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John A. Logan guard Dre Boyd (1) drives past Wabash Valley guard Arthur Fayne (1) during the first half of the Region 24 semifinal on Wednesday in Carterville.

Illinois | COVID-19
Watch now: Illinois COVID-19 positivity rate reaches highest level since late January
  • Updated

SPRINGFIELD — Public health officials on Wednesday announced 3,790 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 out of 80,628 test results reported over the previous 24 hours, bringing the statewide seven-day rolling positivity rate to 4.1%, the highest that figure has stood since Jan. 30.

Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations also increased Wednesday, as the Illinois Department of Public Health reported a total of 1,710 individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday night. Of those, 353 patients were in the intensive care unit and 142 were on ventilators.

Wednesday’s hospitalization statistics were at their highest levels since mid-February.

The increased case positivity numbers and hospitalizations have caused state officials to place a hold on the next steps for reopening that were announced late last month.

In order to move to the “bridge phase” of reopening with higher capacities at events, businesses, and venues, the state must vaccinate at least 70% of the population aged 65 and older, while hospital ICU bed availability needs to be higher than 20% and COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates stable or flat for 28 days.

The state will then be able to move to phase 5 when half of Illinoisans aged 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

While Illinois has reached its first vaccination goal with just over 72% of its 65-and-older population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, trends of increasing case positivity and hospitalizations have prevented the state from moving forward to the bridge phase.

Speaking at a news conference in Rockford Wednesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the increasing COVID metrics were “of great concern.”

“The number of hospitalizations is increasing, the number of cases of people going into ICU beds is increasing,” Pritzker said. “We want to make sure that before we reopen any further in the state, that we get that under control.”

The governor also said he remained “optimistic,” saying increasing vaccination numbers would be key to curbing increasing trends.

“We want to make sure that everybody gets vaccinated and as we get more people vaccinated, I think those case numbers, those hospitalization numbers, those ICU bed numbers will come down,” Pritzker said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, over 2.5 million, or 19.6%, of the state’s 12.7 million residents have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

A total of 139,724 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered across the state Tuesday. The state has administered over 6.5 million vaccine doses to date.

The state remains in Phase 1B-Plus of its vaccination rollout plan, although several counties had already opened up their vaccine supply to all adults as of Tuesday. The state plans to open eligibility to all Illinois residents age 16 and older beginning Monday, April 12.

More information about the COVID-19 vaccine and appointment availability can be found at or by calling the state’s COVID-19 vaccine hotline at 833-621-1284.

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Prep Sports | SIRR trades Carterville for Benton and West Frankfort in divisional swap
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The Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference announced on Tuesday its approval of a divisional realignment that will take place in the Mississippi and Ohio Divisions as soon as the 2023-24 school year.

Carterville is leaving the Mississippi Division to join the Ohio Division with Harrisburg, Herrin, Massac County and Murphysboro. Leaving the Ohio Division will be Benton and West Frankfort joining Anna-Jonesboro, Du Quoin, Nashville and Pinckneyville in the Mississippi Division.

Two things to note is the Mississippi Division now has six member schools following Sparta’s departure for the Cahokia Conference this school year. The Ohio Division will have one less member school, and while other schools such as Mount Carmel have been rumored to join the SIRR Conference, school administrators believe the change benefits the conference where it sits and could seek potential replacements in the future.

“When we joined the SIRR conference, we were open to joining either side of the conference,” said Carterville Principal and girls basketball coach Todd Rogers. “Enrollments of SIRR Conference schools have fluctuated over the last few years. We stated for the last few years that we were open to switching sides if that was what was deemed best for the conference as a whole.

“It has been determined by the group that now is the time to realign. We have always made it a point to play SIRR schools from both sides in most of our sports, so whichever side we are on does not really matter. It is my hope that we will continue to play all schools from both sides of the conference moving forward.”

Carterville left the Black Diamond Conference at the start of the 2010-11 school year to join the SIRR Conference, which originally formed in 1993, while Chester took Carterville’s place in the BDC.

In his first year back coaching Lady Lion basketball, Rogers enjoyed winning a share of the Mississippi Division alongside Nashville. Now the two schools will play on opposite sides of the conference once 2023 rolls around.

Benton joins the Mississippi Division with Nashville and fellow newcomer West Frankfort. It’s been a discussion topic among SIRR schools since Sparta announced its change to the Cahokia Conference in June of 2020.

“There have been talks about a shift in the conference for quite some time,” said Benton Principal and former athletic director Wade Thomas. “The conference was not okay with the Mississippi only having five member schools once Sparta left, so in our last meeting we had the schools switching divisions ask their school boards and community members for their blessings, and a blessing was given from all parties.”

