CAPITOL RECAP: State’s schools, restaurants and bars to be closed for at least 2 weeks

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker took an unprecedented step Sunday, March 15. to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic by ordering bars and restaurants in the state closed to the public starting on Tuesday, March 17.

Establishments will remain open to drive-through and delivery service, but in-store dining will be closed through March 30. Restaurants and bars were to close at the end of their business day Monday, March 16.

Schools will continue to provide meals to children, although classes in both public and private K-12 schools have been cancelled during that same period.

“I know how difficult this will be on small businesses around the state,” Pritzker said during his daily news briefing Sunday, March 15, in Chicago. “This is another hard step. But we must do everything that we can to safeguard the health and safety of the citizens of the state of Illinois. And that requires urgent action.”

Sunday’s actions were just the latest in a series of measures Pritzker has taken that, together, amount to what may be the broadest-scale shutdown of social activity in modern memory in Illinois, even surpassing the security measures taken in the immediate wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But the actions also are in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health officials who say “social distancing” is one of the most effective ways of controlling the spread of the virus, for which there is not yet an effective vaccine.

In addition to ordering bars and restaurants to close to the public, Pritzker also directed state agencies to scale down operations while maintaining core functions and essential services. That means select employees will continue to report to work while others will either work remotely or remain at home, on call. All state employees will continue to be paid during the work stoppage, the administration said.

Public and private Illinois schools will be closed for two weeks, starting Tuesday, March 17, and reopening Tuesday, March 31, per a Friday, March 13, order from Gov. JB Pritzker.

The move is the latest in a string of social distancing efforts aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, by limiting contact among large groups of people. Thursday, March 12, the governor mandated the cancellation of events with more than 1,000 people and strongly encouraged organizers of events with more than 250 people to cancel them.

The decision represents a change of position from Thursday, when Pritzker said schools would remain open at the discretion of local districts. Pritzker said state officials weigh the evidence daily, and he decided the risk of a student transmitting the virus to more vulnerable populations — such as elderly persons and people with compromised immune systems — necessitated school closures.

“I know a lot of people are wondering why schools, when we know that children seem to be less susceptible to COVID-19 than other populations,” Pritzker said at a daily news conference in Chicago regarding the spread of the virus. “But this is a critical part of our larger social distancing efforts. In addition to kids with immunocompromised conditions, we have teachers and administrators, parents, and the larger population to consider.

“I’m speaking in a very literal sense when I say that having the general public stay home one day at a time will have a massive effect on bending this curve. And that means lives saved,” he added, while acknowledging the “gravity” of the decision for the state’s 2 million students.

Pritzker’s message to residents was clear: Stay home.

“Once again, no matter how healthy you feel, if you can, stay home. If you are able to telework, do so. If you don’t have to travel, don’t,” he said during a briefing Saturday, March 14. “This isn’t forever. This is a sacrifice in the short term. … Every action that we take to control the spread of this virus and prevent our medical infrastructure from dealing with too many cases at once is an action that saves lives.”

In addition, the Illinois Secretary of State’s office said the Capitol and the Stratton state office building will be closed to the public starting Wednesday, March 18. Non-state employees will have to be escorted by a state employee to enter either building.

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CORONAVIRUS CASES AND DEATHS: As Gov. JB Pritzker announced three more COVID-19-related deaths and 134 new confirmed cases Thursday, March 19, he also expressly asserted that interstate highways, gas stations, grocery stores and other essential services will not close as a response to the pandemic.

“I want to address some of the rumors that have been running around,” Pritzker said. “Essential services will not close. Interstates, highways and bridges will stay open. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations – these sources of fundamental supplies will continue to operate.

“There is no need to run out and hoard food, gas or medicine,” he said. “Buy what you need, within reason. There is enough to go around as long as people do not hoard. We will never shut these services down.”

The governor made that statement at his daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago, where he also announced the three deaths, – a Will County resident in his 50s, a Cook County resident in her 80s and an out-of-state resident in her 70s who was in Sangamon County – bringing the state’s confirmed death count to four.

He also announced temporary tax relief for some bar and restaurant owners and cautioned that a shutdown of schools could last longer than a March 31 scheduled reopen date.

