Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Illinois

Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Illinois

This page will be updated daily to reflect developments related to the spread of COVID-19 in Illinois.

Here is what you need to know about the coronavirus in Illinois, what you can do to stop it from spreading, and what steps state and local governments have or have not taken in response.

Illinois unemployment claims double

After Illinoisans filing for unemployment dropped by about half, their numbers bounced back up during the week ended Jan. 9. Requests rose to 96,667 from 45,387.

Those receiving ongoing benefits rose by over 30,000 for the week ended Jan. 2. There were 362,145 workers receiving benefits that week. Benefits data lags new claims numbers by a week.

Illinois has seen new claims rise since Tier 3 mitigation mandates were imposed Nov. 20, closing all indoor service at bars and restaurants as cold weather set in and made outdoor service difficult.

The national number of new claims was up to 965,000, a rise of 181,000 from the prior week. Those receiving unemployment benefits in the U.S. rose by nearly 200,000  to almost 5.3 million.

Entire state hits Tier 3 lockdown, masks mandated until June 3

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Jan. 3 continued his mask mandate and social distancing requirements for another 150 days. Masks must be worn indoors as well as outdoors if a six-foot distance cannot be maintained. The orders are possible because he issued 11 disaster declarations as a result of COVID-19.

Illinoisans were all being urged to work from home and limit unnecessary travel starting Nov. 20. Tier 3 mitigations were imposed statewide, including a statewide ban on indoor dining and bars, ban on indoor group recreation and other restrictions on retail, fitness centers, offices and other indoor facilities.

How many people have coronavirus in Illinois and where do they live?

There were 139 deaths reported Jan. 6 for a total of 17,096 fatalities related to the coronavirus in Illinois. There were 7,569 new confirmed cases reported Wednesday, bringing the total to 999,288 in Illinois. Approximately 85% of fatalities are among patients age 60 and older, IDPH reported. Nearly half of the deaths in Illinois have been nursing home residents.

As of Tuesday night, 3,928 people in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19.  Of those, 812 patients were in the ICU and 451 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators. The cases remained a fraction of available hospital capacity.

The state tested over 13,698,428 specimens for the virus as of Wednesday. The positive test rate averaged from the prior seven days was 8%.

All 102 counties in Illinois have each reported at least one COVID-19 case. State officials on March 17 announced the first death in Illinois attributed to the coronavirus – a Chicago woman in her 60s with an underlying health condition who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier in March. Of the state’s  17,096 deaths, 8,101 have been in Cook County and 4,255 of those in Chicago.

There were cases reported in all of Illinois’ 102 counties, with the total standing at 999,288 on Jan. 6, growing from 105 cases in 15 counties on March 16. Cook County was home to more than half of the positive cases and two-thirds of the deaths. Because of the lack of testing abilities, delays in results and the behavior of the virus, the number of people with coronavirus in Illinois is likely significantly higher than the 999,288 reported. IDPH has been updating the spread at 2:30 p.m. daily.

Statewide, COVID-19 was infecting 7,886 of every 100,000 residents through Jan. 6, higher than the national infection rate of 6,386 of every 100,000 residents. The infection rate was 7,896 of every 100,000 residents in Cook County. Cases are being tracked by ZIP code on this map compiled by the Chicago Tribune.

Stricter mandates in Will, Kankakee counties; Metro East’s pass expires

On Aug. 26 Will and Kankakee counties faced greater restrictions imposed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker after positive tests results exceeded 8% for three consecutive days. To contain the spread, mandates include eliminating all indoor dining at bars and restaurants, closing bars and restaurants by 11 p.m., limiting outdoor tables to six people and other restrictions listed here.

The restrictions were harsher than in the Metro East region of southwestern Illinois, although the Metro East had been unable to contain an infection rate that hit 10%. The area hit the 8% positivity rate and Pritzker imposed restrictions starting Aug. 18. He allowed bars and restaurants in that area to keep indoor seating after pressure from local politicians from Bond, Clinton, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties. Harsher restrictions were due on Aug. 26 because the area failed to reduce infections, but he also delayed those until Sept. 2. The Metro East’s restrictions finally matched those in Will and Kankakee counties on Sept. 2. The area’s positivity rate is now 9.6%.

