CHICAGO — The city will stop all debt collection through at least April 30 as the economic toll of the coronavirus continues to hit workers and businesses across the city. Ticketing and impound practices will also be limited, the mayor said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the move in a news conference call with reporters Wednesday, adding all booting will stop, late fees on defaulted payments on city debts will be paused and no interest will be accrued. The city will also limit ticketing, towing and impounding and focus its efforts on public safety-related issues.
As part of the program, city utility bills will not be due until May 1.
“One of the most important things we can do is keep people economically solvent,” Lightfoot said.
The city will work with the private company that owns Chicago’s meters to ensure ticketing only occurs if there’s something that poses a safety threat. An expired meter at a car that is otherwise legally parked will not result in a ticket, Lightfoot said.
But people won’t be able to leave their cars on the street, Lightfoot said: That will still result in them being declared abandoned and towed.
Bills will come due eventually, Lightfoot said, though the program could be extended past April 30 if needed.
Lightfoot and Comptroller Reshma Soni emphasized the changes are meant to help Chicagoans keep money in their pockets during the crisis so they can pay for necessities like food and medication.
“Government has an obligation to ensure we are there for our residents at times of financial need and crises,” Soni said.
Though the city will lose the money it could make from ticketing and other practices in the short term, helping keep Chicagoans out of bankruptcy will be far better for Chicago in the long term, officials said.
People will be impacted by the virus, Lightfoot said, adding that those who work in service jobs, the hospitality area and at hourly jobs are already feeling “economic pressure.”
Many Chicagoans have said they’re unsure how they’ll pay bills after the state closed restaurants and bars until at least March 30.
Lightfoot wanted to ensure the city “recognized what their daily struggles are and use[d] the levers of city government to help them.”
“If people don’t have resources, they’re not going to be able to pay taxes, ultimately,” Lightfoot said. “And we know there’s a significant amount of economic pressure all over and particularly on service employees, hourly workers, in the hospitality area, in particular. That’s why we’re looking at ways we can give them relief, put money in their pocket rather than collecting it” and driving people into bankruptcy.
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 most common symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.
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.
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