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Precautions being taken for voters in primary election
 Jeff Bonty  / 

KANKAKEE — Despite the growing list of cancellations amid coronavirus concerns, Tuesday’s primary election will go on as planned in Illinois. But, local election officials say, many precautions will be in place to minimize the risk of exposure to coronavirus at polling places.

Kankakee County Clerk Dan Hendrickson said election judges at polling places will provide hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to voters. Also, judges have been instructed to regularly wipe down pollbooks, voting booths and touch-screen voting devices.

“If voters want to, they can also use their own black pen to vote,” he said.

All polling locations will be open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, but Hendrickson suggested voters visit their polling place during the slower times of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Early voting still is available, with voters able to cast a ballot until 7 p.m. today at the Kankakee County Clerk’s office, 189 E. Court St., Kankakee.

As of Wednesday, 1,700 voters had taken advantage of early voting in Kankakee County. After Sunday’s early voting hours, that number had jumped to more than 2,800. That surpasses the 2016 early voting total, with another day of early voting to go.

“I’m sure COVID-19 is a factor, but won’t know for sure until we see the numbers on Tuesday,” Hendrickson said.

Voters with questions may contact the clerk’s office at 815-937-2990.

Trump calls on Americans to cease hoarding food, supplies (copy)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is calling on people to stop hoarding groceries and other supplies.

“You don’t have to buy so much,” Trump said at a news conference Sunday. “There’s no need for anybody in the country to hoard essential food supplies. Take it easy. Just relax.”

He said there are “no shortages” at stores but people are “buying three-to-five times what they normally buy.”

Trump assured Americans, after speaking with leading grocery chain executives, that grocers would remain open and that the supply chain remained healthy. Speaking at the same White House news conference, Vice President Mike Pence urged Americans to buy only the groceries they need for the week ahead.

Earlier Sunday, Trump held a call with more than two dozen grocery store and supply chain executives to discuss their response to the coronavirus outbreak. Retailers have reported shoppers flocking to stores to stock up on food and other essentials. Consumers have expressed frustration that some items — such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper — are becoming more difficult to find.

Officials in Washington were preparing for what was expected to be a long-haul effort to try to stem the virus that has upended life around the globe.

How low can gas prices go?
 leeprovost63  / 

As area per-gallon gasoline costs have dropped below $2 per gallon and even lower than $1.90 per gallon at some stations, the question now on the minds of motorists is how low can prices go and how long will this last?

Those questions are hard to answer for even those who monitor the ups and downs of petroleum prices on a daily basis.

“We certainly believe within the next two to three weeks, gas prices in the Kankakee County area could drop 20 to 30 cents,” said Allison Mac, a petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com. “Motorists could be seeing prices in the $1.60 to $1.70 a gallon range.”

Prices have not been this low in the Kankakee County market since February 2016, Mac noted.

The plunging prices are, of course, a direct result of the coronavirus and the impact it is having on business and industry. The second major factor is the oil price war taking place between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Per-barrel oil has dropped to $32 a barrel, nearly a 50 percent drop from the January average crude price of $63.82.

“This is very much unprecedented. We never foresaw the coronavirus affecting developed countries — like Italy, Germany and U.S. In China, the people are not consuming oil. People are staying home,” Mac said.

With prices falling so rapidly and so dramatically, Mac advises motorists not to fill up their gas tanks. Instead, she said, only put in a half-tank so future price drops can be taken advantage of.

“The market is so volatile. We now look at the market as pre-coronavirus and post-coronavirus,” she said.

So how long will these depressed prices remain? That question is hard for anyone to answer, but Mac believes for at least the next few months.

She also believes foreign travel will be down this summer, so perhaps domestic travel will increase, so lower gas prices could spur summertime travel.

Stay tuned. These are unprecedented times.

Rent-a-bike program to return April 1
 leeprovost  / 

Even though it might be less expensive to drive a car because of the dropping gas prices, that doesn’t mean people should only drive cars.

The area’s Bike 609 program is set to return on April 1, noted Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director Staci Wilken. The program’s 50, 26-inch bikes will be available at 11 locations throughout Kankakee, Bradley, Bourbonnais and Manteno.

The Bike 609 program concludes in October or November, depending on the weather. It is a rent-a-bike program through the biking company, Zagster, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company. Through the credit card pay-as-you-go app at one of the area’s Bike 609 bike racks, riders are able to rent a bike.

Riders are charged a fee based on ride duration. Bikes can be returned to any Bike 609 station.

Wilken is looking for participation to continue to rise as it has done since it was unveiled in July 2018.

Wilken noted that last year the program had 1,464 total users and a total of 2,492 trips taken. Though data collected by Wilken, the program resulted in 628 fewer vehicle miles being driven.

According to data which is broken down by area codes, residents of the 60914 area code used the bikes the most with 20 percent; 60901, 18 percent; 60915, 10 percent; 60950, 7 percent; and 60954, 2 percent.

Interestingly, women used the bikes more — 62 percent of bike riders versus 38 percent. The largest age group of were people ages 18 to 34.

In addition, the median trip duration was 40 minutes and the average trip distance was 2 miles.

Dave Simmons, executive director of Ride Illinois, a non-profit dedicated to promoting biking, said programs such Bike 609 simply gives more people another option other than driving.

“These biking programs are not money makers. It’s about reducing traffic, better health and less wear and tear on our roads,” he said.

Simmons said there will be naysayers to programs like this. He expects participation to grow as the program gains a greater hold within the community.

“If this tradition continues, there is potential for some very cool things. Human beings are impatient. At first things look foreign and odd, but they become more the norm as time goes on. Before you know it, the opposition goes away.”

Wilken is hopeful the Bike 609 program will grow to other county towns.

“We’re definitely open to anyone who’s open to Bike 609,” she said.