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Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s how the virus has changed our lives

For six months, the world has changed in ways few of us could have imagined at the start of 2020.

As COVID-19 took hold on so many facets of our lives, from our health to our livelihoods, our schools and our cultural institutions, the Chicago Tribune has sought to follow each development with insight into how the pandemic impacts us all.

Now, six months after the World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus’ spread had become a pandemic, we reflect on how the pandemic is shaping our world — and how we’re getting through it together.

The first COVID-19 patients in Illinois faced stigma, bigotry. But experts say their contributions to science taught the US much about the virus.

Monica Gomez, a staff nurse at Amita St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, exits a patient's room on Sept. 10, 2020. Gomez is the nurse who treated the first diagnosed coronavirus patients in Illinois, the earliest known person-to-person transmission of the new virus in the United States.

Monica Gomez, a staff nurse at Amita St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, exits a patient's room on Sept. 10, 2020. Gomez is the nurse who treated the first diagnosed coronavirus patients in Illinois, the earliest known person-to-person transmission of the new virus in the United States. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

She was known as Patient 1.

The Chicago woman in her 60s had traveled on Christmas Day to Wuhan, China, where she cared for her elderly father who had fallen ill to a mysterious, undiagnosed respiratory sickness.

After returning to Chicago in mid-January, her own symptoms emerged: fever, cough and fatigue, followed by nausea and dizziness.

While hospitalized for pneumonia, she became the first patient in Illinois and the second in the nation to test positive for the novel coronavirus, a new and little-understood illness that would soon burgeon into a pandemic.

Her husband, who had not gone to China, also tested positive days later, marking the first documented case of person-to-person transmission in the United States.

Silent spreaders and long haulers: 10 things science has learned about COVID-19 in less than a year.

It’s been only nine months since the world learned of a new coronavirus that would trigger a pandemic declaration in March and ultimately disrupt billions of lives.

That’s little more than a blink of the eye when it comes to understanding a novel disease, and the advice from scientists and doctors is still evolving as they accumulate experience with COVID-19.

Chicago-area renters are still being pushed out of their homes, despite COVID-19 eviction moratorium

Jaime Espinoza shows the eviction notice he received, outside his apartment in Hillside on Sept. 4, 2020. Six months into the pandemic, residents like Espinosa, a DJ, are receiving eviction notices despite the ongoing extensions of the moratorium on evictions.

Jaime Espinoza shows the eviction notice he received, outside his apartment in Hillside on Sept. 4, 2020. Six months into the pandemic, residents like Espinosa, a DJ, are receiving eviction notices despite the ongoing extensions of the moratorium on evictions. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Before the pandemic, Jaime Espinoza, 28, was making ends meet with DJ and security jobs. The Hillside resident went from clearing almost $50,000 in 2019 to, this year, hosting $5 open mic showcases in Melrose Park to cover his $850 monthly rent, car payment and groceries.

After informing his landlord that he would have trouble paying rent in April, Espinoza started receiving notices on his door saying he had days to come current. He still owes thousands of dollars in back rent.

His experience is all too familiar for some Illinois renters. And despite the statewide eviction moratorium, some people continue to receive warnings of evictions that can seem like the real thing.

Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern owner Sam Sianis won’t retire, no matter the challenges of the pandemic era

Sam Sianis poses for a photograph at the Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Michigan Avenue on Sept. 6, 2020.

Sam Sianis poses for a photograph at the Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Michigan Avenue on Sept. 6, 2020. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

When you descend to the depths of Lower Michigan Avenue now, the neon signs of the Billy Goat Tavern seem gone. The lights still glow behind blue painted boards. The owner beams too, sometimes.

“When I’m at the Billy Goat, I feel better!” said Sam Sianis, owner of perhaps the most iconic restaurant and bar in Chicago.

