Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot or other officials will be streamed in the video player above.
A Chicago-area train line's "mask optional" cars have sparked a discussion over enforcement policies.
This comes as Illinois announced another 2,257 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday, while Gov. J.B. Pritzker again touted the state's testing capacity as among the best in the nation this week.
One Illinois school district announced schools will switch from a remote learning style to a hybrid style starting late October.
Here are the latest updates from across Illinois on the coronavirus pandemic today (Sept. 24):
Illinois District 211 Announces Schools Will Switch to Hybrid Learning by Late October
One of the largest school districts in Illinois, Township High School District 211, announced schools will switch to hybrid learning with half the number of students in the classroom by late October, according to the district superintendent.
In a letter to parents, district superintendent Dr. Lisa Small explained the hybrid learning model would bring 50% of students back to the classroom by Oct. 26, asking parents to complete a family commitment survey.
The survey will ask parents to declare their intent to keep their children in the remote learning on in-person learning model, along with giving the option for students to leave school during a first or last period study hall.
Parents have until Tuesday to respond to the survey and their answers cannot be changed, according to the letter from the district.
Small noted that all students are eligible to participate in in-person athletics, activities and academic supports, regardless of hybrid or remote learning status.
The district, which includes Conant, Fremd, Hoffman Estates, Palatine and Schaumburg high schools, began the 2020-2021 school year with remote learning on Aug. 13.
Illinois Reports 2,257 New Cases of Coronavirus, 30 Additional Deaths
Health officials in Illinois on Thursday reported 2,257 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, along with 30 additional deaths attributed to the virus.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Thursday's new cases of the virus brings the statewide total to 281,371 confirmed cases since the pandemic began.
The 30 additional deaths bring the statewide death toll to 8,538 fatalities attributed to the virus.
The statewide seven-day average positivity rate remained at 3.5% Thursday, officials said, no change from the day before.
Currently, 1,414 intensive care unit beds remain available statewide, along with 4,478 ventilators.
Prepare for a ‘Different Type' of Halloween, Chicago's Top Health Official Says
With Halloween next month, Chicago's top health official said the city should expect a "different type" of holiday this October.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday that the city will not cancel Halloween, but people should expect to see different celebrations than previous years due to the coronavirus.
"I'll be honest with you, I'm more worried about the adults than I am the children," Arwady said. "To be perfectly honest, I am worried about the potential for large indoor gatherings."
Arwady asked people to have conversations with their children about dressing up and keeping the excitement of Halloween in a new way.
Arwady said Chicago will release more specific guidelines closer to Halloween as she said she worries about people "letting their guard down" due to the holiday.
How Chicago Officials Are Preparing for a Second Wave of Coronavirus
Though additional restrictions are not yet in place, Chicago's top health official said the city is already preparing for a coronavirus surge during the upcoming holiday season.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday that the department has prepared for a citywide health emergency a month to a year from now.
Arwady explained officials have been considering options involving long term care facilities, personal protective equipment, transfers, data sharing and other work related to healthcare.
"We've thought about alternate care facilities at the state level in case we were to really see a major surge," Arwady said. "Making sure from a clinical setting, we're as prepared as we can be."
The city's top health official said the department is also considering altering testing plans such as current outdoor testing sites, which "are not going to be possible" with colder weather.
Pritzker to Discuss 2020 Census
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to discuss the 2020 Census twice on Thursday, according to his public schedule.
His first appearance will be with local leaders in Carbondale beginning at 10:30 a.m., his office says. Then, he will head to Marion for a second news conference on the importance of being counted in the Census beginning at 1 p.m.
South Shore Line's ‘Mask-Optional' Cars Spark Debate
The debate over wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic has been an ongoing issue for several months now, but the South Shore Line train service has come up with a solution to prevent confrontations with customers who choose not to wear the facial coverings.
The South Shore Line, operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, has begun to make accommodations for those who refuse to wear masks, setting up so-called “mask-optional” cars on its trains.
“We were getting complaints from riders, telling us that others in their car weren’t wearing masks,” President Michael Noland said. “Because we had enforcement problems, we went with this approach.”
The South Shore Line, which runs from South Bend, Indiana, travels to Millennium Station in Chicago.
Employees on the train service are still required to wear masks, and passengers not in the “mask-optional” car must also wear them, unless prevented from doing so by medical condition or other extenuating circumstances.
Noland says the complaints for non-compliance have gone down since the mask-optional cars were added.
“It’s not a perfect policy, but we think it’s worked very well because we had a lot of concerned customers,” he said. “We are not encouraging them not to wear a mask, and we are advising them that there are mask requirements that they need to be aware of.”
Those requirements are in place in several communities along the train’s route, including St. Joseph, Laporte and Lake counties requiring masks in public areas.
Illinois requires masks to be worn in public when social distancing is not possible.
Even with those requirements in place, officials with the South Shore Line did not consult with officials in Chicago or in any of the other counties along the train’s route before implementing the mask-optional cars.
Metra says it has no plans to implement similar cars on its train lines.
Suburban School Says 4th Grader Tested Positive
A suburban school district announced Wednesday that a 4th grade student has tested positive for COVID-19.
North Shore School District 112 said in an email to parents that the student at Oak Terrace tested positive on Wednesday. That student has not been in attendance at school since Sept. 18 and is in isolation, officials said.
The school said it is working on contact tracing with the Lake County Health Department, which will contact the student directly and notify any close contacts.
