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. 

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.

On this episode of Statewide, a task force has been created to figure out the best way to get students back to college this fall.  We talk with a higher education leader about what's at stake and the challenges ahead.

And, high school seniors missed out on traditional graduation ceremonies.  For valedictorians, that meant not being able to stand in front of their classmates and deliver an address.  But they still have things to say and we'll listen to a few of them.  

Those stories and more on this week's Statewide.

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.

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 And thanks!

Claire Buchanan

Stage Coach Players community theater formed a COVID-19 task force in April to find ways to give back to a community they say “has given so much to them.”   

The task force is hosting a fabric giveaway and food drive each Tuesday at the DeKalb theater.

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.


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.


They say, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," but what does isolation do to couples and families?

Dr. Scott Sibley is an assistant professor in human development and family sciences at Northern Illinois University. He said practicing self-care helps couples and families stay strong while sheltering in place, but so does accountability.

"Too often, we have couples and families that just like to point the finger at each other," he said. "I think that's one of the things I see often as a therapist; just a lot of finger pointing."


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.” 


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.

Peggy Doty

The DeKalb County Community Foundation recently approved a $5000 grant for the DeKalb County Forest Preserves. That means Russell Woods Forest Preserve is getting a new field station. Peggy Doty has been an educator with the University of Illinois Extension energy and environmental stewardship team for 21 years. She wrote the grant proposal specifically for RWFP.

"In the summer, we have a lot of mosquitoes," she said. "We're right on the river, and I get children who come to summer camp, and we get annihilated sometimes."

The 11-county "Heart of Illinois" subregion plans to implement its own, speedier reopening plan independently of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's "Restore Illinois" plan, which lumps Peoria in with the Quad Cities and Rockford in reopening phases.

Wikipedia Commons

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.”


The Winnebago County Health Department received COVID-19 test results from the original state-contracted lab for tests done at the Community Based Testing Site located at the UIC Health Sciences Campus between April 24 and May 6. According to a news release, the health department is currently working to contact all patients who didn’t receive their test results from that time, regardless of whether the result is negative or positive for COVID-19. The release says the influx of new results will result in a higher-than-normal confirmed COVID-19 case count once the data is compiled.

Photo provided by Upstaging, Inc.

It's hard to say who misses live events the most. Is it the talent? The audience? Maybe it's the producers. For the Sycamore-based company Upstaging, Inc., they are high on that list, too. But once the stay-at-home order was executed, spokesperson Chanon DiCarlo says the nearly 40-year-old company turned from providing lighting and video systems for rock-n-roll shows to providing personal protective equipment for essential workers.

DiCarlo, who has been with Upstaging for 21 years, said, "It was an immediate pivot, with PPE being the greatest need." 

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.” 


Dixon’s imprisoned former comptroller is requesting an early release due to the threat of coronavirus.

Rita Crundwell is currently serving a nearly 20-year sentence at a federal prison in Pekin, Illinois.

She was sentenced in 2013 for stealing $53 million dollars from the City of Dixon over more than two decades.


Local officials across Illinois are preparing for the 2020 election amid concerns over how the coronavirus may affect the logistics of the election. Several voting locations used during the March 17 primaries have been linked to coronavirus cases. An election judge in Chicago died from complications due to coronavirus a few weeks after the primary.

Who Is Taking Care Of The Caretakers?

May 8, 2020
Photo provided by Kishwaukee Community Hospital

Hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors' offices take care of us and our loved ones, but who is taking care of them?

Melissa Butts has one answer. She is the co-chair of the grassroots organization Taking Care of Our Caretakers - DeKalb County.

TCOCDKC has provided meals, treats, and random acts of kindess throughout the community since March. Butts says many people are involved and though she is humbled by the response, she is not surprised. 

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.

Carolyn Olson /

We are living through historic times: How are you documenting them?

Art? Poetry? Photos? Music? We’d love to see what you’ve been creating during our stay-at-home order.

Send us your original poems, essays, and photos! Take pictures of your painting, drawing, sculpture, or whatever visual medium you’re working in. Send us a link to your performance of an original song. We’ll share them on our website.

Email your submissions to

Wearing A Face Mask When It's Not Required

May 7, 2020

All Illinoisans are required to wear a mask when they are doing things like grocery shopping, using public transportation or any other activity where they can’t maintain a distance of six feet. This order went into effect May 1. But what about other things like walking or running outside?  

Connie Kuntz

We have a winner.

"Stay Home Songs" is a songwriting contest sponsored by Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. It was launched in April to provide a creative platform for musicians to highlight the resiliencey of Rockfordians amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Nick Povalitis is the vice president of marketing and sports development for the RACVB.  He says there were 25 entries comprised mostly of individual songwriters, but, he said "a couple [of] bands, a couple [of] mother/daughter combos and a high school" also competed.

Rockford Public Library Offers Curbside Pick-Up

May 7, 2020
Connie Kuntz

Attention bibliophiles! If you like e-books, but have missed holding and reading real books, the Rockford Public Library is providing curbside pick-up by appointment at all of their branches. Bridget Finn is the marketing director for RPL and she says customers can reserve items through the website or by phone.

"After that," Finn said, "the staff will pull the items -- if they're available -- sanitize them, call the customer, set an appointment for them to come pick the items up, and get them ready for retrieval."

University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford

Coronavirus testing will continue at a drive-thru testing site in Rockford this morning, after the state health department and the Governor’s office intervened in a problem with receiving test results.

Winnebago County Board chairman Frank Haney asked for help from the state, saying 2,100 tests taken at the site at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford were “missing.” Haney said test results were not available after nearly two weeks when they should have taken only a few days. He announced Wednesday evening that testing would be suspended at that site.

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.