Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Here’s what’s happening Thursday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area

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Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus in the Chicago area and Illinois:

8:45 p.m. Lincoln Park Zoo closed through April 10

Lincoln Park Zoo is closing its doors temporarily, and halting all events and programs taking place there until April 10, amid concerns about the coronavirus, according to the zoo. Read more here. — Rosemary Sobol

8:15 p.m.: New CPS restrictions: Sports and field trips postponed, visitors limited

Though all but one of its schools remain open, Chicago Public Schools on Thursday evening released new guidance and restrictions for group gatherings and travel sanctioned by the district, effective for at least the next month, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The restrictions are effective immediately through April 12 and stipulate that essential school activities involving students and staff such as lunch and recess “can” proceed as usual, though student absences related to concerns about the coronavirus will continue to be excused. Read more here. — Hannah Leone

8:05 p.m.: Federal courts postpone civil trials, several other proceedings

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois announced changes due to the coronavirus, including postponing civil trials.

The federal courthouses in Chicago and Rockford will remain open, but a number of proceedings will be postponed, according to an order from the court.

All civil jury trials, second chance re-entry proceedings, veterans’ treatment proceedings, petty offense proceedings and settlement conferences excluding those by telephone scheduled to begin before April 3 are on hold. Criminal cases will continue and judges can conduct court proceedings by telephone or video conferencing, when possible, the order said.

At the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago and the Roszkowski U.S. Courthouse in Rockford, all mass public gatherings other than court proceedings, including group tours, mock trials and naturalization ceremonies are suspended starting March 14. — Morgan Greene

7:40 p.m.: Advocate hospitals will not charge patients for coronavirus testing and treatment for now (updated at 8:40 p.m.)

Advocate Aurora Health, one of the state’s largest hospital systems, will test for COVID-19 and treat it at no cost to patients for the time being, though patients who receive services now could still be charged later, the system said Thursday.

The health system will still charge insurers. At this point, not just anyone can get a test. People must consult a doctor, who can then coordinate with public health officials to arrange testing. An Advocate spokesman declined to comment Thursday on how long the system might waive costs for patients. Read more here. — Lisa Schencker

NOTE: This post was updated to clarify that patients could still be charged later.

7:20 p.m.: IHSA to cancel state basketball tournament

About 30 minutes before the tip-off of a sectional semifinal game at Hinsdale South, the IHSA told coaches that the season was over.

The IHSA also canceled postseason events for Scholastic Bowl, drama and group Interpretation, music, debate and journalism. Read more here.

7:07 p.m.: Aurora’s Paramount Theatre cancels shows

Aurora’s Paramount Theatre has canceled performances of its current show, “The Secret of My Success,” set to run through March 29. The theater is one of the main drivers of the economy in Aurora, the state’s second-largest city, and has also postponed shows by five performers in April and is working to reschedule them. Scheduled showings of classic movies in March and April are canceled.

Also Thursday, Aurora officials said they would limit the number of people who can attend City Council meetings or council committee meetings to 50 or fewer, and they would suspend all other commission and advisory committee meetings at City Hall. The changes go into effect Friday and are scheduled to last at least 30 days. — Sarah Freishtat

7 p.m.: Hinsdale South student’s coronavirus test is negative

The medical tests for the Hinsdale South High School student who may have been exposed to the coronavirus were negative, Hinsdale High School District 86 announced Thursday, which means school will resume as normal Friday. Read more here. — Kimberly Fornek

6:30 p.m.: CTU calls for school closures on election day

The Chicago Teachers Union wants Chicago Public Schools to close schools to students on election day, March 17, because so many of them are polling places.

In a letter to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson – sent to reporters while Lightfoot was speaking at a state press conference in which she said she had no plans to close schools – union leaders expressed “extreme concern about plans for the continued safe operation” of schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Union leaders said their most pressing concerns include the election Tuesday, with more than than 500 polling locations at Chicago Public Schools. “We have received no direction from the city or CPS about the school district’s plan to keep students and educators safe from the spread of COVID-19,” the letter states.

