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CAPITOL RECAP: Illinois State Fair to open after one-year hiatus

CAPITOL RECAP: Illinois State Fair to open after one-year hiatus

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – After a one-year interruption last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Illinois State Fair in Springfield is set to reopen Thursday, Aug. 12, with some new attractions and new safety requirements.

Among the new requirements, Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II said during a media briefing Friday, will be a mask mandate at all indoor venues.

For those who arrive without masks but who plan to attend indoor events, free masks will be available at all entry gates, he said.

And while it won’t be required, officials also are strongly encouraging fairgoers to wear masks in large gatherings, including the Twilight Parade, which is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Other safety measures being taken include extra hand washing stations throughout the fairgrounds, cleaning of high-touch areas, and foggers on carnival rides and grandstand seating. There will also be free vaccinations available at six locations on the fairgrounds.

Gates to the fair officially open at 7 a.m. Thursday. Gov. JB Pritzker will join Costello and other state and local dignitaries for a ribbon cutting ceremony at 3 p.m. That will be followed by the Twilight parade at 5 p.m.

Among the new attractions this year is a tribute to Route 66, which stretched nearly 2,500 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, winding its way through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. This year marks the 95th anniversary of the establishment of that highway, one of the original roadways of the U.S. highway system.

The “Route 66 Experience” at the fairgrounds will allow visitors to walk through exhibits commemorating the Illinois portion of the highway from Chicago to the Chain of Rocks Bridge and learn about communities and attractions along the route.

Masks will be required for all grandstand concerts, and those in the grandstand track standing room only section will be required to provide a print or digital copy of vaccination records or a negative COVID-19 test result within three days prior to the event.

A complete list of events and entertainment lineups is available on the Illinois State Fair website, www2.illinois.gov/statefair.

* * *

FAMILY LEAVE: A new law in Illinois will make it easier for part-time school and college employees to receive paid family and medical leave.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill Tuesday lowering the threshold for those workers so that most will be eligible for the benefit after one year of employment.

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, workers are entitled to as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to care for a newborn child, to care for a close relative who has a serious health condition, or to deal with their own serious illness. That expands to 26 weeks to care for a child, spouse or parent who is a service member with a serious illness or injury.

To be eligible, though, the employee must have been employed for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12-month period. That’s a threshold that often can’t be met by many part-time school employees known as education support professionals, or ESPs. Those include paraprofessionals, secretaries, librarians, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others, many of whom work only limited hours during the day, and often only when school is in session.

For those workers, House Bill 12 lowers that threshold to 1,000 hours of work during the previous 12 months. It applies to all employees of school districts, community colleges and public universities in Illinois. It takes effect Jan. 1.

Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association, said there are more than 25,000 ESPs within the Illinois Education Association. That does not include those who belong to the International Federation of Teachers, the other major education union in the state, or those who are not union members.

The bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly with strong bipartisan majorities – 95-14 in the House; 47-3 in the Senate.

* * *

MASKS REQUIRED: Masks will be required at all Illinois long-term care facilities, day cares and Pre-K-12 schools, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Wednesday, Aug. 4, amid a nationwide surge of COVID-19.

The masking requirement extends to indoor but not outdoor activities and sports. The guidance applies to all schools, public and non-public.

Pritzker said there are two routes to enforcing the mask mandate, including civil liability for schools not enforcing the mandate and the removal of recognition status by the Illinois State Board of Education.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also announced Wednesday it is making free COVID-19 testing available to K-12 schools across the state through the SHIELD Illinois saliva-based test developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The test can detect the virus and its variants in those with or without symptoms.

The testing would allow close contacts of a COVID-19-positivie individual to stay in the classroom as long as they test negative. Funding comes from federal COVID-19 relief packages.

By Oct. 4, all Illinois state employees working in congregate facilities will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The order covers certain employees at the Departments of Human Services, Veterans’ Affairs, Corrections and Juvenile Justice working in congregate facilities, and Pritzker said the state has reached out to the unions representing those employees to work out the details.

Illinois is also requiring universal masking in private long-term care facilities and “strongly encourages owners of private facilities to join the state in adopting vaccination requirements,” according to the governor’s office.

Pritzker said the state is “evaluating every day” the trajectory of the virus and other potential mitigations that may be needed.

* * *

VACCINES WORK: While Gov. JB Pritzker has mandated masks at schools Wednesday, Aug. 4, the best approach to limiting the spread of COVID-19 is still getting vaccinated, he said. It’s also the best way to limit severe illness and death.

In Illinois, 6.5 million people are fully vaccinated, or 51.2 percent of the population, while 73 percent of the population that is older than 12 years of age has received at least one dose of the vaccine. The state averaged 28,180 vaccine doses administered each day over the past seven days.

