coronavirus

State and local leaders are making decisions every day about the COVID-19 pandemic that are met with both praise and criticism. WNIJ’s Peter Medlin has the first part of our series “The Hot Seat” talking to leaders, like the Winnebago County Sheriff, about the process behind those big decisions.

Recently, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveiled an executive order to keep businesses from opening before Illinois reached the next phase of reopening. Business owners could be charged with a misdemeanor for violating the stay-at-home order.

Editor’s Note: WNIJ and our podcast Teachers’ Lounge are giving a platform for you to hear some of those valedictorian speeches. If you want your school to be a part of our special edition show, send us an email at teacherslounge@niu.edu. And thanks!

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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.

A Simpler Time Before 'Quarancuts' | Under Rocks Podcast

May 14, 2020
Spencer Tritt / WNIJ

On the second episode of the Under Rocks podcast, host Dan Libman, tech wiz Spencer Tritt and WNIJ correspondent Jason Cregier visited the Shabbona Barber and Hot Shave Parlor in Shabbona, Illinois, where Jason would receive the closest shave of his life.

This was back in late February, before the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic swept across Illinois. Now the thought of getting a haircut, let alone a close shave, seems almost foreign.

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In Illinois, public college and university students and their guardians will soon have a better idea of how much they’ve borrowed -- and an estimate of how much they’ll be paying back per month.

That’s thanks to a state pilot program. The letters relay information on federal, private and institutional loans.

Bobbi Smith is the interim director of financial aid at Western Illinois University.

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Illinois residents have been flocking to state parks as the summer months approach. As of now, 60 state parks have partially reopened since May 1.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Colleen Callahan says even though more people are visiting the parks -- sometimes for the first time ever -- the state has been a “model for reopening.”

Spencer Tritt

Last October, the State Board of Education showed nearly 2,000 unfilled teaching jobs and nearly 5,000 total education positions. 

 

Bob Sondgeroth is the regional superintendent for Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties. He says it’s likely the pandemic will worsen Illinois’ teacher shortage. 

 

“I honestly think that we're going to have some retirements that we didn't plan on,” he said. “They're going to decide it's not worth the risk.” 

 

Spencer Tritt

Around 60% of DeKalb students qualify as low-income, according to the Illinois Report Card. That means they also qualify for reduced or free meals.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, schools scrambled to keep providing food for students who rely on their district for much more than education.

Peter Medlin

Running is more than exercise, it’s therapy. That’s what Jonah Garcia says. So he’s training now harder than ever. Garcia’s a senior distance runner on Auburn High School’s track & field team in Rockford.

Like so many spring athletes, Jonah had his final high school season stolen by the COVID-19 pandemic. He says he was feeling good about the season and had personal records he figured he could easily break.

“I was hoping to go Division-1 and maybe try and get a scholarship based off of my times this year,” he said.

Spencer Tritt

Coronavirus has highlighted the digital divide among low-income as well as rural students. Schools that don’t send students home with laptops rushed them equipment so they could do their homework online.

School administrators say some parents claim to have internet access, but it may only be through a phone plan. Districts have distributed hot spots for families without a plan or where service is undependable.

Peter Medlin

Illinois students have been e-learning for more than a month now. Reliable internet connectivity is still one of the major hurdles for many rural districts.

Alex Moore is the superintendent at Montmorency. They’re a K-8 district in Whiteside County with around 230 students.

“On a good day, I get four megabytes per second download speed, so I knew that was going to be an issue,” he said. “About half of our families probably have decent internet.”

Even that “good day” download speed doesn’t meet the FCC’s minimum recommendation for e-learning.

Jim Kanas

On a new episode of Teachers’ Lounge, roots musician, jazz guitarist & music teacher: Jim Kanas. He’s retiring from DeKalb Public Schools this year and has been an artist-in-residence with the Illinois Arts Council at schools across the state.

Jim talked to host Peter Medlin about e-learning, being an artist outside of the big city, his passion for American music and, obviously, we didn’t have him on without making him play a little something.

Kevin Wood

I refuse to just grow a mustache and say, “Well, my time is done for a while,” and wait for something to happen. –Lincoln Presenter Michael Krebs

Due to Illinois’s shelter-at-home order, many of us are quarantined, working remotely or unable to work at all. But what about our Lincoln presenters? How has the coronavirus disrupted their profession, which relies almost exclusively on live events, many of them taking place in schools and senior centers?

Spencer Tritt

Schools across Illinois have shifted to eLearning. But making that dramatic change can be very complicated, especially with schools that serve under-resourced minority populations disproportionately affected by the virus.

Students at Youth Connection Charter Schools in Chicago are often from those groups. Some are homeless or young parents, and many work in essential positions that put their health at risk during the COVID-19 crisis.

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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.

Spencer Tritt

It’s unclear what COVID-19’s full impact will be on colleges in the fall. Some are re-tooling schedules in case they need to move online.

And many students are changing their college plans because of the pandemic.

Cathy Cebulski is a counselor at DeKalb High School. She’s been communicating with her students over email since they moved to e-learning.

