State suspends group senior meal programs amid coronavirus spread

By Jerry Nowicki Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department on Aging issued an order to state senior centers Wednesday to “immediately suspend all gathering activities,” including group meals and social activities, in response to the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19. 

“Locations where seniors gather such as congregate meal sites and senior centers may increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19 and community spreading of the virus,” the department wrote in a guidance letter.

The letter directed area aging agencies to notify providers, staff and clients of the closures within 24 hours. The agencies were also directed to notify those groups of immediate alternatives that will still be available during the group meal suspension, including box lunch services, pick-up options or home-delivered meals. 

Area agencies were also instructed to obtain a list of contact information for impacted seniors and determine how to provide regular updates to them. 

In the Perry County city of Du Quoin, the Gold Plate Senior Center told the Daily Call newspaper that it was urging seniors to come in for carry-out meals or request delivery. 

Jill Sanders, assistant director at the facility, told the newspaper the coronavirus is creating difficulty for seniors by imposing isolation on them.

“They come here for the nutrition but they also come for the socialization,” Sanders said.

She said 20 to 30 seniors come in each weekday for lunch and activities.

Related: Senior organization in far western suburbs suspends all activities

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there were 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Thursday morning. Three of those are believed to be from “community spread,” which means the infected persons have neither a travel history to an affected area nor a connection with other known cases.

Another 76 tests of people under investigation are pending, while 266 tests have come back negative. Gov. JB Pritzker and public health officials are scheduled to update the public Thursday at 2:30 p.m., the latest in ongoing daily briefings on the spread of the virus. 

The cancellation of group meals is a method of “social distancing” which has been employed elsewhere across the state and the U.S. as the country grapples with the global coronavirus pandemic. 

Social distancing means “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Illinois General Assembly on Wednesday announced the cancellation of legislative session next week, and the Illinois High School Association announced that it was curtailing attendance at the upcoming state basketball tournament and all remaining high school games to 60 spectators per school

In Chicago, the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parades were postponed, and several state colleges and universities have either canceled classes or moved to distance learning platforms indefinitely. 

Nationally, the NCAA has announced its March Madness basketball tournament will be played without fans and the NBA announced the suspension of its season. 

“Even if you yourself are young and healthy, your neighbors, your family members, even the people who walk the same streets of your community as you do, might not be,” Pritzker said in his Wednesday briefing. “It’s on all of us to minimize spread and keep Illinois healthy.” 

This story will be updated if there is new information to report.