Sangamon County health officials are limiting the number of participants at large public gatherings, hours after the St. Patrick's Day parade was canceled.
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 in early April as the coronavirus situation develops, health officials said.
Dr. Brian Miller, president of the Sangamon County Board of Health, said at a news conference Thursday afternoon the measures are precautionary and meant to protect residents.
“This action is being taken because the rate of this pandemic is growing across the nation and this intent is to prevent or pre-empt a positive case from happening in this county as long as possible,” he said.
The announcement came just before Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a statewide ban on gatherings of 1,000 or more people. Similar local bans are in place in other counties. Winnebago County in northern Illinois put the number at 25 people, while the University of Illinois set it at 50.
For Springfield, the ban could extend to large church services, concerts and sporting events.
Following the announcement, on Thursday evening 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 county does not have authority to ban events on state property, such as the Illinois State Capitol. The General Assembly already canceled session for next week and the Illinois Secretary of State barred large gatherings at the Capitol.
Sangamon County Public Health Director Gail O’Neill said county officials will continue to coordinate with the state.
Four residents have been tested for the novel virus, and all have been negative.
Dr. Vidya Sundareshan, who is a medical advisor to the county health board, said there will be more testing done as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expands the criteria for who should be screened, and testing by private hospitals could begin soon. So far, only the county has authorized tests.
“As of now, we do have more tests which are available for people who don’t fall into those categories and physicians can use those at their discretion,” she said.
Officials urged anyone who thinks they’ve been exposed should contact the health department or their physician. A special county phone service dedicated to answering questions and concerns opened Tuesday, and O’Neil said there have been at least 250 calls. She urged patience as staff answer the eight available lines.
“It could ring busy, they just need to wait a few minutes… We’re doing the best we can,” O’Neill said.
Local law enforcement, including the Sheriff's Department Springfield Police Department, will help enforce the ban, according to State’s Attorney Dan Wright.