Back­log in COVID-19 test re­port­ing leads to Illi­nois’ high­est daily caseload ever — 5,368

Though pos­i­tiv­ity rate goes down, back­log re­veals stretch ri­val­ing num­bers in May

Chicago Sun-Times - - CHICAGO SUN TIMES - BY MITCHELL ARMENTROUT,

Pub­lic health of­fi­cials on Fri­day blamed a slow­down in Illi­nois’ coro­n­avirus test re­port­ing sys­tem for the state’s largest-ever batch of new COVID-19 cases re­ported in a sin­gle day: 5,368.

The un­prece­dented caseload was con­firmed among a whop­ping 149,273 tests re­ported by the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health, the re­sult of a back­log that of­fi­cials say they dis­cov­ered ear­lier this week.

Labs sub­mit their test re­sults elec­tron­i­cally to the state ev­ery day, but the state’s data processing sys­tem be­gan work­ing “slower than nor­mal” on Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to Derek Lindblom, head of the state’s test­ing team.

By the time the de­lay was cleared Thurs­day af­ter­noon, a test­ing back­log of up to two days had piled up, Lindblom said.

“Even a short de­lay of a day or a day and a half in processing will lead to a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in test re­port­ing,” Lindblom said.

Fri­day’s daily case count soared past the pre­vi­ous high of 4,014 new cases re­ported at Illi­nois’ ini­tial height of the pan­demic May 12. And the test count dwarfed the state’s pre­vi­ous high of 56,766 tests re­ported Aug. 22.

Still, the un­loaded back­log ac­tu­ally low­ered the state’s av­er­age test­ing pos­i­tiv­ity rate over the last week to 4.1%, down three notches from Illi­nois’ rolling rate as of Thurs­day.

Lindblom said the back­log wouldn’t af­fect the pos­i­tiv­ity rates for in­di­vid­ual coun­ties or re­gions. Those are the num­bers ex­perts use to gauge how quickly the virus is spread­ing.

“The tests are still the ex­act same tests. There was just a de­lay in the processing of the tests,” Lindblom said. “The trail­ing av­er­ages are all the same, which is what our de­ci­sion-mak­ers use.”

But the test­ing pileup does ex­plain in part why the state re­ported only 1,360 cases Thurs­day, Illi­nois’ low­est daily num­ber in more than three weeks.

And while in­flated, the new cases re­ported on Fri­day still put the state in a dan­ger­ous po­si­tion. If the back­log only be­gan on Tues­day, as of­fi­cials say, that means the state av­er­aged 2,587 new cases over the past four days. That’s not far off from a peak four-day stretch in May when Illi­nois was re­port­ing 2,841 cases per day.

Jor­dan Abu­dayyeh, press sec­re­tary for

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, coun­tered that the statewide pos­i­tiv­ity rate “has re­mained fairly sta­ble this week” and said the ap­par­ent uptick in cases “is gen­er­ally pro­por­tion­ate to the growth in tests.”

“But the Gov­er­nor is watch­ing the data closely lead­ing up to the hol­i­day week­end,” Abu­dayyeh said in an email.

Tech up­grades made to the processing sys­tem give the state “plenty of run­ning room in the fu­ture” as Illi­nois re­mains among the top states na­tion­wide in over­all test­ing ca­pac­ity, espe­cially with a new rapid saliva test in use at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois, Lindblom said.

The state health depart­ment on Fri­day also an­nounced the virus has killed 29 more peo­ple in Illi­nois, while the same num­ber of Illi­nois coun­ties are at a coro­n­avirus “warn­ing level” — about a third of the state map.

Sub­ur­ban Cook County worked its way off the warn­ing list that it had landed on a week ear­lier, but north sub­ur­ban Lake County was added as the re­sult of two “risk in­di­ca­tors:” a rate of 95 cases per 100,000 res­i­dents — over the tar­get rate of 50 cases — and a siz­able in­crease in COVID-19 deaths over the pre­vi­ous week.

Lake County Health Depart­ment ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Mark Pfis­ter called it “a wakeup call head­ing into La­bor Day week­end.

“We need ev­ery­one to wear a mask, wash their hands of­ten and watch their dis­tance. Re­con­sider your plans if they in­clude risky ac­tiv­i­ties and gath­er­ings,” Pfis­ter said in a state­ment.

Far south­west sub­ur­ban Will County re­mained on the list a week af­ter Pritzker banned in­door din­ing in the re­gion due to soar­ing pos­i­tiv­ity rates. Along with Kanka­kee County, its re­gional pos­i­tiv­ity is at 8.7%

The other “warn­ing level” coun­ties span Illi­nois but are largely clus­tered downstate.

