Latest coronavirus news for September 18, 2020: Live updates

On Friday, indoor service is back on the menu at bars and restaurants across Chicago’s far south suburbs after an improved COVID-19 testing positivity rate prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker to lift restrictions on Will and Kankakee counties.

Here’s what happened in the fight against the coronavirus in Chicago, the state and the nation.


8:45 p.m. Homecoming in the COVID era: No football or dance, but event still puts ‘smiles on … faces’

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Fall school festivities might look different than ever before this year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be fun.

Dozens of students and parents showed up Friday afternoon to Leo High School in Auburn Gresham for a twist on the usual homecoming celebration.

There was no football game or dance. Instead, teachers and staff at the private all-boys Catholic school handed out hot dog lunches, school supplies, T-shirts and backpacks, while parents picked up first quarter progress reports for their kids.

Read the full story by Nader Issa and Tyler LaRiviere here.

7:45 p.m. Trump Administration’s plan to bring EPA workers back is unsafe, union says

The Trump Administration is taking steps to bring hundreds of employees at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago back to their offices in the coming weeks, putting them at risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus, the workers’ union charges.

The EPA is moving toward a phased return to work without taking appropriate precautions, said Nicole Cantello, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704. While President Donald Trump has been pushing workers in all industries to go back to work for months, part of the motivation, she suspects, is tighter control of employees amid the administration’s ongoing efforts to weaken environmental protections.

Read the full story by Brett Chase here.

6:45 p.m. Mexican restaurants scramble, get creative to survive during tough pandemic times

In the decade that Kevin Suarez has worked at Mi Tierra Restaurant in Little Village, he has seen the popular business go through a change of ownership, a fluctuating local economy, several makeovers and a variety of clientele and performers.

But never has the survival of the Mexican restaurant been so precarious as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It affected us because this restaurant has a lot of capacity and many employees on staff,” he said. “In the beginning we laid off a lot of people and we’re practically counting this year as a loss.”

Latino restaurants had no choice but to adapt to the public health crisis. For many immigrant owners, their businesses are their only lifelines. It was do or die.

Read the full story by Jackie Serrato here.

5 p.m. Northwestern graduate students host virtual, monthly science talks with seniors

Olga Ricketts-Peart is not what she calls a “science person.” But she loves science anyway.

The 77-year-old has been attending “Science with Seniors,” a program offered at the Levy Senior Center in Evanston that’s gone online in the past few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The third Thursday of each month, graduate students from Northwestern University meet virtually with seniors from the Levy Center for lectures on science and technology, topics that range from sleep to solar cells.

Read the full story by Michael Lee here.

4:15 p.m. Latino officials call for more workplace enforcement, less victim-blaming in COVID-19 fight

Francisco Anzures learned he was sick with the coronavirus in May after his employer had him take a test.

For one week, the factory where he worked in the southwest suburbs was shut down for cleaning. For two weeks, the Back of the Yards resident received paid time off, at his $15-per-hour wage. And for two months, he stayed home sick, isolating himself from his wife and two kids while his family lost their source of income.

Anzures never went to the hospital because he has no insurance and feared he wouldn’t ever return home.

While he was sick, Anzures said he could barely eat. He struggled to breathe. One night, he feared he would die.

“I thought that I wouldn’t survive,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “It was taking me too much effort to breathe. It’s something so horrible that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

Read the full story by Alexandra Arriaga here.

3:30 p.m. Mayor: It’s likely Soldier Field will remain empty this season

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the odds of Bears fans returning to Soldier Field this season are less than 50 percent.

In an interview with “Mully and Haugh” on WSCR-AM on Friday morning, Lightfoot said that “we’re no nowhere near at a place where we can even realistically talk about fans coming back to Soldier Field.”

The Bears will not have fans inside Soldier Field for their home opener Sunday. The team just last week said it hopes that will change later in the season.

Lightfoot, though, sounded frustrated by a lack of communication with the team.

Read the full story by Patrick Finley and Fran Spielman here.

2:45 p.m. Pritzker OKs indoor dining in Will, Kankakee counties, crediting COVID-19 improvement to ‘neighbors doing right by neighbors’

Indoor service is back on the menu at bars and restaurants across Chicago’s far south suburbs after an improved COVID-19 testing positivity rate prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday to lift restrictions on Will and Kankakee counties.

The eased coronavirus guidelines were set to kick in Friday evening, also allowing gatherings to increase from 25 to 50 people. The Democratic governor called it a “testament to the entire state and to the power of community” as he dished out the good news at an unrelated news conference in Rock Island.

