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Coronavirus In Chicago: How Do We Reopen Safely? Officials Want More Testing, Tracing And Treatment

The lifting of restrictions in Illinois could be done in phases, and it's possible officials will have to look industry by industry to see how workplaces can reopen while allowing their workers to practice social distancing.

A pedestrian walks through Humboldt Park in Humboldt Park as temperatures reached 80 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of Chicago while cases of Coronavirus in Illinois continue to rise on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Officials are looking at how they can reopen Illinois and Chicago safely — and they say it will all rely on testing, tracing and treatment.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. JB Pritzker have said in recent days they’re looking at ways they can gradually reopen and ease restrictions put in place to combat coronavirus. Pritzker said he’s in talks with scientists, doctors and business leaders about how to do that safely.

“My No. 1 consideration … is the life, safety and health of the people of our state,” Pritzker said Wednesday. “And of course I am just as eager as all those state senators, the president … to get everybody back to work. But we’ve got to do it in a fashion” that keeps customers and workers safe.

So far, Illinois has seen 24,593 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 948 deaths.

And while the growth of coronavirus here has slowed, cases are still growing. Officials are wary lifting restrictions too quickly could mean another spike in infections and deaths.

Pritzker has said he thinks less than 20 percent of Illinoisans have been exposed to coronavirus, which means there is not herd immunity to COVID-19 here.

On Thursday, Lightfoot said her administration needs to see a “substantial drop in the rate of new cases,” as well as the ability to do widespread testing and contact tracing for coronavirus, before they can lift major restrictions.

Pritzker has made similar comments, saying he’d like to like to see more testing and tracing and the creation of treatments for COVID-19 patients before he eases restrictions.

Pritzker’s also noted none of those things are yet happening in Illinois — but he’s continuing to push for the state to expand its testing, and he’s looking at how Massachusetts is creating a contact tracing program so officials here can implement it.

Treatments will depend on work being down by researchers and scientists, Pritzker said, with some of that work taking place in Chicago.

The governor has also said life likely won’t return to “normal” here until a vaccine is developed, which is “months and months” away.

Still, the lifting of restrictions in Illinois could be done in phases, Pritzker has suggested, and it’s possible officials will have to look industry by industry to see how workplaces can reopen while allowing their workers to practice social distancing.

The state could still implement other measures, like requiring people to wear masks in public or taking people’s temperatures before they can enter a grocery store, Pritzker has said.

Lightfoot has said she doubts the stay at home order, in place since March 21, and other orders could be lifted all at once come the end of April.

Pritzker said that while he’ll have to make a decision about the stay at home order in the next two weeks, he’s not sure if he’ll have a similar announcement about what restrictions will look like this summer.

“Everything about this is new so it’s very difficult to make projections months in advance of something,” Pritzker said.

Lightfoot has a press conference at 1:40 p.m. and Pritzker has his daily briefing at 2:30 p.m.

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 24,593 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Wednesday afternoon. Some of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

• There have been 10,264 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago.

• Illinois has seen at least 948 deaths as a result of the virus so far.

If You Need Help

• Sick? Broke? Want To Help? Here’s A Massive List Of Coronavirus Resources In Chicago

What’s Happening In Chicago

• Stay At Home Order: The state’s stay at home order is set to expire April 30 — but Lightfoot said she thinks it will go longer.

Pritzker said he is in talks with experts and other states’ leaders about how to lift the stay at home order. Here’s how Chicago managed to save lives while lifting its social distancing orders during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

• Unemployment: People who have struggled to file for unemployment in Illinois will soon have relief, Pritzker said, but gig workers won’t see their money until at least mid-May.

• Demolition: A dust cloud enveloped Little Village on Sunday after a planned explosion. Neighbors are wondering why the city let it happen amid a respiratory pandemic.

Lightfoot shut down demolitions throughout the city this week and said a report will be released with information about what was in the dust cloud.

Now, Lincoln Park residents want General Iron shut down.

• Large Events: Some event producers are already canceling major summer festivals — including the Silver Room Block Party and West Fest — after Pritzker said he thinks all large summer events should be nixed.

A summer without festivals would be “devastating,” but it could save lives, producers said.

The Waldos Forever 4/20 Fest has moved entirely online amid the pandemic, and Misommarfest has been postponed.

• Elections: A Chicagoan who worked the polls during the March primary has died of coronavirus. Voters from his precinct are being warned.

 Homeless Shelters: The city has begun having nurses visit shelters for people who are homeless so they can educate and screen people there. Chicago doctors and the city also teamed up to bring thousands of coronavirus tests to shelters.

• Detained Children: At least 19 children at a Chicago shelter for immigrant detainees have tested positive for coronavirus, ProPublica Illinois reports.

• Cook County Jail: More than 180 correctional officers at Cook County Jail have tested positive for coronavirus, and their union says the remaining guards are overworked and being forced to cut corners. More than 300 detained people have also tested positive for coronavirus.

• Restaurant Losses: The famed Billy Goat Tavern and other Chicago bars and restaurants are suing their insurer in federal court, arguing the state’s dine-in ban is resulting in a “physical loss” that should be covered by their policies.

• Call4Calm: People in need of mental or physical health care during the pandemic now have more free services from the state.


Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

How To Protect Yourself

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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