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All Illinois schools closed until March 30
 Stephanie Markham  / 

Every school in Kankakee and Iroquois counties — as well as every school in Illinois — will be closed until March 30 as a result of a state mandate from Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The news came during the governor’s press conference late Friday afternoon and after days of discussions and preparations at local schools to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. As the virus became more and more of a worldwide concern this week, local school officials said they were focusing on prevention while looking to health officials for guidance on further action.

Other states and large cities shut down schools this week over COVID-19 concerns, but officials in Illinois resisted until Friday. Pritzker said the decision will affect nearly 2 million students statewide.

“None of the choices that we have had to make over the last week have been easy or simple,” Pritzker said. “All of these choices have cascading effects.”

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said, “We would rather be overcautious than put the health of our most vulnerable citizens at risk.”

As the week drew to a close, many Kankakee County districts were in the process of holding staff meetings and preparing an online curriculum in the event schools were required to close.

At Bradley Bourbonnais Community High School, school officials issued a letter to parents Thursday stating that the school would have an unscheduled half-day on Friday in light of coronavirus concerns. BBCHS closed at 11 a.m. Friday to allow teachers and staff time to prepare an e-Learning curriculum, according to the letter.

About 300 BBCHS students planned to take a spring break trip to Disney World at the end of March. The trip was canceled after Disney announced late Thursday that the park would close for nearly two weeks.

District 307 Superintendent Scott Wakeley said the district had planned to go ahead with the trip so long as word from health officials, Disney and the Bob Rogers Travel Agency remained that travel to the Florida park would be OK.

Wakeley said school officials would be looking into rescheduling or getting refunds for the trip since it was canceled on Disney’s end.

“This is my 16th year as superintendent,” Wakeley said. “These are unprecedented times.”

As late as Thursday, Kankakee School District 111 was planning to have all students use Learning Anywhere, Anytime online classroom on March 19 and 20 while staff prepared for extending the online curriculum. According to a statement released before Pritzker’s announcement, school officials said they were “intent on keeping the schools open and functioning” and the district was preparing to offer meals for students in the event of a long-term closure.

District 111 Superintendent Genevra Walters said maintenance staff were working this week to perform deep cleanings in the schools. The district started doing more deep cleans in the evenings and over winter break to remedy a widespread flu problem earlier this school year, she said.

Similar discussions and preparations were underway at other local schools, including Manteno Community Unit School District 5, Momence Community Unit School District 1 and Bradley Elementary School District 61.

The closing of schools comes the same week that many large universities and colleges in Illinois suspended in-person classes due to concerns about the virus, including Kankakee Community College and Olivet Nazarene University.

Before Friday’s press conference, the Diocese of Joliet notified school pastors and principals of the following: “Based on current guidelines from local public health departments, which recommend the cancellation of public gatherings involving 250 or more people, Bishop Richard E. Pates, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Joliet, mandated the closing of schools operated by the diocese.”

The decision to temporarily close the schools, beginning Monday, March 16, applies to all Catholic schools, religious education, and youth ministry programs that are operated by the Diocese of Joliet until further notice. Catholic schools not operated by the diocese, such as those sponsored by religious orders, will make decisions individually.

Daily Journal/Tiffany Blanchette  

Olivet Nazarene University and Kankakee Community College follow suit to many colleges and universities nationwide in making accommodations because of coronavirus concerns.

The last 48 hours

State tourney canceled

Kankakee High School’s boys basketball team saw its dream season ended by the cancellation of the state tournament. C1

• Protection at the polls

Election officials say Tuesday’s primary election is on, but many precautions will be in place. Coming Monday

• State mandates

Gov. Pritzker bans all events with more than 1,000 people. Online

• Catholic churches

This weekend’s Masses at Catholic churches in the Joliet Diocese have been canceled. A3

• Senior center closes

The senior citizen lunch programs at four Kankakee County sites have been suspended. Online

• Visitor restrictions

The state puts guidelines in effect to restrict visitor access at nursing homes. A3

• Local events affected

St. Baldrick’s, Heart Ball, KHS musical and Kids Day farm event have been canceled or postponed. A3

• Gas prices plummet

Prices at the pump continue to fall, but Heard on the Street asks how low can they go? Coming Monday

• Jail closes to visitors

Sheriff Downey says in-person visitation at detention centers is closed until further notice. A4

• March Madness no more

The NCAA pulled the plug on the hugely anticipated men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. C1

• Masters golf tournament

One of golf’s most prestigious men’s tournaments has been postponed. Online

• Up-to-the-minute news

Visit daily-journal.com for the latest local, state, national and world news surrounding the coronavirus.

Officials tackled lack of testing
 Jeff Bonty  / 

The Trump administration announced Friday during a national news conference that it’s working to broaden testing for the coronavirus with a flurry of new measures.

Those measures include the appointment of a “testing czar,” emergency approval of a new high-volume testing system and a hotline for resource-stretched labs.