Sianis, 85, is just one of the thousands of restaurant owners in the Chicago area who’ve devoted their lives to the family business. Just one of the many faces we came to expect behind the counter, who knew our orders by heart. Just one of those who may never go back to work again at the place that made them and us and our city.

Will he retire now? “I never retire!” Sianis said. “I can’t retire because my mind goes inside the Billy Goat! Day and night, my brain is at the Billy Goat!”

The bubble athlete. The beer vendor. The cheerleader. The tailgaters. A snapshot of life in sports during 6 months of COVID-19.

White Sox starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez pitches during the first inning against the Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field on Aug. 17, 2020.

White Sox starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez pitches during the first inning against the Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field on Aug. 17, 2020. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

When the NBA suspended its season March 11, it created a ripple effect that quickly shut down the rest of the sports world, perhaps the first clear hint in the U.S. that the coronavirus was about to upend nearly every way of life.

America never fully grasped control of the pandemic, and six months later it remains unchecked in many parts of the country. Yet sports are nearly back in full swing, offering at once a sense of comfort and familiarity while representing a clear picture of how life has been altered as we knew it.

The stands are empty, athletes are separated from their families in bubbles or traveling around the country in isolation, no beer vendors are needed and the NFL season began without tailgating and some college conferences opened their seasons while most others postponed theirs with safety in mind.

They’re still working. They’re still healthy. But they’re still scared. What the past 6 months have been like for Chicago’s essential workers.

Mariano's supermarket employee Luke Magana fulfills online orders at the Oak Lawn location on Sept. 11, 2020.

Mariano's supermarket employee Luke Magana fulfills online orders at the Oak Lawn location on Sept. 11, 2020. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

When the streets emptied of people six months ago, a new class of heroes emerged.

They were the drivers, grocery clerks, janitors and others who braved the early unease of the pandemic to show up for work, exempt from the state’s stay-at-home order because they were deemed too important.

The Tribune profiled five essential workers in March just as the state’s shutdown set in. Six months later, all remain at their jobs, with perspectives to share about experiencing the pandemic outside the safety of their homes. — Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

Pritzker, Ezike and Arwady talk about the COVID-19 pandemic at 6 months, and look ahead to what might be next

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference at the James R. Thompson Center on Sept. 22, 2020.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference at the James R. Thompson Center on Sept. 22, 2020. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

Six months after he first issued a disaster proclamation tied to the coronavirus pandemic, followed quickly by a stay-at-home order that shut down businesses and kept people inside for months, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in an interview with the Tribune earlier this month that he wouldn’t hesitate to act in similar fashion if COVID-19 cases bloom exponentially this fall.

Looking back, the first-term Democratic governor remains angry over the federal government’s response to the pandemic, while the top state and city of Chicago public health officials say they were surprised early on that there was so much pushback on measures such as mandates to wear masks in public.

Looking forward, those same health officials are worried about how the seasonal flu could further complicate the ongoing pandemic. Here’s what they had to say. — Jamie Munks and Gregory Pratt

As they focused on others with COVID-19 and refused to walk away, Illinois health care workers bore the brunt of pandemic’s fury

At last count, at least 115 health care workers had died and nearly 15,600 had contracted the virus as of Sept. 18, according to state public health officials, who said the exact figure is unknown and likely higher. Four more deaths and nearly 400 infections were listed in a separate category for first responders, not including law enforcement.

The Tribune has identified and interviewed the families of nearly 50 deceased health care workers in Illinois to chronicle the devastating loss of life and acts of heroism.

They include nurses, doctors, medical assistants, technicians, therapists and other support staff who clean rooms, serve food and provide security. Here are their stories. — Christy Gutowski

6 months into a pandemic and dreaming about sitting at a bar again

With restrictions on capacity in place at Chicago restaurants, the bar areas at Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St. in Andersonville, are empty on Sept. 11, 2020.

