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

The department on Thursday reported 1,832 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus and 27 additional deaths. A day earlier, it reported 2,295 new confirmed cases, the highest daily case tally since May 24. The state now has reported 213,721 cases and 7,833 fatalities.

The state reported 51,612 tests in the previous 24 hours, the second day in a row that number has topped 50,000.

Illinois’ top public health official had warned Wednesday that more people are testing positive for the coronavirus in the state while rates across the country are generally going down.

“We are going in the wrong direction,” said Illinois Department of Public Health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “I’m concerned that we’ve grown numb to these numbers, and we have to remember they are not just numbers, they are people … who will not be at Thanksgiving dinner this year.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that most of Illinois’ 11 regions are seeing increases in positivity rates, but two in particular are reporting “troubling trends”: Region 7, which includes Kankakee and Will counties, and Region 5 in southern Illinois.

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

7:35 p.m.: Gerardo Victoria had big plans for the fall: culinary school. But he fell ill from COVID-19 and died at the age of 23. ‘A horrible thing.’

Gerardo “Jerry” Victoria was always coming up with new recipes and sharing them with his family in their South Holland home.

This fall, he planned to follow his love for cooking and attend culinary school.

“He was more than a brother-in-law. He was a friend. We were close,” Vanessa Gusman said.

About a month ago, he became ill as COVID-19 spread through his family. He died on Tuesday at the age of 23, one of the youngest victims of the coronavirus in Cook County. As of Thursday, Illinois has reported 213,721 cases and 7,833 fatalities.

“It was a horrible thing,” Gusman said. “He was getting better and getting the help he needed. He was excited to come home.”

7 p.m.: State announces SAT makeup dates for high school students who missed spring exams because of COVID-19

Illinois education officials have announced new fall SAT dates for high school seniors who missed the state-provided exams last spring when they were postponed after COVID-19 shut down schools.

All high school juniors in the state are typically required to take the SAT with Essay exam, and many use that score on college and scholarship applications. Because those tests were delayed last spring, the Illinois State Board of Education is requesting that schools offer the test Sept. 24 or Oct. 14, or both days, for seniors who want the chance to take it before such applications are due.

However, schools that are planning only remote learning this fall, such as Chicago Public Schools, are asked to have their seniors take the SAT next April along with this year’s junior class.

5:35 p.m.: Empty downtown office buildings force fast-casual restaurant chains to shrink menus, look to neighborhoods for customers

As restaurants grapple with how to adapt in the age of COVID-19, Sopraffina, a small chain of Italian-style cafes, faces a special kind of hell.

Its restaurants are located inside of office buildings in downtown Chicago, where it was a go-to spot for a midday panini or hand-tossed salad during the workweek.

Those lunch crowds vanished when stay-at-home orders took effect in March and five months later they still have not returned. That’s left Sopraffina without its primary — really, its only — customer base.

“It’s like the Armageddon situation for a restaurant to be located in the central business district,” said Taryn Kelly, vice president of development at Sopraffina, which was founded by her parents in 1993.

The crowd of fast-casual restaurants that cater to hungry downtown office workers is facing considerable setbacks as the continued threat of the pandemic keeps those workers at home.

Many of their Loop locations remain closed, a few are shuttering permanently, and with work-from-home likely to endure beyond the pandemic some chains are contemplating cutting their downtown space to focus on delivery or more residential neighborhoods.

4:15 p.m.: A Catholic school teacher in suburban Chicago refused to return to class because of COVID-19 concerns. Now she’s out of a job.

When teachers reported to St. Francis Xavier School in Wilmette on Monday to start the new school year, Elaine Sage was not among them.

At age 63 and married to a cancer survivor, the longtime teacher said she didn’t feel comfortable with the Chicago Archdiocese’s plans to reopen schools full-time this fall while COVID-19 is still far from contained.

“This is life and death for me,” Sage said.

