Over the last week, my office has received a number of questions about how state government is responding to COVID-19. We’ve pulled together updates to share with you here.
Additionally, the State of Illinois has established a website to bring together answers to many questions you may have. https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/coronavirus/Pages/default.aspx
Understandably, there is a great deal of concern in our community about the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.
According to the CDC, symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath may appear 2-14 days after exposure. More information can be found at the CDC website here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html
IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING SYMPTOMS, CALL YOUR DOCTOR
If you’re experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms, the first thing you should do is call your primary care physician immediately. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and determine if COVID-19 testing is required and provide next steps to receive testing.
NOTE: It’s crucial that you call your doctor BEFORE visiting in person or going to an emergency room. This is to avoid spreading the virus or creating an unnecessary burden on emergency medical personnel.
Additionally, many hospitals and primary care physicians are offering extended virtual visit hours and telemedicine options. Check with your physician to see what options are available to you.
IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A DOCTOR
If you don’t have a primary care doctor, you can call the Illinois Department of Public Health’s hotline at 1-800-889-3391 OR call the county health department hotlines that have been established:
Lake County – Good Shepherd and Condell Hospitals COVID-19 24-hour hotline: (866) 443-2584
McHenry County Department of Public Health Hotline: (815) 334-4500
Cook County Department of Public Health: (708) 633-4000 Ext. 3
The Governor has issued a stay-at-home order that started at 5 PM Saturday, March 21, and will be in place until Tuesday, April 7. Under this order, many things won’t change. You’ll still be able to leave your house to go to the doctor, buy groceries, visit a pharmacy, fill your car with gas, and to take a walk or go for a run. Many people will still be able to go to work.
Please, don’t rush to the grocery store and don’t hoard food or supplies. These resources will continue to be available to you. You’ll also still be able to pick up dinner from local restaurants. Banks will remain open as will veterinarians, plumbers, laundromats, and banks. Farmers will continue to work their fields.
Roads, bridges, and the fundamental building blocks of our society will remain open.
All non-essential businesses must stop operating. If you can work from home, but aren’t already doing so, now is the time to start. If you don’t have to go out, stay at home and do your part to stop the spread of COVID-19. If you do have to go out, be safe about it. Maintain proper social distancing, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face.
As we enter this new phase in the fight against COVID-19, please take a moment to remember the heroes who are on the front lines of this pandemic. Doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers are on the front lines providing vital medical care. National Guard, police, fire, and EMTs are keeping us safe while truckers and people in the manufacturing business are keeping our supply chain moving.
Grocery store, gas station, and pharmacy employees continue to provide access to daily essentials like food, fuel, and medication. Small businesses, people in the foodservice industry, and delivery drivers are going above and beyond to provide goods and services and comfort to us as we stay at home to prevent further spread of the virus. Members of the media are working to provide information to the public.
What the Governor’s Executive Order does is ask you to stay home and support these people in the critical work they’re doing. We are asked to stay at home because these people can’t. We must all do our part.
These essential businesses, operations, and related services will remain open:
- Police stations
- Fire stations
- Hospitals/clinics and healthcare operations
- Human service operations
- Community-based organizations that provide meals and social services
- Transportation, including airports, CTA and Metra
- Utilities: Water, power, gas, etc.
- Public works
- Gas stations
- Grocery stores
- Food banks
- Convenience stores
- Restaurants for: Delivery, take-out, curbside delivery
- Banks and financial institutions
- Laundromats/laundry service
- Funeral services
- Hotel and lodging
- Hardware and supply stores
- Critical trades such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, security personnel etc.
- Post offices and other shipping service
If you have questions about whether or not your business is considered essential under this order, please call the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-252-2923 or email CEO.email@example.com.
For more frequently asked questions about the stay at home order, visit https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/coronavirus/FAQ/Pages/Stay-At-Home-FAQS.aspx
With small businesses and their employees throughout Illinois feeling the impact of COVID-19, I wanted to bring your attention to a few resources that may provide relief.
The Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) has announced that it will defer sales tax payments for more than 24,000 bars and restaurants. Bars and restaurants that incurred less than $75,000 in sales tax liabilities last year will not be charged penalties or interest on late payments due between March and May. However, qualified taxpayers must still file their sales tax return even if they are unable to make a payment.
Taxpayers who take advantage of this relief will be required to pay their sales tax liabilities due in March, April, and May in four installments starting on May 20 and extending through August 20. For more information, please check the Illinois Department of Revenue’s informational bulletin.
Illinois has now officially been approved for disaster assistance loans for small businesses facing challenges amid the growing health crisis. Eligible businesses can apply for up to $2 million in low-interest loans available through the U.S. Small Business Administration. To apply online or to check your application status, visit https://disasterloan.sba.gov
For more business frequently asked questions visit https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/coronavirus/FAQ/Pages/Business-FAQ.aspx
STATE TREASURER TO PROVIDE BRIDGE LOANS
Illinois small businesses can tap into $250 million in low-interest bridge loans as soon as this week to help push through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state treasurer’s office will make $250 million available to Illinois banks and credit unions that wish to participate. The financial institutions will determine who is eligible for the loans. More information is available at this link: https://illinoistreasurergovprod.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/twocms/media/doc/march2020_smallbizreliefprogram.pdf
Unemployment benefits may be available to some individuals who are unemployed because of COVID-19. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) recently adopted emergency rules to try to make the unemployment insurance system as responsive to the current situation as possible. To keep up with any changes or updates, please visit: https://www2.illinois.gov/ides/Pages/COVID-19-and-Unemployment-Benefits.aspx
If you have questions, IDES has set up a page with frequently asked questions about unemployment due to COVID-19.
For more frequently asked questions about unemployment visit https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/coronavirus/FAQ/Pages/Unemployment-FAQ.aspx
Currently, all K-12 schools (both public and private) have been closed by executive order. The closure also includes early childhood programs located in public and private schools. Internships, experiential learning opportunities, and behind-the-wheel driver’s education are included as well.
According to executive order, all school days that are missed will be counted as Act of God days. While it has been recommended that schools provide students with learning opportunities or schoolwork during the closure, the work completed will not count toward or affect students’ grades.
For more information about the closures, visit this link: https://www.isbe.net/COVID19.
Resources for parents and teachers to keep students engaged can be found at this link: https://www.isbe.net/e-learning
Answers to other frequently asked questions can be found here: https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/coronavirus/FAQ/Pages/Education-FAQs.aspx
Illinoisans will soon have greater access to healthcare from home as the state continues to work to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rules have been relaxed around telemedicine for Medicaid and private insurers that will allow more providers to be reimbursed for providing these services. Plans regulated by the Department of Insurance will be reimbursed at the same rate at which they are reimbursed for in-person visits. Private health insurers are prohibited from imposing any cost-sharing for in-network providers. For Medicaid, the emergency rules also require providers to be reimbursed at the same rate at which they are reimbursed for in-person visits.
Additionally, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services has filed an 1135 waiver with the federal government that would remove barriers for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The goal is to increase access to telehealth, increase the number of health care providers that can screen patients, allow 90-day prescription supplies without prior authorization and early refills.
The Department of Human Services has also filed a federal waiver that would ease eligibility requirements for food assistance programs like SNAP and WIC, which cover 1.8 million Illinoisans and 174,000 pregnant women and parents of young children, respectively.
According to the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the federal emergency declaration has added flexibility to the Medicaid system that will help cover costs involved with testing for and treating patients for COVID-19.
The flexibility includes covering testing and treatment for uninsured patients and current Medicaid members as well as speeding up the process for applying for Medicaid coverage for affected patients.
This flexibility will also help with healthcare providers who need to offer services at alternate sites, offering telehealth and telepsychiatry options, and providing certain services without prior authorization for therapy services. In addition, through at least June 1, telehealth rules and requirements will be significantly broadened to help providers offer services in new places and through new methods of communication.
