5 JMS Staff Positive For COVID, Still 0 Positive COVID Infections Related to Schools in District 117

Jacksonville School District 117 is announcing that there has been an outbreak at Jacksonville Middle School among staff only. Superintendent Steve Ptacek says that 5 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 linking back to an in-person event after students were out of the building more than a week ago: “We have experienced an increase in the number of staff members at JMS that have tested positive for COVID-19 that are all connected to one gathering that that group of staff members had. This highlights our need to stress the importance of maintaining social distancing even when students are not around. To ease the public’s fears, the minute the one of them that had a positive test, in close contact analysis, the other ones were also sent home to quarantine and that happened last week on October 20th and the 21st, so well over a week ago. Since then, of those others that we put on quarantine, we started getting results in from some of them testing positive. The last one of those to test positive was on Saturday.”

Ptacek says there is currently no evidence of COVID-19 spread at the school among any students: “Right at this point in time, there is no concern about anything happening at the school. Any of the students that might have shown any of the symptoms a week later that probably would have happened by now. The staff members themselves would have been gone by well over a week. What it is really putting more of a strain on is having to provide substitutes at this point in time, and fulfilling those duties.”

Ptacek says that overall the district has had no outbreaks in the schools among students: “At this point in time, positive cases attached to the school is zero all year. I think we only know of one student currently positive, and that is due to a family member outside of school. We have not had many instances in the school. We have 5 that are quarantined due to being in close contact with somebody who is at school that ended up testing positive, but that did occur some time ago and they are not showing any symptoms from what we know. We just need to be more diligent in stressing to our staff the importance of maintaining their social distancing; because what would have happened if everyone had maintained their social distancing, those 5 individuals outside of school would have, of course, been in the same situation [as the student who tested positive], they just wouldn’t have had any spread to the other staff members.”

Ptacek wants to stress social distancing after school among parents, students, and staff members to continue to keep the virus out of the district so in-person learning can continue. Ptacek says he will be sending out further e-mail communication tonight to parents about the ongoing efforts to keep students safe during the pandemic.

Scott County School Districts Deal With COVID Staffing After 2 Test Positive, 6 On Quarantine

Scott County school districts are dealing with COVID-19 infections in their staff. In email communication this afternoon with WLDS, Dr. Kevin Blankenship, who is Superintendent at both Winchester and Bluffs, says that 1 staff member is positive with COVID-19 in each district.

Blankenship says that Winchester currently has 6 staff members in testing protocol due to being listed as a “close contact” with a positive COVID individual. Blankenship says that he hopes each of the staff members will receive a negative test result and be able to return to the classroom by the end of the week.

Blankenship says that the Winchester district is currently using outside substitutes and other in-house personnel to cover classes, as needed while other staff are teaching remotely.

In the Bluffs District, Blankenship says that all staff that were in testing protocols have been released to return to work this week. He says the one staff member with an active positive in Bluffs is having their class currently being covered by an outside substitute.

IHSA Defies Pritzker, IDPH on Basketball Season

The Illinois High School Association and Governor J.B. Pritzker are set to clash over whether the 2020 winter basketball season will be held. According to email sent to athletic directors around the state today, IHSA spokesperson Matt Troha wrote that the IHSA will be following their own safety and mitigation guidelines as it relates to basketball. Troha said in the email that the IHSA board is cognizant of the rising COVID-19 cases in the state but they have not received any evidence that rising COVID-19 cases make basketball more dangerous to play by the IDPH or any other health organization nationally or internationally.

The email also says that the IHSA is allowing local school officials to make decisions related to participation in the basketball season. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, if a school participates, they would be opened up to liability by playing against the guidelines released by Pritzker and IDPH yesterday.

Pritzker responded in kind today to the IHSA’s decision during a Q&A session during his daily COVID-19 press conference: “We’ve told school districts what the rules are and I think they all know. The IHSA may have their views on it but the school districts know the rules. It’s unfortunate. They could be taking on legal liability if they went ahead and moved beyond what the state has set as the mitigation standard.”

