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Coronavirus In Chicago: Will Illinois Voters Show Up On The Weirdest Election Day Ever?

It's Election Day in Chicago — but some fear heading to the polls as schools are closed and bars and eateries are shut down.

A polling place on Election Day.
Kelly Bauer/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Tuesday’s Election Day is seeing “extremely low” turnout amid problems caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Just 173,720 people had voted as of 3 p.m., according to data from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. That’s low for presidential primaries.

Jim Allen, spokesman for Chicago’s elections board, said the board asked the governor’s office to cancel all in-person voting, but the governor’s legal team refused. The board had feared people would be wary of voting because of the virus.

So far, there have been 160 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois, with at least 49 of those in Chicago.

The governor’s office’s push to still hold the election as usual left officials scrambling to set up new polling places and find election judges to replace elderly people, who are more at risk from coronavirus.

People have reported problems finding their polling places, getting working voting equipment and getting sanitization supplies at polling places.

“Most primaries are slow; the only difference is the polar bear in the room, the coronavirus,” said Adrienne Nelson, an election coordinator at Island Terrace Apartments, 6430 S. Stony Island Ave. “We basically ignored that because we all showed up. We’re all going to do our jobs, and we have been doing them.”

Allen said the elections board did not expect any precinct polling places would have to stay open late as very few people had encountered closed or moved locations, and those who did were largely able to vote at another location or said they would return later.

About 90 percent of precincts were up and running at the star of the day, Allen said.

“We got off to a decent start, a slow start to the day, in what could be a very low turnout overall on Election Day,” Allen said.

Allen said the board had also distributed the sanitization materials it had available, including hand sanitizer and wipes for screens. He noted the “vast majority” of voters would use paper ballots and would not have to touch screens on Tuesday.

Other states moved back their elections, citing concerns it could lead to the spread of coronavirus. But Gov. JB Pritzker repeatedly pushed back against that in Illinois.

“If we canceled these elections, when would you have an election?” Pritzker said during a Monday briefing on the virus. “The most important thing is we’re taking every precaution.”

RELATED: Voting In Chicago 2020: Here’s Everything You Need To Know For Election Day

Polling places are having voters wait outside to prevent people being crowded together inside, election judges will maintain distance from voters, there will be hand sanitizer available and screens will be wiped down between uses, Pritzker has said.

Those who did not want to brave potential crowds opted to vote by mail or vote early this year, officials said. Multiple counties broke records for those, the governor said this week.

As of Monday night, nearly 118,000 vote-by-mail ballots had come in and more than 171,000 people had voted early — including 25,781 just on Monday.

Credit: Jon Hansen
Voters lined up — with a safe distance between them — at a North Side polling place Tuesday morning.

The Board of Elections also asked any “healthy and capable voters who have not traveled recently” to consider being sworn in to help at their polling place if it was understaffed or overwhelmed.

Voters will make decisions on who will be the Democratic nominee for the presidency and Cook County state’s attorney, and they’ll elect local judges, among other posts.

“Democracy must continue,” Pritzker said Sunday. “We have to elect leaders even in less-than-ideal circumstances.”

Chicagoans are also contending with Tuesday being the first day all schools are closed and restaurants and bars are shuttered. Some eateries will still offer curbside pickup, delivery and drive-thru services, but others have shut down altogether.

Pritzker also banned all gatherings of 50 or more people in Illinois and has encouraged people to limit gatherings to 10 people.

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 160 cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Tuesday afternoon.

• There are 49 cases of COVID-19 in Chicago.

• A Chicago woman in her 60s died of coronavirus on Tuesday, marking Illinois’ first death from the illness.

• Some of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

What’s Happening In Chicago

• Restaurants and Bars: Eateries around the city closed their dining rooms — or closed completely — Monday night. Some will still offer drive-thru, curbside pickup and delivery options.

And restaurant owners and chefs are teaming up to ask to the state to help them and their staff members, who face financial difficulties with the closures.

• Chicago Public Schools: Schools close starting today.

The district will hand out three days of food for all children in a family 9 a.m.-1 p.m. daily at every school. Those needing emergency delivery can call 773-553-KIDS.

Artists: Local musicians and artists are suffering because of the bans on public gatherings, but Chicagoans have started streaming live shows to help those in need.

Salons: Many salons are closing up shop voluntarily as coronavirus spreads, but others have remained open so they can pay stylists.

LGBTQIA: The Brave Space Alliance is creating a crisis pantry for queer and trans residents on the South Side.

• O’Hare Airport: The airport was overwhelmed with crowds over the weekend, leading to some people waiting seven or more hours to be cleared of coronavirus and able to go home.

But Lightfoot and Pritzker have appealed to federal authorities, who agreed to send in more personnel and “deputize” Fire Department EMTs so there’d be more people available to screen travelers.

• Blood Donations: Blood donation organizations have said there is an urgent shortage of blood for people in need. Pritzker urged people to donate blood if they feel well — and said not doing so could cause a second health crisis.

• Grocery Stores: Officials have repeatedly urged Chicagoans not to hoard and stockpile food and home supplies at the city’s extremely busy stores.

“Buy what you need, but please be reasonable. Think of your friends and your neighbors. There is enough food to go around, but we need people to not be selfish,” Pritzker said.

Jewel-Osco is hiring as demand for groceries has skyrocketed.

• Shelters: Animal shelters like PAWS Chicago and One Tail at a Time are seeking more foster families as they worry their shelters won’t have enough staff and could be overwhelmed due to the virus.

• Helping Hands: People around the city are doing good deeds, like buying groceries for older folks.

• Chicago Attractions: Most major attractions — from the Lincoln Park Zoo to Navy Pier and even the Bean — are closed.

• Incarcerated People: The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is taking more precautionary measures to protect staff and detainees, it announced in a news release.

That means all non-staff members, including visitors and attorneys, will be screened for coronavirus. Those with symptoms will be denied entry.

Visitors will only be able to visit one person once a week for 15 minutes until further notice, as well, and staff are ramping up their cleaning efforts.

 Helping Seniors: My Block, My Hood, My City is collecting disinfectant supplies to pass out to people who are elderly or who have disabilities. Food pantries on the West Side are offering pick up and delivery options for those in need. I Grow Englewood is seeking donations for elderly residents as well.

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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. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

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. Anyone who feels unwell has been advised to stay home.

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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