Pritzker puts 11 counties on notice after 1,941 newly confirmed cases (LIVE UPDATES)

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s public health team on Friday put 11 counties on notice across Illinois for hitting a “warning level” as the state’s rebound in coronavirus cases hit another apex with 1,941 newly confirmed cases.

That’s the state’s highest single-day caseload since May 24 — eclipsing the two-month high tally set just a day earlier.

The latest cases were confirmed among a record 49,782 tests received by the state, but it was still enough to raise Illinois’ rolling positivity rate over the past week to 3.9%. That number, which indicates how quickly the virus is spreading, was 2.6% at the end of June.

The state hasn’t topped 2,000 daily cases since late May, when the state suffered its peak COVID-19 impact with an average of almost 2,200 new cases and 100 deaths reported per day. Illinois closed out the month of July averaging 1,150 new cases per day, compared to 764 in June when the state’s curve flattened.

Read the full report from Mitchell Armentrout here.


7:40 a.m. Hang-ups, lies and wrong numbers: Contact tracers’ uphill fight against COVID-19

Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer and co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health, poses for a portrait outside of her Hyde Park home on the South Side, Wednesday morning, July 29, 2020.Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A woman in Little Village sobs after learning she is the latest member of her family to test positive for COVID-19. She fears she won’t be able to take care of her grandson.

A worker at a West Side food-processing company explains how no precautions are taken to protect employees who are herded into a small room to punch timecards.

A young woman is frustrated that the customers at her small Lake County store won’t social distance or wear masks.

These are stories told to contact tracers, the people who investigate interactions between those infected with COVID-19 and their family, friends or anyone else potentially exposed to the virus. The aim: to identify and isolate infected people before they spread the virus.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money is being funneled to health departments across Illinois, including those in Chicago and Cook County, to hire hundreds of contact tracers. The state says robust contact tracing of at least 90 percent of reported cases within 24 hours of a diagnosis is necessary to be able to safely reopen. But officials admit that’s not happening in suburban Cook County, for example. And it’s not clear which local health departments are meeting that goal.

Read the full report from Brett Chase and Tom Schuba here.

7:30 a.m. When pandemic hit, a Chicago jazz icon’s world fell apart. Friends helped put it together again.

On his 1975 album “Boogie Piano Chicago Style,” Erwin Helfer taps out a tune on the piano called “Rubbish Boogie,” an upbeat, toe-tapping melody. Another track, “Inside,” is more plodding, clipping along at a slower tempo, a musical version of what it feels like to be sad. Not depressed, just a little sad.

“There’s a difference between being depressed and between being sad,” says Helfer, sitting in his backyard on the North Side. “But the thing is you have to have all of those emotions in order to play music. You know, it’s part of what music is about.”

At 84, Helfer has experienced a lifetime of joy and sadness, more than enough to fill 10 albums of his piano music and jazz festivals and other gigs he’s played in Chicago and overseas.

Growing up in the 1950s in the north suburbs, the Chicago piano legend spent much of his time on the South Side learning from jazz piano great Jimmy Yancey and later accompanying blues singer Estelle “Mama” Yancey. As a young man, he traveled with and made recordings of jazz and blues piano greats including Doug Suggs, Speckled Red and Billie Pierce.

Until March, Helfer was playing shows at the Hungry Brain in Lakeview every Tuesday night and offering piano lessons.

Then, the pandemic hit. Within weeks, he was hospitalized — not from COVID-19 but from what experts say is likely to become a significant side-effect of the pandemic. Helfer fell into a deep and debilitating depression.

Read the full story from Caroline Hurley here.

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Analysis & Commentary

7:40 a.m. Boss Trump can’t suspend elections, but Congress can do more to protect them

Oh, goodness, he’s finally done it.

The ultimate weapon of every autocrat is to suspend elections, denying the people a fair chance to throw the bum out, and Donald Trump finally has gone there.

On Thursday, Trump dared to float the idea of delaying the November elections because — and this is nonsense — the pandemic would make fair elections impossible.

Just the day before he had insisted, once again, that mail-in voting during the pandemic inevitably would be rife with fraud — again based on nothing. And earlier in the week, Trump’s postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, contributed to this desperate, last-minute attempt to subvert the democratic process by announcing that he’s going to shut down post offices.

Because if the integrity of mail-in elections can, in fact, be trusted now, Trump and lackeys want to do their best to destroy that integrity and trust.

Read the full column here.