Covid-19

Spencer Tritt

Illinois K-12 teachers will soon get their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. They’re in Phase1B of the state’s vaccine rollout, which starts on Monday.

Griff Powell is one of DeKalb Public Schools’ interim superintendents. He said they’ve been informed that teachers will start getting their first dose of the vaccine soon.

CREDIT FLICKR/ISAFMEDIA (CC BY 2.0)

Back in March 2020, Taylor Boelte was finishing up her nursing clinical shift when the hospital told her she wasn’t allowed to come back. Not just her, all nursing students had their clinicals cut short as COVID-19 spread across the country. 

 

“Clearly the hospitals weren't prepared, and we weren't really expecting for COVID to have this impact,” said Boelte. “It just kind of came all quickly but I don't really remember there being like a huge panic beforehand. I think it all just came at once.”

 

The Winnebago County Health Department reported Wednesday that COVID-19 vaccination is proceeding smoothly. 

Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said among the different health care systems, more than 10,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered. During a COVID-19 update livestreamed on WREX, Martell announced 104 new cases.

"And unfortunately, we have lost two additional of our community residents, which brings our total death count to 380," she said.

Kishwaukee Hospital

Area health care providers like Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb are currently vaccinating their health care workers. Reporter Chase Cavanaugh spoke with Medical Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Bob Manam. 

Cavanaugh: With doses of vaccine now available in the hands of hospitals like Kish, what are you seeing on the ground in terms of vaccine rollout and distribution?

Spencer Tritt

Illinois made it a high school graduation requirement this year for seniors to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA.

Taylor Leach

This Week: Another edition of Student Teachers’ Lounge! Host Peter Medlin talked to Taylor Leach, who has experienced the pandemic as both a student and as a teacher. She just graduated with a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University and finished up student teaching at Kingston Elementary School in Genoa, Illinois.

Restore Illinois

The Illinois Department of Public Health and Governor JB Pritzker announced guidelines for the next stage of COVID-19 vaccine distribution across Illinois – Phase 1B. According to a news release, it comes building on guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

Spencer Tritt

During the pandemic, schools are seeing a significant teacher shortage, especially a lack of substitutes. They typically see a surge of subs and new teachers in January as winter graduates enter the job market.

But in 2021, it’s unclear if that boost will come for Illinois schools suffering staff shortages due to COVID-19.

On a special Christmas Day edition of Teachers’ Lounge: Rod Genandt. He’s been teaching 4th grade at Forreston Grade School for over 40 years in his hometown of Forreston, Illinois. He’s taught kids, he’s taught the kids of those kids and maybe even the kids of those kids before all is said and done.

He talked to host Peter Medlin about that, about the lack of men teaching grade school, how to create a safe and comfortable classroom for kids in a time it’s so hard to feel safe and comfortable.

Susan Stephens

Just a quick drool and you'll get results back in 24 hours. Northern Illinois University will begin using the SHIELD Illinois rapid COVID-19 tests in January. The saliva tests were developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Barrie Bode is the director of COVID-19 facilities at NIU. He says just remember not to eat, drink or use mouthwash within an hour of a saliva test.

Winnebago County saw two deaths and 160 new cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday. But with the first shipments of vaccines in local hospitals, officials are cautiously optimistic.

Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said there’s been a decrease in positivity rates, hospitalizations and no spike related to Thanksgiving cases. She said this could help in scaling back mitigation measures. But she cautioned that the public needed to remain vigilant.

Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs

Illinois State Representative Jeff Keicher expressed strong frustration Wednesday at the Pritzker administration’s handling of a COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

During a Veterans Affairs' Committee hearing, he chastised both the timing of the response and a lack of taking responsibility.

“So my question is, when is somebody going to stand up and own that we made a mistake, own what those mistakes were, and right the ship going forward?” 

On a new episode of Teachers' Lounge: Mike McHale. He’s a professor at Rockford University and a math and physics teacher at Byron High School. Mike is also a cross country coach and we talk about running during the COVID-19 season. He and host Peter Medlin chat about the potential closure of the Byron Nuclear Generating Station and the effect it could have on the school, community -- and his own personal connection to the plant.

The Winnebago County Health Department reported four new coronavirus deaths Monday. This brings the total up to 296 area casualties. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell also reported new cases in the area.

“We’re reporting 121 new cases," she said. "Our total case count is 20,043.”  

Winnebago County is one of 50 counties in the state with the highest death rate from COVID-19. Current plans would prioritize the first round of vaccines to these counties. Local health departments are responsible for these initial allocations.

Spencer Tritt

Most Illinois students have been learning remotely for some if not the entire fall.

Students of all grade levels are struggling with the academic and emotional stress of remote learning in a pandemic.

School districts have offered additional social-emotional support to try and help them manage the array of challenges.

Spencer Tritt

“Are you there?” Jen Cotovsky types into the Google Meet chatbox. Still no response. Then, finally, a new message pops up from the student on her caseload. Cotovsky is a social worker for DeKalb High School.

The student has their camera and microphone off, so the chatbox is the only way to talk right now. Those are the most challenging meetings she has with students. At this point, she’s used to talking to high schoolers with their camera off.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Due to the rise in COVID-19 related deaths in Rockford, local officials are turning to alternative cold storage options for the recently deceased.

