Contractors preparing to flush out a fire hydrant at the state veterans' home in Quincy in September 2015, when there was an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the facility. Credit: AP Photo/Alan Scher Zagier

Welcome to the Reader‘s weekday news briefing. Happy Holidays!

  • Rauner e-mails about veterans’ home Legionnaires’ crisis reveal what the state knew

State public health officials “delayed informing the public for nearly a week about a deadly 2015 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a state veterans’ home in Quincy despite knowing the facility was facing ‘the beginning of an epidemic,'” WBEZ reported Wednesday based on e-mails it obtained from Governor Bruce Rauner’s office. And while state officials had previously announced that three people had died from Legionnaires’ disease, WBEZ discovered from records that in fact six people at the Illinois Veterans’ Home died of it this year. Waiting six days to inform the public about the advent of an outbreak is highly unusual and dangerous, say experts. “I think it’s really inexcusable,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the radio station. “It takes you six days from seeing an epidemic to tell people that you’re seeing an epidemic? That’s six days that you’ve allowed that disease to spread in a manner that probably wouldn’t have happened if you would have known earlier because people would have been taking action. People would have been asking questions.” [WBEZ]

  • Report: Taxpayers paying a price waiting for Joseph Berrios to start anti-patronage reforms

Cook County taxpayers are paying for county assessor Joseph Berrios vintage Chicago Machine-style politics, according to a new investigation by the Tribune and ProPublica Illinois. Reports from monitors “reveal a persistent pattern in Berrios’ office of improper hiring and firing, arbitrary staffing decisions and resistance to change.” Any reforms to happen in the assessor’s office have been slow-paced, and Berrios does not seem enthusiastic to adapt, according to the report. “If you’ve got an office that practices patronage and disregards rules, I don’t think we should be surprised that the outcomes we get, in terms of assessments, are shoddy,” former head of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, Cynthia Canary, said. “It’s like garbage in, garbage out.” [Tribune]

  • Acclaimed Grace restaurant abruptly shuts down after Curtis Duffy exit

Grace, one of the Chicago’s two restaurants with three Michelin stars (Alinea is the other), closed Wednesday after chef Curtis Duffy and general manager Michael Muser quit, followed by the rest of the kitchen staff. Duffy and Muser had wanted to buy the restaurant, but owner Michael Olszewski resisted, and negotiations broke down, prompting their exit. “As this chapter ends, another begins,” Duffy and Muser said in a statement. “We plan to spend quality time with our families as we develop our next project. The future holds much in store.” [Sun-Times] [New York Times]

  • Pennsylvania overtakes Illinois as the fifth-most-populous state

Pennsylvania has taken Illinois’s spot as the fifth-most-populous state, leaving Illinois as the sixth-most. The state had one of the largest declines of any state at 33,703 people in just one year. “Rural counties and downstate Illinois have taken the brunt of population declines in the past, but the number of people in Chicago, which has propped up the state, has leveled off,” Brian Harger of Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies told the Sun-Times. “The decline could mean fewer federal dollars, and if it continues it won’t bode well for economic development.” [Sun-Times]

  • Chicago UFO expert discusses local sightings, secret government program

UFOs have made a comeback since the recent reveal that the Pentagon joined forces with an aviation firm for a $22 million program to study UFOs. Strange flying objects are frequently seen in Illinois. There have been 3,470 reports of UFOs in the state since the 1980s, including an infamous sighting at O’Hare International Airport in 2006, according to the National UFO Reporting Center. Unfortunately there’s no video of the 2006 O’Hare sighting, only eyewitness accounts. “I can’t explain why there aren’t any photos or videos of it,” Mark Rodeghier, scientific director of Chicago’s Center for UFO Studies, told the Daily Herald. “This is one of the mysteries around UFOs, but there’s more than enough witness testimony. I’m convinced something was there, but you wind up with a mystery, though you certainly can’t say it’s alien because you don’t have all the information.” [Daily Herald]

  • A sign of the end times? The Bulls have won the last seven games

The Chicago Bulls had a notoriously bad start to the season (they were 3-20 at one point) but the team has won its last seven games, proving its critics wrong. The Bulls have been winning only since secret weapon Nikola Mirotic returned December 8 after suffering a broken jaw from being punched in the face by Bobby Portis. Much of Mirotic’s success is due to his “almost brazen level of confidence,” according to the Ringer. [Ringer]