“IDPH recognizes that some who will choose to gather together anyway, and instead of denying that reality, we are issuing guidance and recommendations for safer ways to celebrate together in person,” IDPH director Dr. Ngozi Ezike wrote in a statement. “Remember, we know what our best tools are: wearing our masks, keeping our distance, limiting event sizes, washing your hands, and looking out for public health and each other.”

Additionally, the central Illinois region around Champaign-Urbana could be hit with stricter restrictions on restaurants, bars and other businesses as the percentage of positive coronavirus tests is on the rise, state public officials warned on Wednesday.

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

Table of Contents

8:35 p.m.: American Airlines to furlough 19,000 employees as clock runs out on deal for federal aid

American Airlines will begin furloughing 19,000 employees on Thursday after lawmakers and the White House failed to agree on a broad pandemic-relief package that includes more federal aid for airlines.

CEO Doug Parker said Wednesday night that if Washington comes up with a deal for $25 billion in airline aid “over the next few days,” American will reverse the furloughs and recall the employees.

The move by American represents the first — and likely the largest — involuntary jobs cut across the industry in coming days. United Airlines has indicated it could furlough nearly 12,000 workers.

8:15 p.m.: Pelosi, Mnuchin have ‘extensive’ talks on coronavirus relief

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held an “extensive conversation” Wednesday on a huge COVID-19 rescue package, meeting face to face for the first time in more than a month in a last-ditch effort to seal a tentative accord on an additional round of coronavirus relief.

After a 90-minute meeting in the Capitol, Pelosi issued a statement saying the two would continue to talk. “We found areas where we are seeking further clarification,” she said. Talks resume Thursday.

“We made a lot of progress over the last few days. We still don’t have an agreement,” Mnuchin said after meeting with Pelosi and briefing top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell.

At the very least, the positive tone set by Pelosi and Mnuchin represented an improvement over earlier statements. But there is still a considerable gulf between the two sides, McConnell said.

“I’ve seen substantial movement, yes, and certainly the rhetoric has changed,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said.

7 p.m.: Cook County Board commissioner tests positive for COVID-19

A Cook County commissioner who appeared in a news conference with board President Toni Preckwinkle last week announced on Wednesday he tested positive for coronavirus.

Commissioner Kevin Morrison, D-15th, released a statement late afternoon that he will self-isolate for 14 days and not resume activities until he tests negative. He said he is mostly asymptomatic.

“Unfortunately, I have tested positive for COVID-19,” Morrison wrote. “Fortunately, I am feeling well with very little symptoms. … I encourage everyone to continue to follow public health guidance and to stay safe.”

Preckwinkle, who appeared at an event with him last week, received negative test results on Wednesday, a spokesman said. The news conference, announcing a small business recovery fund, was joined by three other political officials.

She took the test on Tuesday after a staffer for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, with whom she attended another news conference last week, tested positive for coronavirus. Also on Tuesday, she canceled her public appearances.

“I wish Commissioner Kevin Morrison a speedy recovery,” Preckwinkle tweeted. “All of us at Cook County look forward to having you back and healthy very soon.”

6:45 p.m. (update): Wisconsin sets new record for daily COVID-19 deaths as surge in cases threatens to overwhelm hospitals

Wisconsin set a new record for COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday and the surge in cases in the state threatened to overwhelm some hospitals.

Health officials reported 27 new deaths, breaking the state’s old record of 22 deaths set on May 27. The disease has killed or played a role in the death of 1,327 people in the state since the pandemic began.

Health officials reported 2,319 newly confirmed cases, bringing the total number of cases in Wisconsin to 122,274 since the pandemic began.

Wisconsin had the third-highest positivity rate of any state as of Wednesday. Hospital officials in some areas said they were close to being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients — a scenario that health officials have been warning could happen since the pandemic began but that only now seems like it could happen.

6:35 p.m.: COVID-19 tightens grip on American heartland as infections surge in Midwest

The coronavirus tightened its grip on the American heartland, with infections surging in the Midwest, some hospitals in Wisconsin and North Dakota running low on space and the NFL postponing a game over an outbreak that’s hit the Tennessee Titans football team.

Midwestern states are seeing some of the nation’s highest per capita rates of infection, and while federal health officials again urged some governors in the region to require masks statewide, many Republicans have resisted.

Like other states, health officials in Wisconsin had warned since the pandemic began that COVID-19 patients could overwhelm hospitals. That’s now happening for some facilities as experts fear a second wave of infections in the U.S.

A record number of people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Wisconsin. Of those 737 patients Wednesday, 205 were in intensive care, with spikes in cases in northern parts of the state driving up the numbers. The state also reported its highest single-day number of deaths — 27 — raising the toll to 1,327.

4:50 p.m.: Chicago’s outdoor dining street closures to continue into the fall and winter

After a summer of street closures dedicated to outdoor dining that saw dozens of Chicago restaurants move tables and chairs into the roadways, rest easy knowing that cold weather won’t stand in the way. Some of the shutdowns will continue this fall, and some even into the winter.