Out­breaks there have been tied to col­lege par­ties, wed­dings and bars, while “gen­eral trans­mis­sion of the virus in the com­mu­nity is also in­creas­ing,” ac­cord­ing to the state health depart­ment.

Chicago’s test­ing pos­i­tiv­ity rate has held steady at 5.6%, while sub­ur­ban Cook is at 6.9%.

Over the last five months, 4.3 mil­lion peo­ple have been tested for COVID-19 in Illi­nois, at least 245,371 have tested pos­i­tive and 8,143 of those have died.

WASH­ING­TON — U.S. un­em­ploy­ment dropped sharply in Au­gust from 10.2% to a still-high 8.4%, with about half the 22 mil­lion jobs lost to the coro­n­avirus out­break re­cov­ered so far, the govern­ment said Fri­day in one of the last ma­jor eco­nomic re­ports be­fore Elec­tion Day.

Em­ploy­ers added 1.4 mil­lion jobs last month, down from 1.7 mil­lion in July and the fewest since hir­ing re­sumed in May. And an in­creas­ingly large share of Amer­i­cans re­ported that their jobs are gone for good, ac­cord­ing to the La­bor Depart­ment report.

Al­to­gether, that was seen by econ­o­mists as ev­i­dence that fur­ther im­prove­ment is go­ing to be slug­gish and un­even.

Still, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ex­ulted over the lat­est un­em­ploy­ment fig­ure, say­ing, “That is many, many months ahead of sched­ule.”

Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den said the pan­demic is still weigh­ing on the econ­omy.

“Don­ald Trump may be the only pres­i­dent in modern his­tory to leave of­fice with fewer jobs than when he took of­fice,” Bi­den said. The U.S. has 4.7 mil­lion fewer jobs now than when Trump was in­au­gu­rated, but if the monthly gains con­tinue at the same pace as in Au­gust, those jobs would be re­cov­ered by Jan­uary.

Pen­tagon reaf­firms Mi­crosoft as win­ner of dis­puted JEDI deal

WASH­ING­TON — The Pen­tagon on Fri­day reaf­firmed Mi­crosoft as win­ner of a cloud com­put­ing con­tract po­ten­tially worth $10 bil­lion, although the start of work is de­layed by a le­gal bat­tle over ri­val Ama­zon’s claim that the bid­ding process was flawed.

“The depart­ment has com­pleted its comprehens­ive re-eval­u­a­tion of the JEDI cloud pro­pos­als and de­ter­mined that Mi­crosoft’s pro­posal con­tin­ues to rep­re­sent the best value to the govern­ment,” the Pen­tagon said.

The Pen­tagon had re­quested time to re­view how it eval­u­ated cer­tain technical as­pects of the bids af­ter the judge who is pre­sid­ing over Ama­zon’s protest is­sued a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion on Feb. 13.

Here are two in­ter­est­ing political straws in the wind: Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent poll in the Mil­i­tary Times, ac­tive-duty ser­vice mem­bers fa­vor Joe Bi­den over Boss Trump in the up­com­ing elec­tion, 41-37. Given that a poll on the same date in 2016 showed Trump fa­vored by 20 points over Hil­lary Clinton, this looks like a sig­nif­i­cant shift.

Al­most half of uni­formed sol­diers (49.9%) have an un­fa­vor­able opin­ion of Trump, com­pared to 38% fa­vor­able, which is marginally worse than his rep­u­ta­tion among civil­ians.

This, too: Me­dia critic Eric

Boehlert’s Press Run web­site has com­piled the bad news about Trump’s TV rat­ings. Not only did the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion draw many more view­ers nightly than the Repub­li­can event a week later, but “Trump’s con­ven­tion ac­cep­tance speech was the low­es­trated one in prime-time his­tory, draw­ing 24 mil­lion view­ers. (John McCain’s ac­cep­tance speech drew 39 mil­lion view­ers in 2008.) Trump drew fewer view­ers than Joe Bi­den did for his ac­cep­tance speech the week be­fore.”

Sev­eral mil­lion fewer. In­deed, if the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion were a TV show, it might be on its way to can­cel­la­tion. “Trump’s tepid Nielsen num­bers are bad news for the pres­i­dent,” Boehlert notes, “since he’s ob­sessed with tele­vi­sion rat­ings.”

In­deed, he of­ten boasts about his lofty rat­ings, even when he has to make them up. Press Run cites an in­stance in Novem­ber 2018 when Trump claimed that 9.2 mil­lion view­ers tuned in to watch him on “Fox News Sun­day.” The ac­tual view­er­ship was 1.7 mil­lion.

