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With 32 cases of coronavirus in Illinois, including a child, Pritzker cancels all events of more than 1,000 people

The governor did not mandate the closure of schools, however.

Governor J.B. Pritzker, along with elected and health officials give their daily update to coronavirus in Illinois, Thursday, March 12, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayo Lori Lightfoot on Thursday defended her decision to keep Chicago Public Schools open, even as the coronavirus tally hit 32 and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker mandated that all events with more than 1,000 people be canceled or postponed.

Pritzker, too, encouraged private businesses statewide to allow employees to work from home in light of the spread of the virus in Illinois.

Pritzker, Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle held a joint news conference on Thursday in Chicago, with each outlining bans on various gatherings and meetings. That includes everything from large churches, to concerts and conferences.

Pritzker also encouraged event organizers around the state to consider canceling or postponing any gatherings of over 250 people in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

7 new cases

Officials also announced seven additional confirmed cases of coronavirus, including a Chicago child, a boy whose age was not given. They include a Chicago woman in her 40s and three other people from Cook County, two women in their 70s and a man in his 50s. The other cases involve a Kane County man in his 70s and a McHenry County man in his 60s, officials said.

Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health said no details would be disclosed about what may be the youngest patient so far in Illinois. Arwady said the child’s school has been notified, but did not specify the school. A McHenry County teenage boy was announced as a confirmed case on Tuesday.

“While older adults appear to be suffering more severe illness, the young child in Chicago is a reminder that anyone can be infected with this virus,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the state’s director of the public health department.

Ezike said a third of the state’s cases involve travel and about half are related to contact with another person with COVID-19.

“The remaining cases are not as clear, and could be the result of community spread,” Ezike said. “So while you may not have a case in your community now, we anticipate that there will be.”

The epidemic is also affecting institutions close to Pritzker’s own life. A Pritzker spokeswoman said “at least one” of the governor’s two children attends Francis W. Parker School, a private school in Chicago that WBEZ reported is closing its doors for two weeks. The governor was asked what his message is to parents who might not want to have their kids go to school.

“Well you’ve got to make decisions for your own family. There’s no doubt about that, but I would say that remember the guidance that’s been given by experts is large gatherings should be prohibited,” Pritzker said. “And so we’ve done that. We’ve suggested to schools all across the state. We’ve told them not to have major assemblies of their students. It’s OK to be in a classroom.”

‘Cascading effects’

Ohio and Maryland both announced the closure of their K-12 schools on Thursday.

But Lightfoot said, “at this time, CPS will remain open.”

“We would never put our children in danger, and I say that as a mayor, but also as a mother,” Lightfoot said. “At this time, however, CPS will begin scaling back large-scale events, issuing guidance to all school personnel in advance of spring break, instituting a mandatory policy on short-term closures for any schools with confirmed cases and ensuring parents and loved ones are frequently updated.”

Among the events that have been canceled are the CPS regional Science Olympics competition and the annual Student Science Fair, both of which were to be held this month on the IIT campus.

Lightfoot also announced a deal reached with Comcast to provide low-income households with 60 days of free Internet — and doubling their internet speeds.

The mayor said a complete closure of CPS would have “potential cascading effects” on many low-income students who rely on schools for food and shelter.

Pritzker also announced the James R. Thompson Center will be closed to the public beginning Monday, although all government services will still be open and state employees will still work in their respective offices. The CTA, however, will remain open.

“It may evolve right now but we don’t see any reason or rationale for us to shut down public transit in the city of Chicago,” Lightfoot said. “The CTA is also taking additional measures to make sure buses and train cars are clean.”

Residents urged to vote

During Thursday’s news conference, Preckwinkle urged residents not to use the spreading pandemic as a reason to skip out on voting in Tuesday’s primary elections.

She said officials are making sure that polling places are “clean, safe and secure” for voters, who have already started casting early ballots.

“We should not let fear impact our ability to carry out our basic civic duties and general operations,” Preckwinkle said.