With restrictions on capacity in place at Chicago restaurants, the bar areas at Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St. in Andersonville, are empty on Sept. 11, 2020. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

“I don’t remember the last time I went to a bar. I don’t remember the last time I pulled out a barstool or leaned over a counter to order a beer. That’s the nature of going to a bar, I guess — fuzzy memories and all that. But it’s also the nature of habit, of the things we get used to and that become easily forgotten.

“Before the COVID-19 shutdown, we had plenty of those things, and all it took was a worldwide pandemic to turn routine into longing. Which is all to say: after six months of staying away, I really miss going to the bar. In particular, I miss solo sessions at a well-worn wooden bar-top, nursing a pull or two from the tap and feeling vaguely pensive while watching the bartenders work their magic.

“At the right bar, a strange kind of peace can be found in solitude among all the life happening there. Soaking in the communion of booze, the sound of strangers — not coronavirus — hanging in the air and reminding us that we’re all here, now, together, even if you are physically alone.”

Young adults, people of color and unpaid caregivers face increased mental health risks 6 months into pandemic

Findings released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Americans are facing increased symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Findings released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Americans are facing increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. (Luis Alvarez / Getty Images)

As many Americans know, the coronavirus brought with it many additional stressors. Job insecurity. Child care crises. School closings. Health fears and constant second-guessing of tasks that used to feel routine, which can contribute to a feeling of decision fatigue.

The stress is beginning to show. Findings released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August show that Americans are facing increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. Nearly half — 41 percent — reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including a trauma- and stressor-related disorder or substance use.

Empty roads, trains, buses and airports: How COVID-19 and staying at home changed how Chicago gets around

Unusually light and fast-moving early morning rush-hour traffic continued April 9, 2020, on area expressways, including Interstate Highway 290 at Austin Avenue, partially due to the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders in Chicago.

Unusually light and fast-moving early morning rush-hour traffic continued April 9, 2020, on area expressways, including Interstate Highway 290 at Austin Avenue, partially due to the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders in Chicago. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Chicago’s roads and airports were among some of the busiest in the United States before COVID-19 entered our lexicon. Public transportation by bus and rail, too, carried thousands of people between the city and suburbs each weekday.

Yet, six months ago, movement around the Chicago metro area halted. People stayed home in an effort to socially distance themselves from others and, as work and school have become largely home-based, continued to adjust their travel habits accordingly.

How restaurant tenants and landlords are finding common ground in the fight to survive the coronavirus challenge

Nonnina restaurant in Chicago adapts to the coronavirus challenge with the help of its landlord, adding a tented outdoor space called Casa Nonnina, among other changes.

Nonnina restaurant in Chicago adapts to the coronavirus challenge with the help of its landlord, adding a tented outdoor space called Casa Nonnina, among other changes. (Shawn Balluyot / HANDOUT)

Restaurants, their receipts less than a third of what they customarily would take in, are unable to pay rent. Landlords, with mortgages and property-tax bills due, can’t survive without income.

It’s a give-and-take struggle that will last months more, maybe into next summer. Here’s how it has gone so far. — Phil Vettel and Ryan Ori

By the numbers: A snapshot of Chicago’s economy 6 months into the pandemic

Asia Brown, front, and co-worker Lekia Wilson grab bottles of bleach as they shop at Pete's Fresh Market in Oak Park on March 19, 2020.

Asia Brown, front, and co-worker Lekia Wilson grab bottles of bleach as they shop at Pete's Fresh Market in Oak Park on March 19, 2020. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

The coronavirus pandemic quickly inflicted damage on Chicago’s economy as government shutdowns and social distancing restrictions forced business slowdowns and closures.

During a six-month period, hundreds of thousands of area jobs were lost, consumer spending dropped 43%, and more than half of temporary business closures became permanent.

Despite hopes to “get back to normal,” the recovery has been slow, and it’s unclear what any long-lasting changes are, said Jose J. Vazquez-Cognet, an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

COVID-19 is forcing small stores across Chicago to try online retail, but ‘we’re not Amazon’

AlleyCat Comics owner Selene Idell stands at the cash register Sept. 15, 2020, in Chicago. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the store has a new online ordering system for some products.

