Chicago and its suburbs have lost a lot of great businesses thanks to the coronavirus pandemic — that much became painfully obvious today.
Here’s all the news that broke relating to the pandemic.
8:55 p.m. Chicago businesses closed due to coronavirus pandemic
2020 is a year marked with losses for millions around the globe due to the coronavirus pandemic, and in the United States, the losses have been devastating.
As it stands, the U.S.’s official death toll far outpaces its contemporaries like Canada and Australia, with 339,000 lives lost here as of December 30. And experts say the deaths may be undercounted.
Millions of people — 10.7 million, to be exact — are still without steady employment, according to the December report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nationwide, more than 163,000 businesses have closed, according to Yelp’s Local Economic Impact Report, and nearly 60% of those closures will be permanent.
In Chicago, that’s meant the loss of important neighborhood resources, delicious restaurants, favorite bars — some of the places that held pieces of our collective history. And for local business owners, it’s meant the loss of a sole source of income or a passion project.
Read Grace Asiegbu’s full story on Chicago businesses that have shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
7:43 p.m. Parent leaders at first Chicago school shuttered by coronavirus push back against reopening
Parent leaders at a Northwest Side special education high school are pushing back against district plans to resume in-person classes next month amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The local school council at Vaughn Occupational High School in the Portage Park neighborhood called a special meeting Tuesday to unanimously pass a resolution calling on Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson to delay the scheduled reopening “until it is safe to return to in-person learning as determined by CPS and the Vaughn school community.”
Vaughn saw one of the city’s first coronavirus cases and was the first to close after a staffer tested positive in early March.
Ten months later — as the city continues racking up hundreds of new COVID-19 cases every day — many employees are slated to return to the building Jan. 4, while only 38 of the school’s 235 enrolled students have opted to return for in-person learning Jan. 11, according to Vaughn LSC member Josh Radinsky.
Reporter Mitch Armentrout has the full story.
2:19 p.m. ‘Gilligan’s Island’ star Dawn Wells dies, COVID-19 cited
LOS ANGELES — Dawn Wells, who played the wholesome Mary Ann among a misfit band of shipwrecked castaways on the 1960s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” died Wednesday of causes related to COVID-19, her publicist said. She was 82.
Wells died peacefully at a living facility in Los Angeles, publicist Harlan Boll said.
“There is so much more to Dawn Wells” than the “Gilligan’s Island” character that brought her fame, Boll said in a statement.
Besides TV, film and stage acting credits, her other real-life roles included teacher and motivational speaker, Boll said.
Read the full story here.
1:09 p.m. Illinois coronavirus metrics tick up with 178 more deaths, 7,374 new cases
Illinois public health officials announced the state’s highest daily coronavirus figures in almost two weeks Wednesday with 7,374 new cases of COVID-19 and 178 more deaths attributed to it.
The latest caseload, which is the largest reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health since Dec. 19, was diagnosed among 74,573 tests. That raised the statewide average testing positivity rate for a third consecutive day, up to 7.6%.
The death count is the highest since Dec. 18, and well above the state’s average of 122 coronavirus deaths per day over the past two weeks. It’s also higher than the death rate during the state’s worst two-week stretch of the pandemic at the start of December, when the coronavirus was claiming 152 Illinois lives on average every day.
Ninety-nine of the latest victims were from the Chicago area, including a Cook County man and woman both in their 40s.
Read the full story from Mitchell Armentrout here.
12:30 p.m. Colorado Guardsman has 1st reported U.S. case of virus variant
DENVER — A Colorado National Guard member has the first reported U.S. case of a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the coronavirus that has set off alarm in Britain, while a second case is suspected in another Guard member, health officials said Wednesday.
The two were sent on Dec. 23 to work at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak of the virus in a small town outside Denver, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s epidemiologist.
A state laboratory detected the cases after it began looking for signs of the variant after its spread was announced in England earlier this month, she said. Staff and residents at the nursing home who have tested positive for the coronavirus are having their samples screened for signs of the variant, and so far no evidence of it has been found, Herlihy said.
Read the full story here.
11:30 a.m. For this Chicago entrepreneur, the new federal stimulus aid for small businesses ‘too little, too late’
The day Chris Costoso had feared so much finally came last month when he was forced to shut down his photography business and turn over the keys to his storefront studio.
After nearly five years in business, that studio had become a part of him, he said.
In some cases, Costoso’s photos chronicle some couples’ lives together — from engagement, to wedding and eventually to family portraits.
