Numbers tell Illinois’ dismal COVID story, early voting begins and more in your Chicago news roundup

Today’s update is about an eight-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

SHARE Numbers tell Illinois’ dismal COVID story, early voting begins and more in your Chicago news roundup

Nurse Tamara Jones puts on personal protective equipment as she prepares to check on a patient with COVID-19 in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about an eight-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

— Matt Moore (@MattKenMoore)


This afternoon will be partly sunny with a high near 51 degrees. Tonight will be cloudy with some isolated sprinkles and a low near 36. Tomorrow will be mostly cloudy with a high near 53.

As the world marks the three-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sun-Times reporters have been talking with residents, business owners and front-line workers to paint a fuller picture of how COVID-19 has changed our city and beyond — coverage that we are highlighting all week in Afternoon Edition, in addition to other vital reporting on this city that we’ll continue to spotlight to keep you in the know.

We begin this week with a story from our Mitchell Armentrout on assessing our state’s devastating pandemic data.

Top story

3 years, 4 million cases, more than 36,000 deaths: Numbers shape Illinois’ dismal COVID-19 story

Mountainous bar graphs of daily case numbers can illustrate how quickly COVID-19 swept across Illinois in 2020. But they can’t capture the isolation felt by people in Chicago and beyond who were told to stay at home in the early days of the pandemic. 

Hospital admission figures reflect the waves of patients who have crowded into coronavirus wards with serious illness. But they don’t reveal anything about the exhaustion of health care workers who have switched to new careers.

And while the statewide death toll of at least 36,494 provides a devastating indication of what the virus has ripped away over the past three years, that number doesn’t approach the full breadth of grief rippling out from each loss. 

Statistics don’t tell the whole story of the pandemic. But experts say the data they’ve collected provides vital insights into how the outbreak has hit different communities — and what everyone should think about as we learn to live with the virus permanently. 

“This past winter shows we may be getting to a point where we can make it through a year without crushing the health care system,” said Dr. Arti Barnes, chief medical officer of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “That’s one of the first optimistic signs that we’re reaching a point where we’re starting to heal.”

The scars remain vivid. 

More than 4 million COVID infections have been confirmed in the state since early 2020. The actual number is likely at least several times higher, experts say, since millions of cases have gone undiagnosed, and the official figure doesn’t include at-home tests. 

Mitchell Armentrout has more on Illinois’ dismal COVID-19 story.

More news you need

A bright one

Black girl friendships at the heart of Disney’s made-in-Chicago skating show ‘Saturdays’

Inside Markham Roller Rink, amid flashing neon lights, a sense of gravity and urgency is unfolding. Fifteen-year-old Danielle Jalade and her friends Daria Johns and Peyton Basnight are trying to nail down a complex roller-skating flip. After, the girls let out a piercing cheer and a hug. 

The trio make up the We-B-Girlz skate crew that practices and performs on the best day of the week — Saturdays! When the director yells cut, the teenagers giggle to each other between scenes, their change in demeanor almost imperceptible. 

The young actresses are the core of Disney Channel’s new comedy series “Saturdays,” set on the South Side of Chicago.


Stars Peyton Basnight (from left), Daria Johns and Danielle Jalade shoot a “Saturdays” scene at the closed Markham Roller Rink.

Jean Whiteside/Disney

Jalade plays 14-year-old Paris Johnson, the leader of the group, with Johns and Basnight as Simone and Ari, her best friends. Together the teens are determined to prove they are the top skating team at the rink, despite their age. The rest of the cast is rounded out by a host of Black actors with long resumes — among them Golden Brooks as Jalade’s mom, Deb; Omar Gooding as Jalade’s dad, Cal, and rapper Yo-Yo Whitaker as the legendary leader of the roller skating rink. 

Roller skating has long been a staple of the Black community. Civil rights protests were often held at skating rinks, where music blared and kids and adults alike could let loose. Now, roller-skating rinks are an endangered locale. “Saturdays” was able to rent the Markham Roller Rink from the city because it’s been closed for years. The team behind “Saturdays” includes 18-year-old former “black-ish” actress Marsai Martin, in her first television executive producer credit.

“Disney came to us and was like, ‘We want a roller-skating show,’ ” Martin told the Sun-Times. “It was also like, ‘OK, so we’re putting their thoughts into consideration,’ but also too it just makes sense because it’s not only a big deal in our Black community, but also Chicago in general.”

Our Mariah Rush has more on “Saturdays” here.

From the press box

Your daily question☕

What was the last thing you did before Illinois’ enacted the shelter-in-place order?

Send us an email at and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

On Friday, we asked you: How have your face mask-wearing habits evolved over the course of the pandemic?

Here’s what some of you said…

“My habits have not changed at all since the beginning of the pandemic. I wear my mask whenever I am out in public: grocery stores, concerts, shows, etc. I know there’s a risk with public events, but I try to lower it with the mask. Heck, I was a germaphobe then, you better believe I still am now! — Kayla Palmisano

“Never wore one.” — Rich Sierecki

“I was militant about mask-wearing for a long time, but now I only wear it on the CTA. I’m one of the lucky ones who hasn’t — yet — gotten COVID.” — Jennifer Brown

“I wear a face mask whenever I go out in public. Considering my questionable breath, not-so-white teeth, menopausal lady beard having the audacity to grow in gray, my propensity for inadvertently spitting on people when I’m talking to them and the fact that I’m simply not as cute as I used to be, the constant wearing of a face mask is the best thing that could have happened to me! Plus, I really, really like the fact that I haven’t caught any communicable diseases — including the common cold — in three years!” — Therese Roberson

“I didn’t wear them then and I’m not wearing them now.” — John Shreve

“I still wear a mask on public transit. Usually in the grocery store if it’s crowded and/or if I have one in my pocket. We are going to bars and restaurants again though, so that probably throws everything else I do out the window.” — Mary Gowlewski

“We still wear N95s around anyone outside our household, indoors or out, as we have since the start of the pandemic. We don’t care about the looks we get when we go to a play or concert and we’re in the 1% wearing masks. We don’t dine in restaurants (but we order a lot of delivery!). Our habits have stayed the same though the pandemic for four reasons: it isn’t over, although we’re vaccinated we know we could still catch COVID, we want COVID to end, and we don’t want to get long COVID.” — Alex P. 

“Always wear my mask on the CTA and planes and in airports. I’ve seen a lot of COVID cases in the past two months among coworkers and friends.” — Tracy Ito

“I still wear a K-N95 face mask in public settings and at work.” — Wendy C.

“I still wear mine when I go into stores, nail salons, beauty salons for hair cuts or wherever I think it’s necessary everyone has to be cautious because covid is not going away.” — Janice Valenzio

“I wear my mask when visiting my mom and mother-in-law at their assisted living residence, in crowds, in doctor’s office, and in any place that asks people to be masked. It is a simple thing.” — Carmie Daugird Callobre

Thanks for reading the Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition. Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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