Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Officials report 982 new known cases of COVID-19 and 97 additional fatalities as Chicago begins gradual reopening

As the city of Chicago began the process of gradually reopening on Wednesday, many businesses remained closed or boarded up.

Local restaurants can reopen with outside dining, retail shops can welcome customers, salons and barbershops can open up and other businesses such as hotels can start to operate. But all of the businesses will be subject to reduced capacities and tight rules designed to stop COVID-19 cases from spiking. And some may not reopen because of damage done during unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

Meanwhile, officials on Wednesday announced 982 new known cases of COVID-19 and 97 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known cases to 123,830 and the death toll to 5,621 statewide since the start of the pandemic.

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

Out of the 1,500 businesses in the area covered by the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, more than 50 have boarded up because they had windows broken or were broken into during the unrest over the weekend, said the chamber’s executive director, Pamela Maass. 

The chamber is trying to help some businesses file police reports. Some had trouble submitting them because the online system was swamped with reports, she said. Others are seeking legal assistance because they feel their landlords didn’t do enough to protect them by boarding up buildings, she said. 

But others are eagerly moving ahead with reopening and requesting permits for outdoor dining. 

The decision depends not only on whether the business suffered damage or is in a particularly hard-hit area, but also where employees live and whether they can safely get to and from work, she said.

“It’s really case by case,” she said. 

While the damage may keep some businesses closed longer than they hoped, Maass said she was confident the unrest wouldn’t keep consumers away. 

“The proof was in the activity Monday morning,” she said. “There were hundreds of people in the neighborhood helping clean up.” —Lauren Zumbach

A sea of boarded up windows greeted volunteers who descended upon the Lake Meadows Shopping Center in Bronzeville Wednesday to help clean up after vandals broke windows and looted most of the stores in the complex. Neither the Walgreens nor the UPS Store nor the nail salon nor the women’s clothing shop had been spared.

Michelee Harrell, 42, who lives nearby, had been looking forward to possibly grabbing a drink at a bar or sitting on a restaurant patio, as Chicago eased restrictions on businesses sidelined for more than two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, she was picking up litter and sweeping up debris, and even stores that had previously been open are closed indefinitely.

“I think we’re getting further and further away from normal,” she said.

But the mood was not dour as people from across the city arrived to see how they could help.

Joy Williams, an artist and community organizer behind the cleanup, stood before a stack of water, paper towels and garbage bags and directed people to the areas in greatest need, suggesting some people head further south to Roseland.

“This gave everyone an opportunity to come together and take care of the community in a way that needed to happen,” said Williams, 21, who lives in South Shore. “The South Side needed to be cleaned up years ago.”

Though she was sad about the destruction of businesses, she said “it had to take something so drastic for people to come together to make change.”

Williams was heartened to see volunteers from Lakeview and elsewhere on the North Side show up ready to work, as engaging them had been difficult previously.

“They are very humbly trying to help and they feel remorseful,” she said. “This is a moment of solidarity and I’m really seeing that.” —Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

SpotHero laid off 42 employees Tuesday, citing a parking industry that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The layoffs represented 22% of the Chicago-based company’s employee base. It now employs 147 full-time workers, said Elan Mosbacher, senior vice president of strategy and operations.

SpotHero, which launched in 2011, is working to digitize the parking industry. Its platform helps customers find parking, and lets parking garage operators better track data and see trends.

COVID-19 kept many Americans home for months. That hit mobility and transportation services hard, including parking, Mosbacher said.

SpotHero hopes that trend will start to turn around soon. Read more here. —Ally Marotti

Illinois officials on Wednesday announced 982 new known cases of COVID-19 and 97 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known cases to 123,830 and the death toll to 5,621 statewide since the start of the pandemic.

In northern parts of Logan Square at about lunchtime, preparations noticeably were being made at restaurants like the Harding Tavern, Longman and Eagle and Cafe con Leche.

At the corner of Sawyer and Milwaukee avenues, Old Plank was making the most of its huge windows. While many nearby restaurants and businesses have boarded windows as a preventative security measure, Esam Hani, the owner of One of a Kind Hospitality which operates Old Plank, said the fact that his restaurant’s outer walls were more than 50% windows helped it open sooner. By city regulation, restaurants with dining space within 8 feet of such windows can open for outdoor dining. Hani also oversees other restaurants on that stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, and Old Plank has been the first one to reopen.

“This (property), we were a lot closer to being ready, so this one is first,” Hani said. “But it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. We’re trying to get employees back right now, but a lot of them are making more money on unemployment right now than they did here. ... We also have to teach everyone coming back new safety operations.”

