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Coronavirus In Chicago: With Millions Out Of Work, State And City Officials Scramble To ‘Put Money In Their Pocket’

As more and more businesses struggle amid the coronavirus outbreak, Chicagoans wonder: How can we pay rent and bills?

Thousands are applying for unemployment benefits in Illinois after being laid off due to COVID-19.
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CHICAGO — Small businesses worried about how they’ll stay afloat during the coronavirus crisis are getting a break from the state.

Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday that more than 20,000 small- and medium-sized businesses across Illinois will be allowed a two-month delay in paying sales tax to the state and local jurisdictions. Late fees and interest will be waived.

And small businesses are now eligible for low-interest coronavirus disaster assistance loans for up to $2 million. Information about applying for a loan is available online.

“Our small businesses are already hurting, and the root of that pain isn’t going to go away anytime soon,” Pritzker said during a Thursday briefing. Later, he added, “Restaurant and bar owners are suffering. Every day that’s gone by, they’ve suffered losses. … These SBA loans will be an enormous help to them.”

Service industry workers are already feeling financial pressure as Pritzker shut down all bars and restaurants until at least March 30.

But the economic effects have been felt all around: Gyms have let go of staff, salons are closing, artists and performers can’t host the events that pay their rent and the hotel and airline industries have laid off employees.

With schools shut, many parents who still have jobs are unable to work as they must stay home with their children. Chicagoans are being urged to stay home as much as possible and skip work if they feel even slightly unwell to prevent further spread of the virus.

So far, there have been 422 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois, including at least 104 in Chicago.

Locally, businesses are struggling; nationally, the United States is hurtling toward a recession.

“I was a businessperson before I became governor. I understand what this is doing to many businesses across the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said at a Wednesday briefing. “The coronavirus is damaging people in a variety of ways: their health, their safety and their livelihoods.”

But Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfood and federal authorities are taking steps to help people financially during the outbreak.

Lightfoot announced Wednesday the city has stopped issuing parking tickets and collecting debt until at least April 30, and city utility bills aren’t due until May 1. That’s needed to keep money in the pockets of Chicagoans so they can buy food and medicine not have to worry about going bankrupt, officials said.

“One of the most important things we can do is keep people economically solvent,” 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 … .”

Pritzker and Lightfoot have also lobbied utility companies to stop shutoffs during the outbreak, and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office is not assisting with evictions for the time being.

Illinois expanded unemployment benefits to those out of work because of coronavirus, and Pritzker wants that extended further to parents unable to work because their children are home. On Thursday, he also announced he’d sign an executive order expanding tele-medicine for people on Medicaid and those with private insurance.

The governor said he has told his administration to “do everything in our power to provide assistance” to everyone who needs it.

The federal government is trying to stave off a recession with a $1 trillion stimulus bill. The package would include $500 billion in direct payments to Americans hit hard by coronavirus.

Trump’s administration has also directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development to temporarily stop evictions. And the Federal Reserve has slashed interest rates.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said she knows the closures in Illinois have impacted people’s lives — but they’re also preventing coronavirus from spreading even further.

“The drastic steps we’re taking now are what we have to do,” Ezike said. “It will decrease the number of people who become infected.”

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 422 cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Tuesday afternoon. Some of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

• There are 104 cases of COVID-19 in Chicago.

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

• New confirmed cases have been reported at DePaul University, Columbia College and the University of Chicago.  Six cases of coronavirus have been tied to Chicago’s Lycée Français school in Ravenswood. Two members of the Chicago Fire Department have also tested positive.

What’s Happening In Chicago

Patients: Chicagoans who have tested positive for coronavirus, or even those who simply have symptoms of coronavirus, are being ordered to stay home or risk fines.

Testing: Coronavirus testing is still extremely limited in Chicago — which is leading to fear and frustration for some residents.

Pritzker has said he is trying to get more tests for people throughout the state.

 Bills and Tickets: The city will stop ticketing and booting cars and collecting debt until at least April 30.

However, a city program that promised to cut utility bills for low-income residents and families by up to 50 percent and to have past-due balances forgiven has been put on hold.

Koval: A Ravenswood distillery known for its whiskey and gin is now focusing on making hand sanitizer for health care workers and retirement homes.

Vintage Shops: A handful of vintage shops have closed their doors due to safety concerns about coronavirus. They need help.

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

• Helping Workers: Aldermen are calling for the city to launch an emergency fund to help workers hurt by coronavirus.

Fat Rice is offering pay-what-you-can meal kits to laid-off industry workers and others in need.

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.

And here’s a guide for getting unemployment, rent relief and more if coronavirus has impacted your job.

• Chicago Public Schools: Schools closed starting Tuesday. Some people are finding alternative ways to educate kids: MASK, a South Side group, has created shipping container schools with class sizes of just 10 kids.

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

• Weed: Curbside weed sales are being allowed for medical marijuana patients due to the outbreak.

• Funerals: The city’s funeral homes are limiting the crowds at services because of the virus.

• Violence Interrupters: Nearly 200 street outreach workers are still patrolling Chicago’s streets — but now they’re also helping tell people about the outbreak.

• Work Out: Planet Fitness is closing locations, Midtown Athletic laid off 2,000 workers and other gyms are taking similar measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

One trainer is helping hundreds work out at home, though.

• 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 and Mariano’s are 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.

The owner of Windy Kitty is looking for foster homes for nine cats she’s had to take in.

• 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 most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • 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.

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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