DOWNTOWN — Chicago Public Schools and all other schools in the state will be temporarily closed because of coronavirus, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Friday.
The district, which serves about 350,000 students, will close all schools starting Tuesday. Schools can reopen starting March 30.
The closure comes from Pritzker, who said he would order all schools in the state to close starting Tuesday.
“None of the choices that we have to make over the last week, or have had to make over the last week, have been easy or simple,” Pritzker said at a Friday news conference. “All of these choices have cascading effects for citizens and vulnerable populations when it comes to food access and safety, child care.”
Schools might reopen early if that’s possible, Pritzker said, or they might stay closed past March 30 if officials determine that’s the best course of action.
Children should go to school as usual on Monday, said Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson. They’ll be able to take home supplies and medication and will get packets about learning opportunities from teachers.
“Even if CPS students are closed, our obligations to students and families continues now more than ever,” Lightfoot said during a Friday press conference.
CPS will distribute free food boxes with three days’ worth of breakfast and lunches to every student in a household. Families can pick up the meals 9 a.m.-1 p.m. daily starting Tuesday at their nearest CPS school.
The state is working with food banks and manufacturers “to ramp up capacity to serve our most vulnerable children,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said the state is also “working on expanding child care availability” and is trying to expand unemployment benefits to parents who can’t work because their child is home.
Lightfoot said the best place for children to be during the closure will be at home.
Since that will be difficult for working parents, Lightfoot is asking employers to “go overboard” to accommodate parents and for neighbors to think about how they can step up to help.
“These are not ordinary times and we need employers to be in partnership with their employees,” Lightfoot said.
And for those who can’t keep their kids home, Chicago’s public libraries will be open and the Park District will have 18 sites open with activities for children.
But parents should avoid placing their children into the hands of elderly caregivers since people older than 60 and those with underlying health conditions are at the most risk from coronavirus, said Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
“Parents, keep this in mind: Grandma’s house is probably not the best place to send your children to,” Arwady said.
Parents should also teach their kids about washing their hands regularly and should discourage them from shaking hands with other people to combat spreading coronavirus.
All full-time and hourly CPS staff will be paid during the closure, but staff will not be able to access school buildings.
And all school buildings will receive a deep cleaning, which will begin after Election Day on Tuesday. The buildings will still be available as polling places.
The district is not currently planning make-up days for the closure.
Pritzker said the city and state made this decision as a lack of leadership on a national level persists.
“We have long since passed the moment when we thought we could count on the federal government to lead during this unprecedented situation,” he said.
Chicago’s Catholic schools have already closed, and school districts across the country have done the same in a bid to halt the spread of the virus. On Friday morning, the Chicago Teachers Union demanded the city close its schools.
Chicago officials had resisted closing the city’s public schools, noting children were typically those least at risk from coronavirus. The district has allowed students to take excused absences for coronavirus.
Even on Friday morning, Lightfoot pushed back against possible closures, saying Chicago’s unique community could suffer from closing schools.
But by the evening, Lightfoot said she and Pritzker were in lock step and she would focus on how best to help Chicago’s families while schools are closed.
Pritzker said he made the call after consulting with governors in other states and superintendents across Illinois.
While children are typically those least at risk from coronavirus, Pritzker said, there are also teachers, families and the community at large to consider. He noted children could spread the virus to seniors, who face more danger.
“This is coming. It’s here,” Pritzker said. “We’re gonna have to live with it for a while.”
As of Friday evening, Illinois has had 46 cases of coronavirus — many of them in Chicago and Cook County.
Last week, officials confirmed a CPS employee at Vaughn Occupational High School in Portage Park had tested positive for the virus. The school was closed and students and employees encouraged to self-isolate.
And on Thursday, officials confirmed a child in Chicago had tested positive for coronavirus.
Those with questions about closures at CPS can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 773-553-5437 until 7 p.m. Friday.
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
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.
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