CHICAGO - Governor JB Pritzker has announced he is shutting down all schools in Illinois, private and public, until the end of the month because of coronavirus.
Pritzker made the announcement late Friday afternoon at a press conference with other state officials.
All Illinois schools, grades K-12, will be closed starting Tuesday, March 17 and are set to resume March 30. This includes Chicago Public Schools.
“None of the choices that we have had to make over the last week have been easy or simple,” Pritzker said. “All of these choices have cascading effects.”
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike also announced 14 additional cases of coronavirus in Illinois, bringing the state total to 46. It's the largest single-day jump in cases for Illinois so far.
All news cases announced Friday are in the Chicago/Cook County area, besides one in Lake County.
“Having the general public stay home one day at a time will have a massive effect on bending this curve,” Pritzker said on Friday. “And that means lives saved.”
The school cancellations are the latest blow to Chicago families, where students were kept out of classes earlier in the school year by an 11-day strike by the district’s more than 21,000 teachers. About 70% of the district’s students are eligible for meals at school based on their families’ incomes, making them particularly vulnerable to disruptions.
Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Janice Jackson told reporters Friday evening that all district schools and offices will be closed Tuesday for everyone with the exception of essential personnel.
“The district will be providing meals to all of our students and families,” Jackson said. “All of our CPS locations will be food distribution centers beginning on Tuesday, March 17 at 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. every single day throughout the closure. Families will be able to pick up three days’ worth of food at any given time for each child that lives in their household.”
Learning packets for students will be available Monday.
Full-time and regularly scheduled district staff will be paid throughout the closure, Jackson said. Most central office staff will be asked to work remotely.
Pritzker said state officials are working to plan food delivery to students’ homes or to neighborhood facilities around the state. He also said the state has granted access to unemployment benefits to people unemployed due to concerns about the coronavirus.
State Supt. Carmen Ayala encouraged school districts to provide activities that students can do at home but said administrators for each district have “full autonomy” to make their own decisions.
“In light of (Pritzker’s order) the best place for our students to be is at home,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who also appealed Friday to the city’s business community to work with — and be flexible with — employees who are parents of students.
“These are not ordinary times and we need employers to be in partnership with their employees,” Lightfoot said.
Under new workforce policies, city workers impacted by COVID-19 will be given additional paid time off and permitted to work from home when possible, she added.
“No parent should be forced to pick between staying home with a child and earning a paycheck,” Lightfoot said.
***Pritzker's office released the following statement regarding school closures***
“All of these choices have cascading effects for citizens and vulnerable populations when it comes to food access, safety, childcare, and social services," said Governor JB Pritzker. “We’ve seen what happens in places that didn’t move with urgency. I ask all of you not to hesitate to do the right thing for your family, your friends, and your community. One small step at a time, we will get through this together.”
“We have seen evidence from influenza outbreaks that community mitigation strategies, such a school closures, have an effect on decreasing the severity of the outbreak,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “By taking these actions now, we hope to slow and limit widespread transmission of this virus, which is essential to ensuring our health care system is not overwhelmed as the disease progresses through our state. School closures will help slow the progression of the virus and we are asking for everyone’s help in reducing the spread.”
“This is an unprecedented event in our lifetime, and we will get through this together,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “Our administrators and educators have shown extraordinary leadership during a time of very difficult decisions. Schools closing will affect each community differently, and I want our teachers, our students, and our families to know that the Illinois State Board of Education is open and is here to help.”
Following extensive state-level analysis of coronavirus spread in various countries and the social distancing measures that were put in place, the State is taking the precautionary measure of closing all K-12 schools in the state of Illinois from March 17 through March 30. Schools with a spring break that falls outside of this window should move their spring break to within this timeframe.
The Pritzker administration is working to ensure critical support functions remain available to students across the state – including their access to food, child care and safe environments.
Gov. Pritzker has assured school administrators that the state will issue no penalties as a result of this closure. To provide support to school districts across the state, the Illinois State Board of Education will be fully staffed over the coming weekend and during the closure period to work through individualized issues and challenges in each district. An executive order to provide school districts flexibility during this period is forthcoming.
On Thursday, the Illinois State Board of Education was granted a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue providing meals to students in non-group settings. Students receiving free and reduce priced breakfasts and lunches will be able to receive grab-and-go meals each day, with some districts having the ability to deliver and others offering parent pick up.
The Department of Children and Family Services is working closely with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health to ensure emergency and preparedness plans are in place to keep youth in care and staff safe. All DCFS group homes will remain open and take extra safety precautions.
The Governor has also announced new economic measures to reduce the burden on Illinois families.
Gov. Pritzker and Attorney General Raoul have urged the Illinois Commerce Commission to immediately institute a moratorium on shutoffs for all utility companies across Illinois – including energy, telecommunications and water – until the state disaster proclamation has been lifted. The administration is also requesting changes to payment and collection policies to ensure Illinoisans aren’t saddled with utility debt as a result of COVID-19.
The Governor is contacting the leaders of Illinois’ utility companies and urging them to maintain services for all Illinoisans, regardless of their ability to pay, during this public health crisis.