“I also think that parents should be contemplating the possibility that that might be extended,” he said of the scheduled March 31 return date.

Pritzker also said the state is “evaluating every day” as to whether a shelter-in-place order might be necessary, as, he said, experts are advising, “this is going to take longer than people have expected.”

Pritzker said the effort is largely aimed at staying ahead of countries like Italy, where there are more than 40,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,400 deaths. Social distancing, or staying home, remains the most important preventative measure.

Pritzker also said the number of confirmed cases – now at 422 – will continue to grow as testing ramps up. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s new website, coronavirus.illinois.gov, a total of 3,151 people had been tested in the state as of Thursday.

The state’s capacity for testing has increased from about 200 people per day to more than 1,000 on Wednesday, Pritzker said, adding it will be “two-plus thousand in the next few days.”

But, he said, the expected increase in coronavirus cases is also due to the virus’ spread, not just the increase in testing. He said the virus can also be spread by people who have it but have not been tested or have not shown symptoms.

“So we know this is growing substantially. And until there are more and more tests, we will be in this situation of just seeing the numbers rise because the testing is rising,” Pritzker said. “We hope that there will be a cresting. … In some countries in Asia, there’s been a cresting because they’ve implemented some of the measures that we have implemented here. We’ve done it earlier here, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to see a lot of cases of COVID-19, and frankly more deaths.”

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IDHS OFFICE CLOSURES: The Illinois Department of Human Services said Thursday, March 19, that it is closing many of its offices around the state and will reduce staff at other offices at least through early April due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

All offices of the Division of Rehabilitation Services, which serves people with disabilities, are closed until early April. People who receive services through that division are able to reach their local offices through regular office phone numbers, which can be found on the office locator website.

Family and Community Resource Centers, where people go to apply for services such as child care assistance, emergency food, cash assistance and a wide range of other services, will remain open but will operate with significantly reduced staff of 30 to 50 percent.

While those offices will remain open, the agency urges anyone who is able to apply for and manage their benefits online to do so through the Application for Benefits Eligibility website: ABE.illinois.gov. People may also call the ABE call center at 1-800-843-6154.

The agency said many staff who do not work directly with the public will be working remotely and will still be able to process benefits.

Although there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among IDHS staff, the agency said it was taking the measures out of an abundance of caution, and in conformity with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As we work in coordination with our sister agency, the Illinois Department of Public Health, we learn new information daily,” IDHS Secretary Grace B. Hou said in a statement. “We remain dedicated to finding the safest, most responsible way to keep life-giving and life-changing programs and services available throughout this crisis, but we need your help. If you can, I urge you to use our online resources or call by phone.”

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DONATE MASKS, GLOVES: The leader of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association asked other industries to donate masks, gloves, gowns and other personal protective equipment to the more than 200 hospitals across the state as they treat patients for the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

Health care workers are “in jeopardy of potentially running out” of those supplies,” A.J. Wilhelmi, the association’s president, said in a statement Thursday, March 19.

“With continuing uncertainties about global and U.S. supplies of face masks, we urgently need to find alternative supplies, no matter where they are, so our hospitals can continue to provide life-saving care to current and future COVID-19 patients,” he said.

Wilhelmi sent a request to dentists, veterinarians, construction companies and others who might have stockpiles of such equipment, which protect nurses, doctors and other health care personnel when treating and evaluating patients.

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DONATE BLOOD:  The federal Food and Drug Administration is calling on Americans to continue “generously” donating blood during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A patient in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion every two seconds, according to the agency, and while officials support social distancing initiatives, that need does not decrease in such times.

“People who donate blood are equivalent to those people who are working in a critical infrastructure industry,” Dr. Peter Marks, the director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement Thursday, March 19. “…They are contributing immeasurably to the public health of our nation.”

It is safe to donate blood at a center because “they are skilled in infection control practices,” Marks added, and centers have preventative plans to handle infection spread. Those interested could schedule an appointment and receive a call when the center is ready for the donor.

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CORONAVIRUS & PETS: The Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association said this week that no scientific evidence suggests pets can contract COVID-19. However, veterinarians recommend pet owners maintain “proper human hygiene” when tending to their animals.

Hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and other cleaning methods should be employed after interacting with pets, but ISVMA Board of Directors President Dr. Olivia Rudolphi warned they cannot be used directly on or around pets.

“The best practice that any pet owner can currently follow is to take care of themselves first by following proper personal hygiene when dealing with this outbreak,” Rudolphi said. “… Limiting your pet’s exposure to individuals and other pets will help keep coronavirus — or any pathogen — from spreading from host to host, be it human or animal.”

She added owners should avoid kisses from and sharing beds with pets, especially if people in the household are showing signs of illness.

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CORONAVIRUS & UTILITIES: Attorney General Kwame Raoul urged Illinoisans to contact his office about utility disconnections or disruptions.

Utility companies were mandated to delay service disconnections and waive late fees by an Illinois Commerce Commission emergency order issued Wednesday, March 18. That moratorium applies to electric gas, water and sewage services.

“It is important that Illinois residents follow guidance issued by public health authorities in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which may mean staying home — potentially for extended periods of time,” Raoul said in a written statement Thursday, March 19. “Being shut off from utility service is the last thing people should worry about as they work remotely, care for vulnerable populations, or self-quarantine.”

The commission’s order applies to public companies in Illinois, not to municipally-owned ones. The attorney general asked those entities to comply with the moratorium anyway.

Residents who experience issues may contact Raoul’s office at his website: https://ccformsubmission.ilattorneygeneral.net.

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MARIJUANA GUIDANCE: Illinois officials issued guidance Tuesday, March 17, allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell products on the curb or in parking lots adjacent to their stores. Recreational product sales must still be made in a “limited access area.”

The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation also instructed staff to keep customers at least six feet from one another, and mandated facilities to regularly clean surfaces most touched by customers, including door handles and ordering screens.

“Our top priority is to minimize the risk of and protect as many people from exposure to COVID-19,” Toi Hutchinson, Govenor JB Pritzker’s senior advisor for cannabis control, said in a statement. “These steps prioritize that critical objective, while also ensuring medical patients have access to the medicine they need.”

A provision in the statute legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana requires dispensaries keep enough product for medical patients at all times, at least eight facilities opted not to continue selling to recreational customers, a spokesperson said.

IDFPR inspectors “will continue to monitor cameras inside dispensaries daily to ensure continued compliance” with the department’s rules, according to a news release. “IDFPR expects dispensaries to answer inspectors’ calls or call them back promptly,” it added.

Cannabis Business Association of Illinois Executive Director Pamela Althoff said the guidance was issued after collaboration between the industry and Pritzker’s administration.

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LAWMAKERS’ RETURN POSTPONED: Next week’s legislative session is canceled, and, like nearly all routines amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear when its schedule will return to normalcy.

Jessica Basham, chief of staff to House Speaker Michael Madigan, reiterated in an email to state representatives Wednesday, Mach 18, that the House’s session schedule remains “in flux” and lawmakers “should be prepared to return to Springfield to address urgent matters.”

“Generally, members should be re-evaluating any and all travel plans, including those made for the weeks of April 5 and April 12 (the legislative spring break),” she said in the email. “This is not only due to the need to practice social distancing to safeguard the health of our communities, but also due to the possible need to return to Springfield for session during that time period.”

The Senate on Wednesday distributed a letter canceling its legislative session next week as well, with a tentative return date set for Tuesday, March 31.

Deadlines for moving legislation in each chamber have been extended as well.

In his daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday in Murphysboro, Gov. JB Pritzker said it would be up to the legislative leaders to decide when session will occur, and he noted “things have evolved rapidly.”

He said session brings not just the 177 lawmakers in the state to the Capitol, but staff, lobbyists and others as well.

“And that’s a gathering that is suggested not to happen according to all the guidelines and of course the order that I gave here in Illinois,” he said.

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NO REMOTE SESSIONS: Although many Illinoisans are being urged to work remotely from home during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, that does not appear to be an option for state lawmakers.

A spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon said in an email that Article IV, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution says sessions of each house of the General Assembly must be open to the public unless two-thirds of the members vote to close them. He also pointed to a state law that says legislative sessions must be held “in the seat of government,” which is Springfield.