Work share program could save nearly 32,000 Illinois jobs

New research by the Illinois Policy Institute shows a short-time compensation program, also known as work share, could have saved 31,795 jobs in Illinois. The program avoids full lay-offs by allowing employees to work reduced hours as well as collect unemployment benefits. Illinois is the largest state without such a program, even though it’s been available in Illinois since 2014. Gov. J.B. Pritzker could have saved those jobs and reduced the likelihood that they become permanent job losses by implementing a short-time compensation program.

Pritzker criminalizes small businesses, Take 2

On Aug. 11, Pritzker was able to criminalize business owners who fail to enforce his mask mandate when a group of state lawmakers who review such rules failed to gather the votes for an override. Pritzker now can impose criminal fines of up to $2,500 after two warnings. “They need to be reminded and reminded and then fined if they are not following this rule for the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said. He said he is not going after individuals.

President and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association Rob Karr said Pritzker is forcing business owners to police his rule after they’ve work to establish safety guidelines and taken the brunt of the economic disruption from the COVID-19 mandates.

Pritzker tried and failed once before to criminalize business owners who were not following his emergency orders. He withdrew the orders May 20 rather than be overruled by the legislative review board shortly before they were to vote.

Illinoisans still get unemployment checks rather than paychecks

Original research by the Illinois Policy Institute shows moms were suffering job losses at nearly three times the rate of comparable dads with young children at home since the COVID-19 mandates began. Only 5.7% of men with young children at home lost their jobs compared to 16.3% of similar women with children in the home.

Initial unemployment claims continued to mount as new data shows Illinois is seriously lagging other states in the region at getting people back to work. Illinois only saw a drop of 2.6% in people drawing unemployment between the weeks ending April 18 through July 4. The next-worst state saw nearly four times that improvement and Ohio had gotten nearly half of its unemployed back to work.

Fewer Illinois teens had jobs last spring than any of their Midwestern peers, but COVID-19 made it worse: Only about 1 in 7 had jobs this April and May. That was a 40% drop from a year earlier. Teen unemployment can impact future earnings and carries social and health implications.

Restaurant, bar and accommodation workers are the sector hardest hit, with 44% of their jobs gone since February in Illinois. There were 233,500 of those jobs missing, which comes as a new WalletHub study shows Illinois has the nation’s second-harshest rules imposed on its restaurants and bars. Harsh lockdown rules are associated with greater job loss.

Some of those jobs may never come back, with from 5,100 to 21,700 restaurants estimated to be at risk of permanently closing as a result of the pandemic shutdown orders and continuing restrictions during Phase 4.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security has struggled to keep up. It began adding self-employed workers on May 11 with the funding for them that was provided by the federal government. The new claims system for handling those workers exposed the Social Security numbers and other private information of 32,483 applicants before a small business owner alerted the state. The contractor paid $22 million to build and manage the system is now facing multiple lawsuits after the data breach led to identity theft.

The job sectors immediately impacted by the COVID-19 virus employ 24% of Illinois’ job force, or 1.5 million workers. The sectors were responsible for $100 billion in Illinois economic activity last year, or $103 million per day. Depending on the length of the closures, COVID-19 is expected to take away between 24% to 50% of the nation’s gross domestic product, worth between $54 billion and $113 billion.

The Illinois Policy Institute has recommended the state enact measures to blunt the economic damage from the virus. They include a more detailed reopening plan, delaying property tax payments, suspending collection of traffic fees and fines that do not impact public safety, and removing the progressive tax question from the Nov. 3 ballot so small businesses and the state economy are not hit by $3.7 billion in new taxes just as the economic recovery is expected to begin.