This will put more work on the plates of athletic directors, Wade added, but conducting a school year amidst a pandemic, while safely executing extracurricular activities, should give the community hope that the transition runs smoothly.

“I am very excited about the shift in divisions,” said Benton boys basketball coach Ron Winemiller. “While it will be sad to no longer compete with the four schools we are leaving behind, we already have a good relationship with the four schools we are joining.

“Both sides of this league are highly competitive from top to bottom and we look forward to the next two years competing in the Ohio, but are also very excited to go to the Mississippi in the fall of ‘23.”

Pinckneyville Athletic Director Bob Waggoner noted that the decision made sense geographically for schools. With enrollment numbers playing a factor, the Ohio Division now possesses the five highest enrolled schools in the conference following the trade.

“For the Mississippi it’s a good thing because we go back to six teams,” Waggoner said. “I’m a little concerned with the number of conference games being played in the Ohio with only five schools, but for Carterville it’s a great fit because they’ve grown tremendously and have great facilities.”

SIRR schools now wait for football contracts to expire before welcoming familiar, but different rivalries in 2023. This allows member schools plenty of time to transition.

Biden to unveil actions on guns
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will unveil a series of executive actions aimed at addressing gun violence on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the plans, delivering his first major action on gun control since taking office.

He's also expected to nominate David Chipman, a former federal agent and adviser at the gun control group Giffords, to be director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that Chipman's nomination is expected to be announced Thursday. The people could not discuss the matter publicly ahead of an official announcement and spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity. If confirmed, Chipman would be the agency's first permanent director since 2015.

Biden has faced increasing pressure to act on gun control after a spate of mass shootings across the U.S. in recent weeks, but the White House has repeatedly emphasized the need for legislative action on guns. While the House passed a background check bill last month, gun control measures face slim prospects in an evenly divided Senate, where Republicans remain near-unified against most proposals.

Biden is expected to announce tighter regulations requiring buyers of so-called ghost guns to undergo background checks. The homemade firearms — often assembled from parts and milled with a metal-cutting machine — often lack serial numbers used to trace them. It's legal to build a gun in a home or a workshop and there is no federal requirement for a background check.

The president's plans were previewed by a person familiar with the expected actions who was not authorized to publicly discuss them. Biden will be joined by Attorney General Merrick Garland at the event.

Senior administration officials confirmed that the Justice Department would issue a new proposed rule aimed at reining in ghost guns within 30 days, but offered no details on the content of the rule.

The Justice Department will also issue a proposed rule within 60 days tightening regulations on pistol-stabilizing braces, like the one used by the Boulder, Colorado, shooter in a massacre last month that left 10 dead. The rule would designate pistols used with stabilizing braces as short-barreled rifles, which, under the National Firearms Act, require a federal license to own and are subject to a more thorough application process and a $200 tax.

The Justice Department will also publish model red flag legislation within 60 days, which the administration says will make it easier for states to adopt their own red flag laws. Such laws allow for individuals to petition a court to allow the police to confiscate weapons from a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

It will begin to provide more data on firearms trafficking, starting with a new comprehensive report on the issue, which the Biden administration says it hasn’t done in over two decades.

The president will also announce investments in community violence intervention programs, which are aimed at reducing gun violence in urban communities, across five federal agencies.

Administration officials hinted there may be more to come from the administration on guns, calling the round of executive actions “initial steps” that were completed under Garland’s purview within the first few weeks of his tenure.

The ATF is currently run by Acting Director Regina Lombardo. Gun-control advocates have emphasized the significance of the ATF director in enforcing the nation's gun laws, and Chipman is certain to win praise from them. During his time as a senior policy adviser with Giffords, he spent considerable effort pushing for greater regulation and enforcement on "ghost guns," reforms of the background check system and measures to reduce the trafficking of illegal firearms.

Prior to that, Chipman spent 25 years as an agent at the ATF, where he worked on stopping a trafficking ring that sent illegal firearms from Virginia to New York, and served on the ATF's SWAT team. Chipman is a gun owner himself.

Chipman and a White House spokesman both declined to comment.

During his campaign, Biden promised to prioritize new gun control measures as president, including enacting universal background check legislation, banning online sales of firearms and the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But gun-control advocates have said that while they were heartened by signs from the White House that they took the issue seriously, they've been disappointed by the lack of early action.

Biden himself expressed uncertainty late last month when asked if he had the political capital to pass new gun control proposals, telling reporters, "I haven't done any counting yet."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month, however, that executive actions on guns were coming as well, calling them "one of the levers that we can use" to address gun violence.

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Free STD clinic hopes to combat testing blackout during COVID pandemic
  • Updated

CARBONDALE — Organizers hope a free clinic this weekend will remind people of the importance of testing during the pandemic — and this time it’s not COVID-19.

It's sexually transmitted diseases.

