Chase Cavanaugh

Reporter

Chase started in radio while earning his Master's in diplomacy and international commerce at the University of Kentucky.  He was bitten by the radio bug while volunteering at Radio Eye (a local equivalent to NIRIS) and soon became a reporter at WUKY. After four years of reporting in Kentucky's Bluegrass, Chase traveled north to join WNIJ as Morning Edition producer.  Chase reports on a variety of developments in our broadcast area but is particularly drawn to anything with a political or international connection.  He is also an avid board gamer.

Northern Illinois University

State and local leaders are making decisions every day about the COVID-19 pandemic that are met with both praise and criticism. WNIJ's Chase Cavanaugh has the second part of our series "The Hot Seat" talking to leaders about the process behind these big decisions. 

Normally, mid-March is when Dr. Lisa Freeman is engaging donors and alumni. But the situation changed quickly while she was on a cross-country flight to a Washington D.C. alumni reception. Then, the governor declared a state of emergency. 

The Winnebago County Health Department announced 8 more coronavirus deaths.

County Chairman Frank Haney went into detail in a Thursday press conference.

“The dates of death range from May 17th through the 21st. The age range is age 50 through age 98. These deaths have all been confirmed as COVID-19 by the coroner today.”

This brings the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Winnebago County to 52. 

City of Rockford

The City of Rockford is making it easier for restaurants to open or increase business as the state eases COVID-related restrictions. 

On Thursday, Governor J.B. Pritzker indicated that restaurants could possibly open upoutdoor dining spots beginning in June. In response, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said the City will provide help to local establishments in setting these areas up.

The DeKalb Public Library plans to offer curbside pick-up as coronavirus restrictions loosen. 

The service is meant to be a transition toward more in-person services at the library. It’s dependent on the state moving the region into Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan. But library Director Emily Faulkner said whenever that happens, patrons could reserve and check out library items, and even speak with a reference librarian.

State of Illinois

The Federal Bureau of Prisons will no longer use its Thomson, Illinois facility as a coronavirus quarantine location for newly admitted inmates.

Previously, Thomson and 10 other locations would have quarantined these inmates for a few weeks. But a bipartisan letter to the Bureau from U.S. lawmakers raised the specter of transferred asymptomatic individuals becoming a source for new outbreaks. Illinois U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos explained.

City of Rockford

Rockford and Winnebago County are working to open several sectors of the local community by the end of the month. Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara made the announcement at a Monday press conference.

“The three areas include restaurants. They include child care facilities and youth programs, and houses of worship."  

McNamara says the openings are being considered as a result of improved COVID-19 metrics.

Pixabay

The U.S House of Representatives voted today on the HEROES Act.

This relief package consists of about $3 trillion in aid related to the coronavirus. Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois said nearly a third of the bill offers help for state and local entities.

IDES

The Illinois Department of Employment Security says it’s processing unprecedented levels of unemployment claims.  

Since March 1st, the department has processed more than a million unemployment claims. That’s 10 times more claims than were processed last year. Spokesman Sam Salustro said a key focus has been upgrading state systems to process the filings.

Political partisanship remains an obstacle to further economic aid during the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s according to Northern Illinois University Professor of Economics Carl Campbell.  He said assistance programs started out smoothly, but the climate in Washington has changed.

“I think there’s been a lot of partisan disagreement lately that’s basically made it harder for the government to do anything that will help the situation," he said. "I think there’s too much disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over which sectors are most deserving of funds.” 

www.cheribustos.com

Illinois U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos is pushing for expansion of health insurance enrollment during the Covid-19 pandemic. She made the comment after leaving a House hearing Wednesday regarding the successor to the CARES Act.

“I believe it’s shortsighted of the Trump administration not to reopen the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act when we’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.” 

An Illinois church is appealing a decision that upholds Governor J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order for religious gatherings.

Pastor Stephen Cassell with the Beloved Church of Lena sought a temporary restraining order so it could hold in-person services. Over the weekend, a judge ruled the governor’s order is constitutional in order to prevent mass infections and death. Senior Counsel Peter Breen is with the Thomas More Society, which is representing the church. He said the current limit on attendees in the coronavirus executive order violates religious freedom. 

Winnebago County announced 54 new COVID-19 cases Monday, putting the total number of cases at 616.  Dr. Sandra Martell is with the Winnebago County Health Department. She said many of these cases were in areas of concern, such as nursing homes. 

"I want to remind the public, we anticipated more cases with more testing, and our modeling indicated this time frame would be our peak, even with social distancing practices in place," Martell said. "So we continue to monitor and watch over the next week.”

Northern Illinois University

The Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University is taking a look at what lies ahead as lockdown restrictions loosen.

CGS has been at NIU for more than 50 years. Its researchers have conducted studies on issues related to the economy, politics, community, and the workforce.  Dr. Norman Walzer is a senior research scholar at CGS with a background in economics. He said current studies aren’t looking as much at the immediate consequences of COVID-19.

senatordavesyverson.com

Illinois State Senator Dave Syverson said the lawsuits against Governor J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order reflect frustration with the lockdown.

Syverson admitted Pritzker and other State officials didn’t have as much information about COVID-19 when they first formulated the stay-at-home order.  The lawsuits, he said, are in response to a perception that State leaders aren’t listening to the concerns of constituents. Syverson said this particularly applies to small businesses. 

A nonprofit food provider is expanding its services to Rockford. 

Top Box Foods was founded by Chris Kennedy, a nephew of the late U.S. president. The organization buys foods from sources such as restaurant suppliers and sell preassembled boxes of groceries to residents. Kennedy said the decision to move to Rockford was strongly based on the economic situation there.

