As Illinois hunkers down for another month of shutdown, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is facing legal challenges to his modified statewide stay-at-home order, some Republican legislators are calling for a vote on it and asking to phase-in reopening ‘low risk’ regions, highlighting a downstate divide on the restrictions and reflecting the wide range of government responses and politics across the Midwest. A protest against the order is scheduled in downtown Chicago today.
But coronavirus cases and deaths in the state continued to escalate this week, and nursing homes in particular are seeing dire outbreaks. And as more essential workers are getting infected and dying from COVID-19, employees are also ramping up pressure for better protections on the job by staging strikes and walkouts.
Topics: Latinos hard hit | Missing data | Essential workers strike | Disrupted food supply | City workers | West Side party | Immigrant rights | Tuition strike | Housing relief | Unemployment | Small business loans | Progressive wins face delay | Safety net hospitals | Policing | Protection or privacy? | Incarcerated populations | Not-so-speedy trials | City Council | Fiscal future | Tracing is the key
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Latino neighborhoods become ground zero: Illinois’ Latino community has surpassed African Americans as the racial group with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, state data shows, skyrocketing in a handful of Latino neighborhoods in Chicago especially. The Chicago Sun-Times reports on how the Illinois Latino COVID-19 Initiative, a collection of public health experts and elected officials, is working on improving outreach, testing, and data collection — an issue that is likely causing an undercount of Latinos affected, as we’ve reported before. A national poll highlights the economic vulnerability of many Latinos in the face of the crisis as well.
Urban density is not the main driver of the spread of the coronavirus in Chicago, according to an analysis by ProPublica Illinois that found crowded conditions within homes, rather than housing density, may better explain why some black and Hispanic neighborhoods are seeing higher infection rates.
Data discrepancies: A new analysis found that coronavirus has likely killed hundreds more in Illinois than have been counted by the state. “There’s no doubt that we’re gonna need to go back through the records,” Pritzker said Wednesday. The Chicago Tribune also reported on apparent gaps in the state’s data.
Resistance takes root
Essential worker strikes ramp up: As coronavirus cases among workers cause closures at factories and plants in Illinois, essential workers are fighting back. McDonalds employees and factory workers staged walkouts in Chicago and are seeking assistance from OSHA and the state attorney general’s office. More strikes are planned to coincide with May Day and nursing home workers plan to strike across the state on May 8.
Disrupted food supply: Outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers at major meatpacking plants are causing shutdowns in Illinois and across the country and impacting food supply chains that have been disrupted by the coronavirus crisis. The backlog of livestock at farms in the state threaten to hike local meat prices. President Donald Trump used his wartime powers to order slaughterhouses to remain open, setting up a showdown with companies and unions. Meanwhile, millions of pounds of produce that usually go to currently closed restaurants and facilities are going to waste nationally while food banks see a surge in demand.
Hundreds of city workers infected: More than 700 city employees have tested positive for COVID-19, including more than 400 police officers and 75 Chicago Public Schools employees and vendors. As other cities and states enact mass layoffs of millions of municipal workers, Mayor Lori Lightfoot says laying off city government workers is a last resort that she is not currently considering.
West Side party causes backlash: Viral video of a West Side party organized in honor of two gun violence victims at the home of a Chicago Fire Department commander caused widespread backlash. The man who threw the party has since apologized and The TRiiBE explored the reasons for an apparent disconnect between black youth and government stay-at-home orders.
Immigrants fight for their rights in court: An Illinois man is suing President Donald Trump for denying stimulus checks to American citizens married to immigrants who don’t have Social Security numbers. A federal appeals court ruled the Justice Department can’t withhold federal grants from sanctuary cities such as Chicago that extend protections to undocumented immigrants. And a Chicago man who remains at a Wisconsin detention center after 18 months there despite winning asylum is suing Immigration and Customs Enforcement to win release amid the pandemic.
Tuition strike at U of C: Hundreds of students are refusing to make payments to the University of Chicago until the university responds to their demands, which include reduced tuition. Organizers say they are considering a class-action lawsuit if officials don’t negotiate.