Sage said she asked to be allowed to teach remotely to students who’ve opted out of in-person classes. She did not want to resign, but she did not show up for work when her school reopened to teachers on Monday. Students are due back on Aug. 31.

Sage learned late Wednesday that the Archdiocese was releasing her from her contract, effective immediately.

2:50 p.m.: Lord & Taylor closing last Illinois department stores

Lord & Taylor is closing its only remaining department stores in Illinois, at Woodfield Mall and Northbrook Court.

Lord & Taylor had already announced plans to shutter 19 stores, including the Northbrook store, when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month. The Woodfield Mall location was one of five additional closing stores nationally announced Thursday.

Clothing-rental startup Le Tote bought Lord & Taylor from Hudson’s Bay Co., which also owns Saks Fifth Avenue, just last year. Le Tote and Lord & Taylor said they are continuing to review offers for a potential sale of the company.

The closures will leave Lord & Taylor with just 14 stores. The department store left Chicago’s Magnificent Mile in 2006, but had four suburban locations until 2018.

It’s one of many struggling retailers that have sought bankruptcy protection during the pandemic, including department stores Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney.

1:50 p.m.: ‘It’s always a scary thing’: More than 175,000 Illinois residents may have recently lost health insurance

If Vahap Sarac and his wife can’t find affordable health insurance for their family soon, they’re considering sending their young daughters to live with their grandparents in Estonia.

Sarac was furloughed from his job as a banquet captain at the Palmer House Hilton hotel when COVID-19 hit in mid-March, after working there for more than 30 years. The health insurance coverage he has through his job is scheduled to end Oct. 1.

Estonia has a far lower rate of deaths from COVID-19 than the U.S. and near-universal health coverage.

“We don’t want to separate from our kids,” said Sarac, 55 of Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood. But he worries about his children, especially his 1-year-old whose lungs weren’t fully developed at birth. “This virus is very risky for her.”

He also worries that if someone in his family gets sick and has to be hospitalized “whatever in 30 years I’ve saved for their colleges for them, for retirement, everything will be wiped out by those hospital bills.”

Across Chicago and the country, many people have a new concern on their ever-growing list of worries during the pandemic: a lack of health insurance. An estimated 186,000 Illinois workers may have become uninsured because of job losses between February and May, according to a report from consumer health care advocacy organization Families USA.

Notre Dame canceled football practice Thursday for a second consecutive day, holding off on preparations for its Sept. 12 opener against Duke.

Citing a rise in cases from 58 to 147 in one day, Rev. John Jenkins also announced that public spaces on campus would be closed.

The IRS announced this week that it owes interest payments to nearly 14 million Americans who received their individual tax refunds after April 15 or are still owed refunds. The average payment will be $18.

The reason the IRS owes this money has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

To ease the strain on taxpayers walloped by the virus-stricken economy, this year the IRS postponed the deadline for filing returns to July 15, three months after the traditional deadline of April 15. The delay means that refund money sat in the hands of the IRS longer than usual. In essence, taxpayers who took the opportunity to file later were lending that money to the government.

During that time, the money generated interest — interest that the IRS is now required by law to pay out.

In a surprise announcement, The James Beard Foundation said Thursday that it would not present the winners of its Chef and Restaurant awards this year. The awards were to have been announced on Sept. 25.

Instead, a virtual ceremony that day, to be broadcast live via Twitter, will honor previously announced honorees, including the foundation’s Humanitarian of the Year and Lifetime Achievement winners, and spotlight the 2020 nominees, whose names were announced in May. Chicago garnered eight nominations.

This could be seen as a curious decision, considering that voting on the nominees has already taken place. But there are five to six nominees in each of the 21 Chef and Restaurant categories (10 nominees for Best New Restaurant); announcing 21 winners would also mean revealing the names of more than 110 non-winners, and that clearly was a big factor in JBF’s decision.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” said CEO Clare Reichenbach, in a prepared statement. “The uncertainty of this time for our industry is already a hard reality, and considering anyone to have won or lost within the current tumultuous hospitality ecosystem does not, in fact, feel like the right thing to do. An honor which we know is held in high regard … feels minor when compared to the dire situation we are in.”

