(NOTE: Daily press conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will be streamed live in the player above. Check back for updates.)
A unique strain of the coronavirus has been discovered in Chicago, bringing a new perspective on the symptoms residents may experience and how they could be affected.
Here are the latest developments on the coronavirus crisis today (June 19):
University of Illinois Announces Fall In-Person Instruction
In-person instruction will take place in the fall at the University of Illinois, with COVID-19 safety precautions in place to protect students if the state has moved into Phase IV of its reopening schedule, officials said Thursday.
Students who don’t or can’t return to the central Illinois campus can take classes online, according to the university. Those who have signed up to live in university housing or freshmen required to live on campus will have to submit special documentation and receive approval to learn from a distance.
Unique Coronavirus Strain Found in Chicago: Northwestern Study
Northwestern University researchers have discovered Chicago has a unique COVID-19 virus strain that appears to be directly linked from the early outbreak in China, the university said in a news release Thursday.
Another variant discovered in Chicago COVID-19 patients, which happens to be the predominant variant worldwide, and in the U.S. is centered in New York, generates more of the virus in the upper airways than the Chicago version.
“This is the first clear evidence that genetic differences in the viruses are associated with differences in the characteristics of the infections that they cause,” said Dr. Egon Ozer, an assistant professor in infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician.
Ozer said that because Chicago is a transportation hub, the city is a melting pot for different variants of the virus.
Hand Sanitizer Causes Vehicle Fire in Suburban Waukegan
A small bottle of hand sanitizer left on a car’s dashboard caused the vehicle to catch fire Thursday in suburban Waukegan, according to the fire department.
Fire officials stated that sunlight shining through the windshield onto the sanitizer was enough to cause the fire to ignite. The owner had been refilling the bottle with 80% alcohol sanitizer that was supplied by her employer, officials said.
The owner was able to spray a small amount of water through a small hole in the windshield, extinguishing the fire.
In a Facebook post, the Waukegan Fire Department said other similar incidents have happened across the country, and with the summer heat, they strongly recommend hand sanitizer isn’t kept in vehicles.
More Than 3,400 Candles Lit in Honor of Illinois Nursing Home Coronavirus Victims
A total of 3,433 candles were lit outside Chicago’s Thompson Center Thursday night — one candle for each coronavirus-related death at an Illinois nursing home.
The vigil, which was organized by the Service Employees International Union, the union representing nursing home workers, was an effort to demand that safeguards be put in place to prevent more future deaths.
The 3,433 lives lost — approximately 53% of deaths statewide — include the nursing home patients and workers who died from the virus. Nationwide, approximately one in three coronavirus deaths have occurred at nursing homes, according to the SEIU.
Possible ‘Carpocalypse’ Predicted in Chicago As Summer Travel Begins
Some transportation experts are warning of a “carpocalypse” post-pandemic, as states reopen and summer travel gets underway, and the Chicago area could be hit even harder because of the number of freeways drivers use to pass through.
The Sam Schwartz Company, a leading transportation firm known for coining the term “gridlock” said mass transit ridership has plummeted amid health concerns.
“We may see an imbalance in demand,” said the company’s deputy director of traffic engineering, Sara Disney Haufe.
Haufe said more people may ditch carpooling and take their own vehicles to work. As businesses reopen, freight traffic has increased with up to 50% more deliveries being made.
It’s been estimated that pre-pandemic, popular highways like the Kennedy Expressway moved at an average of 5 miles per hour during rush hour, Haufe added. Post-pandemic, it could move slower.
Lightfoot Optimistic Indoor Dining Can Return ‘Safely’ in Chicago
As Chicago and Illinois health officials discuss the possibility of moving into phase four, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she believes the city will be able to “safely” allow indoor dining at area bars and eateries.
Currently, restaurants and bars can only offer outdoor dining, which comes with space limitations and leaves capacity dependent on weather.
“We can do it and we must do it safely,” Lightfoot said during a press conference centered on reopening the lakefront and city trails Thursday.
Lightfoot acknowledged concerns in other states seeing a rise in cases since reopening.
Recently, a Florida health care worker and 15 of her friends tested positive for COVID-19 after gathering for a birthday celebration at a newly-reopened pub in Jacksonville.
“I’m very alarmed at what we’re seeing from states like Texas and Georgia and Alabama and others, but I think that we can do this in a way that we do it safely,” Lightfoot said.
Chicago Prepares as Vote-By-Mail Expands Ahead of November Election
All voters who participated in recent elections will now be sent an application for a mail ballot, thanks to a bill that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law this week.
Coronavirus concerns have pushed to the forefront how officials will carry out elections safely in November.
“Whether or not there’s a vaccine, there’s going to be a vote. And we need to do everything we can to keep our voters and our poll workers safe,” said James Allen with the Chicago Board of Elections.
Applications for ballots will be sent out next month. Ballots will be mailed in late September and early October. All mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day on Nov. 3 to be counted.