That statute goes on to say the governor may convene a session “at some other place when it is necessary, in case of pestilence or public danger.”  Arguably, the COVID-19 epidemic might meet that standard, but the spokesman said the words “some other place” would most likely be interpreted to mean some other physical location.

Both the House and Senate have announced they will not meet next week, marking the second straight week the session has been put on hold due to the public health concerns.

Earlier this week, Gov. JB Pritzker issued an executive order suspending portions of the Illinois Open Meetings Act so local governments and other public boards could hold remote meetings. But the General Assembly is not covered by the Open Meetings Act.

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PRITZKER’S AUTHORITY: Since Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker declared a state of emergency March 9, all public and private schools have closed, restaurants and bars have shuttered to sit-down customers, gatherings of more than 50 people have been canceled and the state employee workforce was cut to only its essential numbers.

Granting the governor and Illinois Department of Public Health these powers are two statutes — one effective during times of disaster and the other when a health situation demands certain actions.

When Pritzker signed the the disaster proclamation to mitigate the potential effects of COVID-19 — “a novel severe acute respiratory illness that can spread among people through respiratory transmissions and present with symptoms similar to those of influenza” — on Illinoisans, he activated provisions of the Emergency Management Agency Act.

Chiefly, that law created the Illinois Emergency Management Ageny, once called the Illinois Emergency Service and Disaster Agency, to better prepare for and coordinate state actions in response to a disaster.

And for at least 30 days, it allows Pritzker to: manage who enters and leaves the state and who can travel within it; appropriate resources as needed; acquire “any personal property as may be necessary;” and block price increases for materials, among other abilities.

Several additions to the law were added in 2004 through legislation sponsored by Chicago Democratic Sen. Sara Feigenholtz when she was a representative and then-Sen. Barack Obama.

The changes were modeled after an initiative drafted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “ensure that there could be an effective response to an incidence of bioterrorism,” Obama said then. It passed the House and Senate unanimously.

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FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE: Amid widespread closures and event cancellations in response to the novel coronavirus disease pandemic, businesses and governments of all sizes and levels are feeling the financial stress and considering steps forward.

The federal government on Tuesday, March 17, began debate of an $850 billion stimulus package which could include checks written to all Americans at the urging of President Donald Trump. Another federal bill to provide paid sick leave to workers among other provisions awaits action in the U.S. Senate.

Nearly two weeks ago, Congress approved and Trump signed an $8.3 billion supplemental coronavirus response funding bill, which will provide $14.6 million to the state’s public health department and $8.7 million to Chicago’s. The money can be used for patient monitoring, lab testing, acquisition of test kits and protective equipment, and research into vaccines and therapeutics.

In Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker has urged stronger action from the federal government while also taking COVID-19 response steps at the state level. He noted Tuesday the administration will file for statewide eligibility in a federal loan program for small businesses facing financial hardship.

“My Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has secured the necessary documentation to declare a statewide Economic Injury Declaration with the U.S. Small Business Association,” Pritzker said.  “The SBA is offering coronavirus disaster assistance loans to help impacted companies get through this period of instability, and this will ensure that all of our counties qualify for assistance.”

Eligible small business or nonprofits could receive up to $2 million that can be used to pay debts, payroll and other bills they can’t otherwise afford due to the pandemic. The interest rate is 3.75 percent for businesses and 2.75 percent for nonprofits, and terms can be as long as 30 years, according to the governor’s office.

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LARGE EVENTS BANNED:  Events attended by more than 50 people are banned in Illinois as part of a statewide near-shutdown aimed at slowing the spread of novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, but there is no need to hoard toilet paper and like supplies.

That message came from Gov. JB Pritzker and public health officials on Monday, March 16, in the eighth straight daily briefing on the spread of COVID-19 since the governor declared a state of emergency on Monday, March 9.

Pritzker said the new 50-person limit on events complies with updated U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. The executive order implementing it applies to faith-based organizations, fitness centers, private clubs, theaters and any others that would bring 50 people in close quarters.

However, it specifically allows groceries, pharmacies, gas stations, hospitals, shelters, banks and credit unions to stay open. Pritzker said he did not foresee any closure of the facilities exempted in the order, although he acknowledged circumstances change daily.