The Pritzker administration is working directly with the eight major food banks across Illinois to expand services. The administration is reaching out to food manufacturers to ensure food banks are prioritized and can provide our vulnerable residents the food they need.
Earlier this week, the administration filed emergency rules granting workers who are unemployed due to COVID-19 access to unemployment benefits. The rules provide relief to people who may be restricted in the type of work they can perform due to the outbreak.
AVAILABILITY OF TESTING
The Illinois Department of Public Health is working with state labs and hospital partners to significantly increase testing capability. At this time the administration believes testing can be sufficiently increased to ensure the minimum level of surveillance testing needed to appropriately monitor the spread of the virus.
Gov. Pritzker is continuing to pressure the federal government for more tests to allow the state to deploy full surveillance testing.
HEIGHTENED VIGILANCE FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC
Vulnerable populations remain a top priority as community spread continues around the state, country and globe. Elderly and immunocompromised residents should take extra caution when attending gatherings of any size and avoid exposure to large groups of people whenever possible. The state has implemented new staffing procedures and strict guidelines restricting visitors at state-operated long-term care facilities and is also working closely with private nursing home and assisted living associations on the adoption of similar guidelines.
Anyone experiencing symptoms should stay home, call their doctor and plan a safe visit for examination. The general public is encouraged to take social distancing practices, including avoiding events of more than 250 people, working from home if possible and maintaining social distance (6 feet) from anyone experiencing symptoms.
The Illinois Department of Public Health has a statewide COVID-19 hotline and website to answer any questions from the public or to report a suspected case: call 1-800-889-3931 or visit IDPH.illinois.gov.
***End of statement from Prizker's office***
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Pritzker announced Thursday that all events having 250 people or more in attendance, private or public, should be canceled or postponed until May 1. He also mandated all events that would have 1,000 people or more be canceled immediately.
Lightfoot said all events in the city of Chicago that would have 1,000 people or more in attendance are canceled and banned, "period."
Pritzker also said he spoke with the heads of all major Chicago sports teams and asked them to cancel games, unless they can be played without fans, until May 1.
Pritzker also said he is asking every private business that is able to have employees work remotely to consider doing so immediately.
“I wish I could tell you that going about your everyday lives without adjustments was the best course of action right now,” Pritzker said. "It is not. And I owe you honesty.”
He says he knows some people will ask whether these measures are necessary in places that don’t have documented cases of the new virus, but says “we have seen what works and what doesn’t work in countries around the world.”
“Don’t be fooled into thinking that your community is immune,” Pritzker said. “It is not.”
At this time, there have been no deaths in Illinois from COVID-19.
Pritzker said Tuesday’s primary election will go forward, and he encouraged all election authorities to extend their early voting hours.
The spread of the coronavirus has made the University of Chicago to move to remote learning for undergraduate and graduate classes for the entire spring quarter beginning March 30.
The announcement came a day after Illinois, Southern Illinois, DePaul, Northwestern and Illinois State universities announced the suspension of in-person classes due to coronavirus concerns. Loyola University in Chicago also announced the cancellation of in-person classes. Western Illinois University said it is cancelling classes from March 14 until March 20, and that when classes resume they will take place online, until at least April 3.
The schools joined colleges and universities nationwide that have announced a halt to face-to-face instruction for several weeks to stem the spread of the coronavirus, now declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. None of the Illinois universities have reported cases of COVID-19 on their campuses.
Meanwhile, the Illinois High School Association announced late Thursday that it has canceled the remaining games in this year’s 2020 Boys Basketball State Series and other IHSA events. Earlier Thursday it announced it will significantly limit attendance at the remaining games in the tournament.
Games affected by the cancellations include the 2020 IHSA Class 1A/2A Boys Basketball State Finals on Friday and Saturday, as well as the remaining contests at the Class 3A and Class 4A sectionals, super-sectionals and state finals. The IHSA State Series’ in Debate, Drama & Group Interpretation and Scholastic Bowl.
“The virus is here in Illinois. While it may not be in your community now, we anticipate it will be eventually. We all need to take action now by postponing large events and restricting visits to nursing homes to limit the spread,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “Guidance for this novel virus is changing day by day, sometimes hour by hour, but we want to empower people to think about what they can do to reduce their risk of possible infection, as well as spread of the virus. The state will continue with containment efforts while also implementing mitigation strategies and we’re asking for your help in these efforts.”
About 29% of the cases in Illinois are associated with travel and 44% are due to contact with a COVID-19 diagnosed person, while the rest do not have a clear connection and could be the result of spread in the community, officials said.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, had said she expects the number of cases in the city and state to “continue to grow.”
"With these new cases, we are seeing more spread in our community. If anyone is feeling symptoms, if they have had contact, they should notify their provider,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parades would be postponed due to concerns over coronavirus.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
In the U.S., the number of coronavirus cases has topped 1,000. Worldwide, more than 119,000 have been infected, and more than 4,200 have died.
RELATED: CoronavirusNOW.com, FOX launches national hub for COVID-19 news and updates.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Associated Press and Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.