Of the millions of fully vaccinated individuals, just 714 have spent time in the hospital with COVID-19, according to IDPH. Since January, 180 vaccinated individuals have died of COVID-19 symptoms, accounting for just 2.58 percent of the COVID-19-related deaths this calendar year. That number increased by 11 from the state’s reporting of the numbers last week.

That’s about 0.01 percent of vaccinated individuals who have been hospitalized for the virus and 0.003 percent who have died of complications.

“The overwhelming majority of cases, the hospitalizations, the deaths are among those who are not vaccinated,” Ezike said. “And the majority of transmission is also among the unvaccinated. …But the key is that we actually have the tools to turn the tide on the next wave. And that next wave wants to threaten us if we don’t avail ourselves of these tools.”

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said youth hospitalizations and infections have been rising.

About 5.5 percent of COVID-19 cases were among those who are younger than 10 years of age in January, Ezike said, but that number increased to 15 percent last month. Approximately 13 percent of cases in January were among those 10-19 years old, increasing to 23 percent in July. Hospitalizations for those 20 years old and younger have tripled from 2.5 percent to 7.8 percent in that time span.

“And yes, while most children who get COVID have fewer symptoms than adults, they absolutely can still get COVID-19 and they can absolutely spread it to others,” Ezike said, noting many cases of the virus have spread at youth camps this summer.

* * *

ENERGY BILL IMPASSE: With talks between labor and environmental groups at an impasse, and with the clock ticking on the impending closure of two nuclear plants in Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday, Aug. 4, urged lawmakers to quickly take up the “compromise” package he put forth in June.

“This is not something that’s left to interest groups to decide. This is a decision that gets made by the legislature and by the governor,” Pritzker said during an unrelated news conference Wednesday. “And here we are. This bill has been put together after much negotiation over many, many months. And we now have a piece of legislation that is ready to go and it needs to be called in the legislature and voted on.”

The bill that Pritzker is pushing would put Illinois on a path to 100 percent emission-free power production by 2050. It includes nearly $700 million over five years in subsidies to keep Exelon’s fleet of nuclear power plants open, incentives for the development of more wind and solar generation and a scheduled phase-out of most coal-fired by 2035 and natural gas plants by 2045.

As part of a compromise, Pritzker also proposed allowing Springfield’s City Water Light and Powder facility and Metro East’s Prairie State Energy Campus to remain open through 2045, provided they could find a way to capture at least 90 percent of their carbon emissions.

One hold-up was a substantive disagreements between labor and environmental groups over the phase-out of fossil fuel plants, especially two large coal-fired plants in Springfield and the Metro East area near St. Louis.

Exelon, meanwhile, has announced plans to close its Byron Generating Station in September and its Dresden Generating Station by November, arguing they are too unprofitable to keep online. Together, those plants employ about 1,500 workers.

The company made similar announcements in 2016 just before lawmakers passed the Future Energy Jobs Act, which included financial support for two other Exelon nuclear power plants.

And on July 28, the company filed paperwork with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission detailing its long-term plans for cleanup of the sites and disposal of their radioactive nuclear waste.

On Monday, Aug. 2, The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, which is made up of several environmental groups, and the labor-backed Climate Jobs Illinois both notified Pritzker’s office that their negotiations had reached an impasse, with labor groups insisting that fossil fuel plants be allowed to stay in operation at some level in perpetuity.

* * *

MENSTUAL HYGIENE: Three new state laws will aim to break down barriers to feminine hygiene products such as tampons and sanitary napkins for those who can’t afford them.

Two of the laws make menstrual products available at state colleges and universities and require homeless shelters to stock the products, budget permitting. Another would require the state to apply for a waiver to allow certain federal assistance funds to be used on the products, provided the federal government makes such a waiver available.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed the measures at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Thursday, Aug. 5, contrasting the state’s efforts to pass women’s health legislation to Republican-led states such as Missouri seeking to overturn the Supreme Court precedent of Roe vs. Wade as it pertains to abortion rights.

House Bill 641 requires state universities and community colleges to stock feminine hygiene products in any restroom in a college building that serves students. That measure passed the House 74-37 and the Senate 42-13, each with mostly Democratic but some Republican support. It takes effect immediately.

House Bill 155 would require the Illinois Department of Human Services to apply for a waiver to the federal government to allow the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children to purchase diapers and menstrual hygiene products.

That bill had unanimous support in the General Assembly.

House Bill 310 requires homeless shelters that serve women and youth to make menstrual hygiene products available free of charge. That requirement, however, is “subject to the availability of funds in the homeless shelter’s general budget,” according to the bill.

That measure passed the General Assembly with only one vote against in the Senate and three votes against in the House. It will become law in January 2022.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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