AlleyCat Comics owner Selene Idell stands at the cash register Sept. 15, 2020, in Chicago. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the store has a new online ordering system for some products. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Small neighborhood retailers used to compete with Amazon by catering to local shoppers who enjoy browsing in person. That’s still true — but in the six months since the pandemic began, a growing number are venturing onto Amazon’s turf.

“The old world doesn’t exist anymore. … We’re training people now how easy it is to shop online. There are people who are not comfortable with that, but there are a lot of people with busy lives finding out it’s a good alternative,” said Esther Fishman, owner of Art Effect. “I think it’s only going to grow.”

Most say online sales are a long way from making up for sluggish in-store sales, and some struggled to shift businesses built for in-person shoppers online. Others say it’s a service they can no longer afford to avoid, especially if a surge in cases forces stores to shut down again. — Lauren Zumbach

Young women reflect on how COVID-19 has impacted the start of their careers

Alison Cruz of Valparaiso is a new special education teacher who has decided to sit out this school year instead of beginning her career during the pandemic. She is currently a manager at Ricochet Tacos.

Alison Cruz of Valparaiso is a new special education teacher who has decided to sit out this school year instead of beginning her career during the pandemic. She is currently a manager at Ricochet Tacos. (Michael Gard / Post-Tribune)

Since the 1970s, women have consistently increased their presence in the labor force. Then COVID-19 hit, and many of the jobs women hold disappeared, research has found.

Between February and May, nearly 11 million jobs held by women have disappeared — eliminating a decade of job gains by women. By June, women regained 2.9 million positions, but mostly in the hospitality field, which remains insecure amid the pandemic, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Starting a career amid a pandemic prompted three local women to reconsider how the next 40 years or so will look, from strategically picking clients to work with, to rolling with the punches and finding a job after their career path hit a roadblock — and creating a firm plan on how to return to their career. Here are their stories. — Alexandra Kukulka and Amy Lavalley

As homes become offices, gyms and more, COVID-19 has upended how we think our living spaces should work

Mitch Steffens uses weights in one of the fitness areas in the residential rental building called Optima Signature, at 220 E. Illinois St. in Chicago, on Sept. 8, 2020.

Mitch Steffens uses weights in one of the fitness areas in the residential rental building called Optima Signature, at 220 E. Illinois St. in Chicago, on Sept. 8, 2020. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

Your home is working overtime during the pandemic. For many, what was once just a dwelling has become classroom, office, restaurant, gym, movie theater and more. COVID-19 has not only kept most of us confined to our quarters for the past six months — it has also altered the very definition of home.

As homebuyers increasingly seek out pandemic-friendly features like home offices and expansive outdoor space, Chicago-area real estate developers, designers and agents are helping them find the features they need to live in this new normal. — Lauren Leazenby

How Nick Kokonas pivoted hard at the onset of the pandemic, launching Tock to Go and other innovations

Nick Kokonas, co-owner of the Alinea Group and CEO of Tock.

Nick Kokonas, co-owner of the Alinea Group and CEO of Tock. (Tock)

Nick Kokonas is not afraid of bluntly questioning restaurant conventions. Along with helping to create a series of successful projects with chef Grant Achatz as co-owner of the Alinea Group (Alinea, The Aviary, Next and Roister), he’s also the CEO of Tock, a online reservation system that has helped restaurateurs around the world manage guest bookings.

So it makes sense that during one of the most tumultuous years for restaurants in recent history, Kokonas was one of the first to adapt. In late February and early March, not only was he one of the few restaurateurs in Chicago talking about how the coronavirus pandemic could seriously challenge the restaurant industry, he was also attempting to come up with ways to survive. Here’s more about his entrepreneurial efforts. — Nick Kindelsberger

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