The Chicago Department of Transportation, local chambers and officials are still working with restaurants to determine when exactly street closures will end for each area, but for the time being, many permits will be extended as needed.

3:30 p.m.: Hotel job losses in Illinois could double without additional federal aid, industry group warns. ‘We need Congress to act and act now.’

Hotel job losses in Illinois could double if Congress doesn’t pass another coronavirus stimulus bill, according to an industry group report.

At the start of the pandemic, hotels across the Chicago area furloughed and laid off workers under the strain of stay-at-home orders and suspended travel. The hotel industry, which is a large source of jobs and tax revenue for the state, has been one of the hardest hit by the health crisis. In September, leisure and hospitality jobs in Chicago were down almost 27% from 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“In Illinois, winter is coming both literally and figuratively. We need Congress to act and act now,” said Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, during a news conference Tuesday.

2:36 p.m.: Is it safe to fly during coronavirus pandemic? Research from pre-mask days reveals potential for a superspreader disaster.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said air travel can increase the risk of getting COVID-19 because it involves spending lots of time in crowded places, the agency also has said viruses don’t spread easily on flights because of how planes filter and circulate air. And until recently, there has been little research showing the coronavirus spreads aboard planes.

But one newly released study found that at least a dozen passengers became infected on a March flight from London to Hanoi while sitting near a young businesswoman believed to have had COVID-19. The other found that two flight attendants on a Boston to Hong Kong flight got the same genetic strain of the virus as a middle-aged couple on the plane who became sick with COVID-19 the day after they landed. The authors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Hong Kong concluded that the flight attendants got the virus from the infected passengers.

1:46 p.m.: Indiana mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day can be counted through Nov. 13, judge rules

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day can be received and counted through Nov. 13, “if otherwise valid,” according to court records.

After initial review of the injunction, Lake and Porter county election officials had different reactions, but they made one thing clear: It is very unlikely that results will be known on Election Night.

U.S. Judge Sarah Evans Baker issued the preliminary injunction, which stops the state from enforcing the noon deadline on Nov. 3 for mail-in ballots to be considered, according to court records.

1:42 p.m.: Champaign region could see stricter coronavirus rules as positivity rate rises

The central Illinois region around Champaign-Urbana could be hit with stricter restrictions on restaurants, bars and other businesses as the percentage of positive coronavirus tests is on the rise, state public officials warned on Wednesday.

The massive saliva-based testing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign can account for roughly 20% of all tests conducted statewide in a given day, giving the 21-county region a deceptively low positivity rate, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The region’s positivity rate stands at 2% on a seven-day average, but when Champaign County is removed, the rate jumps to 7.2%, approaching the 8% threshold that could trigger stricter rules to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, officials said.

1:13 p.m.: Halloween 2020: IDPH releases socially distanced trick-or-treating guidelines for those who ‘choose to gather anyway’

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday urged trick-or-treaters to socially distance on Halloween, while cautioning the holiday is best celebrated sans the usual celebrations.

In a news release pointing out that “the safest way to celebrate is to stay home,” IDPH said trick-or-treaters this year should only travel with other members of their household. Both trick-or-treaters and those passing out candy must wear a mask and maintain a 6-foot distance at all times. That means the latter group should consider leaving the candy outside.

“IDPH recognizes that some who will choose to gather together anyway, and instead of denying that reality, we are issuing guidance and recommendations for safer ways to celebrate together in person,” IDPH director Dr. Ngozi Ezike wrote in a statement. “Remember, we know what our best tools are: wearing our masks, keeping our distance, limiting event sizes, washing your hands, and looking out for public health and each other.”

12:10 p.m.: 2,273 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 35 additional deaths reported

Illinois public health officials reported Wednesday they had logged 2,273 newly diagnosed cases and 35 additional confirmed deaths of people with COVID-19, raising the statewide tally to 293,274 known cases and 8,672 deaths.

11:02 a.m.: Hair loss. Memory problems. Strange rashes. COVID-19 patients report a litany of symptoms outside official criteria, some persisting for months.

As medical experts and scientists grapple to understand the new virus, some patients are reporting a great variety of symptoms that fall outside the official lists issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other major health authorities.

Often these conditions seem to appear or subside without warning, sometimes lingering for months after the virus is supposedly gone.

Earlier in the pandemic, most medical efforts were focused on keeping the sickest patients alive and relieving overwhelmed hospitals. But now there’s a growing need for research on the long-term health of those who survived the virus but don’t seem to be fully recovering, said Natalie Lambert, associate research professor at Indiana University School of Medicine.

Many sickened by coronavirus express frustration as they battle a new and mysterious illness with no road map and very little history. Unpredictable symptoms — often outside the typical diagnostic criteria — are cited as a common source of stress.

11 a.m.: Wisconsin hospitals filling with COVID-19 patients as virus surges: ‘We’re going to be in a dire situation in two, three, four weeks’

COVID-19 patients are filling Wisconsin hospitals, forcing doctors to transfer patients to other facilities and build waiting lists as the disease surges across the state.

State health officials have been warning that COVID-19 patients could overwhelm hospitals since the pandemic began in March. Now it appears that fear has become reality.