This is the first cancellation in the JBF Awards’ 30-year history.

For years, tech incubators like 1871 have offered startup companies office space, entrepreneurial programming and networking opportunities. Much of that guidance has moved online during the pandemic. But there’s one amenity tech hubs have struggled to replace in a virtual environment: the random collision.

The casual run-ins that occur at incubators as entrepreneurs stand in line for coffee or pass one another in a hallway can lead to connections, funding and inspiration. Long-term loss of that ethos could stymie Chicago’s tech startup scene.

“How do we create the chance collisions online, virtually?” said Betsy Ziegler, CEO of 1871. “We haven’t figured that out, and that’s the piece that really is core of the magic of a place like 1871.”

Those random collisions aren’t the only aspect of entrepreneurship that has been upended by the pandemic. Funding is harder to come by, and some startups have had to pivot. Entrepreneurs must navigate those challenges without the structure and in-person support that’s found at incubators.

10:25 a.m.: Big Ten coaches are bullish on a basketball season: ‘We’re going to play in some way, shape or form.’

Big Ten fans have lost their football Saturdays, lost faith in some of their leaders and might lost their sanity. Your grilled brats and Old Oaken Bucket are not returning this fall.

But hang in there. The league’s basketball coaches are positively bullish, predicting you will be able to fill out a bracket in 2021. Of that, they are (almost) certain.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said, “that we’re going to play in some way, shape or form.”

10:15 a.m.: Back to school: Here’s what some kids are saying

Lorenzo Grippe is not excited to start 4th grade online, but he understands the impact of COVID-19 on school this year. “I was hoping it’d be in class, but I know we have to do this to keep everyone safe,” the 9-year-old said. “And I bet the teachers are trying to help figure out how to fix this and get us back all in school.”

As Chicago’s youths prepare for the upcoming school year, the Tribune asked students of all ages, from across the city and suburbs, how they’re feeling.

Here’s what they said. Responses have been edited for space and clarity.

8:05 a.m.: Jazz and World Music fests go online for 2020, announce lineup

The Chicago Jazz Festival and the World Music Festival Chicago will unfold in cyberspace this year, due to the pandemic.

Millennium Park at Home: Chicago Jazz will feature jazz sets and Chicago Jazz Festival archival performances from 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 3 through 6 on Among the highlights: Von Freeman and Clifford Jordan, Sun Ra Arkestra, Ari Brown Quintet, Henry Butler, Tito Carrillo Quintet, Sept. 3; Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jo Ann Daugherty Quartet, AACM Tribute to Black Lives Matter, Sept. 4; Doc Cheatham, Jane Bunnett, Matt Ulery, Sept. 5; Josh Berman, Dee Alexander, Charlie Rouse, Sept. 6. For details, visit

Both events are produced by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

8 a.m.: US unemployment claims rise back above 1 million after two weeks of declines

The number of laid-off workers seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose to 1.1 million last week after two weeks of declines, evidence that many employers are still slashing jobs as the coronavirus bedevils the U.S. economy.

The latest figures suggest that more than five months after the viral outbreak erupted the economy is still weak, despite recent gains as some businesses reopen and some sectors like housing and manufacturing have rebounded. A rising number of people who have lost jobs say they consider their loss to be permanent.

The total number of people receiving unemployment aid declined last week from 15.5 million to 14.8 million, the government said Thursday. Those recipients are now receiving far less aid because a $600-a-week federal benefit has expired, which means the unemployed must now get by solely on much smaller aid from their states. The loss of the federal benefit has deepened the struggles for many, including a higher risk of eviction from their homes.

7:45 a.m.: College athletes may have more leverage than ever — but how will they sustain that momentum when so many aren’t playing?

