COVID-19 Informational Hub

WNIJ News and NPR is committed to connecting you with the latest news related to COVID-19 in northern Illinois and across the country. We are taking precautions to keep staff safe while providing you with the resources you need. Thank you for your continued support which allows us to remain your trusted source on the coronavirus pandemic. 

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.

https://unsplash.com

The pandemic has caused lost sales in several industries across northern Illinois, but one turkey farmer said sales are on track for his business. He admitted he’s seeing changes in other areas.

Robert Kauffman is the president of Kauffman Turkey Farms in Waterman. He said he wasn’t sure how the pandemic would impact his business. 

“I didn't know what to expect,” he admitted. “But I do know we're doing much more over-the-counter sales right now. More people are coming in buying products.”

NIU Today

Northern Illinois University’s president is encouraging the campus community to take further steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

During a virtual “State of the University” Tuesday afternoon, Lisa Freeman said the Thanksgiving holiday will be a challenge to contain the virus.

Susan Stephens

The Kishwaukee College Board voted to extend its president’s contract through 2024. It gives Laurie Borowicz a $10,000 base salary increase to $200,000 per year. The college also upped her employer contribution retirement match from 1-1 to 2-1.

Bob Johnson is the president of the Kishwaukee College Board of Trustees. He said she deserved the upgrades.

The Illinois Municipal League wants the State to form a working group of mayors and other local officials to better coordinate coronavirus response. 

The League says local leaders are being asked to enforce coronavirus measures without necessarily having enough assistance from state government to back their authority. IML Executive Director Brad Cole said on their own, these officials may have difficulty addressing violations from residents and businesses.

Northern Illinois University

A Northern Illinois University researcher is working on a less uncomfortable way to test for COVID-19. 

The standard test for COVID-19 involves shoving a long swab deep up a patient’s nose and analyzing the resulting sample. Chemistry Professor Beth Gailliard’s method would instead have a patient gargle a bottle of water and spit it back into a tube. NIU Chief of Staff to the President Matt Streb said the test is still in development, but could make the testing process less unpleasant. 

Winnebago High School Athletics

For the first time in over 20 years, cross country coaches Janet and Joe Erb were nowhere to be seen at the regional meet for the Winnebago High School girls team. Then again, some of their runners weren’t there either.

Just days before regionals, members of the team and coaching staff came in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Goodly Creatures, LLC

This week’s episode is with Katrina Syrris. She leads a double life. By day, Katrina is a high school theater teacher at St. Edward Central Catholic. By night and weekends, she owns and operates Goodly Creatures -- her theater production company.

She’s a producer, a director, a playwright -- the list goes on and on. 

Host Peter Medlin talked to Katrina about being an artist during the pandemic. Goodly Creatures lost their studio space during COVID so she’s had to pivot online both for her theater company and her high school classes.

Rep. Jeff Keicher

Illinois residents voted down the proposed graduated income tax plan. Some education experts were hopeful those extra funds could help restore a portion of funds lost due to pandemic revenue shortfalls.

State Representative Jeff Keicher wasn’t surprised the graduated income tax amendment failed. The Sycamore Republican says it was a matter of a lack of trust in the legislature and Governor J.B. Pritzker to spend that money wisely. He sits on the higher-ed finance committee.

Yvonne Boose

The pandemic has forced numerous faith leaders out of the pulpit and into the homes of many via computer screens and other devices. But for some worshipers, internet sermons just aren’t enough.

The King James version of the Bible said, “And he said unto them, ‘Go ye unto all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’” That’s Mark 16:15. 

Peter Medlin

DeKalb County -- like many counties across the country -- shattered early voting and vote-by-mail records. But that doesn’t mean the polls have slowed down on Election Day, amid COVID-19 safety measures.

Election judges at some precincts said that by noon they were closing in on full-day totals from the 2016 election.

“This is actually one of my first times voting,” said LeShawn Jackson. He was a part of protests in DeKalb this summer.

The movement for racial justice and police reform was a major reason he needed to cast his ballot. 

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