“If students were planning on going away to college thinking that Mom and Dad both had a job and they're both laid off right now, that certainly is a concern,” said Cebulski.

Besides hand washing and social distancing, what are things you can do to boost your immunity? And if you do show symptoms of coronavirus, what should you do?

It starts with recognizing the symptoms. Dr. Andrew Oleksyn is the medical director for the emergency department at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital.

"Typical symptoms" he said, "are fever, cough, shortness of breath, and sore throat." He continued, "There's also been reports of loss of smell or taste, fatigue, or general malaise."

beloit.edu

Colleges and universities across the country are considering what summer and fall classes could look like if COVID-19 concerns carry on.

Beloit College officials already moved summer courses online, but knew they needed to be more proactive.

They met with faculty and decided to divide semesters into two condensed modules.

Eric Boynton is Provost and Dean of the College. He says it makes the College more flexible if the pandemic lingers.

Sarah Jesmer

Fargo Skatepark & Skateshop in DeKalb needed to pivot. Their shop was temporarily shuttered and their income slashed in half. But, even with stay-at-home orders, skateboarding itself isn’t outlawed.

So to stay in business -- and stay true to the DIY feel that runs deep in skate culture -- they started building and selling ramps so social distancing skaters can practice in their driveway.

Ariel Ries is the owner of Fargo. She says someone even installed one in their kitchen.

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A food processing plant in Rochelle will be closed down for two weeks by the Ogle County Health Department because of an outbreak of COVID-19.

24 employees at Hormel’s Rochelle Foods facility have tested positive for the coronavirus. Ogle County Health Department Administrator Kyle Auman said in a news release from the city of Rochelle, “My team has spent countless hours in collaboration with Rochelle Foods in an attempt to mitigate the virus spread. Since these efforts were unsuccessful, it is my duty to order a complete closure of the facility.”

Evadne Bowlin

This week, the Teachers’ Lounge is actually a Student Teachers’ Lounge. We have DeKalb Founders Elementary student teacher & Northern Illinois University senior, Evadne Bowlin.

Evadne talked to host Peter Medlin about how coronavirus affects her both as a student-teacher and just as a college student. We also got into her journey to education and how she’s kind of been a student teacher since the 7th grade.

State of Illinois

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced on Thursday an expansion of testing and testing sites for COVID-19 in the state.

 

According to a press release from the governor’s office, the State has partnered with Thermo Fisher to help improve testing capacities at Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) labs and across the state, and Thermo Fisher committed to prioritizing Illinois in its supply chain management. The State estimates that will lead over the next week to a new capacity of thousands more tests per day at State labs.

 

Illinois Child Care Bureau

While most daycare facilities are closed, some in Illinois remain open for families of essential workers.

KinderCare is one of the biggest daycare providers in the country. Around a quarter of its locations are still open across Illinois.

Dee Cottman says the company had to choose locations mostly based on their proximity to hospitals. She’s a district leader for KinderCare and oversees more than a dozen of its facilities in northern Illinois.

Ean Miles Kessler

 

Ean Miles Kessler is a Chicago playwright. He's originally from Hamden, Connecticut, but has also lived and worked in New York City and Miami. In 2018, he "made the leap" and moved to the Edgewater neighborhood in Chicago. "It's a great neighborhood in a great city," he said.

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.

Peter Medlin

The opening of trout fishing season is a very popular time at the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

But because “popular” means big crowds, the district was forced to close freshly-stocked lakes to avoid an influx of visitors.

Park districts and forest preserves across the country are cutting back services and closing facilities during the pandemic.

People are searching for ways to move around and get fresh air, and that can mean visiting a local forest or park.

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Small businesses across the country deemed “non-essential” are struggling.

Cindy Abel says this is the most difficult time she’s had as a small business owner. She’s the owner of Canine & Abel Dog Grooming in Rockford and Pecatonica. She has been grooming dogs for 50 years and has had a storefront for 30.

Business had slowed to a crawl even before Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order forced them to close both of their locations. She’s spent the last few weeks calling clients, canceling and trying to reschedule through an uncertain future.

On this week's Statewide, a nurse talks about the the risk of being on the front lines of the coronavirus fight. 

"As a healthcare worker, I think we're resigning ourselves to the fact that we're probably going to get it and we hope it doesn't affect us," said Thomas McClure, who works for Memorial Medical Center in Springfield. 

We also learn about a project to document how Illinois residents are coping during COVID-19. 

And, a group of neighbors found a way to gather for a block party - while still keeping a safe distance from each other.   

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could end up costing Illinois state government as much as $28 billion in revenue over the next few years. That’s just one of the key takeaways from the latest report from the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Veronica Storc

Have you seen visualizations of what the COVID-19 virus looks like under a microscope? It looks like a small sphere with little spikes coming off it.

Now picture those tendrils as human fingers clawing out of the center of the sphere. With universities across the state canceling in-person classes, Veronica Storc can't go into campus art studios for the rest of her senior year at Northern Illinois University. She made that sculpture in her apartment, illustrating how the virus and social distancing have changed our lives.

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