Read the full story by Mitchell Armentrout and Mitch Dudek here.

1 p.m. We asked: How has the pandemic affected you financially? Some of the answers were heartbreaking.

Like a lot of Illinoisans, the coronavirus pandemic has hit Nicholas Senffner hard.

Restaurants and bars shutting down took a big toll on the 37-year-old, who owns a window-cleaning business that operates all over Chicago and the suburbs.

“It’s completely killed us, the way they shut down the restaurants,” said Senffner, of Lockport. “They’re not getting their windows cleaned if they’re not making money.”

Senffner says he built his business over 15 years and normally would work 12 hours a day five days a week. Now, he’s lucky to get two or three days of work each week: “Last year, I was a six-figure company,” he said. “This year, we’re barely pushing five.”

It’s meant laying off two employees and cutting back things like visiting his family in Colorado.

“It was horrible, I mean, this was 15 years of hard work, of day in and day out of building routes and gaining customers, making sure that everything ran like clockwork. I watched my whole world fall apart.”

He doesn’t think business will ever return to what it was, given that many of his customers were mom-and-pop shops that have permanently closed, some having taken a double hit from the pandemic and from looting after the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd while being restrained by a police officer.

“It hasn’t been easy. I’m just trying to ride this year out until it’s all over with, and they get back to work.”

Others spoke to use about how COVID-19 has affected their personal finances. Read their stories here.

12:03 p.m. Survey finds teens will follow COVID rules, but want specifics

America’s teens and young adults have a crucial role in containing the spread of COVID-19, but a series of youth surveys suggests that many misunderstand social distancing guidelines and want clearer advice on how to safely live their lives.

This is especially relevant now that universities are back in session and many campuses are seeing COVID-19 outbreaks.

Over the last several months, a team at the University of Michigan has conducted several national text-message surveys of more than 1,000 American youth ages 14-24 to better understand what they are going through during the pandemic.

The responses by young people in their surveys suggest that they are taking the pandemic seriously, but want more concrete guidance: advice that gives them safe ways to socialize, not just rules for what they can’t do

Read our guest column from the researchers involved in the study here.

8:43 a.m. Dentists see surge of oral health problems, and the pandemic is likely to blame

Stress and isolation brought on by the pandemic are certainly bad for our mental health, and dentists say they’re seeing evidence our oral health is suffering, too.

Dentists say reports of a huge spike in cracked teeth are just the start of the problem.

“It’s like a perfect storm,” says Dr. Michael Dickerson, an independent practice owner with Aspen Dental in Tarpon Springs, Florida, who says the patients he sees need “a ton of work.”

One factor in the upswing: The first patients to go back to the dentist after widespread stay-at-home orders were likely the most in need.

Also, before shutdowns, lockdowns and quarantines, “Your day had a rhythm to it,” American Dental Association spokesman Dr. Matthew Messina says. When that rhythm is interrupted, it’s easy to forget “simple little things like oral hygiene.”

Other factors leading to dental problems: Teeth grinding due to stress is probably up. Brushing and flossing are probably down as good habits slip and social outings decline. Routine cleanings have been put off.

Read the full report here.

New Cases

Analysis & Commentary

2:30 p.m. Remote learning compounds longstanding challenges facing bilingual students like me

Sometimes it’s difficult to consider being bilingual an advantage.

The road to achieving what is seen as a powerful skill leaves a mark. For a Mexican like me, it’s imposter syndrome.

Picture laughter erupting from a second grade class after a non-English speaker can’t respond to a question like, “Is your birthday coming up?” Or a 9-year-old practicing the word “world” for two weeks because it will come up in conversation some way or another. Seriously. Try it. Your tongue does about four movements for a word with one syllable.

Read the full column by Ismael Perez here.

7:47 a.m. Rosh Hashanah livestreamed in COVID-19 era

The Jewish year of … checking … 5781 begins at sundown Friday, and is a reminder that the Chosen People are not newcomers at celebrating holidays during hard times. As grim as the COVID pandemic has been, it doesn’t hold a candle to Babylonian captivity or Roman persecution, the Inquisition or the Holocaust.

Not yet, anyway.

The business of maintaining Jewish identity, already under siege by modern life, is complicated in the Plague Year of 2020 as Judaism celebrates Rosh Hashanah — literally, “head of the year” — and then atones for sins in the year to come at Yom Kippur nine days later.

“This is an interesting year, unlike any other,” said Rabbi Steven Lowenstein, whom I called because his synagogue, Am Shalom of Glencoe, is one of many streaming high holiday services.

Read the full column by Neil Steinberg here.

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