Covid-19

Spencer Tritt

Steve Wilder has no idea what “normal” looks like in Sycamore. He started as superintendent for Sycamore schools in July 2020. He spent his spring frantically guiding his outgoing district through the first wave of the crisis while also trying to transition to his new position.

“There were times that I felt really helpless,” said Wilder. “Because those questions were coming and I didn't have the answers that people wanted that I wanted to be able to share with them.”

Spencer Tritt

Over 10,000 people incarcerated in Illinois prisons have tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic -- that’s one out of every three people serving time. Incarcerated students cycling into quarantine and isolation made it impossible for education services to continue in person.

@AuburnKnightsSB Twitter Page

“We’ve got to take it one game at a time.” “Play every game like it’s your last.” We’re all familiar with these coach cliches, uttered in every pregame speech from tee-ball to the majors. 

But Jessica Basford said this year when she utters those phrases, it does feel like they carry more weight. She’s the varsity softball coach at Auburn High School in Rockford. And she said that extra weight is because plenty of last year’s seniors played their last game without even realizing it before COVID canceled their final season.

Spencer Tritt

Today felt like the first day of school, even though Hinckley-Big Rock is eight months into the school year. That’s according to Jessica Sonntag, the director of student services there.

It’s the first day they’ve had all of their students in school all day. But, there are 20 students who have been in-person all day since last August: those who receive special ed accommodations for 70% or more of their school day.

Meet The Candidates For The DeKalb School Board

Apr 2, 2021
Spencer Tritt

A virtual forum with candidates for the DeKalb School Board was held by the DeKalb Public Library before the April 6 consolidated elections. The most pressing issue in the district was unanimous for all five of the candidates running for the three seats: COVID-19 and its academic and mental health impact on DeKalb students. 

Peter Medlin

The NIU Convocation Center in DeKalb is normally used for commencement ceremonies and Huskie basketball games, but it has doubled as a mass vaccination site since January. The arena jumbotron even plays ESPN for residents waiting in observation after their shot.  

Last week, the DeKalb County Health Department held four vaccine clinics at the Convocation Center. The department’s team has been assisted by two, 18-person National Guard teams who help with check-ins, second dose scheduling and observation.

Spencer Tritt

A year after COVID-19 shut down schools, DeKalb high schoolers are back in the building. And in just a few days, they’ll be back a full five days a week.

“Me and my friends had this joke until we got back -- spring break never ended,” said Abby Slater, she’s a freshman at DeKalb. As she mentioned, time moves differently during the pandemic -- especially for students who had their whole education experience thrown out the window and reassembled before it hit the ground last year.

Spencer Tritt

As students begin returning in-person, one of the biggest challenges they face beyond academics is COVID-19 trauma. Yasmina Sefiane is used to talking about the significant impact trauma can take on students and their learning. She’s the program director at the NIU Center for Child Welfare & Education.

She also helps run the Educational Access Project. They have advisors across every corner of Illinois helping break down the barriers youth in foster care face to succeed in school.

Claire Buchanan

Last year in mid-March, staff at WNIJ left behind studios and desks at the station for blanket forts and kitchen tables at home. Claire Buchanan brings us this reflection, one year later:

CB: Hi, I’m Claire. I’m the Morning Edition producer here at WNIJ. You’ve probably heard me on the air from time to time, but most of what I do is away from the mics. And for the past year, I’ve been doing that from my house. A full year in, I like to think I’m kind of a work from home expert. But I recently checked in with a veteran of the lifestyle to see if I have anything left to learn.

Spencer Tritt

A year since classes were canceled due to COVID-19, the DeKalb Public School District announced a return to full week in-person instruction. All grade levels will have the option beginning on March 30.

Last week, the Illinois State Board of Education reduced school social distancing from 6 feet to 3 feet. The move had a dramatic impact on the quest to return to in-person classes.

Spencer Tritt

Just open a window. That was priority one of the CDC’s first air filtration guidance last month.

Spencer Tritt

Last spring, while shoppers scavenged for toilet paper, schools scrambled to secure their own PPE and safety supplies.

Somonauk School District Superintendent Jay Streicher was trying to buy equipment for his students and staff before it sold out. Guidance changed so quickly, he says it was tough to even know what to buy.

Spencer Tritt

The Biden Administration announced schools still have to do standardized tests during the pandemic.

Lynn Gibson says even Illinois superintendents are about 50/50 on whether testing could provide helpful insight on how well students are doing -- or if it’s a complete waste of time.

On a new episode of Teachers' Lounge: Jackie Cleven! She’s a second-grade teacher at South Prairie Elementary in Sycamore and teaches at Kishwaukee College. Longtime Teachers’ Lounge fans may remember Jackie as the first guest who was ever on this show. She shared a personal essay about how she feels at the end of the school year.

Yvonne Boose

Governor J.B. Pritzker joined an Aurora coalition and VNA Health Care in an effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations for Blacks in Kane and DuPage counties.  