“Obviously the fundamental functions that people need,… being able to put gas in your car and all that, I cannot anticipate, I do not anticipate that we’ll be doing anything that will prevent people from getting in their own car if they absolutely need to,” he said.

“I would suggest to people they should stay home, but they may need to go to the grocer, they may need to go somewhere else, to go to a doctor, perhaps, so we’re not going to prevent any of that,” he added. “But I will say that I don’t know what the next day will bring. I mean, as you’ve seen, we’ve had to evolve as the science has evolved.”

Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau said despite the precautionary measures to halt the spread of the virus, residents should not hoard supplies.

“There is no need to purchase dozens of packages of toilet paper at any one time,” she said. “Let me be clear — hoarding is irresponsible. Please be considerate with others. … When people go out and buy more than they really need, they are hurting our most vulnerable neighbors. Please stop buying more than you need.”

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SCHOOLS CLOSED:  Public and private Illinois schools will be closed for two weeks, starting Tuesday, March 17, and reopening Tuesday, March 31, per a Friday, March 13, order from Gov. JB Pritzker.

The move is the latest in a string of social distancing efforts aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, by limiting contact among large groups of people. Thursday, March 12, the governor mandated the cancellation of events with more than 1,000 people and strongly encouraged organizers of events with more than 250 people to cancel them.

The decision to close schools represents a change of position from Thursday, when Pritzker said schools would remain open at the discretion of local districts. Pritzker said state officials weigh the evidence daily, and he decided the risk of a student transmitting the virus to more vulnerable populations — such as elderly persons and people with compromised immune systems — necessitated school closures.

“I know a lot of people are wondering why schools, when we know that children seem to be less susceptible to COVID-19 than other populations,” Pritzker said at a daily news conference in Chicago regarding the spread of the virus. “But this is a critical part of our larger social distancing efforts. In addition to kids with immunocompromised conditions, we have teachers and administrators, parents, and the larger population to consider.

“I’m speaking in a very literal sense when I say that having the general public stay home one day at a time will have a massive effect on bending this curve. And that means lives saved,” he added, while acknowledging the “gravity” of the decision for the state’s 2 million students.

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TEACHERS’ PAY: Illinois teachers and other public school employees will continue to be paid while schools are closed and they will not have to use vacation days or sick leave to account for their absence.

Instead, the days off will be counted “Act of God” days and employees will be paid as if they were performing normal duties.

That was part of a deal announced Tuesday, March 17, between the state’s two major teachers’ unions and associations representing school administrators and principals that was negotiated by the Pritzker administration and the Illinois State Board of Education.

School employees may, however, be asked to perform some work-related duties during the period although details of that work will have to be negotiated through mutual agreement.

“These are unprecedented times, but we are all together with the goal of caring for students,” the groups said in a joint statement. “Our organizations are truly inspired by the phenomenal cooperation shown across the state and encourage all of our members to be reasonable, creative, and generous while determining what’s best for our students in Illinois.”

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DRIVERS FACILITIES CLOSED:  Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White announced all offices under his purview, including driver services facilities, will be closed from Tuesday, March 17, through March 31.

A spokesperson said the hope is for services to resume April 1. Other offices closed include that of the Secretary of State Police and Illinois Securities Department.

Only “skeleton crews” of necessary employees will remain at work, the spokesperson said.

For anyone whose driver’s license, for instance, expires during that time period, White’s office said in a news release not to worry — the secretary of state is asking for the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules to extend those expiration dates by 30 days.

“After careful consideration, it is clear that this decision to close offices and driver services facilities is the right one to make for the health and safety of Illinoisans,” White said in a statement. “This important action will help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Illinoisans can visit www.cyberdriveillinois.com to get a duplicate driver’s license and renew their vehicle registration.

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PUBLIC MEETINGS:  Gov. JB Pritzker used his emergency powers Monday, March 16, to waive a portion of the Illinois Open Meetings Act to allow local governments and other public bodies to hold “remote” meetings to help control the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

The order waives a portion of the Open Meetings Act that requires a quorum of members of a public body be “physically present” at the meeting location, and limits the circumstances under which an individual member may take part by video or audio conference.