Payton Orr and JD Mathys were sitting at a high-top table perched next to one of the restaurant’s massive windows. Neither of them said they felt particularly worried about COVID in the context of dining out, and they wanted to support the restaurants as long as they are open.

“I’m a little afraid we’re reopening too soon and everything will have to close again, but I also want these businesses to be able to be open as long as they can,” Orr said.

“I think people should be more concerned about the tens of thousands of people walking through the neighborhood without masks every day,” added Mathys.

That was about it for Logan Square in the early afternoon. South of Logan Boulevard, no restaurants were open, or even preparing to do so. —Adam Lukach

Most of downtown is fairly quiet, with many restaurants still closed. A few places, like Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse (1028 N. Rush St.) and Maple & Ash (8 W. Maple St.), said they were considering opening Thursday.

Lettuce Entertain You, the city’s largest restaurant group, held off on opening Wednesday and will release a list of planned opening dates Thursday.

But David Flom, the managing partner at Chicago Cut Steakhouse (300 N. LaSalle Drive), says the restaurant has been extremely busy since opening this morning.

“We already have a 100 people here on the patio,” says Flom. “We also have a lot of reservations scheduled for tonight.”

He says they’ve been preparing for days to make sure the restaurant met all the guidelines from the city and state, including spacing the tables 6 feet apart, putting up plexiglass where it’s needed and having set walking paths for customers.

“The entire staff is also wearing masks,” adds Flom.

Wishbone (161 N. Jefferson St.) was open at lunchtime with three people sitting on the shaded outdoor patio. General manager Saskia Rivera said they had been getting calls about reservations.

When it comes to social distancing, Rivera’s goal is to take care of staff and customers “in the restaurant while keeping an eye on customers waiting outside for a table.”

By mid-afternoon the restaurant had had just a total of seven dine-in customers. —Nick Kindelsperger and Kasondra Van Treeck

1:34 p.m.: Charting structural inequities: How lowest-paid, least-secure jobs also tend to have highest risk for COVID-19

Before the death of George Floyd ignited a powder keg of tensions over social inequities in the U.S., COVID-19 had already laid them bare.

Blacks and Latinos, as well as lower-income people, are not only more likely to die from the disease than whites, but also are disproportionately hurt by the economic fallout because of the kinds of jobs they tend to hold.

In a new report, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute quantifies the “significant structural inequities” COVID-19 has revealed about Illinois’ economy.

Workers who hold the essential jobs that have kept society running during the pandemic, as well as nonessential workers like hair stylists and restaurant workers who are most at risk of virus exposure because of the face-to-face nature of their work, grapple with greater job and financial insecurity than their higher-paid counterparts who are able to work from home, the report said.

The report lists long-term policy recommendations to support workers at risk of being left behind in the economic recovery, including statewide paid sick leave and a state-run public health insurance option, in hopes they return to a normal that is better than the one they had before. Read more here. —Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz and Jonathon Berlin

While some restaurants geared up to open for dinner service later in the day on Wednesday, many breakfast joints said they wouldn’t open until later this week or next week, citing confusion around the rules and regulations that would allow them to seat diners outside. Lost Larson, a bakery in Andersonville, said it hopes to open its back patio for brunch, but will be reservation-only. They have yet to set an opening date, however. But other restaurants were open for breakfast and saw a strong turnout.

Although they have a small patio of only three tables total, one of the owners of Savanna Restaurant, an American Ecuadorian breakfast and lunch restaurant in North Center, said he’s happy to finally open Wednesday. By mid-morning, they had already seen two tables of longtime customers, who have continued their patronage during the shelter-in-place order.

“It’s been really hard for all this time,” said Luis Calderon, one of the owners. “I’m happy for everything and what’s coming for now. We’re so excited. It’s going to be hard but we’re going to see what we can do.”

Cafe Selmarie, a bakery and restaurant in Lincoln Square, said they’re not in a rush to re-open. They plan to take it slow and see what happens, citing COVID-19 and the protests.

By mid-morning, the patio at Tweet in Uptown was still full of regulars who had started arrving when the cafe opened at 9:30 a.m. While no one is sitting and doing their crosswords like they would have before, owner Michelle Fire said she’s happy that everyone who has come by so far has worn masks and practiced responsible socialization.

“I think people are ready to come out, period,” Fire said. “I think they would sit in the rain today, to be truthful.”

She said the last few months have been extremely difficult for her and her business, and has felt financially and emotionally burdened.

