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Schools in Illinois will be closed from March 17-30.

That was the latest measure taking to help impede the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The virus has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, and some countries have been hit much harder than others. Both the Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school districts have confirmed students will be in attendance March 16, and there will be no classes beginning March 17.

That message was given to superintendents by Gov. JB Pritzker Friday, building on state guidance issued yesterday to promote social distancing and minimize the spread of COVID-19.

“All of these choices have cascading effects for citizens and vulnerable populations when it comes to food access, safety, childcare, and social services," said Pritzker in a news release. “We’ve seen what happens in places that didn’t move with urgency. I ask all of you not to hesitate to do the right thing for your family, your friends, and your community. One small step at a time, we will get through this together.”

“We have seen evidence from influenza outbreaks that community mitigation strategies, such a school closures, have an effect on decreasing the severity of the outbreak,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike. “By taking these actions now, we hope to slow and limit widespread transmission of this virus, which is essential to ensuring our health care system is not overwhelmed as the disease progresses through our state. School closures will help slow the progression of the virus and we are asking for everyone’s help in reducing the spread.”

“This is an unprecedented event in our lifetime, and we will get through this together,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “Our administrators and educators have shown extraordinary leadership during a time of very difficult decisions. Schools closing will affect each community differently, and I want our teachers, our students, and our families to know that the Illinois State Board of Education is open and is here to help.”

Following extensive state-level analysis of coronavirus spread in various countries and the social distancing measures that were put in place, the state is taking the precautionary measure of closing all K-12 schools in the state of Illinois from March 17-30. Schools with a spring break that falls outside of this window should move their spring break to within this timeframe.

The Pritzker administration is working to ensure critical support functions remain available to students across the state – including their access to food, child care and safe environments.

Pritzker has assured school administrators that the state will issue no penalties as a result of this closure. To provide support to school districts across the state, the Illinois State Board of Education will be fully staffed over the coming weekend and during the closure period to work through individualized issues and challenges in each district. An executive order to provide school districts flexibility during this period is forthcoming.

On Thursday, the Illinois State Board of Education was granted a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue providing meals to students in non-group settings. Students receiving free and reduce priced breakfasts and lunches will be able to receive grab-and-go meals each day, with some districts having the ability to deliver and others offering parent pick up.

The Department of Children and Family Services is working closely with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health to ensure emergency and preparedness plans are in place to keep youth in care and staff safe. All DCFS group homes will remain open and take extra safety precautions.

Sporting events, concerts and many other gatherings were being cancelled in the past couple of days.

The Illinois Department of Health issued this statement Friday afternoon, noting that 14 more people had tested positive for COVID-19. Those cases are in the Chicago area.

“The State is taking aggressive measures to help limit the spread of the virus as the number of positive cases we report each day is increasing,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike in the news release.. “The situation continues to evolve rapidly, and we want to get ahead of widespread community transmission to reduce the number of people affected. We would rather be over cautious than put the health of our most vulnerable populations at risk.”

Approximately 30 percent of the cases in Illinois are travel associated, about 41 percent are a contact of a COVID-19 case, and the remaining cases do not have a clear connection and could be the result of spread in the community. While the vast majority of cases are recovering, approximately 94 percent are in isolation either at home or in the hospital. At this time, there have been no deaths associated with COVID-19 in Illinois.

“Among the 14 new cases, nine are Chicago, four Cook County, and one Lake County. New cases being reported today range in age from 20s to 90s.

“Public health officials are still investigating the travel history of these individuals and any potential contact with a known COVID-19 case. Public health officials will identify and contact people who are considered close contacts of these cases.

“It is very important for the public to implement personal preparedness to limit the spread of this virus. Protecting yourself and your family is a critical component to protecting our communities. Be mindful of those who are at greater risk for contracting this virus, including older adults and those with certain health conditions.

“For information about how to prepare, visit Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities. For general questions about COVID-19, call the hotline at 1-800-889-3931 or email dph.sick@illinois.gov.”

President Donald Trump today declared a federal emergency with regard to the virus. That measure is to help release more federal funds to states in need, according to federal officials.