“Given the serious health risks this situation represents, the Chicago Teachers Union hereby demands that schools be closed for students on March 17,” the letter states, adding that CPS schedule overnight deep cleaning at each polling location school.

The union made other demands including no loss of pay or benefits to any educators, support staff, part-time or contract workers in the event of more school closures; doing everything in their power to ensure 15 days of paid sick leave for all Chicago residents; suspending evictions and suspending the school quality rating policy, which factors in attendance. — Hannah Leone

6:30 p.m.: Stevenson closes school building, moves students and teachers to online classrooms

Adlai E. Stevenson High School will close and move to virtual classrooms beginning Friday and continue until spring break ends in April, officials said Thursday. Read more here. — Kaitlin Edquist

5:55 p.m.: New Trier High School, area elementary schools close buildings and move to online instruction

Responding to the spread of coronavirus, officials at New Trier High School and several North Shore elementary school districts Thursday closed school buildings and are shifting to online learning for students until further notice.

In addition to New Trier, officials at area feeder elementary school districts, including Winnetka School District 36, Kenilworth School District 38, Avoca School District 37 and Glencoe School District 35, also announced school buildings would be shuttered Friday, with students moving to online learning next week.

“Based on the rapidly evolving situation with COVID-19 and recommendations from public health officials to limit public gatherings, we are canceling school for students tomorrow, March 13,” Superintendent Paul Sally said in a Thursday email to parents.

“While we have no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the district, we are shifting to our remote learning plan in an abundance of caution,” Sally said. Read more here. — Karen Ann Cullotta

5:50 p.m.: Pritzker orders shutdown of public events with more than 1,000 people; state cases rise to 32

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago Public Schools will remain open “at this time” but any school with a confirmed case will be ordered closed for the short term, she said. The schools will scale back large-scale events, Lightfoot said.

Pritzker said he had talked with owners of Chicago’s major sports teams and asked them to cancel games until May 1 or play without spectators.

The move comes as state officials announced 7 more cases of COVID-19, bringing the total since the start of the outbreak to 32. Some patients have since recovered. Read more here. — Dan Petrella and Gregory Pratt

4:35 p.m.: Illinois gets waiver to continue serving free meals to students if schools close

Illinois has gotten a federal waiver allowing schools that may be closed for coronavirus precautions to provide food to students outside of a group setting. The Illinois State Board of Education learned Thursday afternoon the waiver had been granted, a spokeswoman said.

In many school districts, students rely on free breakfast and lunch provided through a federal program. More than three-quarters of Chicago Public Schools students are considered economically disadvantaged, according to CPS, meaning they would have qualified for free or reduced price lunch before the meals became free to all students under a federal provision that provides the two meals for all students in locations where more than 40% qualify.

While schools can use the USDA’s summer meal programs to continue providing free meals during unexpected closures, the food legally has to be served in a group setting known as “congregate feeding.” But that would defeat the purpose of closing schools to prevent spread of the coronavirus by “social distancing.”

Only in public health emergencies does USDA have the authority to waive this requirement, and during a hearing this week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the USDA can only grant waivers on a case-by-case basis at the request of individual states. However, Perdue said the USDA will grant any request.

“If you ask we are going to say yes,” Perdue said. “We are essentially saying we just have fulfill that requirement by being asked, but the answer is yes.”

States can also request waivers of other requirements.

The USDA this week announced these “proactive flexibilities” will cover effects tied to school closings through the end of June. However, at least in Illinois, each district must figure out how to get the food to each student. — Hannah Leone

4:20 p.m.: Catholic archdiocese allows anyone 60 and over to stay away from Mass, spells out more cancellation guidelines for churches, schools

In an effort to protect people more vulnerable to the coronavirus, the Archdiocese of Chicago released a statement Thursday informing Catholics over age 60 that they do not have to attend mass and setting out guidelines for parishes and schools to decide when to cancel events.

In its statement, the dioceses also relayed guidance for large gatherings, which urges people to postpone or cancel large events that would attract “vulnerable populations.”

“The Archdiocese of Chicago will continue to monitor this very serious and fluid pandemic and issue new or additional guidelines based on the best available information from public health agencies and from our Church authorities,” the statement said.

