Chase Cavanaugh


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.

A recent bill signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker made Election Day a state holiday. But political science research suggests that isn’t an optimum way to ensure voting access.

Northern Illinois University professor Scott Schraufnagel said a state holiday doesn’t guarantee certain groups, such as retail and farm workers, actually get time off.

“And the people who would get the day off (government workers, school employees and so forth) are people who generally tend to vote anyway.” 

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As it has throughout the country, COVID-19 has brought significant unemployment to Rockford and its surroundings. The city and local companies are working to combat it.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security reports the area’s unemployment rate was almost 20% in May.

The Rockford Board of Election Commissioners announced that almost 46,000 vote-by-mail applications are being sent to residents this week.

Executive Director Stacey Bixby said the selection process was based on previous electoral participation.

“Those include anyone that voted in the general of 2018, the consolidated of 2019, and the primary of 2020,” she said.  

The Winnebago County Health Department Monday reported 53 new cases of COVID-19. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said this puts the total number of cases at 3,345.

“The positivity rate over our 7-day rolling average is at 2.6%, so well below the 8% we’re looking at if we have to roll back.

No new deaths were reported, but the county is putting Wesley Willows, an assisted living facility in Rockford, back on a list of sites of concern.


DeKalb will soon be home to a massive Facebook data center, and local government and business officials expect it to benefit the local economy. 

Facebook made the announcement at the end of June, and has begun construction of the facility on the edge of town south of Interstate 88. The response by the city and local business has been positive.

Bill Nicklas is the DeKalb city manager. He said the scale of the project is extensive.

The Winnebago County Health Department reported 55 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said the number of cases is a jump up from recent daily reports. The county’s total is now stands at 3,189.  

“The good news though, is that our positivity rate continues to decline. We’re at 2.9% for a rolling five-day average, but our overall positivity rate is 8%," she said. 

Wikimedia Commons

Public libraries are working to open up their facilities to the public again, even as they expand their offerings online. 

When Governor J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order went into effect mid-March, most businesses and nonprofits temporarily shut down. Jen Barton, the director of Genoa Public Library, said there wasn’t any specific guidance in the order for libraries.

The race for Illinois' 16th Congressional District pits a multi-term incumbent against a political newcomer in this November’s election.

The District stretches across 12 northern Illinois counties and has been represented by Republican Adam Kinzinger since 2012. He’s running as an incumbent this November but faces a challenge from Dani Brzozowski.

Tails Humane Society

COVID-19 has affected how animal shelters operate, and the demand for pets.

When the state started closing down in mid-March due to the pandemic, a lot of businesses and organizations had to adjust quickly. For Tails Humane Society in DeKalb, that meant shifting their cats, dogs and other critters to foster care. Executive Director Michelle Groeper said the operation was a success, though a bit hectic.

Northern Illinois U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger says the intelligence community needs to ensure the accuracy of reports that the Russian government has been placing bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The Republican received a classified briefing Tuesday and said while there is good evidence of the practice, there is also conflicting evidence.


Illinois unemployment in May was up -- way up -- compared with last year due to COVID-19. But the state reopening is bringing jobs back. 

Non-seasonally adjusted unemployment statewide was 14.7% in May. That’s up more than 11 percentage points from last year. The Rockford area saw the biggest jump, rising from almost five to more than 19%. Sam Salustro is with the Illinois Department of Employment Security. He said Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan is bringing these numbers down.

Rock Falls Tourism

The Rock Falls Chamber of Commerce is holding a ribbon cutting event for local businesses at the riverfront park. 

The event is part of an effort to bring back customers and restore their confidence as the state reopens. Chamber President Bethany Bland says companies will need to put in effort to attract customers whose entire routines have changed.

The Winnebago County Health Department announced Monday that there are nine new cases of COVID-19 in the area. 

No deaths were reported, but there is now a total case count of 2,903. The positivity rate is at 9.7%, meaning less than one in 10 coronavirus tests come back indicating someone is infected. 

The Health Department also announced it will list on its website businesses that have been issued orders of closure or validated complaints due to COVID-19.

Flickr user E Photos / "IMG_1927 - Power Lines" (CC v 2.0)

The pandemic and accompanying stay-at-home orders have greatly affected many regional services, including utilities.

Governor J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order and the accompanying months of social distancing have greatly affected what buildings remain open, and where people spend their time. 

