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Local

'Nobody knows what the future holds': DeKalb County braces for another month of crisis coping

Reactions to extended stay-at-home order as DeKalb County braces for further impact

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DeKALB – Bill McMahon said he's not surprised Gov. JB Pritzker announced Illinoisans would have to stay at home for another month, a sentiment shared by many in DeKalb County as residents were told to hunker down through April to stop the coronavirus spread.

"I expected it to be extended," McMahon, owner of The Lincoln Inn and Faranda's in DeKalb said Tuesday. "The governor made the choice of keeping people at home with safety in mind."

McMahon, like many other small business owners, is struggling though, and continued closures mean an even great dent in already lagging business. Along with a rise in COVID-19 positive cases in the state reaching almost 6,000, Pritzker announced Tuesday he will sign an executive order effective Wednesday extending Illinois' Disaster Proclamation from April 7 to April 30 as the nation struggles to contain the spread of the viral respiratory disease. Only those deemed 'essential' according to Pritzker's order are allowed to continue going to work. Others must stay at home and are told to stay out of the public unless to grocery shop, get gas or exercise.

Business are already suffering after a rocky March which has shuttered dine-in services in restaurants, forced furloughs and lay-offs across the nation and, as small business struggle to pay employees amid an ever-shrinking revenue stream, driven Illinois unemployment numbers up five times what they were this time last year.

"Faranda's is basically shut down because there are no events," McMahon said. "We've had no events, even before the stay-at-home order, because people were canceling. At The Lincoln Inn, business is down 90%. We are running 10% of the revenues of this time last year."

Pritkzer's order means public and private schools will remain closed until at least April 30.

'Act of God' days ended Monday, and schools will continue e-learning through the end of April. The governor has declared all school days henceforth will count toward the year, and none will need to be made up.

DeKalb School District 428 and Sycamore District 427 have been e-learning since Monday, March 16, and countywide schools are also providing free meals for students during the school day.

"We're going to continue as normal with our e-learning platform," said Jamie Craven, D-428 superintendent. "Nothing replaces the personal interaction between a student and their teacher and students and their peers, though."

ISBE will also issue continued guidance for schools for curriculum and remote work, and has recommended grades be used "as feedback not as an instrument for compliance," Pritzker said.

With the majority of D-428 families falling under the free and reduced lunch qualifications, income-based needs such as access to internet for assignments and other materials is still at the forefront of district leaders' minds, Craven said.

Craven said the district already has plans to distribute 250 hot spot devices to DeKalb families in need, to provide internet access in their homes, but they're not yet available.

"Unfortunately, I can't give a time of delivery," Craven said. "It's going to be a few weeks. But we do know we have families right now who are struggling to find consistent access."

In Sycamore, D-427 Superintendent Kathy Countryman said her teachers feel more prepared than they did before.

"Before, we were in a wait-and-see mode," Countryman said. "Now since we have initiated e-learning prior to spring break and we have new guidance from the state, we're in a good position to continue on with just some tweaks. This wasn't a surprise."

She also said a focus of the district is spring activities.

"We have a lot of questions and we know the students do, too," Countryman said. "We do a lot of things in the spring to celebrate our kids. We're still working through how to have those. It's on the radar."

Surviving a 'self-imposed depression'

For city leaders in DeKalb and Sycamore, the focus continues to be on providing aid for struggling local business owners and employees. Both city halls will remain in operation, with limited access to the public.

DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas said the impact will only deepen the local businesses woes in this "self-imposed depression," he said. It effects business owners in the restaurant and hospitality industry, but also those that can't get to work anymore, such as hair and nail salons, house cleaners, churches.

He said one of his big concerns remains first responders.

"Everyday I wake up wondering how we stave off the virus from our first responders," Nicklas said. "Because if every small city like ours has a fire and police department facing the same ting, we can't rely on other people to fill our facility and respond to our calls. We have to hold on as long as we can."

He said city departments are working on contingency plans in case of an outbreak which could sideline entire patrol squads, like what's happened in the Chicago Police Department.

Local municipalities don't have authority to freeze rents, but they've taken steps to lift the monthly bills burden off residents in other ways.

Similar to the tax relief the city of DeKalb approved Thursday, the city of Sycamore also approved some relief on Restaurant and Bar taxes for struggling eateries by deferring payment, said Sycamore Mayor Curt Lang.

"We have delayed the payment of Restaurant and Bar taxes [through June 30]," Lang said. "And if there's any late fees with water bills or delinquent accounts, those are going to be forgiven. If we can help businesses, we would love to, because it's difficult for sure."

McMahon offered advice for how to help keep doors open.

"At this time, you have to try to be positive and optimistic," he said. "But we need orders, and we need orders now. People ask me how they can help, and I say, "What I need is an order." Every little bit helps. I know that we're not the only ones hurting. Everyone has been so incredibly kind. It's been so heart-warming to see the community come together. But nobody knows what the future holds."
 

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