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Ask The Newsroom: Child Care, Fitness And Gatherings During ‘Phase Three,’ SNAP Benefits, DMV Facilities

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The Illinois Newsroom team is answering questions from listeners to navigate this unprecedented time. Have a question you want answered? Ask here.

In today’s edition of “Ask the Newsroom,” we’ve answered related to the reopening of Illinois, following Gov. J.B. Pritkzer’s “Restore Illinois” plan.

The entire state is set to move into Phase 3 this Friday, May 29. Phase 3 allows some businesses to re-open with safety measures in place — including salons, outdoor dining and summer camps — and permits gatherings of up to ten people.

In order to move to Phase 3, the state must have a COVID-19 positivity rate of 20% or less with an increase of no more than 10 percentage points over a two week period; hospitals must be prepared for a possible surge in cases with sufficient numbers of intensive care beds, ventilators and other equipment; and no overall increase in hospital admissions for COVID-19 for 28 days.

Pritzker said in a news briefing this week that all regions of the state have met the requirements to take this step toward reopening.

Illinois Secretary of State facilities

Q: At what phase will Illinois Secretary of State facilities start to reopen? 

Secretary of State Jesse White announced this week that Driver Services Facilities will reopen starting June 1, but with restrictions. Here’s the information, as posted on the Secretary of State’s website:

      • From June 1 through July 31, facilities will focus on serving ONLY new drivers, customers with expired driver’s licenses/ID cards and vehicle transactions. Press Release   Facility Finder   Renew your vehicle sticker
      • All Secretary of State departments and offices will be open for business on June 1 and June 2.
      • All expiration dates for driver’s licenses, ID cards and vehicle registrations have been extended at least 90 days after the governor’s June 1 disaster proclamation executive order ends.
      • All employees are wearing face masks and customers are encouraged to do the same. Plexiglass dividers have been installed at all work stations and tape has been applied to the floor in 6-foot intervals to follow social distancing guidelines, limiting the number of customers inside a facility at one time.

SNAP benefits

Q: When will the P-EBT cards be going out?

In April, the federal government allocated additional funding to help provide food benefits to some Illinois children. More than 300,000 households were slated to receive the additional benefits, which were reserved for families who rely on free or reduced-price school meals to feed their children. With schools closed, many of those families have been scrambling to meet the new strain on their food budgets. 

SNAP-receiving households and non-SNAP households qualify for Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) cards. Active SNAP households didn’t need to apply for the benefit; the benefit was uploaded directly to Link cards between April 20th-30th

For non-SNAP households, here are application instructions from the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS):

Families that want to apply have the option to:

After submitting an application, “a benefit becomes available to the customer the day following the next workday after processing,” according to the IDHS. 

Child care and summer camps

Q: When can we expect Pritzker to allow daycare centers to re-open for other than essential workers? 

State officials are encouraging all currently closed licensed child care providers to reopen when their region enters Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan. There are no restrictions on which families can use child care under Phases 3 and 4. 

Under Phase 3, child care centers can serve 30% fewer children than their pre-pandemic capacity levels. Most licensed child care homes will be able to serve their licensed capacity level — because they’re typically smaller than child care centers. Collectively, state officials say this should bring Illinois to about three-quarters of its pre-pandemic child care capacity level.  

“We can’t have a conversation about going back to work without talking about child care – anything else leaves a large portion of the workforce, especially women who too often bear a disproportionate burden, without any way to move forward while caring for their kids,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “Illinois must take a cautious approach that appropriately balances the need to greatly expand child care with the need to lessen the risk of spreading the coronavirus.”

Child care facilities that were previously closed are encouraged to reopen under Phase 3. However, state officials say they should serve no more than 10 children per classroom for the first four weeks after reopening. They should also follow new health, social distancing and sanitation guidelines and routines. Once they’ve done that safely for four weeks, they’ll be able to expand services to larger groups of children. 

Q: What does it mean that “limited child care and summer programs” will be allowed in Phase 3? 