The moves came a day after one of the government’s top health officials called the initial testing effort “a failing” and health care professionals, politicians and patients across the country complained about lack of access to testing in the U.S.

Here in Kankakee County, Riverside Marketing Director Carl Maronich said, “We currently do not have test kits. However, if the patients meet appropriate criteria, we can test here and send those tests out.”

Kankakee County Health Department Administrator John Bevis said there are a limited number of tests kits at this time in the U.S. and that available tests are being used on qualified, high-risk individuals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells people to seek testing if they have certain symptoms of the flu-like illness consistent with the coronavirus — fever, cough and trouble breathing — and if they have traveled recently to a coronavirus outbreak area or have been in close contact with someone who’s been infected. Ultimately, it’s up to a doctor to decide who should get tested.

The CDC is also telling doctors to give priority to the elderly or those who have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, which can cause pneumonia. Doctors are also supposed to prioritize medical workers or others who have been in contact with a confirmed case.

The agency recommends people be tested for flu, to rule that out, because many of the symptoms are similar and it is flu season.

Increasing available test kits

A testing “czar” was named Friday at the Department of Health and Human Services. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health, will be responsible for coordinating between the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, as well as private labs and state and local government.

During a press conference Friday, President Donald Trump also announced that Swiss medical company Roche had received emergency approval from the FDA to run coronavirus tests on its automated, high-volume testing system. The approval is expected to help U.S. labs dramatically increase their testing capacity. Roche said the test takes about 3 1/2 hours to run and can deliver as many as 4,000 results per day.

Medicare also announced it will pay about $36 for the CDC coronavirus test and around $51 for tests from other providers. Private insurers have said they would cover the tests.

Local hospitals prepared

Maronich said Riverside Medical Center is prepared to handle any possible cases of coronavirus, adding that a full-time emergency preparedness staff works on these issues on a regular basis.

“We drill and test different aspects of preparedness weekly and monthly,” he said. “We also participate in the annual county-wide disaster drill.”

Amita Health St. Mary’s Hospital, according to its website, is “taking every precaution to ensure the well-being of all patients and visitors to any of our hospitals, outpatient centers, clinics or physician offices.”

If a person feels they may have the virus, officials are urging you do not show up at your doctor’s office or a hospital’s emergency room as you could risk infecting others. Instead, Riverside Dr. Keith Moss says, call your doctor and they will decide if further testing needs to be done. If you don’t have a provider, call the health department for assistance.

For most people, CDC officials say, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. The vast majority of people recover from COVID-19 in a couple of weeks.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

Virus impact makes investors ill
 leeprovost63  / 

Being a financial adviser, you must know the ins and outs of investment options. But, you must also know something about psychology.

These past weeks and days of financial turbulence associated with the coronavirus, oil production and prices, and their impacts on stock prices are testing these advisers in ways which have not been experienced within the past few years.

The telephones at the offices of Scott Piggush, a Manteno financial consultant, and Mike Williams, an adviser with Thrivent Financial in Bourbonnais, have been constantly ringing.

And with tens of thousands and sometime hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake, the two understand the anxieties associated with investors as they see retirement accounts being gouged by forces outside of their control.

“Turn the TV off,” said Piggush regarding advice he gives clients. “I’m talking to people all day.”

His message to investors in simple: Don’t panic.

“People should know what they own, especially if you own volatile investments. But understand if you sell you have to be right twice,” he said, meaning selling at the high and buying at the low.

“Investors need to know with a down market they haven’t lost shares, they’ve lost value in shares. Investors are still buying shares at low prices and when the market rebounds, that will provide returns,” he said.

Williams echoed the advice of Piggush.

“Emotions are not your friend when it comes to investing,” Williams said.

“My primary advice is this. Unless your plan or fiscal situation has changed, market fluctuation shouldn’t change your plan,” Williams said.

Selling at this point in a down market, Williams said, only locks in losses.

“The markets always fluctuates,” he said, acknowledging this is rather pronounced fluctuation. “You want to know what’s going on, but don’t react to every comment. Stay calm.”

Williams said investors should contact their advisers.

“Your adviser can remind you of what your strategy is.”

Like Piggush, he said, too much news can overwhelm people.

“After talking with some of my clients, a common response has been: ‘It’s not nearly as bad as I thought.’ Investors’ accounts are not as bad as many people think.”

And, he said, people need to remind themselves that in a down market, investors are acquiring assets at a greater pace due to lower values.

“This time can be a gift. You are getting more shares for less money. Remember the old adage: Buy low.”

Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, told the Associated Press, noted panic is an investor’s worst friend.

“As the uncertainty persists, the market frenzy will continue, perhaps for weeks, perhaps for months. But long-term investors must think in terms of years or decades.”

Stock market investments are most often made as part of long-term plans. Money needed in the next few years shouldn’t be in stocks, advisers note.