Updated 5:00 p.m., March 15
Illinois reported its first case of the novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, in January.
On Sunday afternoon, Illinois officials said the total number of cases in the state stands at 93. There are cases in 13 counties, including in central Illinois.
Saturday, Sangamon County health officials announced there are two cases in Springfield. One patient is a 71-year-old woman who is in the intensive care unit at Memorial Medical Center. The other is a Sangamon County resident who is at home. On Sunday, another case was announced. That person remains hospitalized at Memorial.
Also in central Illinois, a man from Woodford County, outside Peoria, and another in Cumberland County, an hour south of Champaign, have tested positive. There were an additional two cases in St. Clair County, near St. Louis. On Sunday, cases in Champaign, Clinton, Whiteside and Winnebago counties were added to the list.
Some experts believe limited testing means the actual number of COVID-19 infections is likely much higher.
Cases have appeared in all age ranges and the number with no connection to travel or a known COVID-19 case are increasing.
“We are seeing the number of COVID-19 cases increase exponentially and in more locations across Illinois,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike in a written statement. “At this point, it is best to assume that the coronavirus is circulating in your community and you should take the same precautions when interacting with other people that you would when interacting with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This may seem like an extreme step, but this is how we reduce the number of new cases and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.”
Many State of Illinois employees are being told they will be working from home soon. It's part of the plan to slow the spread o COVID-19. Governor J.B. Pritzker said the change might mean a reduction in some government services, but that essential functions will continue. Pritzker said plans are being put together. Some employees, such as prison guards, will continue to report to the workplace.
The Governor took action Sunday to call for at least a two week prohibition on customers gathering in bars and restaurants. The change will go into effect at the close of business Monday evening and last until at least through March 30.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Sunday announced the closure of all state parks, fish and wildlife areas, recreational areas, and historic sites as well as the cancellation of upcoming scheduled events.
This is a blog on Springfield and central Illinois’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. Check back for updates. You can send tips, questions or announcements to email@example.com.
In the region:
• All schools, public and private, will be closed for two weeks starting on Tuesday, March 17. Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued that directive on Friday.
But since then, more schools have decided to also shut down Monday as a pecaution. Springfield District 186, Williamsville-Sherman CUSD 15, Rochester CUSD 3A, Ball-Chatham School District and others throughout the area are among those closed starting March 16.
All Catholic schools under the jurisdiction of the Springfield Diocese will close Monday as well. That was announced before Governor Pritzker’s order.
If you are unsure of scheduling, check with your local district.
• The University of Illinois Springfield is advising staff and supervisors to begin working on plans to have employees work remotely, if possible. Chancellor Susan Koch sent a message to the campus community Sunday. “I am directing all deans, directors and division heads to begin working with employees to create alternative work arrangements to allow the option to work from a remote location, if appropriate; adopt a flexible or compressed work schedule; and/or establish rotation among staff for on-site work,” Koch wrote. UIS has extended spring break an extra week and is planning online classes to replace classroom instruction.
• Our Mary Hansen has an update on the availability of COVID-19 testing in Sangamon County. Testing is still limited and being prioritized for people who have been in contact with those who have confirmed cases or those who have traveled to areas deemed high risk.
• The Sangamon County Courts of the 7th Judicial Circuit announce it will operate at reduced capacity for only essential functions. Some cases will be postponed. For those coming to court, there are guidelines to follow. Those who show symptoms of illness and those who are at high risk for contracting the disease are being advised to call before attending a court proceeding.
• Springfield’s Kidzeum is temporarily closed, but will offer online educational activities for kids to do while out of school. Those will be available starting March 16 at kidzeum.org/learning and will include activities that can be done with everyday household items as well as printable worksheets.
• The Decatur Park District is opening its Schools Out Day Camp. Attendance will be limited. A statement from Bill Clevenger , Executive Director of the Park District read “We realize we have an important role in slowing the spread of diseases and protecting vulnerable students and staff, but we also want to be part of the solution by providing students with a safe and healthy environment/place during this unprecedented time.”
• The Springfield Park District has suspended all group programming classes, activities and events until further notice. Also: All facility rentals will be at the discretion of the renter. All indoor events will be restricted to the 250 or below guest count and outdoor events will be limited to 500 or less. The District also said it will work to provide refunds. In order to help limit the spread of the virus, the Springfield Park District announced it has implemented an accelerated cleaning regimen at all facilities
• The City of Mount Pulaski is closing City Hall to the public until further notice. A drop box is available for payments.
Springfield and Chatham public schools announced they will close Monday for two weeks, while schools throughout the state will close Tuesday, at the direction of Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Pritzker urged residents to stay home this weekend, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and avoid overwhelming the health care system.
Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder asked residents to be cautious but “please not panic”: “Our actions are out of an abundance of caution,” he wrote in an email Friday night.
Lincoln Library will remain open, according to the email, however all programming and events there have been canceled through April 30.
In the region:
• Memorial Health System is limiting visits to patients in its hospitals in Springfield, Decatur, Jacksonville and Lincoln. Just two can come at a time and must be 18 or older. No visitors are allowed at the Memorial hospital in Taylorville. In addition, all events at the hospitals have been canceled or made “virtual events.”
• Four polling places have been moved from senior centers or assisted living centers in west and south Springfield. Updated polling places can be found on the county clerk’s website .
Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray is encouraging voters to cast their ballots early. The clerk's office, at 200 S. 9th Street, is open Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Monday 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
• Springfield School District 186 announced bagged breakfast and lunch can be picked up beginning Tuesday (March 17) for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Lanphier High School, Southeast High School, Springfield High School and Franklin Middle School.
Springfield schools will be open Monday in case students need to pick up belongings, but it is not an attendance day.
• Chatham schools said Titan Fuel families can pick up bags at school offices on Monday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. or from 4-6 p.m.
• Springfield’s City, Water, Light & Power and Ameren Illinois both announced they would suspend service disconnections through May 1. CWLP said it would offer flexible payment plans by request (call 798-2030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Ameren said it would forgive late fees for non-payment through May 1.
• Illinois prisons have banned visitors as well. The Illinois Department of Corrections says it’s expanding access to video and phone calls.
• The city also urged people to support local businesses by buying gift cards or, if they do go out, to tip generously. This comes after the downtown St. Patrick’s Day event was postponed.
Pritzker Shutters K-12 Schools
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has ordered superintendents throughout the state to close all public and private K-12 schools between this coming Tuesday and March 30, citing a goal to keep transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible. The closures will impact an estimated 2 million students, across the state as well as staff, faculty, and parents.
Schools will continue to offer two meals per day to those who qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program via curbside pickup or delivery. The Illinois State Board of Education will be staffed over the weekend to offer guidance to individual districts ahead of the closures.
Speaking to media in Chicago, Gov. Pritzker said no school district will face funding cuts as a result of the action.
Temporary Event Ban Begins
In response to a growing number of cases, both Illinois and Sangamon County officials have moved to temporarily ban large public gatherings in an effort to both limit public exposure to the virus and "flatten the curve" of an expected uptick in healthcare system visits. While the county is limiting attendence to no more than 500 people at outdoor gatherings, Illinois is limiting gatherings to no more than 1,000.
Springfield School District 186 schools remain open, though after-school activities and outside group events are being temporarily halted.
Primary Candidates Change Plans
The Illinois Primary election, scheduled for Tuesday, is so far still happening as planned. State election officials are advising those who wish to participate to vote as early as possible to avoid crowds.
Candidates up and down the ballot, meanwhile, are either canceling events ahead of and on Election Night or severely limiting attendance. Both Dr. Tom Tarter and Mark Curran, Republican candidates competing for a chance to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, said they will be having small Election Night parties.
The Jeanne Ives and Jim Oberweis congressional campaigns are also still having events on Election Night, though both have said they will follow attendance guidance from state health officials. Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, one of the Democrats bidding to compete against Congressman Rodney Davis, said on Twitter her campaign canceled their party.
Meanwhile in the region:
• Kidzeum will remain open through the weekend, though will limit the number of attendees to fewer than 250 at a time, following state and local guidelines. The downtown museum will close March 17, mirroring school closures, and reopen when District 186 does, according to a Friday news release.
• The Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois is suspending its after-school programs, the nonprofit announced Friday. The announcement comes as all public and private schools will close for two weeks. The nonprofit will look for ways to assist with providing meals to children, which could include carry-out meals.
• All University of Illinois Springfield athletic events have been canceled until early next month. The Great Lakes Conference, of which UIS is a member, is suspending sports activities and will review the status on April 6.
• UIS has canceled or postponed all events at its Performing Arts Center through the end of April. The university says it will reassess soon for the events in May. A full list is here.
• The Hoogland Center for the Arts has also called off performances of Hoogland Education’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” this weekend, and the Springfield Theatre Centre has canceled its Murder Mystery Dinner series this weekend. Through May 1, the theater will limit attendance of performances in accordance with Sangamon County's new ban on public gatherings. The nonprofit will release another statement next week on the remaining performances and events scheduled for April and May.
•The Bank of Springfield Center is canceling, postponing, or rescheduling events that were to have taken place between Saturday and April 10. More information on specific events can be found at their website.
• The Illinois Governor’s Mansion is closing to all tours and events starting Friday, “until further notice”, according to a statement for the Illinois Governor’s Mansion Association. This follows the closing of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
• Secretary of State Jesse White is urging only motorists with immediate needs visit driver’s license facilities. The Secretary also points out a lot of business can be done online.