The Rainbow Cafe, in partnership with the Community Action Place, are hosting a free STD testing clinic from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Cafe’s brick and mortar location at 1320 S. Giant City Road in Carbondale.

The test will cover HIV, HEP-C, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis.

Organizers said COVID-19 restrictions have reduced the number of people getting tested. In a statement to news media, representatives from the Rainbow Cafe said COVID-19 has worsened sexual health and safety for the LGBTQA communities, barring many from being able to undergo testing.

Rainbow Cafe Manager Benton Goff said many in the community have not tested during the pandemic. The concern, he said, is that there will be a surge in unreported STDs in the coming months and years because of the testing blackout many had.

There was a notable dip in STD test requests last year, Paula Clark, HIV services director for the Jackson County Health Department, said.  

She said the number could even have dropped by half. Part of this, she said, could have been because the health department was largely closed to the public from about April to October last year.

“A lot of things have gone by the wayside,” she said, of preventative care during the pandemic.

Many STD clinics shut their doors or slashed their hours during the lockdowns last spring, according to the Associated Press. Staffers who previously helped track the infections were reassigned to focus on COVID-19. And labs that process most STD tests were forced to ration supplies to focus on the flood of incoming COVID-19 samples, the AP reported. 

According to the Associated Press, survey data from the National Coalition of STD Directors, which represents state and local health workers, shows that even in January this year, 40% of STD programs were still operating with reduced staff due to COVID-19.

That’s led to cutbacks in services to find and fight infections that can often spread will little or no immediate symptoms, the AP said.  

Possible evidence of STI increases may be coming in now, Clark said. She said there has been a marked increase in cases of syphilis in the last four months. However she added that it’s hard to pinpoint COVID-19 as the sole culprit.

Clark said she will be interested to see in the coming months and years what fallout the lack of testing, not just for STDs but for things like cancer, have impacted public health.

Clark said while many of her STD contract tracers were redirected to COVID-19 pandemic efforts, she said they still tracked community STD infections.

“Those duties go on throughout a pandemic no matter what,” she said.

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John A. Logan College receives nearly $1.7 million for renovations
  • Updated

CARTERVILLE — John A. Logan College is receiving $1.7 million in state grant dollars that, with local matching funds, amount to a total investment of $2.3 million to renovate the community college's C and E Wings. 

The announcement came Tuesday in a news release from the Illinois Capital Development Board.  

The renovation work will include updates to the campus's C and E wings which contain career services, the computer lab, the veterans’ resource center, the learning resource center and more. With funding from the capital plan, the college will replace the existing HVAC system and windows, and upgrade restrooms, lightings, and finishes throughout the buildings.

The funding will help address maintenance projects on JALC campus that have been deferred due to a lack of investment by the state. Funding for the project was made possible by Pritzker’s bipartisan "Rebuild Illinois" capital plan. CDB will oversee the project’s renovation under the protocol for state appropriated capital projects.

“It is the duty of elected officials to provide young people with the tools and resources they need to shape their future and achieve their dreams,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a release. “With funding from the Rebuild Illinois capital plan, John A. Logan College will be able to complete long-needed maintenance work and complete the C and E Wings of the school, further cementing its place as a world-class institution that excels in preparing talented students for the careers of tomorrow.”

“I am thankful to the State of Illinois for investing in the replacement of the HVAC and windows, upgrading restrooms, lighting, and finishes throughout the C and E Wings, which consists of science labs, classrooms, and offices,” CDB Executive Director Jim Underwood said. “The Rebuild Illinois capital plan is essential upgrading and improving facilities throughout the state.”

“We at John A. Logan are very excited about this opportunity. Thanks to Governor Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois capital plan, the college will receive essential updates to provide updated learning spaces for our students. Working with CDB and our architects, we look forward to beginning this project,” Dr. Kirk Overstreet, president of John A. Logan College, said.

“As an alum of John A. Logan College, I can personally attest to the value of education provided here, and to the positive impact it has on the workforce of the region. These investments will enhance the environment of the institution and reinforce the tools to both attract and produce the best talent possible,” said State Rep. Dave Severin, R-Marion. “I appreciate the Rebuild Illinois capital program for addressing the needs of these important institutions.”

Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, said the release of funding for infrastructure maintenance at JALC is a welcomed development for the institution.

"As Minority Spokesperson for the Senate Higher Education Committee, I hear all too often the needs of our community college system throughout the state, and I’m thankful we’re addressing this deferred maintenance,” he said. “These investments are not just to cover the immediate needs of these facilities, but it’s a long-term investment in Illinois’ future workforce.”

The six-year Rebuild Illinois capital plan will invest $45 billion in roads, bridges, railways, universities, early childhood centers, and state facilities, creating and supporting an estimated 540,000 jobs across the state.