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Coronavirus In Chicago: Schools Being Shut For Longer Shows COVID-19 Crisis Will Take Months To Handle

The city and state have taken drastic action to stop coronavirus — but it could still be weeks or even months before cases slow down.

Kelly Bauer/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The city will extend its closure of public schools, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday — the first major signal the coronavirus crisis will extend weeks, if not months, longer than initially hoped.

Lightfoot, Gov. JB Pritzker and other officials have warned it would take time to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases in Chicago and Illinois. But some remained optimistic as there was the possibility restaurants, bars and schools would reopen after March 30.

But Illinois’ number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to climb — from 288 Wednesday to 422 Thursday, with four deaths across the state. Part of that spike is because the virus is spreading and part of it is because testing is being done more frequently.

Researchers have suggested “social distancing” — keeping out of bars and restaurants, avoiding groups of 10 or more, not traveling — can play a major role in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

But one widely shared analysis found it would take months of social distancing being done by the entire population to keep the number of coronavirus-related deaths low.

Besides extending the closure of CPS until at least April 20, the mayor ordered all sick people — even those not confirmed to have coronavirus — to stay home or risk facing fines.

City Hall is closed to the public now, too.

Such measures are needed to save lives, officials said, but it will take time before the impact of these actions shows in slowing coronavirus cases.

“These measures that we’ve taken are about bending the curve over the long term,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, director of the Chicago Department of Public Health, on Tuesday.

Pritzker has said it is possible the closure of all Illinois schools, bars and restaurants will be extended, though he has not taken that step yet.

“There are going to be moments during the next few weeks and months when this burden feels like more than we can bear,” Pritzker said Tuesday as he announced Illinois’ first death from coronavirus. “But we will bear it.”

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 422 cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Thursday 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.

City Hall: Chicago City Hall is shut down to the public. Only “essential personnel” and aldermen can enter until further notice, according to the Mayor’s Office.

 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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