According to IHSA President Craig Anderson yesterday, the guidelines came without proper warning, saying that the IHSA was informed of the move of basketball to high risk level just 15 minutes prior to the governor’s announcement. The IHSA executive staff had met with IDPH personnel last Friday and provided a set of options for conducting basketball this winter in a safe manner. The IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) offered additional mitigations, such as masks during play for players, coaches, and officials and social distancing on benches, that the SMAC believed would allow basketball to be played safely.

In accordance with the SMAC guidance, IHSA indicated today that practices can begin on November 16th with games beginning for boys and girls basketball to begin on November 30th.

Heightened DUI Enforcement Expected For Halloween Weekend

DUI enforcement is expected to be heightened for the Halloween weekend. Illinois motor vehicle crash fatality rates are higher than they were at this time last year. As of Friday, 864 people have lost their lives in vehicle crashes in Illinois this year, according to IDOT provisional data, 48 higher compared to the same timeframe last year.

Illinois Department of Transportation spokesperson Paul Wappel wants people to be safe for the holiday weekend: “It’s very simple. Drive sober or get pulled over and drive high, get a DUI. We want everybody to have a good time and have fun, but have a designated driver. Law enforcement will be out, stepping up efforts to keep impaired drivers off the road. The enforcement period extends from this weekend through the early morning hours on Monday, November 2nd.”

The Illinois State Police are expected to have checkpoints in the area during the holiday weekend for driving violations.

Pritzker, IDPH: Basketball “On Hold” Due to Pandemic

The IHSA is likely not to have good news for winter sports fans tomorrow after a special board meeting.

Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health released guidance for winter sports for schools as well as all other sports programs for adults and youth today. Based on current conditions, only lower risk sports like bowling, gymnastics, swimming and diving will be permitted to play during winter.

The update on guidance today moved basketball into a high risk sport along with wrestling and hockey for the state. These three sports will only be allowed to have non-contact training and practices over the winter.

Pritzker re-emphasized that nothing has been cancelled for the year, but will simply be moved or put on hold.

IHSA is supposed to make its announcement after a special board meeting tomorrow to announce any changes in scheduling and competition for the winter sports season.

Jacksonville City Council Stabilizes Rural Fire Protection Rates

The Jacksonville Fire Department has updated their formula for calculating rates for rural fire protection customers. The new flat rates were passed unanimously by the Jacksonville City Council last night. Jacksonville Fire Chief Doug Sills says that the current ordinance inconsistencies on the way the rate was calculated. He says that he and City Attorney Dan Beard created a simple calculation based on a home’s assessed value: “The formula that the city usually figures for fire protection outside the city limits – we respond to outside the city limits if you have a subscription with the City of Jacksonville for fire protection – in going back through the ordinances, we couldn’t find an ordinance or instruction in the City Clerk’s office to figure out how that formula was attained. It seemed to be an ever-increasing number every year, so fire protection outside the city limits wasn’t figured on a flat rate. What we’ve done here tonight is that formula has changed to where it will be a flat rate. The only increase in the subscription will come with an increase in the EAV or the assessed valuation of the home we are protecting.”

Sills says that there is a current movement building to create a rural fire protection district with the Jacksonville Fire Department: “We have heard talk of somebody trying to form up a fire protection district outside the city limits of Jacksonville. There’s a lot of benefit to that. Of course, there is a tax that comes with that, but part of the benefit to that from doing the math is it will be a cost savings to the subscriber that already subscribes with the City of Jacksonville for fire protection.”

Sills says he has heard that there may be petitions that will begin to circulate within the next few weeks out in the county and within the city for the protection district. He says nothing is definitive yet, but the petitions would be to create a referendum to be voted on during the April consolidated election.

Apex Clean Energy Announces 3 New Community Grant Recipients

Apex Clean Energy has continued their Community Grant program with 3 new awards. This round of grantees includes the Jacksonville Sports League, Illinois College, and Our Redeemer Day Care Center.

In a press release, Our Redeemer Day Care says they will use their grant to update their STEM curriculum. They will use it to purchase new equipment for hands-on activities for students.