The archdiocese cited canon laws that provide a dispensation exempting people with an illness or an underlying health condition from attending mass.

Last week the archdiocese released guidelines for parishioners concerned about the potential spread of the disease. — Javonte Anderson

4:15 p.m.: Cannabis license application deadline extended through March 30

State officials have announced that the deadline to apply for licenses for cannabis craft growers, infusers and transporters has been extended through March 30 and all applications submitted after 5 p.m. Thursday must be sent by certified U.S. mail.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order directing the Illinois Department of Agriculture to make the changes in an effort to prevent the possible spread of the new coronavirus. The original deadline for in-person applications was 5 p.m. March 16.

The state law that legalized recreational marijuana beginning Jan. 1 created up to 40 licenses statewide for craft growers, up to 40 for cannabis infusers and an unlimited number for transporters. The licenses are to be awarded by July 1. — Dan Petrella

4:11 p.m.: Dispensaries tell recreational customers not to put medical patients at risk

Mission South Shore marijuana dispensary has wiped down its touch-screen product menus so many times in the past few days that the screens started to go a little haywire. The dispensary is disinfecting surfaces more frequently, providing hand sanitizer and taking other precautions to quell the spread of the coronavirus.

3:50 p.m.: Chicago companies move toward remote working

Companies are putting additional cybersecurity measures in place and encouraging videoconferencing. They are questioning whether employees have the equipment they need to be productive at home. They are testing the capability of their servers as well as employees’ ability to access what they need remotely. Read more here. — Ally Marotti

3:35 p.m.: Illinois State Museum suspends all programs, events and school group visits through April 10

The Illinois State Museum is suspending all of its programs, events and school group visits through April 10, due to the coronavirus.

The program suspension affects the Springfield museum and branch facilities, the Lockport Galley and Dickson Mounds Museum, but those facilities currently remain open during regular operating hours.

“Until we know the public’s health is ensured, taking these steps is our best course of action,” Illinois State Museum Director Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko said in a statement Thursday. “Additionally, we anticipate there will be further steps needed as we learn more.

The frequency of cleaning public spaces at the museum facilities is increasing, in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3:20 p.m.: NCAA Tournament canceled

The NCAA Tournament has been canceled due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. This is a developing story. Get the latest updates here.

3:10 p.m.: Living under coronavirus quarantine: Parents from Chicago school unite in face of challenges

Being quarantined at home due to a coronavirus case at school would be difficult for any family. But parents at Chicago’s Vaughn Occupational High School, which serves students with cognitive, developmental and multiple disabilities, have particularly complex challenges. Read more here. — Christy Gutowski

2:40 p.m.: Art Institute cancels public events but will stay open

This makes the encyclopedic art museum the first among Chicago’s major cultural institutions to begin to diminish its public profile as the likelihood of community transmission of the disease increases. Read more here. — Steve Johnson

2:35 p.m.: MLB cancels spring training games and pushes back opening day 2 weeks

Major League Baseball has canceled the rest of its spring training game schedule due to the coronavirus and will delay opening day for at least two weeks. Read more here.

2:14 p.m.: Stocking up on hand sanitizer? Get ready for a marathon hunt.

Planning to stock up on hand sanitizer and other household essentials over the weekend? Good luck.

Shoppers concerned about the coronavirus outbreak — or the prospect of being holed up at home for days if required to self-quarantine or work remotely — have left some stores’ shelves barren of everything from disinfecting wipes to toilet paper.

But hand sanitizer seems to be scarcest: at 18 stores within three miles of downtown Chicago that reporters visited Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, there wasn’t a bottle to be found. Stores that had scored recent shipments said they sold out within hours. Read more here. — Lauren Zumbach and Mary Ellen Podmolik

2 p.m.: 125,000 conference-goers not coming to Chicago. And counting.

