UPDATED: State suspends group senior meal programs amid coronavirus spread
Carry-out, delivery programs still allowed as state implements social distancing measures
Editor's Note: This story has been udpated with new numbers on coronavirus cases and new information about the cancellation of IHSA sporting events.
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department on Aging issued an order to state senior centers Wednesday to “immediately suspend all gathering activities,” including group meals and social activities, in response to the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.
“Locations where seniors gather such as congregate meal sites and senior centers may increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19 and community spreading of the virus,” the department wrote in a guidance letter.
The letter directed area aging agencies to notify providers, staff and clients of the closures within 24 hours. The agencies were also directed to notify those groups of immediate alternatives that will still be available during the group meal suspension, including box lunch services, pick-up options or home-delivered meals.
Area agencies were also instructed to obtain a list of contact information for impacted seniors and determine how to provide regular updates to them.
In the Perry County city of Du Quoin, the Gold Plate Senior Center told the Daily Call newspaper that it was urging seniors to come in for carry-out meals or request delivery.
Jill Sanders, assistant director at the facility, told the newspaper the coronavirus is creating difficulty for seniors by imposing isolation on them.
“They come here for the nutrition but they also come for the socialization,” Sanders said.
She said 20 to 30 seniors come in each weekday for lunch and activities.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there were 32 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Thursday evening. About a quarter of those are believed to be from “community spread,” which means the infected persons have neither a travel history to an affected area nor a connection with other known cases.
Another 92 tests of people under investigation are pending, while 294 tests have come back negative.
The cancellation of group meals is a method of “social distancing” which has been employed elsewhere across the state and the U.S. as the country grapples with the global coronavirus pandemic.
Social distancing means “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Illinois General Assembly on Wednesday announced the cancellation of legislative session next week, and the Illinois High School Association announced that it was curtailing attendance at the upcoming state basketball tournament before canceling the remainder of the tournament altogether later Thursday.
In Chicago, the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parades were postponed, and several state colleges and universities have either canceled classes or moved to distance learning platforms indefinitely.
Nationally, the NCAA has announced its March Madness basketball tournament will be played without fans and the NBA announced the suspension of its season.
“Even if you yourself are young and healthy, your neighbors, your family members, even the people who walk the same streets of your community as you do, might not be,” Pritzker said in his Wednesday briefing. “It’s on all of us to minimize spread and keep Illinois healthy.”
“The virus is here in Illinois. While it may not be in your community now, we anticipate it will be eventually. We all need to take action now by postponing large events and restricting visits to nursing homes to limit the spread,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a briefing Thursday. “Guidance for this novel virus is changing day by day, sometimes hour by hour, but we want to empower people to think about what they can do to reduce their risk of possible infection, as well as spread of the virus. The state will continue with containment efforts while also implementing mitigation strategies and we’re asking for your help in these efforts.”