It applies to city councils, county boards, school boards and all other public bodies of state and local government.

Don Craven, legal counsel to the Illinois Press Association, noted in an email that Pritzker did not suspend other provisions of the Open Meetings Act that require public notice be given of all meetings and that require meetings to be open and accessible to the public and press.

“He did not suspend the requirement that the meeting be held in a place open and accessible to the public,” Craven said in the memo. “He did not suspend the requirement that the public be allowed to address the board, which means that there has to be a way for the public to participate by phone.”

The Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to provide public notice of a meeting, including the agenda, at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting. Craven encouraged all news outlets that cover those meetings to immediately submit requests for notice of any special, emergency or regular meeting.

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RAOUL ISSUES WARNINGS: Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said during a briefing Tuesday, March 17, that his office has been aggressively investigating reports of alleged price gouging on certain products in stores and of illegitimate offers of products to cure or treat COVID-19.

“Let me be clear,” Raoul said. “I will use all the powers and tools available to my office to address price gouging in Illinois. The governor has set forth authority for my office to take action, if necessary, for any unreasonable increase in price of medical supplies, protective equipment, medication and other goods and services connected to COVID-19. We will also utilize our authority under the consumer fraud act to address any unfair pricing practice related to other products that is prohibited under the law.”

He also warned the public not to believe ads or buy products that are marketed as cures or treatments for COVID-19.

“These claims are absolutely false,” he said. “The (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has said that there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 or no medication approved to treat it at this point. People should ignore such online ads, delete email solicitations and report any scams.”

Finally, Raoul addressed the issue of people buying excess supplies of things such as toilet paper, paper towels and other products that have been disappearing off the shelves of supermarkets throughout the state.

“I want to implore people to act as one Illinois, to think of their neighbors, the elderly and others who are vulnerable and encourage everyone during this trying time to buy only what they need,” he said.

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GUN SALES: Toilet paper and hand sanitizer are in short supply at Illinois supermarkets. At gun shops, firearms and ammunition are flying off the shelves, too.

As the outbreak of novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, spreads through the state and the country, Illinois firearms retailers say sales of guns and ammunition have substantially increased over the past two weeks and especially in recent days.

“It’s a lot of a panic situation,” Jim Feagans, who owns J. Gooch Shooting Sports in Springfield said Wednesday, March 18. “Firearms and ammunition are going crazy.”

A spokesperson for Illinois State Police, which facilitates both processes, said the agency’s Firearms Services Bureau “has experienced a high volume of (FTIP) submissions” since last Friday, receiving 18,980 in the six-day span.

Feagans said his shop started getting busy Monday, on the eve of Illinois restaurants and bars closing to dine-in customers and schools shutting their doors to students.

“I think … all of a sudden people realized, ‘Hey, this is serious,’” he said. “Everybody’s talking long term now. So now I think people are starting to get a little bit more panicky.”

Panic buying was also apparent at other Springfield gun stores, employees told Capitol News Illinois, including a pawn shop, chain retailer and a military surplus store.

“People are panicking,” an employee at the surplus store said.

Gun shops across the U.S. and in every corner of Illinois have seen firearm and ammunition sales increase, says Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. He said most purchases have been related to home protection.

“They’re worried about civil unrest,” Pearson said.

Illinois’ minimum age for buying a firearm is 18 for long guns and 21 for handguns and pistols.

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STOP HOARDING GOODS:  As store shelves across Illinois empty of key products during the COVID-19 pandemic, public and private-sector leaders are urging shoppers to put less stress on the supply chain by not hoarding items.

Since the pandemic intensified in Illinois last week, customers have been panic-buying and hoarding products like toilet paper, tissues, hand sanitizer, bread and pasta. Signs posted on cleaned-out shelves ask customers to limit their purchases of such high-demand items to a few or even one.

But perceived shortages of products are being caused not by a lack of supply, but by a panicked demand.

“This is an entirely self-created problem,” Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said Monday, March 16.

“There’s no shortage, there’s no need for hoarding, there’s no thoughts of closing grocery stores,” he said. “Just stick to your normal patterns, and there would be plenty for everyone.”

Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau echoed those concerns during a Monday press briefing.