Could be he’s sim­ply over­ex­posed. Ap­pear­ing ev­ery night of the GOP con­ven­tion may have been a mis­take. In­deed, you can hardly turn on the TV with­out see­ing Trump’s scowl­ing mug. Amer­i­cans, Boehlert notes, aren’t crazy about re­runs. It’s nev­er­the­less sig­nif­i­cant that Nielsen rat­ings for the Repub­li­can show were down 25% from the 2016 con­ven­tion.

Al­most need­less to say, Trump claims the num­bers are rigged.

It’s easy to pre­dict that he’ll call the Mil­i­tary Times poll crooked too, if he doesn’t sim­ply in­sult any re­porter who asks about it and then flee the podium. Be­tween in­sult­ing John McCain’s Viet­nam War hero­ism and beg­ging off a World

War I me­mo­rial ser­vice in France be­cause he might get his hair wet — while French, Ger­man, Bri­tish and Cana­dian lead­ers braved the rain — Trump has done lit­tle to in­spire re­spect among sol­diers.

Most telling is the poll’s find­ing that “Only about 17% of those sur­veyed felt the White House has prop­erly han­dled re­ports that Rus­sian of­fi­cials of­fered boun­ties for Afghan fight­ers to tar­get and kill Amer­i­can troops, an is­sue Trump has dis­missed as un­re­li­able in­tel­li­gence.”

Given that 81% in the U.S. mil­i­tary view Rus­sia as a sig­nif­i­cant na­tional se­cu­rity threat, Trump’s cow­er­ing be­fore Vladimir Putin and be­lit­tling of NATO have also hurt.

Maybe he can throw him­self a big pa­rade, like Kim Jong Un.

Mean­while, the pres­i­dent of chaos, dis­ease and dis­or­der ap­pears to be­lieve that only stok­ing racial strife can help him eke out an Elec­toral Col­lege win. (I’d say there’s no chance of Trump win­ning a ma­jor­ity; he’ll be for­tu­nate to lose the pop­u­lar vote by fewer than 5 mil­lion votes.)

Back when that pla­toon of self-styled mili­ti­a­men made their way into the Michi­gan state­house, Trump tweeted “LIB­ER­ATE

MICHI­GAN.” Would he en­cour­age White House visi­tors car­ry­ing AR-15 as­sault ri­fles? Me, I won­dered what was go­ing to hap­pen if one of those dopes pulled the trig­ger.

Well, we learned the other night in Kenosha, didn’t we?

And then the next night in Port­land. Is there any­body in the USA who thinks the vi­o­lence won’t es­ca­late?

See, you don’t get or­der with­out law. And a chief ex­ec­u­tive who urges sup­port­ers to bring guns into pol­i­tics, or the po­lice to rough up sus­pects, as Trump has done re­peat­edly, fos­ters law­less­ness and chaos.

But some­how it’s sup­posed to be Joe Bi­den’s fault. Ap­par­ently be­cause Democrats gen­er­ally op­pose cops shoot­ing Black men in the back. So here’s what Bi­den said in Pitts­burgh re­cently: “I want to make it ab­so­lutely clear ... Ri­ot­ing is not protest­ing. Loot­ing is not protest­ing. Set­ting fires is not protest­ing. None of this is protest­ing. It’s law­less. It’s plain and sim­ple. And those who do it should be pros­e­cuted. Vi­o­lence will not bring change, and only bring de­struc­tion.”

Bi­den’s since dou­bled down: “[Trump] wouldn’t even re­pu­di­ate one of his sup­port­ers who is charged with mur­der be­cause of his at­tacks on oth­ers,” he wrote. “He is too weak, too scared of the ha­tred he has stirred to put an end to it.”

Look, call your friendly neigh­bor­hood crim­i­nal de­fense lawyer. You can’t plead self-de­fense if you’re break­ing the law, such as a mi­nor parad­ing around with a gun he’s not legally per­mit­ted to carry while de­fy­ing a cur­few. Trump can’t par­don the Rit­ten­house kid, ei­ther: Mur­der’s a state charge, not a fed­eral one.

Mean­while, any­body who doesn’t un­der­stand that vi­o­lence and thug­gery ex­ist at both political ex­tremes can’t have been pay­ing at­ten­tion since ...

Well, since when? Chicago in 1968? Berlin in 1933?

SUN-TIMES FILES

Coro­n­avirus tests are ad­min­is­tered at a drive-thru site at 2231 N. Cen­tral Ave. in May.

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