1:24 p.m.: More Illinois colleges taking action

Northern Illinois: NIU extended spring break an additional week, through March 22. After spring break, “modified courses” rather than face-to-face classes will begin and run two weeks, through April 4, the school announced on its website. The school intends to return to traditional classes on April 6 but could extend its modified courses if necessary. Residence and dining halls at the school are set to remain open to accommodate students who cannot or choose not to leave, the school said. — Sarah Freishtat

North Central College: In-person undergraduate classes at Naperville’s North Central College are suspended for the remainder of the spring semester, the college announced Thursday in a news release.The last day of in-person instruction is Friday, and there will be no classes Monday or Tuesday as North Central makes final preparations for remote instruction, according to a news release from President Troy Hammond. The campus will remain open. — Erin Hegarty

Aurora University: Aurora University will suspend all classroom instruction at Aurora campuses beginning at 10 p.m. Thursday, university President Rebecca Sherrick said in a statement. Coursework will resume online or otherwise remotely Wednesday, March 18, she said. At a minimum, online and remote classes will continue through April 3. Residence halls and food service will remain open through next week, with “stringent” cleaning and safety measures in place, Sherrick said. Campus will remain open while in-person classes are suspended, though some areas could have reduced staffing and no events larger than 250 people will take place, she said. — Sarah Freishtat

1:06 p.m.: James Beard postpones Chicago awards gala until summer 2020

The latest victim of the COVID-19 pandemic: Chicago’s annual James Beard Awards Gala.

The gala, unofficially billed as “the Oscars of the food world,” was to have taken place May 4 in Chicago. Now it has been postponed until an unspecified date this summer. Read more here. — Phil Vettel

1:06 p.m.: Payton High editorial calls for CPS to close schools, or at least high schools

Walter Payton College Prep’s student newspaper, the Paw Print, published an editorial calling for CPS to close all schools, or at least all high schools.

“No one doubts that the economic impact of dramatic social distancing measures will be devastating. But we can’t afford to be like the town mayor in the movie Jaws who refused to close the beaches because it would hurt the tourism industry, even as shark attacks claimed more victims,” according to the editorial by Paw Print editor Will Foster. “In our view, as part of these necessary measures, Chicago Public Schools should close, at a minimum, all high schools under its jurisdiction, and shift to online learning indefinitely.”

While closing schools could have adverse effects on many students and families, it seems the “the least bad option,” Foster wrote, listing colleges and universities that have already taken similar measures. Though many CPS students rely on free meals at school, there are ways to continue providing food to students, he writes.

Foster, a senior at Payton, said in an interview he didn’t want to speak for his entire school community and didn’t know that everyone would endorse his editorial, but he did know there was significant concern among students about whether the school should or would close. Though no cases were yet associated with Payton, he said, “who knows what’s going on that’s not detected.”

“It’s definitely on people’s minds but nobody knows exactly when, if at all, school might be canceled,” he said. “It’s a little worrisome.”

In the meantime, he said Payton students haven’t received any communication from the top about contingency plans “with regard to food or really anything.”

Foster wrote that schools have more resources than ever before to facilitate remote learning, making the case that even if child care for younger students remains an issue, high schools could at least be closed.

“Some might dismiss school closures as an overreaction,” he wrote. “We understand this concern, but we do not share it. Washing hands can only do so much good when people are sitting next to each other in classes for seven hours a day. And while it is true that young people are generally less vulnerable to the coronavirus, we have an obligation to avoid spreading the virus to protect the most vulnerable people among us — from elderly grandparents to siblings with asthma or weak immune systems.” — Hannah Leone

12:45 p.m.: Chicago aldermen call for City Hall closure

Residents crowded into City Council chambers Thursday along with more than a dozen aldermen for the Finance Committee, coming into close contact with one another as health officials call for people to avoid close interaction to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus to one another.

Meanwhile, the building’s lobby remains open to the public to walk through or conduct business in the city clerk’s office and other city departments.

The City Council is set to meet next Wednesday, and there are several council committee meetings scheduled each day in the run-up to that. Read more here. — John Byrne

12:37 p.m.: MLB suspending operations, NHL pausing play

Major League Baseball is reportedly suspending all operations amid coronavirus concerns. The NHL, after meeting with their Board of Governors, also announced that it is suspending play. Read more here.

