BLOOMINGTON — A mix of prudence and concern about coronavirus swept through Central Illinois Thursday, closing universities and schools, changing work schedules at large employers, canceling fundraisers and travel plans, and restricting jail visits and jury calls.
Also affected were congregate meal programs for the elderly and disabled, and some meals for the homeless.
Fewer than five people have been tested in McLean County so far for COVID-19. There were no confirmed cases of the new strain of coronavirus as of Thursday afternoon, said McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight. "We have no cases (of COVID-19) at this point."
Shoppers knew they weren't going to find hand sanitizer and other disinfectants at local stores because the coronavirus has caused a run on those products.
State Farm told employees to work from home or to ask supervisors about paid leave; Country Financial said employees who had traveled in affected countries should self-quarantine for 14 days. The St. Patrick's Day Parade in Normal and the Mennonite Relief Sale both were cancelled.
In-person visits with jail inmates were stopped. Brides and grooms at the McLean County Law & Justice will be restricted to four people as witnesses. Fewer jurors will be called for cases.
In Peoria, Bishop Daniel Jenky said people could avoid Sunday Mass, and he cancelled classes at diocesan schools. And at the heart of March Madness, the IHSA imposed severe restrictions for boys state basketball games and other end-of-season state meets.
Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Heartland Community College, Parkland College, Richland Community College, Bradley University, and Lincoln and Eureka colleges all extended their spring breaks. Some made plans for online classes.
Sabrina Kelbe, a senior psychology student at ISU, spends her breaks working at the Bone Student Center, but with spring break extended and classes moving online, she said it’s not clear what campus will look like moving forward.
“I was excited that spring break was extended, but as I started thinking about it in further detail, it got more stressful because it just throws out a lot of factors,” she said. “I have lecture classes that will move to online, but I don’t know what’s going to happen with my research apprenticeships.
“I work with the middle school kids … and if we do have to hold off, it does affect our research results, too.”
Pedestrians in the campus area and visitors to Bone were few and far Thursday afternoon, and “it’s going to stay deserted for probably another week or so,” Kelbe said.
32 cases in Illinois
McKnight, of the health department, said anyone with signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and who have traveled to European Union countries or have had close contact with someone who has traveled to those countries should call their health care provider before seeking medical care.
Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
"When we know someone has been exposed, we will reach out to them so we can protect them," McKnight said.
"We understand that people may be concerned and want to be tested," said Cathy Coverston Anderson, health department assistant administrator. "However, testing continues to be prioritized at this time due to limited resources."
"At this time, the specimen collection is done in McLean County by health care providers and testing is done at the state public health labs for anyone that meets CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) criteria," McKnight said. "Specimen collection by the provider is only done at this time after the provider has been authorized by local public health."
The number of coronavirus cases in Illinois now totals 32, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“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,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.
Businesses, parades, concerts
In Springfield, the General Assembly cancelled next week's legislative sessions and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum said it would close Friday until further notice. Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state and city of Chicago would mandate cancelling all large-scale events exceeding 1,000 people for the next 30 days, among a number of other guidelines.
Pritzker asked that every private business that is able to have employees work remotely consider doing so immediately. He said businesses that do not need to consider plans to promote “social distancing” to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“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.”
Bloomington-based State Farm, the nation's largest insurer of cars and homes, said customers can use the company's mobile app, visit statefarm.com, or call to make a payment, file a claim, manage account balances or ask a question.
Country Financial, also based in Bloomington, restricted all non-essential business travel. The company is requiring employees traveling on cruise ships or from some international areas to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Normal's St. Patrick's Day Parade, a fundraiser for Children's Home and Aid, won't be rescheduled. Organizers will decide what to do about the Mennonite Relief Sale, which annually raises close to $250,000 for missions work. It had been planned for March 20-21. A Guns & Hoses hockey fundraiser at Grossinger Motors Arena was postponed; a Saturday concert by Christian artist Lauren Daigle was cancelled.
Among sports changes, Big Ten, MVC and other conferences cancelled their tournaments. Major League Baseball is postponing its opening day. High school basketball games will be restricted to 60 fans per team.
Pritzker said Tuesday's primary election will go forward, and he encouraged all election authorities to extend their early voting hours.
The Pantagraph's Kelsey Watznauer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
With reporting by Lenore Sobota, Kelsey Watznauer, Sierra Henry and Maria Nagle.
Contact Paul Swiech at 309-820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech.
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