Relief running out
A growing housing crisis: As emergency housing proposals are in the works on the city, state, and federal level, Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled a voluntary program for pandemic rent relief this week. Advocates and some elected officials insist that Chicago and Illinois could do a lot more, as detailed by columnist Curtis Black. The administration has turned to Airbnb to house domestic violence victims and hotel rooms to shelter the homeless, but has not utilized vacant public housing units. Meanwhile, efforts to count the homeless for the census have been stymied by the pandemic, which could affect funding for shelters and soup kitchens, Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Unchecked unemployment: Gig workers will soon be able to apply for jobless benefits in Illinois, and state legislators are working to eliminate penalty weeks but state unemployment funds are going broke as claims continue to soar and the linois Department of Employment Security scrambles to set up a virtual call center to keep up with demand. Work requirements are also becoming a barrier during the pandemic, CBS Chicago reports. Illinois has also temporarily expanded food stamps to respond to the continued economic fallout.
Small businesses hope for a fairer round two of PPP: With the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program set to open Monday, the Small Business Administration is capping the amount of loans each bank can issue to help lenders have more equal access. The first round was criticized for how it disadvantaged small and minority businesses in favor of major chains and corporations, sparking a class-action lawsuit out of Illinois. Locally, Potbelly and the Latin School of Chicago, a prestigious private school, have both returned their PPP loans amid criticism. Illinois’ small business loan fund also has a second installment.
Pandemic pressure and pushback at key institutions
Progressive wins face delay: Pritzker indefinitely delayed issuing the next round of cannabis dispensary licenses which were meant to bolster diversity in the new legal industry by prioritizing social equity candidates, who made up 600 of roughly 700 applicants. Business groups are pushing officials in Illinois and other states to postpone planned minimum-wage increases due to the pressures of the pandemic.
Safety net hospitals buckling: A hospital in Little Village is suing Illinois alleging that problems with the state Medicaid program hurts their ability to treat large numbers of low-income patients and places unsustainable financial pressure on them in the face of the pandemic, Crain’s Chicago Business reports. Block Club Chicago reports on a West Side hospital pushed to the limit with COVID-19 patients but is seeing nurses poached to work for higher pay at the coronavirus medical center set up at McCormick Place.
Pandemic policing: Lightfoot is reopening two shuttered police detective areas on the West Side to improve policing by bringing detectives closer to the they serve and detailed a new “surge strategy” requiring officers from low-crime districts to temporarily flood high-crime neighborhoods on the South and West sides, Chicago Sun-Times reports. City Council also approved a controversial plan to turn the old South Shore High School into a police and fire training center.
Protection or privacy? Some are pushing for first responders to be provided names and addresses of COVID-19 patients in Cook County and Lake County. The policy has already been implemented in McHenry County.
Protecting the incarcerated: A federal judge ordered Sheriff Tom Dart to move most Cook County Jail detainees into single cells to contain the growing outbreak of COVID-19. Reporter Josh McGhee details the plight of infected detainees and the ongoing legal battle for more releases. The Chicago Tribune investigated the work of two charity bond funds who are part of those efforts, finding that some of their beneficiaries over the years were charged with felonies after being bailed out, and examined discrepancies in the reported numbers of coronavirus cases at Chicago’s federal jail.
The Chicago Sun-Times details how a state prisoner who is one of dozens to allege that they were framed by notorious former Chicago Police Det. Reynaldo Guevara is now battling COVID-19.
Suspending speedy trials: The county’s top juvenile court judge is determining which detention release motions make it to court, blocking a 30-day rule for juveniles awaiting trial as the right to a speedy trial has been suspended during the pandemic, Injustice Watch reports. Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office announced Thursday he would sign an order mandating that all juvenile detention reviews would have a chance to be heard in court, Chicago Tribune reports.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Supreme Court will for the first time in its history hear oral arguments through videoconference as the pandemic wages on.
City Council a rubber stamp no more? Lightfoot met pushback from aldermen but ultimately won approval of expanded powers during the pandemic after a cantankerous virtual meeting, highlighting what may be a changing dynamic. A report released this week found that new voting blocs have emerged, causing more opposition to the mayor than the historical norm in Chicago. North Side Ald. Andre Vasquez is introducing a plan for the council to meet twice as often during the stay-at-home order to act faster on plans to deal with the crisis.
A dismal fiscal future: Illinois could soon be the first state in history to have its bonds rated as “junk,” one analysis found as the state prepares to enter a financial storm in the fallout of the pandemic. Cook County is also anticipating a $275 million budget gap this year.
Tracing is the key: As testing ramps up across the state, Pritzker has said widespread contract tracing of those infected is key to reopening the state and Lightfoot is expecting that effort to create a whole new class of jobs for unemployed workers. But state, county, and city health leaders concede that they do not have enough trained workers or technology to make that a reality yet.