11:30 a.m.: UIC, CPS cancel Young Men of Color Summit

The University of Illinois at Chicago announced Thursday the seventh annual Young Men of Color Summit, scheduled for Friday at UIC and co-sponsored by the Chicago Public Schools and UIC, has been canceled because of coronavirus concerns, according to a news release.

Speakers scheduled for the event had included state Rep. Aarón Ortíz and Alfred Tatum, dean of the UIC College of Education. About 500 CPS juniors and seniors had been scheduled to attend. —Chicago Tribune staff

11:11 a.m.: Health care workers say they have not received coronavirus guidance; demand paid sick leave

At a news conference Thursday morning, health care workers called on hospital administrators across the city to provide extensive guidance and up to 15 days of paid sick leave to workers they say are on the “frontlines” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our working conditions have a direct impact on public health,” said Anne Igoe, vice president for hospitals for Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois Indiana.

Igoe, who spoke outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital on behalf of workers including health aides, housekeepers and nursing assistants, said members of the union had not been given clear direction over COVID-19 protocols until this week. Many have been told to call hotlines or search online for guidance, she said.

“Northwestern is a system with a lot of resources and assets. They have an opportunity to play a leadership role,” she said.

Igoe also said some hospitals have punitive attendance policies for workers who have limited paid sick days and can face discipline for missing work. The union called for attendance policies from employers to be waived.

LeChrisha Pearson, a certified nursing assistant at Mount Sinai Hospital, said she is worried about getting sick and being disciplined over missing her shifts.

“When you live paycheck to paycheck like most of us do you can’t miss two weeks,” she said. —Jessica Villagomez

11:00 a.m.: Big Ten Tournament in Indy canceled 20 minutes before Thursday’s games tip-off

The Big Ten Tournament was canceled over coronavirus concerns, with players asked to leave the court fewer than 20 minutes before tipoff on Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The conference announced in a statement that the Big Ten “will use this time to work with the appropriate medical experts and institutional leadership to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.“

Just before the Big Ten made their announcement, Major League Soccer announced the suspension of play for 30 days. The Chicago Fire were set to play Orlando City on the road Saturday before returning home for their March 21 home opener against Atlanta United at Soldier Field.

More on how concern over the spread of coronavirus is rocking the world of sports here.

9:30 a.m.: Loyola suspending ‘in-person’ classes through end of semester, closing all dorms next week

Loyola University announced Thursday it is suspending all “in-person, face-to-face classes” through the end of the semester and will close all its residence halls next week, joining several other colleges in Illinois that are taking similar measures to contain the coronavirus.

While the campus will remain open, “all university-sponsored events with participation greater than 70 people are prohibited,” the university said in a statement. It added that no decision has been made yet about commencement activities.

The university said there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus at the school but are taking the steps as a precaution. Following is a text of the statement:

• Effective Friday, March 13, and continuing through the end of semester, all in-person, face-to-face classes will be suspended.

• Current online classes will continue. We will move the classes to online/virtual instruction as soon as possible but no later than Monday, March 23. Additional communication will come from the faculty directly to their students.

• Final exams will be handled remotely according to the regularly scheduled exam period.

• All residential students are expected to leave campus as soon as possible and go home for the semester. Residence halls will close by the end of the day on Thursday, March 19, in order to give students and families time to make necessary travel arrangements.

• The university will repatriate all remaining study-abroad students to their homes.

• All international summer programs are suspended.

• The university remains open to ensure academic and research continuity in support of our students’ progress towards the completion of the term.

• Faculty and staff are to practice the appropriate social-distancing measures and the updated health and safety guidelines from public health officials, including telecommuting, if feasible and approved by their managers and consistent with Human Resource guidelines.

• In line with the effort to practice social distancing, all non-essential face-to-face meetings or events are discouraged. All university-sponsored events with participation greater than 70 people are prohibited on our campuses.

• No decision has been made on currently scheduled commencement activities, but it will be made no later than April 3.

9:03 a.m.: IHSA to limit spectators at state basketball tournament to 60 per school

After consulting with health officials, the Illinois High School Association will allow the boys basketball tournament to proceed, but will limit spectators to 60 per school, the organization announced Thursday.