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services is continuing to update health providers as they learn more about what resources and options are available. Some healthcare providers are waiving out-of-pocket costs for Covid-19 testing, and insurers may be temporarily halting the dropping of insurance coverage for specific reasons.
Healthcare providers can read updated bulletins from the Department of Healthcare and Family Services: https://www.illinois.gov/hfs/MedicalProviders/notices/Pages/default.aspx
The Illinois Department of Insurance has issued a consumer FAQ in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that tackles questions about health coverage and the public’s ability to access health care services.
The FAQ tackles questions like, “Who pays for COVID 19 diagnostic testing if needed?” and “Can my insurance carrier cancel or refuse to renew my insurance policy if I am diagnosed with COVID 19 or a preexisting respiratory illness?”
Read answers to these questions and more at this link. https://insurance.illinois.gov/Newsrls/2020/03/COVID-19-FAQ.pdf
In light of ongoing health concerns surrounding the coronavirus/COVID-19 health crisis, a number of Illinois’ utility companies have announced measures being taken to help alleviate unnecessary stress and burdens for Illinois residents.
As of March 17, Illinois American Water, Ameren, ComEd, Nicor, and AT&T have all announced holds on shutoffs during the coronavirus outbreak. Ameren Illinois, ComEd and Nicor each will suspend service disconnections and forgive late payment fees for non-payment through May 1.
On March 13, AT&T took the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge” promising not to terminate the service of any wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customer because of their inability to pay their bill due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic for the next 60 days.
In addition to their announced moratorium on disconnecting services, Illinois American Water plans to restore services to customers whose service was previously shutoff prior to March 12.
Ameren customers who need assistance with paying their bill can contact their customer care team at spr.ly/amerenillinoisfor payment options.
ComEd customers who are experiencing financial hardship can visit ComEd.com/CAREor call 800-334-7661.
For information about Nicor energy assistance programs, visit nicorgas.com/residential/billingandpaymentoptions/energy-assistance-programs.html.
To view AT&T’s full pledge, visit about.att.com/pages/COVID-19.html.
After a wave of a panic buying that saw stores jammed with customers and merchandise depleted due to stockpiling, the Governor and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association have worked to organize a statewide coalition of grocery stores. This coalition will set aside one or more hours of operations for senior citizens and other vulnerable populations.
These special shopping hours will typically take place before the store opens to the general public, which should help ensure our most vulnerable can find essential items.
Some notable stores that will be holding special shopping hours include ALDI, Costco, Jewel-Osco, Schnucks, Target, and Walmart. For the full list of participating grocery stores and their designated special shopping hours, follow this link: https://irma.org/covid-19-senior-shopping/
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) has announced that it will extend deadlines for professional license renewal and continuing education requirements.
Any professional licenses issued by IDFPR that have renewal dates from March 1, 2020, through July 31, 2020, are granted an automatic extension to renew to September 30, 2020.
Also, all current licensees under IDFPR’sjurisdiction whose license renewal deadlines are from March 1, 2020, through July 31, 2020, shall have through September 30, 2020, to complete their continuing education coursework.
Acomplete list of professions affected by this renewal extension is available at this link https://www.idfpr.com/forms/DRE/3%2017%202020%20IDFPR%20Variance%20Press%20Release%20Exhibit.pdf
The state’s healthcare system could soon see a wave of reinforcements coming to help in the fight against COVID-19. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) has announced changes to licensing rules that will make it easier for medical professionals who have recently left the medical field to join the fight against COVID-19 and for out-of-state health professionals to work in Illinois.
The department has created a pathway for free licensure renewal for inactive or non-renewed physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and respiratory care therapists. The no-cost renewals would allow for working under the direction of the IEMA, IDPH, or in a long-term care facility, hospital, or Federally Qualified Health Center.
Additionally, out-of-state physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and respiratory care therapists will be able to work in Illinois through September 20. These medical professionals must meet specific requirements, including holding current licenses in good standing in their home state, as well as applying to work at approved facilities.
You can find out more information at this link: https://www.idfpr.com/COVID-19.asp