Earlier this week, WREX reported that the Winnebago County Board was considering leasing a refrigerated truck to accommodate potential overflow of COVID-19 related remains.

Angela Fellars is a representative-elect for the Winnebago County Board and she said the new cold storage truck is already in Rockford and ready for use.

Richard Holinger.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week's poem is by Richard Holinger

The Winnebago County Health Department reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday.

This brings the total number of cases in Winnebago County to 18,804. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell also said there were seven new deaths.

“We must remember that as we go through all of this and we look optimistically to the vaccine, that it’s through this pandemic we have lost a significant number of our residents,” she said. 

Susan Stephens

After talking to school nurses and staff, Mel Gilfillan thought the Winnebago County Health Department’s statement that there were cases but no spread of the virus in schools was wishful thinking.

He’s the president of the Rockford Education Association. Those concerns were confirmed when Rockford Public Schools reported its first COVID-19 outbreak among staff at Spring Creek Elementary.

“The Spring Creek situation was just so shocking and upsetting to many people. And I think what it did was it just it stopped the zero percent spread in schools talk,” he said.

Peter Medlin

A new report reflects on the long-term cost of cutting education funding during past recessions and how Illinois can learn from those mistakes during the COVID recession.

The Partnership for College Completion argues that recessions are a rare opportunity to make college access and cost more equitable.

Mike Abrahamson is the Partnership’s policy manager. He believes the future of Illinois’ economy depends on how Illinois devotes funding to education now, when dollars are scarce and there could be budget cuts for schools around the corner.

Thanksgiving At Miss Carly's Going Strong

Nov 25, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

COVID-19 isn’t stopping a northern Illinois homeless outreach shelter from providing a Thanksgiving meal this year. Carly Rice is the founder of Miss Carly’s. Last year, she said they cooked over 50 turkeys.

“We were cooking turkeys for like a week. And it was a frantic frenzy to make sure we had enough plates and forks.”

This year, due to COVID-19, Miss Carly’s plans to pass out Thanksgiving-themed sandwiches with a side of cranberry sauce on the side. 

Spencer Tritt

Illinois has had a shortage of teachers for years now, and that extends to substitutes. But, during the pandemic, that pool of subs has dwindled even further. That made it challenging for in-person schools to have socially-distanced classrooms staffed at all.

Chris Mehochko is the regional superintendent for Kendall and Grundy counties. Regional education offices serve as the hub for subs, helping them with licensing and background checks.

Initial Vaccine Shipment May Be Smaller Than Expected

Nov 24, 2020
Blueroomstream.com

The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to the state of Illinois may be less than one-quarter of what officials had originally been told to expect.

Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Tuesday that the latest word from federal officials is that the first shipment may contain only about 80,000 doses, or one-fifth of the 400,000 doses that state officials were expecting as recently as last week.

Pixabay

The State of Illinois, through the Stephenson County Health Department, is sponsoring a community test site for the COVID-19 virus in Freeport. Anyone can get tested at no cost, even if they do not have symptoms.

Simple nasal swabs will be used for the test, and results will be delivered via phone call within 4 – 7 days. Persons are asked to bring their insurance card, if they have one; they can still be tested without an insurance card.

Blueroomstream.com

The state’s rolling seven-day average COVID-19 case positivity rate decreased by a half point Tuesday to 10.4 percent as hospitalizations continued to show signs of leveling, but officials urged caution ahead of the holiday weekend.

The 6,134 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Monday night marked a decrease of 37 from the day prior, while intensive care beds in use for the disease decreased by three from the day prior to 1,203.

Ventilator usage increased to a second-wave high, however, reaching 668, an increase of 34 from the day prior.

Blueroomstream.com

After Pfizer submitted its application for a COVID-19 vaccine to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week, Illinois public health officials have continued preparing locations to store and distribute the vaccine that could be released to frontline hospital workers in a matter of weeks.

NIU Continues To Pivot During Pandemic

Nov 20, 2020
Susan Stephens

The NIU campus community is coming to grips with a new normal of teaching and learning during the lingering pandemic. Classes this fall have been held remotely or in a hybrid format. There are restrictions on housing and activities. And because cases of the coronavirus continue to spike across the United States and here in Illinois, more are coming.

Abigail Anderson is a media studies graduate student. She hopes those measures will be enough to slow the spread by next year.

The Winnebago County Health Department Thursday announced seven new deaths in the county from COVID-19. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said there has also been a significant increase in cases throughout the region.

“We’re reporting new cases of 234, our total case count throughout the pandemic is 15,719.”

Martell and Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said there is going to be a significant step-up in enforcement against businesses that violate mitigation rules. Some measures include daily ticketing, closures and ineligibility for business relief grants.

Spencer Tritt

Illinois is in the middle of a severe teacher shortage, which also extends to substitute teachers. That problem has gotten much worse during the pandemic.

Amanda Christensen is the DeKalb County Regional Superintendent. Her office is the hub for subs, helping with background checks and licenses.

“I think that there's a greater drain on the system, and we certainly are not keeping up with the need,” she said.

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