CHICAGO — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday ordered schools throughout the state closed for the rest of the semester because of the lingering threat of the coronavirus.
Pritzker announced the move during his daily briefing in Chicago, extending school closures past the April 30 date he had set earlier. As of Friday, Illinois had recorded 27,575 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,134 deaths.
In issuing his latest order, Pritzker acknowledged the disruption it would cause to students and their families.
“But my priority remains unchanged. How do we save the most lives during this very difficult time?” Pritzker said. “The answer to that question leaves us with only one path forward.”
The governor closed schools March 17 amid growing concern over the virus, idling more than 2 million children midway through the spring semester, including 355,000 in Chicago’s public school district, which is the third largest in the nation. A week later, he issued a statewide stay-at-home order, restricting people from going out except for necessities such as groceries and medicine.
The stay-at-home order was to last through March, but with the disease spreading rapidly, Pritzker extended it and the school closures through April. The Democrat has repeatedly dodged questions about whether he will extend the stay-at-home order beyond this month.
Chicago schools, whose post-Labor Day start is among the latest in the state, also lost classroom time because of a 14-day teachers’ strike last fall. Even before the virus outbreak, Chicago schools wouldn’t have recessed until June 18.
Students in many parts of the state don’t have internet access at home. Pritzker’s office released a map showing public wi-fi “hotspots” for schoolchildren who don’t have home internet access.
Republican state Rep. Ryan Spain, whose Peoria-area district reaches counties that educate more than 25,000 pupils, noted the equity issues with e-learning and said Pritzker must make clear that the semester will continue online.
“I worry about the lost development for this generation of students,” said Spain, who has a daughter in first grade. “Remote learning is a far cry from in-person school, but we need to keep students engaged to retain as much knowledge as possible.”
Child care presents another problem if parents are allowed to return to work, Spain said.
The order came a day after President Donald Trump issued guidance for states to reopen the country’s economy, which has been rocked by widespread shutdowns of nonessential businesses and 22 million people filing for unemployment. Pritzker has said he’s waiting for the number of new COVID-19 cases in Illinois to start dropping before he’ll loosen the state’s social-distancing restrictions.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The disease is particularly hard on the elderly, and the mayor of Joliet said Friday that he has asked the governor to launch an investigation into the coronavirus-related deaths of 22 residents and a staff member at a nursing home in the northern Illinois city.
A spokeswoman for the facility, Symphony of Joliet, announced the deaths on Wednesday. The facility had reported a total of three deaths as recently as last week.
Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said that he had asked Pritzker’s office late Thursday to initiate an investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health and to “start untangling the mess of what happened inside that nursing home.”
“We don’t have the answers right now, but we’re going to get the answers,” he said. “Certainly Joliet families (and) people who lost their loved ones inside the nursing home have a right to get those answers.”
Spokeswomen for the governor’s office and nursing home, and officials from the health department didn’t immediately reply to Friday emails seeking comment about the mayor’s request.