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CHICAGO – Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced Friday afternoon that all public and private schools will be closed beginning Tuesday until
March 30 because of concerns about the COVID-19 virus.
The decision came as a part of the state government’s safety measures to keep residents of all ages safe. The new mandate pairs with Pritzker’s other guidelines, which include suspending events that could attract more than 1,000 people.
Although Pritzker previously advised local schools to cancel or postpone assemblies and other events that could pull in crowds, he said Friday that those efforts were not enough.
“It’s my job to weigh the benefits and risks of any one particular course of action and to come to the best possible conclusion,” he said. “This is the right thing to do to protect our students and their teachers, and school workers and parents.
“We’re telling adults, essentially, don’t gather in large groups, but we’re telling kids that you can bump up against each other in a hallway.”
Pritzker admitted that the decision was a difficult one to make, acknowledging that schools provide other crucial services outside education. Some students rely on their schools’ free or reduced lunch programs or look to the school buildings as a safe alternative.
He and Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said it’s possible that meals will either be delivered to students’ homes or given away at pickup locations.
Schools also should have at least one administrator stay on-site during regular school hours as a way to extend services for students facing homelessness or in need of care, Ayala said.
As far as lessons and assignments go, Ayala said every school district will have to make that call, adding that online instruction and resources are a good place to start.
During the conference, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced 14 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, raising the total in Illinois to 46.
All but one of the new cases involve people from Cook County, she said, with the other person being from Lake County.
Ezike said some details of the new cases would be released at a later time.
She reminded people to continue practicing good hygiene, including proper hand-washing, staying home when sick and limiting going out.
“As the governor said, we would rather, at the end of this, be criticized for doing too much,” Ezike said. “It will be very hard to live with being told you didn’t do enough to protect the people of Illinois.”
With that, Pritzker spoke candidly and criticized the federal government’s inability to provide and meet the need of testing kits for those who may be affected by COVID-19. He said that he has connected with hospital and research leaders across Illinois, who have developed their own tests and are “going through rapid FDA approval processes.”
“We will be able to expand the tests,” Pritzker said. “They’re homegrown, meaning that we made them here in Illinois, but these are some of the greatest medical institutions in the country, and they’ve developed tests that work. So, we’ll have at least more that are available, but still not enough. The federal government needs to step up.”
Pritzker said seniors and other people who are immunosuppressed remain at the top of the list for tests, and overall access to these test kits is vital, especially as the coronavirus outbreak officially has been declared a national emergency.
“I will leave nothing on the table when it comes to protecting our communities,” Pritzker said. “We’ve seen what happens in places that didn’t move quickly enough. I ask all of you not to hesitate to do the right thing for your family or friends and your community.
“One small step at a time. We will get through this together.”
For information about the COVID-19 virus, call the IDPH hotline at 1-800-889-3931. The hotline is for general questions only, not for assessing individual symptoms.