Here are editorials from newspapers published in Illinois.

August 24, 2020

Chicago Tribune

Inspiration vs. virus: Encouraging tales from the front lines

Editorial: Inspiration vs. virus: Encouraging tales from the front lines

Here are two tales of confronting adversity you likely didn’t connect, both highlighted by the Chicago Tribune. One’s about science. The other’s about salad.

Back in March, when the nation plunged into the frightening unknown of a pandemic, Dr. Martin Burke of the University of Illinois got a tall order: Put together a team of experts to invent a simple, accurate test to detect COVID-19. Oh, and make sure it’s inexpensive enough to be mass produced.

“The standard process is too slow,” explained Burke, an associate dean for research at the U. of I. Carle Illinois College of Medicine. “It’s too expensive, and it has too many supply chain bottlenecks in order to be able to do fast and frequent testing on scale.”

In less than six months, Burke’s team did it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given emergency authorization to the U. of I. for its saliva-based test that produces rapid results and avoids the pitfalls of using nasal swabs, which are more cumbersome to process and uncomfortable for the patient. “We spread COVID-19 through saliva droplets primarily so you’re testing the exact medium in which that infectiousness is likely to occur,” Burke told the Tribune. “It’s also much easier to collect, it requires less PPE, doesn’t necessarily require direct engagement with the health care worker and, as we’ve shown, the process can be done very fast.”

Now, about salad. Farmer’s Fridge is a Chicago-based company that operates refrigerated vending machines it stocks with healthy fare like salads and sandwiches for the workplace crowd. That was nearly the entire business, and it dried up overnight when the coronavirus hit. No office workers, no lunch rush. Revenue dropped 85% when downtown's emptied out, the Tribune reported.

Imagine the panic. Some competitors, like Pret a Manger, permanently closed all downtown Chicago locations. Farmer’s Fridge was left with a smaller number of locations in hospitals and its own big question of whether to lay off workers to preserve capital. “Board members and investors started calling me daily to tell me to move quickly to minimize our losses,” Farmer’s Fridge CEO Luke Saunders explained in an essay published in Fast Company.

Saunders took a breath and pivoted. He kept his employees on the job, expanded distribution to more hospitals, where cafeterias were closed, and introduced a home delivery program that extends into the suburbs. To create buzz he asked Chicago chefs to create specialty menu items. “We realized people were really missing restaurants in their lives, and chefs probably wanted to be creative and share their experience with people at home, so we created an opportunity for them to do that,” Saunders told WLS-Ch. 7 food reporter Steve Dolinsky. Farmer’s Fridge says revenues have climbed back to 95% of what they were before the pandemic.

There’s more than one lesson here, including to never declare defeat, or victory, too soon. By that we mean success goes to those who keep their feet moving.

One of the first rapid COVID-19 tests, created by Abbott Labs, relies on a specialized machine that isn’t easy to mass produce. Good thing others kept innovating. Dozens of coronavirus tests have been granted emergency use authorization by the government. All can play a role in containing the virus by making testing as widespread as possible. “It’s kitchen sink time,” Susan Butler-Wu, clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California, told The New York Times.

And speaking of kitchen sinks, we continue to be impressed by the creative measures employed by desperate restaurateurs to keep going when it might be easier to give up. We’re thinking of restaurants that have reinvented their menus and those that have turned parking lots into enticing outdoor cafes. Who knew Chicago could have so much al fresco dining?

This pandemic has taken lives and destroyed jobs, but it hasn’t crushed ingenuity. In fact, we see the opposite. That’s a reassuring sign for the future.


August 20, 2020

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Dismay, and some hope, as college resumes

How do you pack for college?

With a truck full of belongings and a set of matching new towels and sheets?

Or, as if you’re taking a short trip and will be back home in just a few weeks? Because, you know, you might be.

Experiences at the University of North Carolina, Notre Dame and other colleges -- where COVID-19 outbreaks began almost as soon as students arrived -- offer a sobering view of how the back-to-campus experiment is going.

Is there a safer way to keep crowds of social distancing-averse kids together for a college learning experience?

And if it turns out to be inevitable that the highly contagious disease strikes hard, where should those college students go, and who should have responsibility for housing or caring for them?

UNC and Notre Dame pivoted to remote learning after hundreds got sick shortly after coming to campus. Hearing the news, Michigan State University notified most students who were due to move into dorms in less than two weeks that they should just stay home.

While UNC did not test arriving students, Notre Dame did, raising more questions about how to control COVID-19 among young adults living in close quarters.

We hope -- cautiously, because this disease is a wily foe -- the University of Illinois’ approach will show success when classes begin next week.

Researchers at the U of I at Urbana-Champaign developed a saliva test that delivers results within five hours, compared to up to a week for tests offered at public health sites across Illinois. The university aims to test everyone twice a week, and entry to most campus buildings depends on compliance, which is tracked on an app or campus card.

“Fast and frequent, that’s absolutely the key,” Martin Burke, a U of I chemistry professor who helped develop the test, told NPR. If saliva tests do work out, could that be the game-changer that makes indoor gatherings safer for all of as winter looms? We’ll watch U of I closely to see whether that hope is realistic.

Meanwhile, on Monday, The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper reported only four rooms remained available in UNC’s quarantine dorm. Many students were leaving campus. Just as UNC didn’t test on the way in, it isn’t testing on the way out -- creating the likelihood that the university will share its COVID-19 outbreak with communities across the nation.


August 19, 2020

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Charges cast a long shadow

Let’s see now — with charges filed last week against state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, that makes four current or former members of the Illinois General Assembly in trouble with the law.

Former state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal investigators in multiple criminal investigations. Link, who was charged last week with federal income-tax evasion, has been cooperating with the feds in a bribery probe. Sen. Thomas Cullerton, D-Villa Park, is charged with stealing money and pension benefits from the Teamsters. Finally, former state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, is charged with trying to bribe a state senator, presumably Link, to help pass gambling legislation.

If circumstances continue as appears likely — more charges against more public officials — people might start to get the idea that the people’s representatives in Springfield are something less than fully honest.

Can’t have that — so what better time for those who have yet to be indicted to start promoting ethics legislation?

Democrats are doing so to separate themselves from their less-distinguished party members. Republicans are following the same course, but the twin goal also is to remind voters that those under investigation are members of the other party.

Ethics legislation has long been a point of contention in Springfield.

Some legislators really want rules with teeth in them. But for years, party leaders have promoted and passed rules containing huge loopholes that create the impression, but not the reality, of limiting questionable behavior.

That’s why the latest proposals aren’t new. They include a prohibition on legislator lobbyists, which ought to be a no-brainer, a more comprehensive definition of what constitutes a lobbyist and a stipulation preventing legislators from leaving public life and immediately becoming a lobbyist.

They also have proposed rules that require “fuller disclosure of outside income,” and strengthening the currently toothless office of Legislative Inspector General.

There are other proposals, including one that would force legislative leaders under criminal investigation (Speaker Michael Madigan) to step down.

These proposals are welcome, but a long way from becoming law.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker suggested similar restrictions earlier this year that were met with a collective yawn. Nonetheless, this is an election year, and the public can’t like what it’s seeing as multiple corruption investigations unfold in Springfield, Chicago and Cook County.

Are real restrictions on the conduct of our anything-goes legislators in the offing? Maybe, but don’t hold your breath.