"If you do not receive communication from school administration or the Lake County Health Department, your student has not been identified as a close contact and can continue to attend school," the email from Assistant Supt. Holly Colin reads.
Colin noted that federal privacy laws prevented the school from sharing the name of the student or any information that may lead to the child's identification. The email also warned the school community to be aware of scams, saying contact tracers won't ask for a social security number or any form of payment.
"Given the spread of COVID-19 in Lake County, we should not be surprised when presumed positive or positive test results are identified within our community," the letter says. "It may continue to occur, and this is a major reason why mitigation strategies such as maintaining social distance, masking and hand washing are all still very important."
Wisconsin, Several Other States Added to Chicago Travel Order Requiring Quarantine
Wisconsin was one of several locations added Tuesday to Chicago's emergency travel order requiring a 14-day quarantine.
The northern neighboring state was joined by Montana, Idaho, Minnesota and Puerto Rico on the city's quarantine list. Kentucky and Louisiana were removed, leaving the total number of locations on the list at 19.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady had previously warned last week that Wisconsin had reached the threshold for inclusion and would likely be included in the next update.
Arwady said Tuesday that Wisconsin was "currently in very poor control when it comes to COVID," adding that the state has more than double the average daily cases per 100,000 residents than what is required to be named on Chicago's travel order.
The positivity rate in testing in Wisconsin stood at 16% as of Monday, state health officials said, with the trendline rising sharply.
For the 10th day in a row, Wisconsin broke its own record for average daily new cases, picking up more than 1,200 new cases on Monday. Last week, the state had multiple days where more than 2,000 new cases were reported each day.
"Certainly we are watching Wisconsin with huge concern," Arwady said last Tuesday. "They had their highest ever number of cases of COVID reported last Thursday, they had percentage positivities in the 13% to 17% range."
Arwady said that while data indicated the state should added to the order, the city held off on its inclusion because officials recognized that "people need time for planning."
Under the guidelines, those traveling to or from Wisconsin for work and those traveling through the state for travel will not need to quarantine, Arwady said. Those traveling to the state for leisure, however, even for less than 24 hours, will need to quarantine, she said.
Illinois Lawmaker Tests Positive for COVID-19, Quarantines
An Illinois lawmaker has tested positive for COVID-19, his office announced Monday.
State Rep. Sam Yingling tested positive last week and has been quarantined at his home in Grayslake, his office said a statement.
The 40-year-old Democrat experienced significant sinus congestion and drainage, symptoms he thought at first to be related to his allergies, the statement said. But those symptoms quickly evolved and he experienced a sore throat, cough, chest congestion, headache, fatigue, and body aches, it said.
Yingling said once he learned he’d tested positive, he notified anyone he’d knowingly been in contact with and encouraged them to get tested.
Chicago Releases Fall and Winter Outdoor Dining Guidance for Restaurants
While it remains unclear what winter dining will look in Chicago as restaurants work to find creative solutions for eating outside in the cold, Chicago officials have released new guidelines that bring some clarity to what's ahead.
Under the guidance quietly released by the city over the weekend, restaurants with sidewalk cafe permits or outdoor patio licenses can use tents, domes or other temporary structures that allow "adequate ventilation" for circulation. Some heating devices will also be allowed, but they have to meet a required set of safety regulations.
For places using domes or other enclosed spaces, placards must be posted "advising about increased risk of transmission within an enclosed space."
Restaurants will need to submit their fall and winter plans in writing.
More than 50 restaurants in the Chicago area have permanently closed their doors because of the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurant owners have said they're particularly concerned about the winter months if things don't change and restrictions on indoor dining remain in place.
Chicago officials launched a competition last month for creative outdoor dining ideas for the winter months and have received over 600 submissions so far. They include tents, heated tables and domes. The winners get a $5,000 cash prize and the chance to try out the idea at restaurants and bars in Chicago.
"From architects to designers, restaurateurs, servers and dining enthusiasts, the city has received 643 innovative and exciting ideas for cold-weather outdoor dining in the first-ever Chicago Winter Design Challenge," the mayor's office said in a release.
Pritzker Announces 3 Major Coronavirus Testing Milestones in Illinois
Illinois has reached three major coronavirus testing milestones, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Monday.
On Saturday, state health officials reported 74,286 tests conducted in the previous 24 hours - marking a new one-day high in the state.
That figure brought the total number of tests conducted in Illinois to more than 5 million since the pandemic began - exactly 5,057,142 on Saturday, reaching 5,143,387 by Monday afternoon. That makes Illinois one of the first states in the U.S. to cross that 5 million mark, Pritzker said Monday.
"These nation-leading accomplishments have allowed Illinoisans to do what most states can't. There's a testing location and testing available for you if you feel you need one and you can get one even without a doctor's order," he said. "For families, businesses, schools and churches, that means there's a measure of safety here in Illinois that doesn't exist in most other states."
The third milestone Pritzker noted was that the state is averaging about 52,000 tests conducted each day, putting Illinois tied for third in the country after California and New York.
Pritzker said that the robust testing program in Illinois made it "by far the best testing state in the Midwest," saying Illinois has conducted 50% more coronavirus tests than the state ranked second in the region.
"We do three and a half times the testing that the average state does, and we're one of the fastest states om delivering tests back to our residents. In a pandemic, widely available testing and faster results mean our people are safer," he added.