Minority workers take brunt of unemployment

While Illinois is regaining jobs, minority workers are being left behind, according to data released June 18. Illinois regained 62,200 jobs in mid-April through mid-May. They were not distributed evenly, with white workers regaining 13% of jobs but black workers only regaining 2% and Hispanic workers just 1%.

More than one of every five black and Hispanic women lost her job during just the first month of Illinois’ lockdown, federal data from mid-March through mid-April showed. White women fared poorly as well, with 17% of them losing jobs between mid-March and mid-April. Black men appeared to lose less, but that was only because they had already lost jobs at a higher rate in the year before the shutdown – more than 8%. Half of Americans cannot perform their jobs from home. Workers who can’t work from home are less likely to be white, less likely to have a college degree, or have employer-provided health care. They are also more likely to be in the bottom half of the income distribution, the Illinois Policy Institute analysis found.

Pritzker backs off criminal penalties, threatens cops instead

After a public outcry, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on May 20 withdrew an order that imposed Class A misdemeanor criminal penalties on business owners who defied his order to remain closed. The announcement came as a group of state lawmakers was about to meet to review the order, which imposed maximum penalties of a $2,500 fine or a year in jail. Pritzker created the rule after Madison County leaders allowed businesses to reopen May 13, with social distancing guidelines in place, and about 80 businesses sued him and reopened in defiance of his order.

He also threatened funding for police agencies that refused to enforce his stay-at-home and closure orders. The threat came on May 20 after the McHenry, Kendall, Ogle, Grundy, Hancock, Douglas and Kane County sheriffs declined to take legal action against violators and Illinois State Police said they would not be arresting business owners who violated Pritzker’s closure order.

Finally, Pritzker was unable to advance a bill to criminalize defiance of his COVID-19 emergency orders during a shortened session of the Illinois General Assembly May 20-22.

Illinois enters Phase 4

Illinois’ government mandates loosened slightly on June 26, with gatherings of up to 50 people allowed as well as inside dining at restaurants, with restrictions. The state entered Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s five-part reopening plan. Standing areas at bars are limited to 25% of capacity. Inside dining is limited to groups of 10 with six feet between tables.

The looser restrictions came just after WalletHub ranked Illinois second-last in allowing its restaurants and bars to resume operations. The state’s restaurant and accommodation sector lost 44% of its jobs since February, which is 233,500 idled workers.

Phased reopening by regions in Illinois

On May 5, Pritzker announced Illinois would use health statistics and health care capacity to implement a five-phase plan to reopen the state. The state would be divided into four regions, with the regions progressing at different paces to the next phase of reopening based on health care capacity.

Pritzker said Illinois is in the second phase. To reach the fifth, final phase, “a vaccine or highly effective treatment” or herd immunity would need to be established. The fifth phase would allow conventions and large events. Pritzker also said the current limit on gatherings to 10 involved only “essential” gatherings, and discouraged any other group gatherings.

Illinois COVID regional reopening plan

Illinois COVID regional reopening plan

Mask mandate started May 1, stay home until May 30

Illinoisans over 2 years old were ordered starting May 1 to wear masks when in public and unable to maintain a 6-foot social distance, Pritzker announced April 23. He also ordered they must stay home until May 30 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some restrictions were eased on May 1, including: allowing non-essential retail stores to take online or phone orders and fulfill them with curbside pickup or delivery; reopening some state parks to hiking, fishing and boating with no more than two people per boat; allowing some elective medical procedures; and letting nurseries and greenhouses open with proper social distancing. Pritzker already canceled the rest of the school year and had hinted the order for non-essential workers to remain home could be extended. The coronavirus was expected to peak sometime in mid- to late April, but that projection has been pushed back to mid-May as a result of the curve being flattened by the order that non-essential businesses close and people remain at home, Pritzker said April 21. The stay-at-home order started March 21 and was to expire April 30 before the latest extension. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said previously that the order could go well into June. “I would expect an extension of the stay-at-home order and the other orders that were put in place as a result of the response to COVID-19 to go through sometime in May. It certainly could go into June. June 30 is just kind of an outside marker,” Lightfoot said during a press conference. Three states – Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina – are currently moving to restart their economies, with Georgia residents able to get a haircut and massage starting Friday and then catch dinner and a movie on Monday.