State of Illinois

Illinois U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos is calling the recent designation of the federal prison in Thomson as a quarantine location "irresponsible."

Bustos says as many as 280 new prisoners could enter the federal system through the facility located near the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois. She’s troubled about understaffing and lack of PPE at the prison, along with insufficient testing capacity. She’s also worried about the lack of local health care options if someone does come down with the disease. 

Chase Cavanaugh / WNIJ

Chicago Rockford International Airport has received $18.6 million in grant money from the federal CARES Act. Much of the money will be put toward operational expenses during the pandemic. Zack Oakley is Deputy Director of Operations and Planning for the airport. He said, with reduced passenger service, the airport is facing financial stress. 

"It’s not just the landing fee, but the parking and concession fees, rental car fees. There’s a lot of revenue that’s created based off passengers. Off cargo, our biggest generation is just the landing fee of the aircraft." 

Carl Nelson/WNIJ

Gas prices in Illinois have dropped significantly due to the coronavirus outbreak. The state’s current average is $1.79 per gallon, according to AAA.  GasBuddy Head of Petroleum Analysis Patrick DeHaan said the trend is being seen nationally.  

“The national average for gasoline stands at its lowest level since 2016, and will likely later this week be at its lowest level since 2008 -- a sign of the tumultuous times we live in where gasoline demand has been slashed by nearly in half,” said DeHaan.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $3.6 million grant to the City of DeKalb for public transit.

The money is part of CARES Act funding and will go toward ensuring the smooth operation of the city’s public transit services.  DeKalb Transit Manager Marcus Cox said the extra money is important, particularly in a time of reduced municipal revenue. 

“We are operating a $9 million a year operation that if other funds are impacted, than this will help, but it’s not the end-all, be-all answer.” 

Pixabay

Illinois Mayors are considering how their cities will eventually reopen as the State relaxes coronavirus restrictions. 

On Thursday, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced a modifed stay at home order for the month of May. Earlier this week, some communities were pressured to re-open small businesses. Mayor Greg Jury of Loves Park said any moves should depend on location.

IDOT

COVID-19 isolation orders changed how state agencies ensure the safety of the roads, and who travels on them.  

On a state level, traffic is down throughout the board, but that doesn’t mean state agencies aren’t active. Paul Wappel is a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation. He said workers are still engaged in maintenance work.

“Transportation is deemed an essential service. We are maintaining the roads, and the bridges, making sure they’re still in good shape.”

Illinois.gov

Business shutdowns have led to mass unemployment across the nation. The jobless are filing for benefits in unprecedented numbers, including Illinoisans.  

Before the pandemic, about 200,000 people applied for unemployment insurance across the country in an average week. That all changed with mass furloughs and layoffs. Carl Campbell is Professor of Economics at Northern Illinois University. He says filings  increased greatly in the first three weeks since stay-at-home orders went into effect.

“It’s been 17 million, so about 30 times what it normally is,” he said. 

Flickr user / kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop) "Vote!" (CC BY 2.0)

States are working to expand remote voting to address the coronavirus pandemic, but what’s already in place can differ widely between them. 

Voters in Illinois currently have the option of requesting an absentee ballot, without the need for a specific reason.  Scot Schraufnagel is Chair of the Political Science Department at Northern Illinois University. He says other states currently have an easier voting process than the Land of Lincoln.

The Winnebago County Health Department reported eight new positive cases of COVID-19 in the area  Monday. This brings the total number of positive cases reported up to 113. 

Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell says the rate of positive cases among tests has been on the rise. But she says they’ve become easier to follow thanks to community interviews and contact. She says those contacted by the health department have been very cooperative.

Susan Stephens

A student emergency fund unveiled Monday at Northern Illinois University aims to help with hardships related to COVID-19.

It provides up to $500 per student to cover various needs caused by the pandemic and social distancing. These can include the cost of technology to take remote spring courses, childcare costs, and emergency medical expenses. Assistant Dean of Students Kelly Olson said there’s been significant interest.

City of Rockford

Rockford’s mayor says city services have remained relatively uninterrupted during the pandemic. 

Mayor Tom McNamara said a key measure early on was making sure staff could take care of themselves and loved ones.

“Where we provided all staff 14 days of paid sick leave to ensure that none of them were coming to work or doing work while they were sick, or while they had a family member who was sick with COVID-19, so that they could focus on what was most important to them, which should be their family.”

Northern Illinois University is expanding its admissions campaigns further into the virtual space in response to COVID-19.

The university had already offered photos, overhead campus drone tours, and mailing campaigns to prospective students. But another focus is on making up for the “day visits” that social distancing prevents families from taking part in. Vice President for Enrollment Management Sol Jensen explains.

Winnebago County Health Department

A northern Illinois health department is emphasizing the importance of social distancing as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Winnebago County Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said it’s key to ensuring the county can “flatten the curve.” 

Steve Williams

A vintage machine built by a Rockford company is joining the permanent collection at the National Museum of Industrial History. 

Our story begins in Kalispell, Mont. with Steven Williams. He’s a woodworking enthusiast who owns a “shop” of sorts.

“People come to visit, they say you don’t have a woodworking shop, you have a museum," he said. "And so I buy old vintage machinery and I restore it to factory condition and I use it every day.” 

DeKalb County Health Department

Members of a northern Illinois health department held a web event Wednesday to answer questions about COVID-19. 

The event, part of Northern Illinois University’s STEM Café series, was an opportunity for the DeKalb County Health Department and the DeKalb County State’s Attorney to address resident concerns. Officials emphasized the importance of social distancing, and offered clarity on county testing, isolation, emergency response and the risk of exposure. The Department’s director of community health and prevention, Cindy Graves, explained: 

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