The Illinois Newsroom team is answering questions from listeners to navigate this unprecedented time. Have a question you want answered? Ask here.
Please note, the information is accurate as of Feb. 1, 2021.
In today’s edition of “Ask the Newsroom,” we sought answers regarding…
Q: Can my electricity be turned off due to nonpayment?
Ameren, which provides electricity to all Illinois residents outside of the Chicagoland and Northern Illinois area, has resumed assessing late fees as of July 27, 2020. However, residential customers will not have their electricity turned off due to a moratorium Ameren and other energy companies agreed to volunteer to. The current moratorium is set to expire March 31, 2021.
Businesses, however, can still have their electricity turned off. This began August 11, 2020.
Some individuals may qualify for payment assistance. For example, support is available through the Low Income Home Energy Assistant Program. For more information on eligibility, click here.
Ameren also provides its own energy payment assistance programs.
Q: How are non-compliant restaurants being handled? I went into one to pick up an order and had to cancel on the spot after seeing the employees were not wearing masks, including the kitchen employees. After discussing this with the night manager, this restaurant had not been following the mask wearing or dining limitations all along.
Various restaurants in central Illinois have had their health permits and food and beverage permits suspended for violating state COVID-19 mandates. Merry Ann’s Diner in Champaign was temporarily closed and fined for violating the county’s indoor service ban in early December and is facing repercussions from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, according to The News-Gazette.
Urbana restaurant Apple Dumplin’ also had their health permit suspended in early December for indoor dining and has since reached a legal settlement allowing them to do takeout orders after being reinspected, as reported in The News-Gazette.
Beyond some individual cases, however, the “vast majority” of businesses in the area are in compliance for the most part, Jim Roberts, the Champaign County director of environmental health said.
Effective May 1, 2020, all employees of essential and non-essential businesses have been required to wear face masks when social distancing isn’t possible, per Illinois Executive Order 2020-32.
The Illinois Attorney General’s website suggests contacting the local health department in order to report a business, service, or organization that is not complying with state guidelines on face coverings or distancing.
Most local health department sites have pages or COVID contact lines to submit complaints of non-compliant behavior. Roberts said that Champaign County establishments can be best reported at firstname.lastname@example.org or (217) 239-7877.
Q: There is much talk of contact tracing. I now know 14 people who have tested positive and not one of them has been asked for a list of people they have been in contact with. Is contact tracing happening or not.
All 97 health departments across the state are using contact tracing, according to data from the state health department. Out of more than 767,751 COVID-19 cases between August 1 to January 2, contract tracers have attempted to reach 350,000 contacts and interviewed over 300,00 contacts.
The state health department recommends that anyone in contact with someone who has contracted COVID-19 quarantine for 14 days. Even if residents have not been contacted by a contact tracer, it’s still important for them to monitor any symptoms, get tested, and quarantine at home.
If anyone has questions about contact tracing in Illinois, they are encouraged to contact state health officials or their local health department.
COVID-19 In Schools
Q: How is the governor going to address the rising numbers of COVID-19 in schools and school staff and teachers in the state of Illinois? Why doesn’t he close down all the schools to help curb the growing number of cases?
So far, Illinois school districts have been allowed to decide to reopen school buildings in compliance with state guidelines on their own accord, according to Ballotpedia.
The state health department has outlined specific measures for reopening and closing amid outbreaks, as well as recommending social distancing measures for schools who choose to reopen.
In Chicago, many schools have been scheduled to reopen on January 11, despite growing numbers of infections in districts across Illinois. With the rise in cases, many aldermen and teachers have refused to go back to in-person instruction. The issue is still not resolved.
On January 13, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that CPS’ McCutcheon Elementary, which recently reopened, saw COVID-19 clusters which have forced several people into quarantine.
In recent Illinois press briefings, officials have turned their attention to vaccines and their distribution rather than school reopenings. Teachers are now considered “frontline essential workers” which puts them into the 1b category for vaccination. And, according to reporting from NPR, many teachers want to get vaccinated as they get back into their classrooms this spring.