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Ask The Newsroom: Correctional Facilities, Daily Testing And More

There is a slew of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on Illinois residents and businesses.

We’ve received questions from listeners about everything from the virus and its impact on correctional facilities to daily testing and wearing masks in public. We’ve answered some of the questions we received below.

Correctional facilities

Q: How many inmates have the virus in Graham Correctional facility?

As of April 28, no inmates at Graham Correctional Center have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections. However, the department is reporting that one staff member contracted and recovered from the virus. 

IDOC has a running tally of the number of infected incarcerated individuals and staff members — as well as the number of recovered for both categories — on this webpage. The department also has a COVID-19 Q&A section on their website where they lay out specific measures they’re taking to mitigate the spread of the virus inside. Illinois Newsroom has reported on what’s going on inside Stateville Correctional Center, and efforts by advocates to release elderly and chronically ill inmates.

So far, Stateville, which is located south of Chicago near Joliet, is the hardest hit by the virus. But that could change. We recommend checking IDOC’s website to see where the case numbers stand. It should be noted that the department does not list the number of deaths from the virus on its website. As of this writing, at least 10 incarcerated individuals have died after contracting COVID-19 — all of whom were locked up at Stateville. The agency also does not list how many individuals have been tested for the virus. 

Non-essential businesses

Q: What happens if a nonessential business keeps working during the stay at home order?

Under the current stay-at-home order, only certain “essential” businesses are allowed to operate. That includes everything from healthcare operations to hardware stores and laundry services. A complete list of essential businesses can be found here. If a business is not considered essential, they can still operate under “Minimum Basic Operations,” so long as employees maintain six feet of distance between them and work remotely when possible. “Minimum Basic Operations” include maintaining inventory, payroll and security.

If you suspect a non-essential business is operating beyond what’s allowed under the stay-at-home order, you can submit a complaint here. If you have questions about whether a business is violating the stay-at-home order, you can contact the Workplace Rights Bureau of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office at 844-740-5076 or workplacerights@atg.state.il.us. If you see a flagrant violation of the order, such as a restaurant or bar operating as normal, contact your local law enforcement.

It’s important to note, however, that effective May 1, more businesses are considered essential, including greenhouses, garden centers and pet grooming services. You can find an update here.

Food stamps

Q: Will people on food stamps receive emergency stamps because of COVID-19?

The Illinois Department of Human Services announced earlier this month that food stamp recipients in Illinois will see maximum benefits for the months of April and May. All qualified households should have received the additional benefits by April 20. 

The emergency funding was provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and was distributed to more than 450,000 households in Illinois. The money should have automatically loaded onto recipients’ Link cards. 

Additional funding has been allocated to families who rely on free or reduced-price school meals. Due to school closures, many of these families are struggling to meet the new strain on their food budgets. (It should also be noted that many school districts are still offering breakfast and lunches to students.) The additional funding also comes from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and is available to 300,000 Illinois households, including both food stamp recipients and non-recipients. Recipients will see the money automatically loaded on Link cards. Non-recipients can apply online or complete a paper application here.

Daily testing

Q: How many tests per day are happening?

More than 250,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 so far in Illinois, according to the state’s public health department. The number of tests performed each day has gone up recently, averaging about 10,000 per day for the past two weeks. 

Those numbers reflect all tests “performed and reported electronically for testing of COVID-19 at IDPH, commercial or hospital laboratories” in Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a news briefing last week that the state was working on getting up to 10,000 tests a day, with at least 3,000 tests per day conducted at the state’s five drive-up sites.

As for whether this level of testing is sustainable, Pritzker said his hope and expectation is that it will be, but it will depend on how many people try to get a test on any given day and on the state’s supply of testing materials.

Masks in public

Q: What should I do if I can’t find a mask to wear when I go out in public?

Wearing cloth masks while going into public places will become a requirement in Illinois starting May 1.

If someone is not able to sew a mask for themselves, CU Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde recommends purchasing a cloth mask online or following CDC guidance on no-sew methods for creating a cloth mask out of basic materials people may have at home.

Pryde says grocery stores and other businesses continuing to operate will be encouraged to provide masks for employees.  

“This is not going to be something that we do for a week or a month,” Pryde says. “This is going to be the new normal until we have herd immunity and we have a vaccine.”

Deep cleaning 

Q: If a facility has been unused/unoccupied since the stay at home order (i.e. several weeks), can it be assumed to be clear of virus once re-opened, without some kind of deep cleaning?

The coronavirus can live on surfaces anywhere from hours to days, depending on what the surface is made from, according to WebMD.

“If a place has been closed down for a month, you’re going to want to clean anyway, but not necessarily for (COVID-19),” CU Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde says. “It’s not like the virus is going to be hanging out there alive forever being able to be transmitted.”

When certain businesses are allowed to re-open in various capacities on May 1, they will be expected to frequently sanitize commonly touched surfaces, provide masks for employees and make sure both employees and customers are practicing social distancing, Pryde says.

Lockdown extension

Q: CNN had Illinois highlighted as one of the states opening up today. Is that right?

On April 23, Gov J.B. Pritzker announced he would sign an executive order Wednesday that extends Illinois’ Disaster Proclamation, stay-at-home order and the suspension of on-site learning at schools across the state.

The order was extended through May 30 as the state continues to see an increase in the number of coronavirus cases.

Health officials warn that Illinois’ cases have still not peaked and a continued increase in patients threatens to overwhelm state hospitals, healthcare workers and first responders.

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