Illinois issues ‘shelter-in-place’ order

Pritzker issued a “shelter-in-place” order that started 5 p.m., Saturday, March 21, for all of Illinois. The drastic order intended to curb the spread of the virus continues through May 30. The order was originally to expire April 7 but was extended by Pritzker on March 31 and again on April 23. One state lawmaker took Pritzker to court, challenging his ability to continue issuing emergency declarations, and the judge agreed that Pritzker was overstepping. The judge’s order only applies to that lawmaker, state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia. A second lawmaker, state Rep. Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, also took up the legal challenge April 29 and is trying to extend it to other Illinoisans. Pritzker’s executive order means Illinoisans should stay home as much as possible, but allows them to take walks, drive on both local roads and interstate highways as well as go to grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies. Starting May 1 they must also wear face masks when in public. Pritzker’s list of essential workers was long, including health care, industry, trades, food production and distribution. A complete list is below.

School’s out for summer

Illinois schools will remain closed for the remainder of this school year, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced April 17. “The importance of our schools and our in-person school days is not just a question of tradition and sentimentality, as essential as those things are – the shutting of in-person classroom time also risks a drop in instructional time, an extended window in which students can potentially experience summer learning loss, and an educational landscape in which some districts have more experience with remote learning than others,” Pritzker said April 17. “These challenges weighed heavily on me as we came to this decision – but my priority remains unchanged: how do we save the most lives during this difficult time? The answer to that question leaves us only with the path forward.” Illinois students have been off school since March 17. Pritzker’s order to close all schools was to expire April 30.

What to do if you think you have coronavirus and how to stay healthy

Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, shortness of breath and coughing. The strength of the symptoms will vary from person to person. If an individual exhibits symptoms, it is imperative they immediately minimize contact with other people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of directions for infected people to follow:

  • Stay in a single room in your home away from other people.
  • Call ahead to your doctor, health care provider or emergency room to let them know you may have coronavirus so they can prepare for your arrival and limit your exposure to others.
  • If you are sick, wear a face mask.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes. Then, wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face. Your eyes, nose and mouth are the easiest way to transfer the virus into your body from your hands.
  • Do not share things with others. This includes eating utensils, cups, dishes, towels or even bedding.
  • Avoid contact with pets. If you must come in contact for their care, wash hands before and after.
  • Clean frequently. Disinfect surfaces in your house including tables, sinks, toilets, phones and computers.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may not need medical attention and can remain in your home for 14 days until the symptoms subside. Remember, there is no treatment for the coronavirus, but the strength of symptoms is different for each person. This why it is important to minimize contact as much as possible. Check the CDC website for more information.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also provides information specific to the state about best practices and information for dealing with exposure to the virus.

IDPH also maintains a hotline at 800-889-3931. It supports English and Spanish at present but will soon be in Polish and Mandarin as well. You can email questions to dph.sick@illinois.gov.

Social distancing

The best way to stop the spread of coronavirus is to practice social distancing. Social distancing means staying away from others as much as possible, both in public and private spaces. The IDPH further outlines exactly how Illinoisans can practice social distancing:

  • Stay six feet away from others. Exchange verbal greetings instead of hugs or handshakes. Chicago officials also recommend an elbow bump instead of a handshake.
  • Work with your employer to find alternate ways to work. While many jobs require social interaction and must go on, those who work in offices should find ways to work remotely and minimize in-person meetings.
  • Avoid public transportation and travel in general to areas with high rates of the coronavirus.
  • Avoid going to large events. The state has already taken action to limit event sizes to fewer than 1,000 people and has asked any event with over 250 people be canceled through May 1. Avoid going to any sporting event that has not been canceled, visiting crowded stores or attending religious services. The Archdiocese of Chicago canceled all Masses in Cook and Lake counties until further notice.