“There is no need to purchase dozens of packages of toilet paper at any one time,” she said. “Let me be clear: Hoarding is irresponsible. Please be considerate with others.”

Despite the “tremendous stress” Karr said panic-buying and hoarding has put on inventories, he said supply chains continue to work normally.

“There is absolutely nothing deficient about the supply chain,” Karr said. “It is working. In fact, it is answering the call. But we would not have to be taking these extraordinary measures if people would shop normally.”

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NURSES DEMAND CHILD CARE SERVICES: Nurses “on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic” are demanding officials at all levels of government to ensure child care services are provided.

The Illinois Nurses Association, the industry’s union, said in a statement Monday, March 16, that the increase in cases of COVID-19 will fatigue the state’s nurses.

“As the coronavirus spreads, nurses will be called on to work more hours and extensive overtime and expose themselves to the virus,” the association said in a news release. “… As schools are closed to stop the spread of this disease, nurses need child care to take care of their responsibilities at home, as they take care of patients on the frontline of this pandemic.”

The union is also urging nurses receive personal protective equipment as deemed appropriate by science.

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STATE PARKS, MUSEUMS CLOSED:  All state parks, fish and wildlife areas, recreational areas and historic sites are closed until further notice in the latest social distancing measures taken by Illinois officials to combat the spread of coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced the closure of the facilities in a news release Monday, March 16, noting all events scheduled at any of the sites are canceled as well. The department will “work tirelessly with the governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health to provide information as to the schedule for safely reopening our facilities,” according to a news release.

The Illinois State Museum and its affiliated branches will be closed as well.

The museum and its Research and Collections Center, both located in Springfield, will be closed along with the Dickson Mounds Museum in Lewistown and the Lockport Gallery in Lockport. All affiliated locations will close until further notice as well, according to a news release.

Last week, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield separately announced the closure of its facility to the public. All public events planned at the ALPLM through April 10 are canceled, and additional events may be canceled as circumstances warrant, according to the museum’s Facebook page.

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CASINOS CLOSING: The Illinois Gaming Board has ordered all 10 casinos in the state to suspend operations for 14 days starting Monday, citing public health concerns over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

“The public health of patrons, casino employees, IGB staff, and others is of paramount importance,” the board said in a statement Friday, March 13. “The board is continuously monitoring developments and will update licensees and the public as frequently as possible.”

Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter said in a letter sent to the casinos that before the end of the 14-day period he would review the public health situation and decide whether the suspension of operations should be extended.

The action was just the latest in a series closures and event cancellations that have occurred in the past week as the number of people in Illinois diagnosed with the virus has grown to more than 40.

Earlier Friday, Gov. JB Pritzker ordered public schools to close starting Tuesday, March 17, and remain  closed through March 30. He has also ordered the cancellation of public events that draw more than 1,000 people. And the Illinois General Assembly has said it will not reconvene until at least March 24.

Of the 64 cases in Illinois, about one-third contracted the virus from travel, another third were sickened from being in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and the remaining cases could be from community spread, Ezike said.

When asked if he would consider additional public health and safety mandates, Pritzker said his administration is “always looking at all the options,” but did not have any immediate plans.

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PRISON VISITS BANNED:  Visitors are temporarily banned from Illinois prisons “to prevent the potential for COVID-19 exposure,” the state Department of Corrections announced Friday, March 13.

There are no identified cases of the novel coronavirus in DOC facilities, according to a notice posted on the department’s website, and the restriction is effective Saturday, March 14 “until further notice.”

“We recognize the importance of visitation as an essential component of rehabilitation, family connection and quality of life for those in our care,” according to a DOC statement. “Our top priority is the health and safety of those who live and work in our facilities, and we are hopeful this policy change will be short-lived.”

Phone calls and video visits will be “expanded,” allowing for two 20-minute telephone calls and one 15-minute video meeting. It is unclear if those allowances will be per visit or only per prisoner. The department also recommended loved ones and visitors write letters.

Attorneys, who are still permitted to meet with their clients in department-run facilities, will be screened before they are allowed inside. Similarly, medical personnel will examine parole violators and new inmates.

The corrections department will provide staff with cleaning supplies, soap and hand sanitizer.