“I felt like weeping all the time,” she said. “I still do, but this is a ray of hope, a ray of hope in the fact that everybody showed up in the last hour and a half and they’re being safe. No one is being silly.”

She said many restaurants probably feel wary about opening right away because of the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd by a police office on top of the worldwide pandemic that still rages on. But she wanted to re-open Tweet, which she describes as a “down-home neighborhood comfort place” for this exact reason — to provide a safe place for the community and to bring in income for her employees, some of whom have families to support.

“I’m marching forward,” she said. “That’s all we can do, is march forward.” —Grace Wong

On Wednesday morning, Melissa Kmieciak, manager of Ragstock, unlocked the boarded-up door where someone had written “empty” in hopes of discouraging looters.

The store had been vandalized, though she declined to say how extensive the damage was. Ragstock had been ready to reopen after being closed during the COVID-19 shutdown, but will now likely wait until the unrest has calmed.

The wait was disappointing, but holding off for a few more days didn’t feel that hard, she said.

“We’ve already been closed so long,” she said.

Milwaukee Furniture, on the other hand, was open even though its window had been broken and remained boarded up. Security cameras caught one person trying to steal a computer and TV, but a police officer stopped the person, who left them behind, said owner Mustafa Quad.

Quad has kept the store open for appointments and to fill online orders, and he said he felt comfortable coming back.

Business has been down about 85% during the pandemic, Quad said. A couple weeks ago, the store basement was damaged by flooding. Then came damage over the weekend from widespread unrest over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“There’s just so much chaos. ... I’m just waiting for an earthquake,” he said.

Michael White, 26, was walking down Milwaukee Avenue with his father Wednesday morning after grabbing coffees at Wormhole.

The street looked much cleaner than it had over the weekend, but few shops appeared open for business.

White was still wary of going back to the gym because of the risk of exposure to COVID-19, but he had been looking forward to returning to restaurants this week. Now he’s less certain, not because of the virus but the risk of getting caught up in the unrest.

“I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but all it takes is a handful of people to start something,” he said. —Lauren Zumbach

12:08 p.m.: Museum layoff wave continues: Lincoln Park Zoo cuts 18 workers amid COVID-19 budget shortages

Even as two outdoor-focused institutions tentatively re-open, the wave of COVID-19-related layoffs at Chicago museums continues. Lincoln Park Zoo said Wednesday it is cutting 18 workers, about 7 percent of its workforce.

The move comes as the free north side zoological park anticipates a budget shortfall in the current fiscal year of $2.5 million to $5 million “minimally,” said Jillian Braun, director of public relations and communications.

Braun said the cuts were painful to the zoo, which has long been Chicago’s most popular attraction with about 3.5 million annual visitors. Like most major museums and nature parks, it closed in mid-March to help prevent the spread of coronavirus during the global pandemic. Read more here. —Steve Johnson

Many businesses along Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park remained boarded up Wednesday morning.

At Reckless Records, which had a screen blocking the view inside its store, pieces of paper taped to the window spelled out “Black lives matter every day.”

Reckless Records had hoped to open its Wicker Park and Lakeview stores Wednesday after being closed during the COVID-19 shutdown, but the unrest that hit Wicker Park Sunday put those plans on hold.

Reckless Records wasn’t damaged, but employees were still getting stores ready to operate safely amid lingering concerns about COVID-19. The stores need plastic sneeze guards, and nearby retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s had closed after looting in the area. Other stores are sold out of sneeze guards or required a lengthy wait, said Melissa Grubbs, manager of the Wicker Park store.

Reopening Reckless Records’ smaller Loop store will take more time. But the others will open as soon as possible, she said.

“We need to be open in order to survive,” she said.

A couple blocks away from Reckless Records’ Wicker Park location, salon Fringe also remained closed, with boards over its windows, even though owner Dawn Bublitz had already booked a full slate of clients in anticipation of opening Wednesday. She decided to wait, even though the salon made it through Sunday’s unrest undamaged.

“It just does not feel safe,” she said. “My staff doesn’t feel comfortable, and I don’t feel comfortable opening until the violence has stopped and the looting has stopped.”

Early Sunday evening, friends called and warned her she should board up the salon. She grabbed a few neighbors and within an hour removed everything they could, from products to computers. She isn’t sure when she’ll be ready to reopen, but hasn’t canceled appointments booked for this weekend yet.

