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Coronavirus In Chicago: Prisoners Hit By Pandemic Will Get Treatment Like Everyone Else, Governor Says

"An incarcerated person is a person, and my administration will not be in the business of claiming one life is worth more than another," Pritzker said.

Faith leaders gather at Cook County Jail to seek the release of detainees to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
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CHICAGO — Illinois’ stay at home order has been extended through at least the end of April as officials try to save as many lives as possible here during the coronavirus pandemic.

And that includes the lives of incarcerated people, Gov. JB Pritzker emphasized during a briefing Tuesday.

“An incarcerated person is a person, and my administration will not be in the business of claiming one life is worth more than another,” Pritzker said.

Just under 37,000 people are incarcerated in Illinois, Pritzker said, which is 1,069 people fewer than on Feb. 1. Officials have been trying to reduce prison populations by releasing pregnant women and low-level offenders who are near the ends of their sentences, among others.

Nearly 300 people were released just on Tuesday. Those being released are vetted to ensure they don’t have a history of violence, particularly domestic violence, and have a home to return to so they can follow the stay at home order safely, Pritzker said.

“Every step we take with regard to our prison population needs to solve an existing problem, not create a new one,” Pritzker said.

Still, activists are calling for more releases and for them to be done more frequently so incarcerated people aren’t put at risk from the virus’ spread.

The conditions of Illinois’ prisons and jails is not ideal for social distancing, Pritzker has acknowledged. They were not built for the large populations they now house — which was an issue before the pandemic and will necessitate conversations about criminal justice reform once this is all over, Pritzker said.

That overcrowding means the virus can spread quickly and easily among detained people and Department of Corrections staff. More than 100 people detained at Cook County Jail have tested positive for coronavirus, as have 12 jail staffers there.

And one person has died at Stateville Correctional Center, a state-run prison in suburban Crest Hill. Another 12 men who were incarcerated there are now hospitalized and 77 people who reside at the facility and had symptoms are being isolated.

Stateville’s population is particularly at risk because many of the detained people there are older, and that group is vulnerable to severe symptoms from coronavirus.

Department of Corrections staff are now being required to wear personal protective equipment, and parts of jails and prisons that were closed are being reopened so detained people have more space with which they can practice social distancing or be isolated. Visits to detained people have been halted and more frequent cleaning is being done.

Detained people who do become ill will receive medical assistance, including ICU beds and ventilators if needed, Pritzker said.

“Hospitals that refuse to take on residents of the Department of Corrections will be called out by name, and those that refuse to operate in accordance with their oath can and will be compelled to so do by law,” Pritzker said. Once this crisis is over, “We all need to have a real conversation about criminal justice reform and the status and condition of our state prisons.”

But it’s still not clear when this crisis will be over, Pritzker said. He called the extension of the stay at home order to April 30 is an “educated date” agreed upon by experts and officials.

Pritzker announced the extension Tuesday, reminding people Illinois — which has already seen 5,994 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 99 deaths — isn’t expected to hits its peak in cases until mid- to late April. Once that hit peak hits, no one knows how many days it will last, Pritzker said.

“The virus’s spread is growing,” Pritzker said. “So are its risks.”

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 5,994 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Tuesday afternoon. Some of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

• There have been 2,611 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago.

• Ninety-nine people have died of coronavirus in Illinois.

If You Need Help

• Sick? Broke? Want To Help? Here’s A Massive List Of Coronavirus Resources In Chicago

What’s Happening In Chicago

• Stay at Home: The state’s stay at home order has been extended through April 30. The order means non-essential businesses are shut down (here’s what remains open) and people are urged to stay home and practice social distancing as much as possible.

Police are issuing citations and fining people up to $500 if they don’t follow the state’s stay at home order. Those who don’t listen to warnings and citations could get arrested.

Chicagoans who have tested positive for coronavirus, or even those who simply have symptoms of coronavirus, are being ordered to stay home or risk up to $500 fines.

• CPS: Students across the state are likely sad to be missing events like prom — or even just hanging out with friends in hallways, Pritzker said, and that’s OK. He encouraged students to feel their emotions — but then find ways to help amid the pandemic.

CPS is sending out 100,000 laptops and tablets to students so they can learn at home, with remote learning set to begin April 13. It could also be a sign schools will stay closed longer than first announced.

Online Aldermen: The city’s aldermen are using social media to keep up with residents during the outbreak.

First Responders: The city is offering hotel rooms to first responders so they can safely isolate from their families amid the pandemic. At least 50 members of the Chicago Police Department have tested positive for the virus so far, and hundreds are calling in sick.

• Rent and Mortgages: Renters throughout the city are asking for help and threatening rent strikes — but a rent freeze is not coming.

The city will give $1,000 grants to 2,000 Chicagoans to help with rent relief. You can apply online.

State officials have also contacted major mortgage lenders, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to ask them to offer multi-month forbearance to Illinoisans.

Pritzker has halted evictions throughout the state during the crisis.

• Construction: Though New York City has called off construction, it continues throughout Illinois.

• McCormick Place: The convention center is being turned into a hospital for coronavirus patients. About 500 beds are being delivered there this week, and there will be 3,000 hospital beds at McCormick Place by the end of the month.

• Hospital Supplies: Officials are still trying to acquire more personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supplies they’ll need to fight coronavirus. Chicagoans are finding creative ways to get supplies to hospital workers, too.

• Parks and Beaches: The city’s lakefront-adjacent parks are closed, as is the Lakefront Trail, the 606 and the Riverwalk.

Too many people crowded them during warm weather Wednesday, leading to the closures, Lightfoot said.

 Small Businesses: Illinois has created a grant program that will divide $14 million among hotels, bars and restaurants hit hard by the coronavirus. The businesses can use the money for payroll, rent and other things.

 Taxes: Pritzker moved back the state’s tax filing deadline to July 15, matching the federal deadline.

• United Center: The home of the Bulls and Blackhawks is becoming a medical supply and food distribution hub to help with relief efforts.

 Bills and Tickets: Lightfoot said the city would stop booting cars and collecting debt until at least April 30 — but parking tickets from a private company, Chicago Parking Meters LLC, are continuing.

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.

 National Guard: The Illinois National Guard has been activated, but its troops are working on things like distributing supplies and giving coronavirus tests. Adjutant Gen. Richard Neely tried to dispel rumors about the National Guard’s work.

 Health Care Workers: Doctors, nurses and other health care workers who recently retired or left the profession are being urged to rejoin so they can help in the fight against coronavirus.

Information about “re-enlisting” is available online.

• Protective Equipment: The state needs personal protective equipment for health care workers so they can stay healthy while treating COVID-19 patients. N95 masks, gloves, gowns and other items will be “essential,” Pritkzer said Saturday.

Businesses and organizations are being urged to donate their supplies to local hospitals. Those interested in donating items can email PPE.donations@illinois.gov.

• Volunteering: Those interested in helping people impacted by COVID-19 can look up community service opportunities on the state’s Serve Illinois site. Pritzker also urged people to go online and look for opportunities to donate or volunteer in their communities.

Symptoms

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 or cough 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 COVID-19 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 ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

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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