Black Vax Aurora was put in place to ensure that Blacks in the area have equal access to the vaccine.  

www.cheribustos.com

Illinois U.S Representative Cheri Bustos says it’s imperative that the U.S. House pass the next COVID-19 relief package.

The bill is known as the American Rescue Plan and will provide various forms of aid. Bustos said this includes funding for cities to address deficits and immediate need.

"Towns like Peoria having to not fill Fire Department jobs. In Rockford, they weren’t able to purchase new fire and police vehicles."  

Spencer Tritt

More and more Illinois school districts are offering in-person options as COVID-19 positivity rates continue to drop. 70% of students are now in a hybrid learning format. But many parents are turning to their school districts to ask for more in-person time.

Local businesses have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Seventeen percent of U.S. restaurants have closed due to COVID-19. They’ve swung from closed, to open with restrictions, to closed again -- and some have operated in spite of mitigation rules, potentially putting customers and employees at risk for the virus. 

The Federal Aviation Administration is offering grant funding to airports across the state to help with COVID-related expenses.

This applies to commercial airports and smaller general aviation facilities. Renee Riani is the manager of DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport. She said funding last year from the CARES Act addressed areas such as personnel costs. But the roughly $13,000 available this year will help with snow equipment.

Spencer Tritt

In the first varsity basketball game of the year, the gym was so quiet and the crowd so sparse, Auburn High School junior guard Robert Chaney could hear his mom yelling from the stands. 

 

The Knights came out slow but cruised to a blowout win against Guilford. Basketball is usually the longest sports season of the year. Get into a shooting slump? No big deal, shoot out of it, and be your best when the games really matter. Now, it’s one of the shortest seasons -- only about four weeks -- so Chaney says they have to keep their heads down.

 

Chase Cavanaugh

2020 was the year Chicago Rockford International Airport saw the single largest amount of cargo pass through. 

Last year, 2.7 billion pounds of cargo transported to and travel through the facility. This is compared to 2.3 billion in 2019. Deputy Director of Operations and Planning Zach Oakley said it’s a sign of local economic growth.

Chase Cavanaugh

2020 was the year Chicago Rockford International Airport saw the single largest amount of cargo pass through. 

Last year, 2.7 billion pounds of cargo transported to and travel through the facility. This is compared to 2.3 billion in 2019. Deputy Director of Operations and Planning Zach Oakley said it’s a sign of local economic growth.

Boone County Health Department

Boone County is beginning to expand its COVID-19 vaccination efforts to workers in manufacturing. 

 

 

Manufacturers are partnering with the Boone County Health Department to deliver vaccinations to their employees. Amanda Mehl, with the BCDH, said these workers are among the most likely to contract the coronavirus. 

 

“Over the last 10-and-a-half months, we have identified that the number one exposure location for individuals here in Boone County has been in a factory setting,” said Mehl. 

Provided by Marcos Lara.

The pandemic has hammered the art industry’s finances. The effect was felt across the field according to a report by Americans for the Arts. But one Rockford artist couple found ways to keep each other going after their main sources of income temporarily disappeared.  

The Winnebago County Health Department announced mixed progress this week when it comes to COVID-19.

At a Wednesday press conference covered by WREX-TV, the Department noted that it did not receive its allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine this week. So they had to postpone some residents’ appointments as a result. However, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara complimented a low positivity rate of 4.4% .

Spencer Tritt

The Biden Administration wants to reopen all schools within his first 100 days in office, but around half of all Illinois students are still learning remotely. DeKalb Public Schools is transitioning students to a partially in-person hybrid schedule for the first time since the pandemic began.

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, Illinois is lagging behind most states. DeKalb County is in Phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. That includes people 65 and older as well as frontline workers and educators.

On a new episode of Teachers' Lounge: Shelly Tranchita! She’s a physical education teacher at Sycamore High School. We talked about how physical health is a vehicle for mental health, and how she focuses on mind and body wellness in her classes. With the trauma her students have endured during the pandemic, she’s started teaching about meditation along with the physical fitness. We also talk about what a virtual or socially-distant P.E. class even looks like. Hint: lots of masks and open windows for air circulation, even during the winter!

The Winnebago County Health Department says vaccination efforts against COVID-19 continue. Meanwhile, the area’s positivity rate for the coronavirus has shrunk.

The Department reported 69 new cases of COVID-19, but no new deaths. Furthermore, the area’s positivity rate is only 4.7%. At a press conference carried by WREX-TV, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara praised this milestone.

Spencer Tritt

Before the pandemic, Shelly Tranchita would walk around her packed, sweaty P.E. class shouting affirmations and helping students with their yoga poses. Now, for the first time during COVID-19, Sycamore High School is back in-person on a hybrid schedule. Her class looks a lot different now.

“The temperature today was 6 [degrees] and I have fans on in the indoor gyms that I'm in that don't have outside circulation. I wear two masks. I wear a microphone all day long so I can project my voice without yelling and spreading more aerosols, more germs,” she said.

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