More COVID-19 screeners coming to O’Hare to combat lines, officials say

Coronavirus

CHICAGO — More screeners are coming to O’Hare, bars and restaurants will be closed for two weeks, and other measures will be put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Illinois, officials said Sunday.

Governor JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a wide range of measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus as health officials said 29 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Illinois, bringing the total number of cases up to 93.

“We are seeing the number of COVID-19 cases increase exponentially and in more locations across Illinois,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement issued during Sunday’s press conference.

In a sweeping new measure, Pritzker ordered all bars and restaurants in the state to close to dine-in customers from the end of business Monday night through March 30. He said drive-in and delivery service will still be allowed during that time.

“There are no easy decisions left to make as we address this unprecedented crisis,” Pritzker said.

Earlier in the day Sunday, Pritzker criticized the federal response to the virus during an appearance on “Meet the Press,” after additional screening measures led to long, crowded lines at O’Hare Airport customs.

Both Pritzker and Lightfoot blasted the federal government for what they say was a lack of preparedness for the rush of international passengers returning to the airport over the weekend.

“My administration learned through Twitter about the unacceptable and frankly dangerous situation at O’Hare Airport,” Pritzker said. “When I saw hundreds of people crammed together for many hours at O’Hare in exactly the same conditions I have been warning about for days, I was furious.”

O’Hare is one of 13 airports nationwide taking in these international passengers returning to the U.S. Pritzker and Lightfoot said Sunday they were promised more customs and screening staff in the future.

“I received a call from [Vice President Mike] Pence and the Secretary of Homeland Security acknowledging mistakes were made and informing me customs and border would be doubling at O’Hare today,” Pritzker said.

Lightfoot said members of the Chicago Fire Department were also being deputized to transition to O’Hare as screeners to help ease the burden. The mayor also asked the FAA to keep people on planes until they’re able to filter them off and screen them in a timely manner.

This week’s Primary Election will still go on as planned, Lightfoot and Pritzker said, noting there was a big surge in mail-in ballot requests. Any outstanding mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday.

Pritzker addressed a wide range of other issues, including taking measures to prevent food insecurity. He said food manufacturers are promising additional donations to area food banks so kids who may get a meal at school and families in distress can receive assistance.

After seeing a large amount of people heading to area grocery stores, he said they are looking into ways to make sure they can keep items in stock, including ending prohibitions on overnight grocery deliveries.

During Sunday’s press conference, Lightfoot had a message for everyone who is feeling anxious.

“This is one of the most challenging times anyone will face, make no mistake about it we can get through this; we can save lives if we work hand and glove together and if we use common sense,” Lightfoot said.

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