Modern life requires electricity, and more people at home has changed how it’s consumed.  Aleksi Paaso is the Director of Distribution Planning at ComEd.  He said the times of day in which people use the most electricity haven’t shifted, but the system’s still been affected.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

COVID-19 has caused disruptions in how families get their food. That’s one reason why more people are growing their own. 

The concept of a victory garden dates to the Second World War. Food was in high demand, and canned food was rationed for the war effort. Sarah Vogel is an educator at the University of Illinois Extension. She said the federal government encouraged citizens to grow their own food and provided lots of information on how to do so.

The Winnebago County Health Department announced 9 new cases of Covid-19 and 7 additional deaths due to the coronavirus at a briefing Monday. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell explained.

“Four were associated with a long-term facility and they were ages 71-95," she said. "And once again, as we look forward to our newfound freedom of getting out some more, we mourn and grieve the loss of our community residents that have contributed to the building of this community.”


Public safety firm Yates Enterprises donated a thermal detector to the Winnebago County Circuit Court to help screen for COVID-19. 

The device allows for contactless temperature screening of people coming in and out of the court’s juvenile justice center. Trial Court Administrator Thomas Jakeway said as many as 200 people can come in per day, so screening for potential cases is essential.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that about $270 million of Illinois’ share from the federal CARES Act will go towards the Child Care Restoration Grants Program.

The goal of the program is to get child care services up and running as the state reopens so that more people can return to work. Pritzker said feedback from providers intending to apply is an important part of the program's development.

The Winnebago County Health Department has received a sum of money from the federal government to improve its contact tracing efforts. 

Publich Health Administrator Sandra Martell said $4.9 million will go toward hiring 51 temporary full-time employees for the effort. She says there will be a variety of positions, including clerks, disease investigation specialists, and epidemiologists.

State of Illinois

Illinois U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos is calling for a policy of testing all federal prisoners for COVID-19 before any transfer to another facility. She made the remarks after a situation that developed at a prison in Thomson.

“There were 19 inmates that came from the Federal prison in Chicago, transferred to the Federal prison in Thomson, and not all of them were tested," she said. "So what happens? We find out that two of them have COVID-19. They’ve tested positive.”

Craft breweries often have a strong presence in a community as both a place to drink and socialize. A pair in DeKalb County have been hit hard by the pandemic on both counts.

One of the biggest consequences of the coronavirus outbreak for businesses has been closures due to social distancing and quarantine requirements. Byers Brewing Company is based in downtown DeKalb, and before the pandemic, it got most of its sales from an indoor taproom. Owner Steve Byers said COVID-19 changed that.

Northern Illinois University

Research from a Northern Illinois University meteorology professor suggests carbon emissions could greatly reduce the intensity of winter weather.

The Winnebago County Health Department reported 69 new cases of COVID-19 in the area.

This brings the total number of cases to 2,062.  The number of recoveries is now at 640.  But Director Sandra Martell said it wasn’t all good news.

“Unfortunately and sadly, we are reporting four additional deaths, three of which are associated with a congregate setting. That brings our total deaths to 58.”

Progressive advocacy group REACT is holding rallies over the next three weeks in DeKalb to raise support for the U.S. Postal Service.

The Postal Service risks going bankrupt by September without federal support. REACT is encouraging the passage of the HEROES Act in the U.S. Senate, which would provide $25 billion in funds. Activist Cynthia De Seife says they have to limit rally attendance to 10 people each as a result of coronavirus. 

Flickr user 401(K) 2012 / "Money" (CC v. 2.0)

Various businesses will start reopening as part of the Restore Illinois plan beginning Friday. 

State guidelines vary based upon the business and area. Winnebago County Health Department Director Sandra Martell said some things will remain the same.

“Every single one of us needs to be masking and using face covering when we’re out in public, social distancing of a minimum of six feet, sanitizing surfaces, frequent handwashing, and staying home when you’re sick,” she said.


State parks and most other sites managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will reopen to the public starting Friday, May 29th. 

At the beginning of May, IDNR opened certain state parks to the public, in what it called a phased reopening. These facilities needed to have certain amenities, specifically flushable toilets and handwashing facilities with sinks. Park staff monitored visitors at these sites, and IDNR Director Colleen Callahan said the results were encouraging.

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.