Within an hour of leaving a rapidly organized, late-night video conference call with other football players early this month from across the country, Michigan cornerback Hunter Reynolds saw a sign indicating the power of college athletes’ voices never has been stronger.

Reynolds helped form College Athletes Unity, which calls for stronger testing and safety measures for competition during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the video call, his group’s requests coalesced with the #WeWantToPlay movement, led by athletes working to preserve a fall season.

In about a half-hour, the call produced a list of demands: universal safety protocols, protection for players who wanted to opt out with eligibility guarantees and permission to create a players association.

And now, even as college football appears fractured as some conferences compete and others are sidelined, Reynolds said the mission will be to to sustain momentum.

American Airlines will drop flights to 15 smaller U.S. cities in October when a federal requirement to serve those communities ends.

The airline blamed low demand during the coronavirus pandemic, which has triggered a massive slump in air travel. Airlines and their labor unions are seeking billions in taxpayer relief.

American said its schedule covering Oct. 7 through Nov. 3 will drop flights to cities including Sioux City, Iowa; New Haven, Connecticut; and Springfield, the capital of Illinois.

“This is the first step as American continues to evaluate its network and plans for additional schedule changes in the coming weeks,” the airline said in a prepared statement.

Wander over to Armitage and Halsted on a weekend morning, and you may notice a line of mostly masked, mostly socially distant people snaking out from the alley and around the corner. They’re all waiting for doughnuts.

As Chicago remained largely shuttered due to the novel coronavirus this spring, the aptly named Beacon Doughnut Co. quietly opened. Owner Andrew Catrambone began dispensing $3 indulgences from a window overlooking the alley behind Halsted Street.

Humble, if bulky, vegan doughnuts are dressed to the nines to satisfy every flavor of comfort-food craving. And so, the crowds came, and the shop started selling out. Catrambone said he makes about 1,000 doughnuts on a weekday — and maybe double that for the weekends — in roughly a dozen varieties.

6:45 a.m.: An effective COVID-19 vaccine is the great hope. How do we get there?

There’s no cure, thousands of people continue to die every week and the economy is tanking, leaving an increasingly anxious, frustrated and fearful populace.

So goes the U.S. battle with COVID-19. That leaves people pining for a big fix, with much attention centered on one great hope: an effective, widely available vaccine that would allow them to again embrace friends, go back to work and ditch that lurking feeling of dread.

Devising a vaccine is a complex, multistep process that typically takes at least five years and sometimes a decade or more. In some cases, the efforts never succeed.

Yet, scientists have great expectations this time around. They note the current worldwide focus on vaccine development, recent leaps forward in biotechnology and the federal government’s declaration of Operation Warp Speed, a multibillion-dollar taxpayer funded effort to ramp up production of vaccines even before scientists determine which one will be effective and safe.

“Right now, we pray that this will work,” said Dr. Kathleen Mullane, an infectious disease expert at University of Chicago Medicine who has been involved in clinical vaccine trials. “We might be able to expect to see a vaccine available commercially either by next fall or Christmas — not the coming one, but a year from now.”

Until vaccines are widely available and enough people are immunized, the usual warnings will hold: Avoid large gatherings, keep your distance, wear a mask and wash your hands.

6:30 a.m.: Even as classes shift online, college students are returning to campuses. Will that spread COVID-19?

As universities across the country invite their students back for the fall, students are torn between difficult and often conflicting interests. Only 9% of returning students and 13% of first-year students surveyed by a higher education research agency in late July said returning to campus to take all their classes online was their top choice for the fall.

But colleges are increasingly shifting classes online, even those branding the fall as a “hybrid semester.” And even among those who disagree with their college’s decisions to reopen, some students with mostly online classes are still moving back — often into off-campus housing outside of their universities’ jurisdiction.

They acknowledge they are looking forward to seeing friends, but also cite a variety of personal and financial factors.

Here are five stories from Wednesday related to COVID-19.

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