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

Nearly two weeks into Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, the state’s death toll from the coronavirus continues to swell, with officials Thursday announcing 16 more fatalities and 715 additional known cases.
Additionally, the first loss of a Chicago police officer linked to COVID-19 will be considered an on-duty death, police leaders said Friday, giving the officer’s family access to special financial benefits.
On the economic side, almost 300 employees at the Trump International Hotel & Tower were among more than 14,000 layoffs reported to the state in March, most of them related to the new coronavirus’ effect on the economy as companies cut back or closed their doors.
Nationally, the U.S. shed 701,000 jobs, pushing the unemployment rate to 4.4%. Some economists predict it will hit 15% soon.
Meanwhile, the federal government expects to begin sending coronavirus stimulus checks through direct deposit in mid-April, likely the week of April 13. But after that, the IRS will begin issuing paper checks to individuals, and it could take until August to get all the checks sent, according to a memo.
As the virus continues to spread across the globe and in our state, the Tribune is keeping a running list of Chicago-area closings and cancellations, asking experts to answer your questions about COVID-19, tracking cases across the state and memorializing those who have died in the Chicago area.

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

12:20 p.m.: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois joins ranks of insurers waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois has joined a growing list of health insurers waiving member costs for treatment of COVID-19.
The state’s largest health insurer announced Thursday that patients will not need to pay any deductible, co-payments and coinsurance for COVID-19 treatment received from April 1 through May 31.
The cost-sharing waiver applies to both in-network facilities and out-of-network emergency treatment.

11:20 a.m.: Chicago police officer’s death linked to COVID-19 will be considered on-duty

The first loss of a Chicago police officer linked to COVID-19 will be considered an on-duty death, police leaders said Friday, giving the officer’s family access to special financial benefits.
Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck announced that decision at Police Headquarters during an event to thank donors whose contributions have aided officers during the outbreak.
The officer, Marco DiFranco, 50, died early Thursday at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. He was assigned to the citywide narcotics unit and was hired as a Chicago cop in 1998, police said.
“And because of that his family will continue to have the protections of the Chicago Police Department," Beck said of the benefits decision. "They will not be destitute. They will be taken care of. They will continue to be a part of the CPD family,”
Beck did not say how DiFranco contracted the disease. But he said the determination of classifying DiFranco’s death as in the line of duty comes as the officer and other first responders have been tasked with working in conditions that can put them at greater risk of becoming infected than the general public.
“And I think that everybody needs to recognize that these are tough times," he continued. "And things that are unimaginable in our past are going to happen. And we need to come together as a society to protect those that protect us.”
At last report there were more than 70 Chicago police officers and two civilian department employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus. 11:14 a.m.: Local leaders praise Pritzker plan to reopen Westlake Hospital
Emanuel “Chris” Welch was one of several local leaders praising the state’s plans to reopen Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park to treat COVID-19 patients, saying he hopes it will be up and running within weeks.
“I’m truly excited about that news,” Welch said. “I am thankful to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his strong, stable, steadfast leadership during this time of crisis. He told me all along he was trying to make this happen. I trusted and believed in him, and he got it done.”
On Thursday, Gov. Pritzker announced Westlake Hospital, which closed in August 2019, is to be the fourth facility being readied to house coronavirus patients. The hospital will provide 230 beds, officials said.
“Westlake was a perfect location in the western suburbs to be part of the answer to the crisis we’re in,” Welch said. “The 230 beds will be very helpful. Westlake is for non-acute COVID-19 patients. The most serious patients will not be at Westlake, but they will make room for acute patients in other facilities.”
In addition to Westlake, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois National Guard are setting up a 3,000-bed field hospital at McCormick Place, while also setting up a total of 500 beds at two other closed suburban hospitals: the former Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin and MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island. All facilities are expected to open by month’s end, officials said.
Pritzker said state officials are also working on a plan to open another “alternate care facility in central Illinois in the coming weeks.” 

10:29 a.m.: Amid coronavirus outbreak, Mayor Lori Lightfoot says no plans to close Chicago streets to traffic and open them to exercise

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she doesn’t have plans to close streets to traffic and open them up for people to run and do their exercise there instead.
“That’s not in our immediate plans,” Lightfoot said at a news conference to praise people and businesses who support first responders.
Since Lightfoot closed down the city’s lakefront trail and adjacent parks, some green space enthusiasts and exercise aficionados have pushed for her to make streets available to pedestrians and cyclists so it can be easier for them to do so outdoors without being near one another.
Asked about that, Lightfoot said it’s not in the city’s plans but reiterated that she doesn’t have a problem with people being outside for their exercise.
“The issue is congregating,” Lightfoot said. 

10:15 a.m.: College cafeteria workers seek help amid mass layoffs

When colleges campuses emptied out and sent students home because of the coronavirus pandemic, scores of cafeteria workers lost their jobs.
“Even in good times, these workers struggle to make ends meet," a union official said. "They do not have savings to rely on now.”
Some Chicago-area colleges have vowed to continue to pay workers, and some private food service contractors are making efforts to help furloughed employees weather the storm while also trying to keep their companies afloat. But unions are calling for more assistance for marginalized workers. 

9:56 a.m.: Landlords are asking tenants for coronavirus diagnoses. Can they do that?

While public health officials are carefully tracking the spread of COVID-19, some Chicago renters have been caught off guard by requests to disclose diagnoses — not to medical professionals, but to their landlords.
Property managers of buildings across the city are asking residents to notify their landlords if they are experiencing symptoms or are diagnosed with the coronavirus.
But city officials and tenant lawyers say that while property managers are likely looking out for everyone’s wellbeing, tenants are not legally bound to disclose personal health information. Read more here. —Ariel Cheung

8:38 a.m.: $1.2 million plan to expand capacity of services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors during pandemic

The Illinois Department of Human Services announced a $1.2 million plan Thursday to expand the capacity of services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While most Illinoisans are adhering to the Stay at Home order, not everyone has a safe home to go to,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement Thursday. “If you are experiencing domestic violence or live in fear of it, I know how much scarier or complicated the message of ‘Stay Home’ might sound.”
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