Phase 3 of Illinois’ reopening process allows camps to operate with a maximum occupancy of 50%, 10 campers per group, social distancing and enough available indoor space where groups can be separated, according to guidelines for day camps issued by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity earlier this week.

Day camps are to display signage at entryways with information about face cover requirements, social distancing guidelines and cleaning protocols, and make hand sanitizer available to participants.

All water-based activities and any activities that do not allow six feet of distance between participants are to be suspended, and activities requiring physical exertion or exertion of voice are to take place outside. 

Water fountains should be made unavailable for use, except for touchless water bottle refill stations, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols are to be conducted weekly in compliance with CDC protocols.

The guidelines include both “minimum standards” and “encouraged best practices” aimed at protecting the health of employees and campers. 

The day camp guidelines apply to camps taking place during the day only (no overnight camps are permitted) and are relevant to camps not licensed by the Department of Children and Family Services, including recreational, educational and religious day camps.

The state issued separate guidelines for youth sports reopening in Phase 3, including competitive sports practices, drills and lessons that do not involve contact between individuals and allow for six feet of social distancing to be maintained. Competitive games are not allowed during Phase 3.

Gatherings

Q: I’m happy to do stay at home, I trust the experts, but what about my family get togethers? Can I have my family for dinner? (10 of us.) That’s really all I care about.

Under the third phase of the governor’s Restore Illinois plan, gatherings of 10 or fewer for any reason can resume but are subject to change depending on the latest data and guidance. 

State public health officials continue to emphasize the importance of wearing masks, washing hands and practicing social distancing even as guidelines loosen to allow small gatherings.

Experts say that generally, gatherings held outdoors are safer than holding them indoors. Other factors to consider before gathering include: each individual’s personal risk, the prevalence of the virus in your area, and other precautions that can reduce the risks.

“Always choose outdoors over indoor, always choose masking over not masking and always choose more space for fewer people over a smaller space,” said Dr. Emily Landon, a hospital epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist at University of Chicago Medicine, told NPR.

Fitness 

Q: Will fitness centers be allowed to do “indoor one on one personal training” in Phase 3 Restore Illinois? 

In Phase 3, the governor has said health and fitness clubs can provide outdoor classes for 10 people or less and one-on-one training in indoor facilities while also following IDPH approved safety guidance. 

Restaurants 

Q: What are requirements for restaurants reopening for in-person dining?

Restaurants and bars will be allowed to have outdoor seating in Phase 3. Tables must be six feet apart and away from sidewalks. Staff must wear masks and follow other social distancing guidelines. Indoor dining is not permitted until Phase 4, which would probably open at the end of June at the earliest. 

Business owners who defy the re-opening procedures risk being charged with a misdemeanor according to an executive order filed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on May 15. Violators could be charged a fine between $75 and $2,500

To issue a complaint about bars and restaurants having a room full of customers, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity instructs people to contact their local law enforcement. 

To issue a complaint against an employer for unsafe or unhealthful working conditions, file a private sector complaint form with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

Personal care services 

Q: Are there new guidelines for safely reopening hair salon shops?

The Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) recently released updated guidelines for personal care services, which will be allowed to reopen in Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan. Personal care services include barber shops, nail salons, hair braiders, hair salons, waxing centers, massage parlors, tattoo parlors and tanning salons.

According to the DCEO, both the customer and employee must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth in order to conduct services. Massages and other body treatments must be limited to sessions of 30 minutes or less. In addition, service providers will be required to maintain 50% capacity or 5 customers allowed per 1,000 square feet of space.

The guidelines also outline how service providers should set up workspaces with social distancing and cleaning protocols. Workspaces should allow for six-foot distances between customers, shared items like magazines should be removed, and frequently touched surfaces (like seats or tables) should be disinfected after use.

Find the full list of guidelines here.

COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. We recommend checking the Coronavirus Information Center for the most recent numbers and guidance.

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