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Ask The Newsroom: Child Care, Gyms, Restaurants

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

Below you’ll find answers to questions about child care, businesses and schools. 

Please note: This information is accurate as of Feb. 12, 2021.

Child Care and Schooling

Q: Is there going to be any relief package available for childcare centers?

The Illinois Department of Human Services stated in a December press release that Governor J.B. Pritzker is expanding assistance for Illinois child care providers from December through February as part of the Child Care Assistance Program and the CARES Act.

Earlier in the year, the Pritzker administration provided $270 million in relief to child care providers, funding that was available through the state’s Business Interruption Grant Program. The state is now providing an additional $20 million through the CARES Act.

The support includes payment for all eligible days of childcare, regardless of attendance, for December, January and February, as well as the purchase and distribution of PPE for child care providers in Illinois.

“Our lives are full of so many unknowns right now – and our childcare services know that all too well,” Pritzker said in the release. “From staff calling in sick or staying home to take care of their own families, to concerns about community transmission, to families pulling their kids out of care – these tumultuous times have rained down in multiple ways upon our early childhood network of providers.

“I wanted to make it easier for them, so we can make sure childcare is available to parents who need it.” – Marissa Plescia, Illinois Public Media

Q: How does the stay at home orders affect the daycare centers? Should I keep my kids home?

Daycare centers are allowed to reopen throughout the entire state, according to the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services.

Every individual daycare center must submit a plan for combating COVID-19 to their licenser before opening. Plans primarily include safety precautions, according to the department.

All individuals that enter a daycare center must wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines, according to the DCFS website. The facilities must be regularly cleaned and provide hand sanitization. All staff are required to complete COVID-19 prevention training.

Daycare centers are required to submit protocol to their licenser regarding visitation schedules, locations, supervision, activities and number of visitors allowed at one time, according to the department. 

Protocol also includes procedure for cancelled/postponed visits if someone displays or records symptoms.

All protocols should be communicated to parents, the department website states. – Gwyn Skiles, Illinois Public Media

Q: Why are schools allowed to make their own decisions? What if staff can work from home, and the school does not want to allow that?

School districts vary in terms of student population, available staff, classroom size, transportation routes and other factors. Due to unique circumstances and without direct federal mandates, decisions about school reopenings are up to district leadership, according to Education Week.

Schools still have to make decisions about in-person learning in accordance with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for safety, as well as the Illinois State Board of Education’s guidelines. 

Special accommodations can be made in individual cases, but without a compelling reason, teachers must go to work, according to the Illinois Education Association. For example, Urbana School District 116 has plans for both students and staff who elect to stay home for school and work.

The CDC’s website on considerations with safe reopening of schools says “considerations are meant to supplement—not replace—any federal, state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which schools must comply.”

The CDC recommends speaking with employers or healthcare providers to discuss alternative options. Individuals with disabilities and health vulnerabilities can look to protections, including requests for accommodations, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Employees that are concerned about the safety of their workplace can file a complaint with OSHA. – Vivian La, Illinois Public Media

Gyms and Sports

Q: Why aren’t all gyms requiring masks when breathing hard throws germs further?

Some fitness center owners and athletes says they and their clients struggle to breath while wearing a mask during their workouts.  However, the CDC encourages people to patronize fitness centers that encourage mask use at all times, including during workouts, and they recommend performing. The CDC says there are many factors that increase risk of exposure in gyms and to take individual precautions. They suggest using gyms and fitness centers with adequate ventilation and space, not going during peak times and doing high-intensity workouts outdoors to minimize risk. 

Illinois’ Phase 4 guidelines for indoor fitness centers states that masks are strongly encouraged but not required. Minimum guidelines say to wear a mask when not exercising, while the best practice is wearing a cloth face mask while exercising.

The Champaign Fitness Center says they don’t require masks when actively exercising, but will enforce mask use when walking around or in the locker rooms.

If someone is six feet apart from someone, masks can be pulled down, says Malik Abdulrahman, membership director.

Abdulrahman says the gym has been following state mandates on mask wearing.

“It is pretty hard to work out in a mask,” Abdulrahman said. “But just requiring them (around the gym) is so important now still because there’s so much heavy breathing that goes on with wearing a mask.”

According to NPR, the best way to minimize exposure to COVID-19 in gyms is to wear a mask as much as possible and stay as far apart from others as you can — at least six feet and preferably 12 feet.

– Vivian La, Illinois Public Media

Q: Why are bowling leagues allowed to continue?

Bowling leagues in Illinois are operating under the Illinois All Sports guidelines, which lists bowling as a low-risk sport and allows for activities like practices as well as intra-conference and intra-league play.

Competitive bowling must follow safety guidelines, which include enforcing social distancing when possible, mask wearing and other procedures. As part of a lawsuit settlement between the state and the Illinois State Bowling Proprietors Association, bowling was reclassified as an indoor sport, rather than indoor entertainment, meaning they are now allowed to operate with a capacity of 200 people or 50% of their occupancy, whichever is less.

This change went into effect in August 2020, according to Cook County Record.

Practices such as limiting large gatherings, spacing out bowling lanes and frequent sanitation are required under the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s bowling guidelines. – Vivian La, Illinois Public Media

Restaurants

Q: Is there any real proof that bars and restaurants in Illinois are the cause for the great uptick in coronavirus cases?

The Illinois Department of Public Health provides daily data for case breakdowns by potential exposure locations. Contact tracing from confirmed and probable cases provide this data. As of Jan. 29, restaurants and bars are listed as the eighth largest exposure location, below hospitals, clinics and grocery stores. 

However, the health department said these exposure locations are not definite. Contact tracing is not always exact. The accuracy of data relies on many factors, such as whether a location is willing to report case information, according to the health department’s website. Gwyn Skiles, Illinois Public Media

 
 

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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