Three Chicago-area teams — Aurora Christian, Timothy Christian in Elmhurst and Orr in Chicago — are slated to play state semifinal games in Peoria on Friday. Larger school are still in the “Super Sixteen” round of the tournament, and will compete in Peoria the following weekend.

State finals in debate, drama and group interpretation and scholastic bowl will be limited to competing students, coaches and essential meet personnel, the IHSA said. Read more here.

8:57 a.m.: CME floor to close

The Chicago-based futures exchange will continue to trade products electronically, but floor-based trading will cease until further notice. — Robert Channick

8:40 a.m.: U. of C. joins Northwestern, Illinois State, U. of I. in moving classes online after spring break, DePaul makes changes

Becoming the first Illinois colleges to drastically alter campus operations, the University of Illinois System, Northwestern University and Illinois State University all announced Wednesday that classes will be moved to online formats for several weeks in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, now deemed a pandemic.

Then on Thursday, University of Chicago announced it will move classes online for the final academic quarter of the year, starting March 30. U. of C. students have a reading period and exams for winter quarter through March 21, according to a school calendar.

The decisions followed similar moves by a wave of other schools nationwide trying to reduce large gatherings, communal living arrangements, travel and other events that could increase the risk of community exposure to COVID-19.

None of the schools has reported cases of COVID-19 on their campuses. While Illinois State is closing dorms at its Normal campus, NU and U. of I. said they would keep residence halls open. ISU and NU extended their spring breaks to allow for more time to transition coursework online.

In a notice sent to students, U. of C. President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee advised students to stay at their permanent residences after spring break, but said the school would provide lodging, food and other services to students whose circumstances require it. Read more of the story here.

8:32 a.m.: Classes at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School are suspended until March 23, following news a second parent has COVID-19

Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School announced it would be closed from Thursday until March 20, with plans to resume classes Monday, March 23. The school and attached synagogue first were closed Tuesday after a parent of Zell students tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

Since then, that person’s spouse and one of the couple’s children also have tested positive for COVID-19. The parent most recently diagnosed was last on campus on March 5 for parent-teacher conferences, and met directly with some faculty members. — Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas

7:45 a.m.: ‘The more we can stay one step ahead of this.’ Hospitals intensify preparedness as coronavirus cases increase

Rush University Medical Center on Thursday plans to begin testing suspected coronavirus patients inside tents erected in a repurposed ambulance bay, part of the hospital’s ongoing effort to help prevent the spread of this highly contagious new virus.

Rather than sitting in a general waiting room, those with influenza-like symptoms will be diverted to the ambulance bay, which hospital officials refers to as “forward triage.”

Patients will then be given a mask, seated in chairs spaced 6 six feet apart and assessed by health care workers wearing full protective gear — including gowns, gloves, face masks and eye protection, said Dr. Paul Casey, Rush acting chief medical officer and an emergency room physician.

“This is part of what Rush was specifically built for, emergency preparedness,” he said. “What we’ve learned about the experience throughout the world is that the more we can stay one step ahead of this, the more we can mitigate the spread of coronavirus.”

Hospitals here and across the country are adopting new measures to help combat coronavirus, which has so far sickened about two dozen in Illinois and more than 100,000 worldwide, prompting the World Health Organization to declare the disease a pandemic earlier this week. Read more of the story here.

6 a.m.: Hinsdale high schools closed Thursday

Hinsdale School District 86 decided to cancel Thursday classes and after school events at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high schools and the Transition Center. A student at Hinsdale South might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and was awaiting the results of a test, according to Superintendent Tammy Prentiss. —Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas, Chicago Tribune

Your coronavirus questions

What are your thoughts, questions or concerns about how the coronavirus affects you? Are there any questions we can help answer? Send your questions here.

Here’s a recap of coronavirus updates in the Chicago area and Illinois from Wednesday:

Here’s a recap of coronavirus updates in the Chicago area and Illinois from Tuesday:

Here’s a recap of coronavirus updates in the Chicago area and Illinois from Monday:



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