As Illinois moved into Phase Four of Restore Illinois, Champaign-Urbana city leaders discussed ways to keep community members safe during the COVID-19 pandemic – and to prepare for the fall and winter.
Julie Pryde, administrator for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said the state will continue in Phase Four now until the pandemic ends, meaning masks and six-feet social distancing are still recommended and required in public spaces.
“Just because things are opening up doesn’t mean things are safer,” she said at a joint information center press conference on June 25.
In Illinois, there have been 148,452 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health website. As of July 8, there have been 16 deaths due to coronavirus in Champaign County, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
Much of what the health district is doing now is prevention efforts, Pryde said.
The health district is in the process of hiring more contact tracers, for example. About 30 contact tracers work there now to track the persons with whom an infected person has had potential contact with.
“We do contact tracing all the time to be specific but that’s just usually one or two people who follow up on reportable diseases,” Pryde said. “When you’re dealing with something like this, in a pandemic, you’re going to need a lot of contact tracing.”
Pryde said the district is also working on a drive through flu shot clinic for the flu season because it will be a burden for healthcare workers to work through the coronavirus pandemic as well as the flu season.
The flu is not a reportable disease in that a total number of cases cannot be counted, although some of the cases this last flu season might have been COVID-19 cases, Pryde said.
“There were likely cases of COVID that were diagnosed as flu during the early months of the outbreak when testing was nearly impossible to get. We were very lucky that some of the early suspect cases were willing to self-isolate,” Pryde said in an email.
Now, Pryde said the health department is also preparing for the eventuality of a COVID-19 vaccine.
As for nursing homes, Pryde said visiting inside the facilities probably won’t be allowed until the pandemic is over. However, some facilities have been allowing for visitors to meet with their loved ones outside with a minimal six-foot distance in between.
“I wish I had a better answer but there is nothing that we know of that will allow that to be safe,” she said.
Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen also said that businesses were excited to start opening once Phase Four started.
Feinen said to “be kind and be patient” as people and businesses get adjusted to the new guidelines.
Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin also mentioned supporting businesses into the next phase was important. She said she was looking into modifying city code to take advantage of sidewalks and outdoor retail sales.
She said so far outdoor seating and gathering has gone really well and encourages continuing to do so as much as possible because it is safer. Indoor seating began at restaurants on June 26.
Outbreaks have been reported at nine restaurants among restaurant employees since restaurants reopened, resulting in temporary closures.
Outbreaks are defined as two or more positive cases within one facility.
Over the next couple of weeks, Marlin said there will be a very gradual transition of some employees coming back to work in the Urbana city building.
Lisa Benson from the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission also outlined ways people can apply for financial aid for housing and health through the CARES Act if they have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
The CARES Act is an economic relief bill that was passed by Congress at the end of March that is offering over $2 trillion in economic aid to those affected by the pandemic such as families, small businesses as well local and state governments.
Applications for financial aid can be found on the planning commission’s website.