Illinois Newsroom reported Friday a department spokesperson said inmates are quarantined in 10 state prisons due to influenza, including 55 men at the Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois. That spokesperson also said Department of Corrections officials are not testing those in their care for COVID-19.

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SUPREME COURT PRECAUTION:  The Illinois Supreme Court livestreamed oral arguments scheduled on March 17 and 18, according to a news release, “consistent with the CDC’s directives to avoid large gatherings and practice ‘social distancing.’”

The state’s highest court encouraged other courts around the state to postpone case hearings and jury trials, for instance, or use teleconferences in a manner by which members of the public can still monitor proceedings.

“While keeping the courts available to the fullest extent, all proceedings must be consistent with public safety as well as any further policy directives from the Supreme Court and the local chief judge, as well as federal, state, and local public health advisories,” according to the memo.

Local court information about the novel coronavirus’s impact on facilities is posted to the Illinois Supreme Court’s website, www.illinoiscourts.gov.

In a note to judges across the state, the justices and chief justice wrote to “please employ a balanced and objective approach that considers both the uninterrupted administration of justice and the health and well-being of the judicial branch and its court patrons.”

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GOVERNOR’S MANSION CLOSED:  Tours and events at the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield were canceled, effective immediately, by the nonprofit board tasked with overseeing building in an announcement Friday, March 13.

Public surfaces in the mansion will be sanitized more frequently, and hand sanitizing stations were installed throughout communal areas.

“Governor [JB] Pritzker and the first lady take great pride in welcoming Illinoisans, and guests from near and far, to the people’s house,” Marilyn Cagnoni, a member of the Illinois Governor’s Mansion Association, said in a statement. “However, the safety, health, and well-being of visitors are their highest priorities, and we must all be proactive in taking measures to protect all visitors and staff of the Governor’s Mansion.”

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MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES: An advocacy group urged Pritzker’s administration on Friday, March 13, to ensure the novel coronavirus outbreak does not cause “any disruption to essential services” for Illinoisans receiving behavioral health care services.

Marvin Lindsey, CEO of Illinois’ Community Behavioral Healthcare Association, said during the state of emergency, restrictions on services should be eased.

“As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, we believe that now is the time for the Pritzker administration to develop a preparedness plan that will help to prevent any disruption to the essential services that have stabilized and improved the lives of individuals with chronic behavioral health conditions,” he said in an emailed statement.

A federal funding bill for coronavirus costs included a provision allaying constraints on telehealth services, among others. Lindsey said such measures should be extended to Illinoisans who need mental health risk assessments, medication training and daily prescriptions.

He also said certain Medicaid requirements should be waived.

According to the association, the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services did not respond to a letter sent Tuesday asking for these considerations.

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MANAGED CARE SHIFT DELAYED:  The state of Illinois is further delaying the transition to a managed care health coverage system for children in the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services, this time citing the COVID-19 outbreak as the reason for delay.

“Recognizing the unprecedented challenges families, medical providers, and state agencies are facing from COVID-19, the launch of YouthCare services for DCFS youth in care will be postponed a minimum of 30 days,” the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the agency that manages the state’s Medicaid system, said in a statement Monday, March 16.

Most Medicaid recipients in Illinois are already under a managed care system, known as IlliniCare. Under that system, the state pays a flat, monthly per-patient fee to private insurance companies to manage the care of Medicaid patients.

The state has been planning for some time to shift foster children and other minors in the custody of DCFS into a managed care system, YouthCare, but that transition was delayed several times. Those delays have mostly been out of concern that there won’t be a large enough network of participating health care providers that can serve the unique physical, mental and behavioral health needs of that population. And so, for now, they remain in a traditional fee-for-service coverage plan.

Former youth in care — those who have aged out of the foster care system or are now living independently — were moved into YouthCare on Feb. 1. The most recent target date for moving current youth in care into the managed care plan was April 1, but that is now being delayed by at least 30 days.

Officials at both DHFS and DCFS said Monday they believe the new coverage plan is ready and that the system now offers three times as many medical providers as the current fee-for-service system. But they also say the strains being placed on health care providers by the COVID-19 outbreak justify another delay.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

 

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