• While all area Catholic schools will be closed under the statewide closure order, The Springfield Diocese said masses and sacraments will continue to be offered. The Diocese is asking those who are ill to stay home.
• Springfield First United Methodist Church announces the building is closed. Services on Sunday March 15 will be held at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on Facebook Live. Check their website for more updates.
• First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, at 321 South 7th St, also canceled services and "suspend non-essential church functions beginning Sunday" in an effort to slow transmission of the virus. Check their Facebook page for updates.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade Postponed, University of Illinois Springfield Extends Spring Break
Organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Springfield have postponed the event, originally scheduled for Saturday, citing new recommendations from health officials on concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
It’s a quick reversal from Wednesday, when the group issued a statement saying the parade was still on. The change comes after Mayor Jim Langfedler talked with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who encouraged cancellation. Parades in Chicago, Peoria and other cities have also been canceled.
Langfelder said he contacted the governor’s office for guidance, and Pritzker called back, emphasizing the city should follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on calling off events of more than 250 people.
“The governor has been an advocate for proactive (measures) in reaction to COVID-19,” Langfelder said.
In a joint statement with the city of Springfield, organizers said they’ll pick a new date in the coming weeks.
Before the announcement that the city would postpone the parade, at least four local politicians had said they wouldn’t participate: State Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, and Springfield City Council members Erin Conley, Kristin DiCenso, and Jim Donelan all posted on social media saying they wouldn’t walk.
Meanwhile in the region:
• Sangamon County health officials are limiting the number of participants at large public gatherings. Beginning Saturday and for the next 30 days, all indoor events will be limited to 250 people and outdoor events will be limited to 500. The order will be reassessed as the coronavirus situation develops.
• Springfield School District 186 called off all after-school and non-school events at its facilities effective Friday, as well as assemblies and “other gatherings.” According to an emailed statement, the district is “limiting the number of students that convene in one area during lunch time and before and after school for at least the next 30 days.” Springfield schools will remain open, but will continue to monitor the situation. “We are planning for every possibility at this time, including plans to provide academic continuity through at-home learning activities accessible with or without the use of technology,” wrote spokesperson Bree Hankins in an emailed statement.
• The University of Illinois Springfield is extending its spring break by one week, through March 23, to give students and faculty time to prepare to move classes online. The campus will remain open and dining and residence halls will still operate, according to an email sent Thursday to the campus community. Also, Lincoln Land Community College has extended spring break an extra week and told instructors to prepare to teach remotely starting March 23.
• The Illinois High School Association is canceling all of its remaining winter State Series postseason tournaments. It had previously said it would limit attendance for the final games of the state basketball tournament.
• The Illinois General Assembly canceled session for March 18-20, and Secretary of State Jesse White, whose office oversees the Capitol, banned large gatherings at the Statehouse, such as rallies and school tours.
• The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield announced several recommendations for the celebration of Mass, including not shaking or holding hands, and not offering wine. Diocessan officials say it’s up to individual local clergy to decide how to proceed. In Seattle, where COVID-19 cases have already spread more widely, public masses have been suspended indefinitely.
• The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, one of the area's leading tourist attractions, announced the entire three building complex will close to the public starting tomorrow and will remain closed "until further notice." It is also cancelling all lectures, educational programs, school field trips and other events open to the public until at least April 10, though in a statement officials conceded that may change "quickly."
• The Illinois State Museum said it's suspending all "programs, events and school group" visits beginning today through April 10. In a statement, Museum Director Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko said she anticipates "further steps" will be needed as the pandemic situation develops. All branch facilities will remain open during this period.
• The Land of Lincoln Honor Flight has canceled its April 7 trip, which follows a national suspension of all flights through April 30. Veterans will have a chance to participate in the August 18 trip.
• St. Patrick Catholic School’s Blarney Bash in Springfield, scheduled for Friday night has been postponed. It will be rescheduled at a later date.
• The UIS Performing Arts Center/Sangamon Auditorium has canceled Thursday's Ron White show and Friday's Josh Turner concert.
• The Hoogland Center for the Arts has canceled performances of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Sugar & Vice this weekend.
• HSHS St. John's Hospital is postponing and canceling non-essential events at the hospital.
• The Sangamon Department of Public Health this week opened a phone line for questions about the new coronavirus, (217) 321-2606. Health department personnel will answer calls between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Illinois Department of Public Health also has a phone line and email address for questions: (800) 889-3931 and email@example.com.
Public health officials urge people who think they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 to call these numbers before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room.
This post will be updated.
Illinois Newsroom contributed to this reporting.