CHICAGO (CBS) — Even with authorities encouraging people to work from home if possible, and to avoid gatherings of 50 or more for the next two months during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she does not expect to shut down mass transit systems in Chicago.
“We have to keep the public transit system going. I’m not aware of any public transit system in the United States, and I think only one in the world is actually shut down during the course of this pandemic. People need to be able to get to work. Lots of folks depend on public transportation to get to and from,” she said Monday afternoon.
Lightfoot said CTA, Metra, and Pace already are taking extra steps to keep buses, trains, and stations clean, and providing personal sanitation stations to help prevent commuters from spreading the virus.
While the mayor continued to urge people to work from home if they can, she noted many healthcare and emergency workers don’t have that option, and rely on mass transit to get to their jobs.
“We do want people to limit their movement to and fro, but for some folks that’s just not an option. They’ve got to go to work, and our healthcare workers in particular for me are at the top of that list, as well as our first responders. Whether it’s police, fire, EMT, call-takers, dispatchers; those folks are on the front lines, and we’re doing as much as we possibly can to support them as well,” she said.
Lightfoot also said, with restaurants and bars across Illinois ordered to close to dine-in customers by the end of business on Monday, city officials are working with the restaurant industry to provide some kind of financial support to restaurant workers who will end up losing pay.
“We are looking at ways in which we can provide some supports to these workers, because they do live paycheck to paycheck, particularly the workers that are relying upon tipped wages. We know that this time is a particular hardship on them,” she said.
The mayor said she and the Illinois Restaurant Association hope to make an announcement regarding financial assistance for food industry workers later this week.
Meantime, Lightfoot on Monday toured the Chicago Public Schools’ command center, which will help provide support to families while schools are closed through March 30.
At least two coronavirus cases have been linked to CPS schools, including a special education classroom assistant (SECA) at Vaughn Occupational High School, and a case at Sheridan Math and Science Academy. Vaughn has been closed since March 6, when that SECA was diagnosed, and Sheridan was closed on Monday after a COVID-19 case connected to that school was confirmed over the weekend.
The mayor said all public schools in Chicago will be cleaned while they are shut down.
Meantime, all schools will provide free meals for students while CPS is closed. CPS Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson said schools will provide up to three days’ of breakfast and lunch at a time for every child in a student’s household. Parents can pick up meals outside of their nearest school between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays, starting Tuesday.
Lightfoot and Jackson said school workers will be practicing social distancing when parents pick up meals, and limiting contact as much as possible.
The CPS command center will be open Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. while schools are closed. Parents can call 773-553-KIDS if they have any questions for school officials.
The mayor said city government also will be having many of its employees work from home, and will be providing enhanced sick leave during the coronavirus crisis.
“We’re going to be paring down to most essential services over the course of this week, but everything that we do, we want to do it driven by the science and the data. We want to do it in a thoughtful way that provides the relevant stakeholders that are going to be affected the opportunity to absorb the information and then make whatever accommodations they need,” she said.
The City Council is scheduled to hold its regular meeting on Wednesday at City Hall, but the mayor said people should not attend the meeting in person, and instead watch online, on the City Clerk’s website.
“We really want to limit the amount of people that are in the building on a day-to-day basis, but particularly for City Council,” Lightfoot said. “We have some important things that we need to get accomplished related to the city response to coronavirus, which is why we’re going forward on Wednesday, but we’re going to go forward in a very streamlined fashion.”
Lightfoot also said, after international travelers at O’Hare Airport were forced to wait in lines for up to six hours on Saturday to be screened by agents from Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, federal authorities have vowed to double staffing to reduce wait times.
“Our expectation is that we will continue to work cooperatively, and better than what we saw Saturday night, but we still need additional screeners at the airport. I don’t think the federal authorities understood that when they added UK to the level of countries that were going to have to be screened, that the volume would jump exponentially,” Lightfoot said
The mayor also said she was asking the FAA to keep people arriving on international flights on board their planes until screeners are ready for them, so that travelers will be able to sit down and have access to restrooms while they wait.