DOWNTOWN — There are no plans to close Chicago Public Schools because of coronavirus, officials announced Thursday, even as the number of cases in Illinois rose to 32.
That announcement came as a surprise to many, particularly as other districts across the nation have moved to close schools to halt the spread of coronavirus.
Still, officials have canceled CPS events with 50 or more people, suspended CPS sports and have banned largescale events throughout the city.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said there is currently no significant reason to close Chicago’s schools, and doing so would have an adverse impact on the children who rely on schools for shelter, food and even clothing.
“We would never put our children in danger,” Lightfoot said during a briefing with Gov. JB Pritzker. Later, she added, “We do not see a reason at this point to shut down the schools.”
Officials are reassessing the needs of CPS every day and the situation could “evolve,” Lightfoot said.
Most of Illinois’ coronavirus cases are in Chicago and surrounding Cook County. During Thursday’s briefing, officials announced the patients now included a child in the city.
The child is in good condition at home and his or her school has been informed about the illness.
Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said she was less concerned for schools than for nursing homes since children are much less likely to get seriously ill than elderly people.
With that in mind, officials are working to move polling places for Tuesday’s election out of nursing homes to avoid putting elderly residents at risk.
New locations will be found, officials said, and Election Day will go on as planned. But they encouraged voters to cast their ballot early or by mail to avoid large crowds.
And Chicago and Illinois have banned gatherings of 1,000 or more people for the next 30 days and encouraged organizers to cancel events that could attract crowds of 250 or more people.
Once those 30 days are up, the ban will be reassessed, Lightfoot said.
Officials already canceled Chicago’s large St. Patrick’s Day festivities this weekend and said they’ll cancel concerts and other events if needed.
Lightfoot and Pritzker also praised the owners of Illinois’ major sports teams for agreeing to cancel all games or play without spectators until at least May 1.
MLB, NBA, the NHL and other leagues announced earlier they’d postpone or suspend their seasons to prevent the spread of the virus.
Pritzker said, starting Monday, he’ll close the Thompson Center to people who don’t have business with the state. He called that move an “extraordinary measure” that will be necessary to ensure state workers don’t get ill and can perform their work.
Throughout the briefing, Pritzker and Lightfoot encouraged businesses to have employees work from home when possible and to support them as much as possible.
Such “social distancing” is needed to stop people from catching and spreading coronavirus, Pritzker said. He implored Illinoisans to “reduce social contact” and think about their “responsibilities to the most vulnerable among us.”
“I’m not going to hesitate to take the most aggressive measures” to protect people in Illinois, Pritzker said. “Don’t be fooled into thinking that your community is immune. It is not.”
What’s Happening In Chicago
• Simeon High School: A tour company is refusing to refund students at Simeon High School — which is more than 90 percent low income — after CPS canceled a trip to Greece due to coronavirus.
CPS says it’ll pay back the students, though.
• Opening Days Canceled: The White Sox and Cubs have to postpone their Opening Day games, which were set for March 26 and March 30.
The games were expected to draw tens of thousands of people to the teams’ stadiums.
• St. Patrick’s Day: Chicago’s famous St. Patrick’s Day parades are canceled, as is the dyeing of the Chicago River. Officials said they’re being postponed but don’t know when the events would happen.
Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church announced it is postponing Shamrock’n the Block, a new event that was set to make its debut Saturday, as well.
• Food Awards: The James Beard Foundation Awards have been postponed. Chicago had two spots up for Best New Restaurant.
• Blood Drives: Blood drives throughout the Chicago area are being canceled due to coronavirus, and officials are worried that could lead to a shortage of much-needed blood.
• Newberry Library: The research library has postponed programs and gatherings that would have involved 50 or more people. Smaller programs continue.
• Chicago Blackhawks: The NHL has suspended the season, which means the Hawks won’t take to the ice anytime soon.
• Chicago Bulls: The NBA season has been suspended and all Bulls games are postponed.
• Chicago Fire: The soccer team has postponed its homecoming match, which had been set for March 21 at Soldier Field.
• CHA: The Chicago Housing Authority has canceled events and is posting notices about COVID-19 in its buildings.
• Closed CPS School: Vaughn Occupational High School in Portage Park remains closed. An employee there was confirmed to have coronavirus on Friday and students were encouraged to self-isolate.
On Tuesday, CPS CEO Janice Jackson said no students or CPS employees connected to the Vaughn patient have tested positive for coronavirus so far.
But the Sun-Times reports a student there has developed a cough and fever — symptoms of coronavirus — and her family hadn’t been contacted by officials as of Wednesday night.
• CTA: “The CTA … have been taking a lot of precautions, extra cleaning of buses, of trains, of platforms, making other self-cleaning fluids available,” Lightfoot said. People are not being advised to avoid public transportation.
Ridership is not down yet, officials said Wednesday.
• Metra: Metra officials said the agency is staying vigilant and keeping trains clean, but ridership is down as people work from home or drive, riders said.
• U of C, Loyola: The University of Chicago will do remote learning for its entire spring quarter starting March 30, the university announced early Thursday.
Loyola University has suspended all in-person classes through the end of the semester, as well.
• Cinespace: Cinespace Film Studios is disinfecting after a worker tested positive for coronavirus.
• Senior Centers: The city has closed senior centers, but free meals are still available for pick-up only.
• Election Day: Twenty-five polling locations will be moved due to concerns about coronavirus, according to the Sun-Times. Election Day is Tuesday.
Some of the locations being moved are nursing homes, where residents are particularly susceptible to more serious cases of coronavirus. Officials are still determining where the new polling places will be.
Officials are still working to determine where those polling places will be moved to.
Pritzker encouraged people to vote early, as all polling places will still be open, or to vote by mail. The deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot is 5 p.m. Thursday.
• Testing: Gov. JB Pritzker slammed the federal government during news conferences this week, saying — despite multiple requests from him — the feds haven’t provided adequate testing resources to Illinois.
• Google: Google told its employees — including those at the Midwest headquarters in the West Loop — to work from home for one month.
• Helping Seniors: My Block, My Hood, My City is collecting disinfectant supplies to pass out to people who are elderly or who have disabilities.
• Cancellations and Closures: The Sun-Times has a list of cancellations and closures due to coronavirus.
• Chicago Public Schools: CPS currently has no plans to close any other schools.
The district has canceled school-related trips to locations it considers at risk for coronavirus and has “strongly” recommended employees not travel to those spots.
• Work from Home: The Chicago Department of Public Health advised businesses to encourage employees to stay home when sick and recommended childcare facilities, schools and universities review their plans for online learning programs.
Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.
Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Shortness of breath
How To Protect Yourself
First, reject the hype: You don’t need a facemask if you’re well. The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.
Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:
- The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
- Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you have to sneeze with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.
What To Do If You Think You’re Sick
Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.
If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where corona is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus.
Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
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