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Ask The Newsroom: Restaurant Safety, Stimulus Checks And More

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Due to the suddenness of the coronavirus outbreak, there is a slew of uncertainty surrounding the disease and its effects on society. 

We’ve received questions from listeners about everything from how the restaurant service should operate to prevent the spread of the virus to COVID-19 recovery efforts to the status of unemployment and stimulus checks. We’ve answered some of the questions we received below.

Restaurant workers

Q: Is there a requirement for carry-out restaurants to wear gloves and protective masks to curtail the spread of COVID-19?

Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde says, even in the absence of a pandemic, the Public Health District makes recommendations to restaurants about proper glove use while preparing food. 

Those recommendations are in place to protect public health and have not changed. 

“They need to use the same procedures they would be if they were working under normal circumstances,” Pryde says. “So that would be wearing gloves when they are making food.”

However, workers are not required to wear masks and gloves while distributing food, Pryde says, as gloves can be a “source of cross-contamination if people are just wearing them all the time.”

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, CU Public Health is working to collect and distribute masks for everyone working in public-facing jobs, including restaurant or grocery store workers.

The CDC is now recommending that everyone wear a cloth mask when in public. According to the CDC website, masks are not a substitute for social distancing, but they can help “to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”

COVID-19 in the workplace

Q: A Gilster-Mary Lee plant in Chester, Ill. had an infected worker. Shouldn’t the food manufacturing plant close?

Each state defines which businesses are essential and allowed to continue operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For “essential businesses,” public health agencies offer guidance on how to operate to reduce the risk of exposure, such as suggestions for implementing social distancing as much as possible, says Pryde.

This is easier to do in some workplaces than others.

“If you’re doing something where you’re on some kind of assembly line and you’re shoulder-to-shoulder, that’s going to be a huge problem,” Pryde says.

In the event a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, public health staffers work to figure out who the person had recently come into contact with. Staff reach out to notify them and coach them on how to quarantine and monitor for possible symptoms. That process is called contact tracing.

Travel

Q: We are traveling home to Illinois from California where we’ve been in residence for several months. Will we be required to self-quarantine?

According to Pryde, it’s a good idea for everyone to stay home as much as possible right now, which includes those returning home after domestic travel.

“When the person comes back, ideally, yes, they would just follow what Illinois is doing and stay in and stay away from people. That’s the standard right now for everyone, to stay out of public as much as possible,” Pryde says.

Recovery

Q:  Information on the total number of cases and deaths are available in many places. However, they don’ t mention any people in Illinois recovering. Is this information available anywhere? 

Roughly 43% of Illinoisans with COVID-19 make a full recovery, according to a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), who says IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike typically provides an update once a week on recovery rates during daily press briefings.

IDPH noted on Tuesday, April 21, that among the people who reported a positive COVID-19 test four weeks ago, 77% have recovered.

Unemployment and stimulus checks

Q: I know unemployment has gone up because of the virus, and they are working hard. But I feel so lost as to what I should expect. It’s been almost 2 weeks since I’ve applied [for unemployment], and I have not had any information about how long it should take, what my next steps are, etc. Can someone really just clarify what the process is right now? I just want to know what’s going on. Thank you.

Non-essential businesses have been closed since the middle of March, and many residents are still struggling to file for unemployment.

Within a five week span, Illinois had more than 513,000 unemployment claims. That’s more than the Illinois Department of Employment Services (IDES) received in all of 2019.

According to the Illinois House Republicans, the state’s economic emergency will become worse if the state doesn’t take action to help the newly unemployed.

“The unemployment claims process has been a source of hardship for all too many Illinois residents, as it has been for dozens of states across the nation,” Pritzker said. “So many families are hurting at a scale this country hasn’t seen in any of our lifetimes.”

The Governor’s office says the IDES website has fielded more than 6.5 million sessions, and the call center has processed thousands of calls per day since March 1st. 

However, the unemployment phone line urges callers to use the online portal.  

“We’ve also updated IDES’s phone system to increase capacity by 40%, substantially reducing wait times,” Pritzker said. He added that an outside call center was being created. 

Pritzker says the Department’s computer system was built to handle unemployment claims in the wake of the 2008 recession.

“It was built with the idea that unemployment would never really exceed what we saw in 2008 and 2009,” Pritzker said. 

The department has since shifted to a different server.

The IDES has 173 employees answering calls, 274 members processing claims, and 93 administrative and support staff. The administration says those employees have worked 6,500 hours of overtime, and many work through the weekend to meet the state’s increased demand.

Congress has also allocated additional money to some qualified unemployed individuals under the CARES Act. 

Whether you have applied for unemployment or not, you may still qualify for the national stimulus check. Under the CARES Act, U.S. residents should receive a check or direct deposit from the IRS. The amount depends on whether you file your taxes as an individual or jointly. 

The IRS has already started distributing that money.

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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