Pritzker: Won't be afraid to go back to Phase 3 if necessary
The state on Friday moved into Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan for reopening, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned he won't hesitate to move certain regions backward if progress subsides. "Right now I would call it stable," he said. However, if Illinois COVID-19 numbers rise, a reversion to previous phases is possible. "I'm not afraid to protect the people of Illinois by moving a region back to an earlier phase if we see a surge," he said. "Ours will not be one of the states that takes no action in response to a return to the peak."
Illinois has increased its number of contact tracers by 20% since June 1. More than 550 are active and another 250 will be online in the coming weeks, Pritzker said.
Carbondale has mobile testing site
The state has launched 12 mobile community testing teams that will move around Illinois to suppress emerging outbreaks. One of these is in Carbondale now through July 5, at the SIU-C Recreation Center, north side parking lot. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Testing is free; bring an insurance card if you have one, but no one will be turned away.
Schools still clothed in uncertainty over fall plans
Illinois has released guidelines for schools, colleges and universities to return to in-person learning in the fall, but leaders say those plans could change if COVID-19 cases surge. "This fall will not be business as usual," State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said. "Schools and districts must be prepared to return to remote learning if the virus surges again."
Students and teachers will be required to wear face coverings if they are medically able, gatherings will be limited to no more than 50 people and schools must adhere to stricter cleaning and disinfecting guidelines. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has promised 2.5 million cloth face masks for every public K-12 districts in Illinois.
Universities and community colleges will have social distancing and physical spacing requirements, hand sanitizing stations, face covering requirements and symptom monitoring. Schools are developing policies around traffic flow, cleaning of public spaces and staggered schedules for the use of laboratories, auditoriums and other group facilities, according to guidelines. Dormitories, cafeterias, libraries and bookstores are expected to be open provided they meet approved guidelines.
Small biz grants to be released soon
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will soon start releasing $85 million from two grant programs aimed at helping small businesses that have suffered losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest. The $85 million for the Business Interruption Grant program and the Rebuild Distressed Communities grant program is part of $900 million that will be released in response to economic impacts of the pandemic.
Both programs are aimed at small businesses whose operations were either restricted or completely shut down during the pandemic.
The first round of BIG grants will make $60 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds available for 3,500 businesses such as bars, restaurants, barbershops and salons, health and fitness centers. The grants will range from $10,000 to $20,000 and will be available to businesses that have suffered significant losses due to restricted operations, mandatory closures or property damage.
To qualify, businesses must have been in operation for at least three months before March 2020. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, July 7. Download an application and review the complete criteria for the program on the DCEO website.
IDES trying to expand call center capacity
As unemployment numbers remain high, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the Illinois Department of Employment Security is trying to expand call center capacity to accommodate increased claim volume. While each state agency and department is developing a reopen plan, he did not say when IDES might start opening facilities for claimants having trouble getting through to a department representative.
The U.S. Department of Labor released statistics showing 705,878 Illinoisans received unemployment insurance for the week ending June 20, a decrease of 4,401 continued unemployment claims overall from the previous week. However, the state still saw 46,005 new initial claims for the week ending June 20, an increase of 1,311 new claims from the previous week.