“I’m just telling everyone we don’t know,” she said. Last week, people couldn’t wait to get their hair done after going months without a trip to the salon. Now, “it just seems like hair is the least important thing in our lives right now,” she said. —Lauren Zumbach

Long considered the world’s premier public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has fallen short in its response to the most urgent public health emergency in its 74-year history — a pathogen that has penetrated much of the nation, killing more than 100,000 people.

The agency made early missteps in testing and failed to provide timely counts of infections and deaths, hindered by aging technology across the U.S. health system. It hesitated in absorbing the lessons of other countries, and struggled to calibrate the need to move fast and its own imperative to be cautious. Its communications were sometimes confusing, sowing mistrust, even as it clashed with the White House and President Donald Trump.

“They let us down,” said Dr. Stephane Otmezguine, an anesthesiologist who treated coronavirus patients in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The agency issued a statement saying it was “providing the best, most current data and scientific understanding we have.”

But a New York Times review of thousands of emails, and interviews with more than 100 state and federal officials, public health experts, CDC employees and medical workers, documents how the COVID-19 pandemic shook longstanding confidence in the agency and its leader, Dr. Robert R. Redfield. These are some of the key findings. Read more here. —The New York Times

7:20 a.m.: Unions, activists to call on Lightfoot to use city workers instead of private contractors for contact tracing

A group of activists, elected officials and unions were expected Wednesday to call on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to hire city health workers to do COVID-19 contact tracing instead of using contractors/

The group, including the head of the NAACP South Side Chapter, the head of the Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600 and other community organizations and elected officials were scheduled to hold an online news conference Wednesday morning. Contact tracing by health officials works to determine who a person infected with a disease may have been in contact with, and allows health officials to isolate anyone who may have been infected, to try to slow the spread of a disease.

The groups were expected to call on Lightfoot to hire health workers for contact tracing to “replace the 1,500 public health nurses and workers lost since 1990,” according to a news release. They also were expected to ask the city to work with community groups rather than private contractors and private hospitals.

The groups say that the current plan for contact tracing won’t have enough transparency, because it will be run by a private contractor. —Chicago Tribune staff

6 a.m.: After losing husband and both parents within weeks to COVID-19, suburban woman struggles with the unfathomable

When Mayra Velazquez dropped her husband, Saul, off at a hospital near their home in the northwest suburbs, she didn’t realize it would be the last time she would be with “the love of my life.”

But COVID-19 was not done with the Hanover Park family. In the days that followed, Velazquez would be forced to drop off both of her parents outside the hospital. Neither survived.

In her first public comments after an unimaginable loss, Mayra Velazquez, 37, said she hopes it will serve as a cautionary tale for others to heed public safety guidelines, especially as Illinois has begun to slowly re-open. Read more here. —Christy Gutowski

6 a.m.: As unrest jeopardizes some reopening plans, Chicago black chefs have mixed emotions but remain focused on pain behind protests

After Mayor Lori Lightfoot cut off access to Chicago’s downtown last weekend, protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — and resulting civil unrest — spilled into neighborhoods, including many predominantly black neighborhoods on the city’s South Side.

At Virtue in Hyde Park, chef/owner Erick Williams posted a sign in the restaurant’s window: “PLEASE DON’T, BLACK OWNED” read the most visible text. Williams said the events of this past weekend “totally affected” Virtue’s plans to reopen outdoor dining with the rest of the city Wednesday, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the go-ahead Tuesday morning, but not because of any property damage. Williams is concerned about his team.

“Our staff is predominantly African American, and it would be irresponsible for me to have young men and women who are emotionally wired come into the building with the expectation of providing service, and risking their safety to get them here, because now it’s even more difficult to get to and from (work),” he said.

Having to make such a consideration underscores the same dangers of being black as the killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other police brutality victims. As Chicago continued to clean up from the fallout of Floyd’s killing, black chefs and restaurant owners spoke about the need to manage not only their operations, but also the safety of their staffs and their communities. Read more here. —Adam Lukach

6 a.m.: Moving during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here’s how to prepare for virtual tours and what questions to ask.

Finding a place to live is never easy. Finding a place to live in the midst of a global pandemic might seem almost impossible.

Since the state’s stay-at-home order began, real estate agents have gotten creative by virtually showing properties to prospective buyers and renters, using recorded videos, 3D tours and live video chats to give people as clear a picture as possible without them stepping foot inside a home.

Knowing the right questions to ask during a tour and inquiring about coronavirus-prompted special terms of a deal can make it easier to come to a decision — and provide peace of mind for the most thorough of home hunters. Read more here. —Hannah Herrera Greenspan

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