“Handing over the last key to the [building] owner was just horrible,” Costoso said. “I didn’t think it would hurt so much, but as a small entrepreneur, I have put everything into my business and watched it flourish until something out of my control ended it so quickly.”
On Sunday, President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package lauded to help people, but Costoso said for him, it’s “too little, too late.”
“This latest stimulus doesn’t even matter to me at this point. It’s whatever. I mean, I’m already shut down,” Costoso said. “I can only rely on myself to make something happen and to bring some sort of income in.”
The latest COVID-19 relief package would put $284 billion back into the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers forgivable loans to small businesses to keep their employees on payroll during the pandemic. Portions of that will be dedicated to minority-owned businesses and companies in low-income areas. An additional $20 billion would also go toward small business grants.
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act, passed in March, created the PPP program; that first round of aid eventually reached $669 billion. Costoso applied then but never received any aid. At this point, he feels both the federal and local government have let him down.
Businesses like Costoso’s that didn’t have strong relationships with the banks handling the PPP loans were left adrift, he believes. In Illinois, 12% of businesses and nonprofits getting loans from the PPP program accounted for 74% of the money — meaning bigger employers benefited the most.
Costoso said he did everything to keep his business afloat. He dropped the price his photo shoots from $650 to just $100 to generate some sort of income to pay his rent on his home and his storefront, but he still fell too far behind.
And with social media hyper-politicized during the presidential campaign, it was difficult to use those platforms to market his business online.
“People are not looking for a new photographer, and they are focused on the news with coronavirus, civil unrest, the elections and then those challenging the election results,” Costoso said. “So much of our advertising and marketing on Facebook was just getting ignored or washed away.”
Read Manny Ramos’ full story here.
10:37 a.m. Luke Letlow, Congressman-elect from Louisiana, dies of COVID-19
BATON ROUGE, La. — Luke Letlow, Louisiana’s incoming Republican member of the U.S. House, has died from complications related to COVID-19 only days before he would have been sworn into office. He was 41.
The congressman-elect died at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport on Tuesday, according to his spokesman Andrew Bautsch.
“The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” Bautsch said in a statement.
Louisiana’s eight-member congressional delegation called Letlow’s death devastating.
“Luke had such a positive spirit, and a tremendously bright future ahead of him,” the delegation said in a written statement. “He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our nation.”
Read the full story here.
9:22 a.m. Cars take on new importance, functions during pandemic
Lines of them, decorated, drivers honking, people hanging out of them waving, screaming, singing, fist-pumping.
The scene has played out thousands of times, for myriad reasons, as vehicles became an all-important conduit during the pandemic for showing you care about something deeply.
Jean Smith can attest. Family and friends formed a caravan and rolled by her Hyde Park apartment building in April to celebrate Smith’s 99th birthday: “It made me feel like I was on cloud nine, or cloud 99,” she said with a laugh. “To get to be 99 and have that many people interested in you? Most of the time they just throw you by the wayside, but I felt like I was Queen Elizabeth. I thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Smith.
“Now I’m just waiting for the 100th,” she said, hoping for a face-to-face bash.
Birthdays, graduations, rallies, protests, funerals — thanks to COVID-19, cars played a bigger part in them all. And of course, events handing out coronavirus essentials — like face masks and hand sanitizer — often were drive-thru.
In the year of the census, those working on the tally often used car caravans to spread the word to fill out the form, often focusing on neighborhoods or communities that have been traditionally undercounted.
Keep reading Mitch Dudek’s story here.
Analysis and commentary
8:30 a.m. Joe Biden believes we can beat COVID-19 — because we are better than 2020
How hard was that? How hard was it for a president of the United States — or a president-elect — to stand up in a moment of national crisis and put it to us straight and honest and call on us to be one nation, fighting the fight together?
We’ve seen presidents do it before. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, did it after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. George W. Bush, a Republican, did it after the attacks of 9/11.
On Tuesday, we saw it again with Joe Biden. In an unadorned address of some scant 10 minutes or so, the president-elect called on all Americans, whatever their politics, to pull together and charge into the new year with a resolve to do the simple, practical and sometimes hard stuff necessary to finally contain and beat COVID-19.
Honest to God, how we wish the current president, Donald Trump, had somehow found the empathy and integrity to do exactly this — tell it straight and rally us to the fight — when the pandemic first arrived on our nation’s shores.
Tens of thousands of lives might have been saved. Hospitals might not be facing a post-holidays surge of gravely ill patients. The United States might be on the backside of this pandemic, rather than in the very heart of it, showing the world how it’s done.
Businesses might be closer to reopening. Our lives might be closer to returning to some semblance of normal.
Read the full editorial here.