weeks, as some stadiums have begun to open their doors. In Major League Baseball, the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves is being contested in front of a limited number of fans at the home stadium of the Texas Rangers in Arlington.

In the NFL, multiple teams have begun to allow fans on a limited basis, including the Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns.

Teams like the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers and Seattle Seahawks are continuing to play without fans in their stadiums.

There are even teams looking at other potential options, including the New Orleans Saints, who are discussing playing home games at Louisiana State University’s campus in order to allow fans into the seats. Officials in the Big Easy have repeatedly rebuffed the team’s efforts to allow fans in the Superdome, and a trip to Baton Rouge may allow them to welcome fans into games, according to reports.

City officials will have some time to make their decision, as the Bears have two straight road games against the Carolina Panthers and Rams in the next two weeks. Their next home game isn’t scheduled until Nov. 1, when they’ll welcome the Saints to the shores of Lake Michigan.

Midwestern Coronavirus Positivity Rates Over the Past 2 Weeks

How States Compare on Where Coronavirus Is Most Easily Spread





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