For more information on how to practice social distancing, visit the IDPH’s website. Experts believe social distancing is the best way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association has published a list of grocery stores adopting special shopping hours for senior citizens and other vulnerable residents.

Policy responses

State and local leaders have taken a variety of actions in response to the coronavirus.

Shelter in place for non-essential workers: Pritzker ordered people to stay home statewide from 5 p.m., March 21, through April 30. He defined essential workers as: Health care and public health operations, human services operations, essential infrastructure, stores that sell groceries and medicine, food, beverage and cannabis production and agriculture, organizations that provide charitable and social services, media, gas stations and businesses needed for transportation, financial institutions, hardware and supply stores, critical trades, mail and delivery services, educational institutions to provide distance learning, laundry services, restaurants for consumption off-premises, supplies to work from home or for essential businesses, home-based care and services, residential facilities and shelters, professional services, day care centers for employees exempted by the executive order, manufacture, distribution, and supply chain for critical products and industries, critical labor union functions, hotels and motels for lodging or carry-out food services, and funeral services.

Bars and restaurants: Pritzker announced all restaurants and bars in Illinois will be closed to dine-in service from March 16 through at least April 30. Establishments will still be allowed to continue drive-thru and take-out services, including pickup and delivery.

Schools: Schools in Illinois will also be closed through April 7. Chicago Public School will be closed until April 20, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. Pritzker’s order applies to all schools with students in kindergarten through seniors in high school. Day care centers will still be allowed to remain open to care for children of essential workers. Universities across the state have also suspended most in-person learning. Many have moved all classes online for the remainder of the spring semester and told their students to move home.

Unemployment: On March 11 the Pritzker Administration announced it was filing emergency rules so those unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak could receive benefits. For the week ending March 28 there were more than 178,000 new unemployment benefits claims, about 1800% more than the same week a year earlier. The Illinois Department of Employment Security has a guide to COVID-19 and unemployment benefits, including answers to frequently asked questions. IDES offices closed to the public on March 19 to prevent the virus from spreading, but services are available online or by phone. To file an unemployment claim, click here. IDES staff can answer questions by calling 800-244-5631, or persons using TTY devices may call 866-488-4016. Benefits certification can be performed at this link or by calling 312-338-4337 between 5 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. weekdays.

Primary elections: The March 17 primary elections went forward as planned, despite state guidance to cancel gatherings of over 50 people and federal guidance to limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer. The chief spokesman for Chicago’s Board of Election Commissioners told reporters March 17 that local election officials on March 11 requested Pritzker suspend in-person voting. Ohio shut down polling places ahead of the March 17 primary. Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton ordered the closures to “avoid the imminent threat with a high probability of widespread exposure to COVID-19 with a significant risk of substantial harm to a large number of the people in the general population, including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems and chronic medical conditions.” Georgia and Louisiana also postponed their primary elections, which were slated for late March.

Public events: Pritzker recommended avoiding any gathering of more than 10 people. Gatherings have been canceled until at least May 1. In addition, Pritzker spoke with the owners of all major sports teams in Illinois and asked they not host any home games until at least May 1. The owners agreed, meaning the home opener for the Cubs and White Sox will not take place until at least May 1 and possibly as late as July depending on how Major League Baseball reacts to the situation. The Bulls and Blackhawks will most likely not play at the United Center again this season based on this recommendation and their playoff chances.

Casinos: All 10 casinos in Illinois have been told by state gambling regulators to shut their doors through April 30.

State parks: The Illinois Department of Natural Resources also announced they will be closing all state parks until further notice.

Toll roads: The Illinois Tollway also announced all tolls will need to be paid electronically, and it will not operate toll booths staffed by employees for the time being.

Metra: Metra cut weekday train service in half starting March 23, due to severe drops in ridership.

Relief efforts for small businesses

United States Bartender Guild’s National Charity Foundation: Offering emergency grants to bartenders.

The Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation: Funds on-the-ground relief efforts in the restaurant industry, zero-interest loans for affected businesses and direct aid to workers.

This list will be continuously updated.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!