Illinois College professor Gwendolyn Knapp said in the press release that she will use the funds to investigate the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in Morgan County with students in the biological sciences and nursing programs.

The Jacksonville Sports League will be using their grant for the rehabilitation of the Olson Roller Hockey Rink project.

The amounts each organization received was not disclosed.

City of Winchester Welcomes New Chief of Police

The City of Winchester has a new chief of police. Former Chief George Lindsey announced his retirement to the Winchester City Council on August 25th after 20 years of service as chief and 40 years in law enforcement. At their October 7th meeting, the city council approved the hiring of Caleb Handy, originally from Ashland, as the new official chief. Handy had been operating on an interim tag since Lindsey’s retirement.

Mayor Rex McIntire says that Handy has been working part-time for the city for approximately 5 years and is set to bring some new ideas to the force: “This is no knock against George and the many years of work that he has put in, but I’m sure that Caleb is going to bring in some new ideas. He’s young and from a different generation. He’s already came up with some pretty good ideas that he’s brought to the council.”

The city had advertised the position, but ultimately decided to promote from within the department. The council unanimously agreed to the appointment, and is set to pay Handy a salary of $20 per hour. Handy also works for the Jacksonville Correctional Center as an officer. Handy has already put forth requests for a 4-wheeld drive vehicle for the police department and updating the communication software and equipment.

McIntire said that Handy is also wanting to do more community-oriented education and policing activities. McIntire thanked Lindsey for his many years of service to the department and to the City of Winchester, and wished him well in retirement. McIntire says that he and the city council is also hopeful for the future with Handy’s appointment.

Census Response Well Under 2010 Rates

The 2020 Census wrapped up at the beginning of the month and final response rates have been tabulated by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Morgan County fell 2 percentage below its response rate from 2010 at 70.9%. 52.6% of respondents answered the census online. The Village of South Jacksonville was the 74th highest municipality to respond in the state, with a response rate of 84.1%. It was the only municipality in the listening area to have a response rate above 80%.

Scott County fell 4 percentage points from its response a decade ago to 68.5%. They matched Morgan County with 52.6% online responses.

Greene County fell 7 percentage points from a decade ago to 61.3%, with just 27.5% response online. Greene County was ranked 95th, as one of the lowest responding counties in the state.

Cass County fell just 2 percentage points from its 2010 response to 68.8%, with 48.5% response online.

The overall state response rate was 71.4%. The southeast portion of the state demontrated the lowest response rates in the state. However, nearby Calhoun County had the 2nd lowest countwide response rate of just 44.8%, only Hardin County was worse at 34.7%.

Based on the current response rates, Illinois will likely lose a congressional seat and possibly a second. The congressional districts will officially be withdrawn next year once population numbers are finalized. Once the redraw is certified between the Democratically-controlled General Assembly and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the 2022 election will reflect the newly-drawn maps with fewer representatives.

Hull Man Arrested For Failing to Register As A Sex Offender

Pike County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested a man on Friday after failing to register as a sex offender. 67 year old Roy L. Irick of Hull was booked into the Pike County Jail for failure to register as a sex offender and violation of probation for an original charge of failure to register as a sex offender. Irick was arrested at his residence in the 200 block of Sweet Street in Hull without incident.

According to a press release from Chief Deputy Zachary Orr, Irick has a history of sex offender related offenses. Irick was convicted in Pike County in 2016 for failure to register as a sex offender and received felony probation. Irick was again convicted in 2018 in Pike County for failure to register as a sex offender and was re-sentenced to felony probation and 30 days of county jail time. Irick was still on felony probation at the time of his most recent arrest.

Orr says one of his chief responsibilities as a chief deputy is to keep track of sex offender registration and compliance in Pike County. According to the Illinois State Police sex offender registry, there are currently 51 sex offenders residing in Pike County.

Irick made his first appearance in Pike County Court today on the new charges. Irick was appointed Public Defender Keisha Morris in his case and had bond reduced to $10,000 with 10% to apply. A motion of discovery and plea offer is expected in Irick’s case on November 6th. If Irick’s case does eventually go to trial, he could face 3 to 7 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.