The number of people hospitalized in Wisconsin stood at 646 on Tuesday, a new record, with 205 patients in intensive care units, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Case spikes in northern and northeastern Wisconsin are driving much of the hospitalizations, the newspaper reported.

Officials at ThedaCare in the Fox Valley said they’ve exceeded capacity in the COVID-19 unit at their Appleton medical center and have started sending patients to Neenah and hospitals in Berlin, Shawano and Waupaca.

“If it’s growing the way that it has for the past week or so, we’re going to be in a dire situation in two, three, four weeks,” said Michael Hooker, vice president and chief medical officer for acute care at ThedaCare. “Yes, we saw this coming, but didn’t expect it to be quite so rapid.”

10:51 a.m.: What does a ‘K-shaped’ recovery look like? Christmas spending may expose deep economic inequity in US.

This Christmas will be one of exorbitant spending and lavish gifts for many American families. It’ll also be one of tight budgets and difficulty putting food on the table for many others.

That’s the effect of the pandemic recession, which is exacerbating inequalities between the rich and the poor.

High-paid U.S. workers are benefiting from a strong stock market and lower expenses, allowing them to save more money than ever — and spend more on holiday gifts. The less fortunate, meanwhile, are grappling with job losses, eviction and food insecurity. Known as the “K-shaped” recovery, the disparities will be on full display this holiday season.

7:10 a.m.: Lightfoot to hold final online budget town hall with city officials

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Budget Director Susie Park were scheduled to hold a final online town hall Wednesday regarding Chicago’s 2021 budget.

Since late August, the city has held a series of online town halls and gathered more than 38,000 survey responses about residents’ budget concerns and spending priorities, according to a news release from the mayor’s office. Wednesday evening’s town hall will be livestreamed on Facebook from 6-7 p.m.

Lightfoot is to detail more of her plans for the 2021 budget when she gives her annual budget address in mid-October.

6:46 a.m.: COVID-19 cases traced to adult volleyball games at Gages Lake restaurant

Almost 200 players and spectators were potentially exposed recently to COVID-19 during adult volleyball games at a Gages Lake restaurant and bar, with 14 testing positive for the virus as the result of an investigation by the Lake County Health Department.

The health department began its investigation on Sept. 23 after investigators and contact tracers identified people who watched or played volleyball with symptoms of the coronavirus pandemic at Jesse Oaks Food & Drink, according to a department press release.

Dr. Sana Ahmed, the health department’s medical epidemiologist and an infectious disease physician, said Tuesday investigators and contact tracers contacted Jesse Oaks when they learned about the outbreak so they could identify as many people as possible who were exposed.

“This could potentially be a large outbreak,” said Ahmed, who estimated nearly 200 people were at risk of getting the virus. “We reached out to the establishment because we were concerned more people were exposed. We identified 14 who became infected.”

Ahmed said the preliminary investigation showed some confirmed cases were among spectators as well as athletes.

5 a.m.: ‘This is the future of our sport’: Athletes Unlimited, a venture that treats pro sports like a fantasy league, ends first softball season in Rosemont with plans to return

An intriguing professional sports experiment ended in Rosemont on Monday night when Team Osterman, a softball squad named after its captain, Olympic gold medalist Cat Osterman, won its final game.

But victory wasn’t really the point. Points were the point.

The six-week league was launched by Athletes Unlimited, a fledgling outfit that treats professional sports like a fantasy league. Players receive points not just for winning games but for performing well individually.

Hit a single, get 10 points. Stretch it into a double, get 20. Knock it over the fence and receive a cool 40 points.

Pitchers, meanwhile, get 4 points for every out but have 10 points taken away for every earned run. Winning an inning yields 10 points for every member of the team. Winning the game brings 50. Earning one of three Most Valuable Player spots voted on by players and fans after each game is worth up to 60 points.

The season was set to start in August, right after National Pro Fastpitch and the 2020 Olympics concluded. But when both were shut down by COVID-19, Athletes Unlimited suddenly became the only place to play.

That drew a surge of big-name athletes, including Osterman, who had been planning to retire after the Olympics. But it also meant the league had to create its own version of a bubble — Athletes Unlimited calls it a “shield” — to keep players safe from the virus.

5 a.m.: Carbondale Driver Service facility closed after employee tests positive for COVID-19

The Carbondale Driver Services facility has been temporarily closed after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

A news release from the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office Monday said the facility will be closed until Oct. 9 and its employees are under quarantine after an order from the Franklin-Williamson Bi-County Health Department. Attempts to reach representatives from the health department were not successful Tuesday.

The release said there is not a direct impact on customers and that the facility is scheduled to be cleaned while closed. The release also reminded drivers that the Secretary of State’s Office has extended all expiration dates to Feb. 1, 2021, for driver’s licenses and ID cards. The release encouraged drivers to do basic things, like renewing a license or car registration, online at www.cyberdriveillinois.com.

For those needing in-person assistance, the release directed them to nearby facilities in Marion at 1905 Rendleman St.; in Anna at 101A Transcraft Drive; and in Benton at 812 N. Main St.

—The Southern, via Tribune Content Agency

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