CHICAGO (CBS) — As concerns over the spread of the coronavirus continue to mount, Gov. JB Pritzker said Friday he is ordering all public and private schools in Illinois to close for nearly two weeks, starting Tuesday.
“This is the right thing to do to protect our students, and their teachers, and school workers, and parents,” he said at a press conference Friday afternoon at the Thompson Center.
Pritzker said schools would be open on Monday so teachers could distribute remote learning lesson plans to students. The governor said, for now, schools are expected to reopen on March 30.
“We will close all K-12 schools, public and private, statewide,” Pritzker said. “I understand the gravity of this action and what it means for every community in our state.”
The governor also stressed no school district would see its state funding cut as a result of his order to close. He also said the Illinois State Board of Education was working with schools and food banks to deliver two meals a day to the families of students who qualify for free school lunch.
Pritzker’s announcement came just hours after Mayor Lori Lightfoot had said she was not yet ready to close the Chicago Public Schools, and the governor was not pressuring her to do so.
— Megan Hickey (@MeganHickeyTV) March 13, 2020
While many school districts across the Chicago area already had announced plans to close to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Lightfoot had yet to order the closure of the Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago Teachers Union on Friday urged the mayor to close all CPS schools — including charter and contract schools — immediately.
The mayor was not at the governor’s press conference, and held a separate briefing with CPS officials later Friday. “In light of this order, the best place for Chicago’s children is at home,” Lightfoot said.
Chicago public health director Dr. Allison Arwady said parents will need to make a plan for caregivers that shouldn’t include grandparents, who are most vulnerable to illness.
The mayor urged all companies to review their employee policy to ensure Chicago Public School parents will not lose pay and be flexible on time off.
“No parent should be forced to choose between staying home with a child and earning a paycheck,” she said.
“We will put our residents first.”
Yet, despite the promise from Lightfoot, CPS parents will be scrambling. Their minds are full with worry about things like child care, not to mention, extra meals.
“I haven’t even thought about that,” said parent Jeremiah Crump. “It’s gonna cost a little more money.”
There is also a question of how students will get course work done. “I’m waiting to see what type of work the school’s going to send home to them to keep them on task,” said Lindsay Seals.
The Chicago Park District will keep its facilities open and provide programming for children. The Chicago Public Library will also be open and provide services.
Meantime, public health officials said they have confirmed 14 more cases of coronavirus in Illinois, bringing the state’s tally to 46 so far. Illinois Department of Public Health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said all but one of those cases are people living in Chicago and suburban Cook County. One case has been confirmed in Lake County.
State health officials say the vast majority of people are recovering. Nearly three-quarters of the cases involve people were were exposed to another COVID-19 case or traveled to an area with an outbreak. The rest could be the result of spread within their community. As of Friday evening, there were not reported deaths.
Read the full press release from the governor’s office below:
Gov. Pritzker Announces Two-Week Statewide School Closure to Minimize COVID-19 Spread, Additional Economic Measures to Reduce Burden on Illinois Families
Chicago — Building on state guidance issued yeste
rday to promote social distancing and minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, Governor JB Pritzker announced that the state of Illinois will close all schools from March 17 through March 30 and implement additional economic measures to reduce the burden on Illinois families. As of now, day care centers will remain open and will follow strict health and safety guidance.
“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.