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Anna-Jonesboro/Cobden's Romeo Godlinez (9) celebrates with his teammates after scoring during the second half against Massac County on Monday in Anna. AJC went on to win 2-0.

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Murphysboro celebrates its 70th Apple Festival
  • Updated

The Murphysboro Apple Festival will celebrate its 70th year when the festival officially opens at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday on the Appletime stage.

After a scaled-back version of the festival in 2020, this year’s event will include most of the traditional Apple Festival events with a few changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Mayor Will Stephens.

Some events have been moved outdoors. All indoor events will require those attending to wear a face covering.

The Appletime Prayer Breakfast will begin at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday in Carl Lee Park (next to Sallie Logan Library), with the program at 7 a.m.

The event is free and tickets are not required. Dunkin’ Donuts will provide coffee and donuts.

Murphysboro Apple Festival originated as a one-day event in 1952 sponsored by Murphysboro Chamber of Commerce to promote businesses in Murphysboro. It has grown into a premier four-day festival, held annually the second week after Labor Day, that includes contests, parades, a pageant, carnival and all things apple.

The event has become its own not-for-profit organization and is run by a committee of volunteers led by Shawn Stearns.

“The committee runs it and makes the Apple Festival happen,” Stephens said, adding that the city gives them permission to close a few streets and works with Illinois Department of Transportation to make sure traffic is re-routed for the Appletime Grand Parade.

One of the goals of the annual festival is to educate people in the region about the importance of local orchards and horticulture in general.

One organization, Jackson County Farm Bureau, will sponsor a tent that will give everyone the chance to talk to people from the local orchard and learn about apple production in Jackson County.

Farm Bureau manager Taryn Chesnek said the county has two apple producers, Mileur Orchards and Lipe Orchards. Visitors to the tent can pick up a cookbook with recipes using local apples.

“It’s always important to know more about your community and the orchards are part of the community,” she said. “It helps people feel more connected.”

Barb Arbeiter said the tent will feature different apple peelers, including one antique peeler, and an apple press which was donated to the Apple Festival.

“Children can press apples and we offer them a taste of fresh cider. For many, it’s their first taste of fresh apple cider,” Arbeiter said.

She added that the county used to have many orchards and apple packing sheds. There was a packing shed in Murphysboro. Daniel Brush, founder of Carbondale, even mentions an orchard on the Logan Farm in his book.

Arbeiter said Mileur Orchard and Rendleman Orchard are both big supporters of the Apple Festival and provide cider and apples to the festival.

The event’s main event is the Appletime Grand Parade, which draws an average of 160 participants. It is considered the region’s largest parade.

The parade begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, with awards at 2:15 p.m. at the Gen. John Logan Statue at Murphysboro Middle School. Band awards are presented after Drums at Apple, a marching band field show competition, at 4 p.m. Saturday at E.L. “Doc” Bencini Field at Murphysboro High School.

The Apple Festival also has a variety of free events for visitors of all ages, including entertainment each evening on the Appletime Stage, a free fair for children and a children’s parade, along with the Appletime Grand Parade.

More information and a complete schedule can be found at

Dems want to tax big firms, the rich
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — House Democrats unveiled a sweeping proposal Monday for tax hikes on big corporations and the wealthy to fund President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion rebuilding plan, as Congress speeds ahead to shape the far-reaching package that touches almost all aspects of domestic life.

The proposed top tax rate would revert to 39.6% on individuals earning more than $400,000, or $450,000 for couples, and there would be a 3% tax on wealthier Americans with adjusted income beyond $5 million a year. For big businesses, the proposal would lift the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% on incomes beyond $5 million, slightly less than the 28% rate the president had sought.

In all, the tax hikes are in line with Biden's own proposals and would bring about the most substantive changes in the tax code since Republicans with then-President Donald Trump slashed taxes in 2017. Business and anti-tax groups are sure to object.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chairman of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee, said the proposals, taken together, would "expand opportunity for the American people and support our efforts to build a healthier, more prosperous future."

It's an opening bid at a daunting moment for Biden and his allies in Congress as they assemble the massive package that is expected to become one of the largest single domestic policy measures considered in decades. The president's "Build Back Better" agenda includes spending on child care, health care, education and strategies to confront climate change. It is an ambitious undertaking on par with the Great Society or New Deal.

Republican critics decry the sweep of Biden's plan, suggesting it slopes toward a Western European-style socialism, and they particularly reject the taxes required to pay for it, bristling because it would reverse the GOP tax cuts that were approved just a few years ago.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the proposal is "the last thing American families need." All GOP lawmakers are expected to vote against it.

Democrats have no votes to spare to enact Biden's agenda, with their slim hold on the House and the Senate split 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris the tiebreaker if there is no Republican support. Democratic congressional leaders have set a target of Wednesday for committees to have the bill drafted.

One Democratic senator vital to the bill's fate says the cost will need to be slashed to $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion to win his support.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has suggested it's time for a "strategic pause," and cautioned there was "no way" Congress will meet the late September goal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for passage, given his wide differences with liberal Democrats on how much to spend and how to pay for it.

Manchin is not alone, as other centrist lawmakers have raised concerns. Restive Democrats from high-tax, heavily Democratic states like New York, New Jersey and California are pushing for a repeal of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions that was imposed by the 2017 Trump law. Neal indicated Monday that the issue is under serious consideration.

Finding compromise will be a daunting project as progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are angling for the most robust package possible. As chairman of the Budget Committee helping to write the bill, Sanders noted that he and other members of the liberal flank initially urged an even more robust package of $6 trillion.

"For me, this is not a particular number, but it is making sure that we meet this moment," said Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., a member of House leadership. "The pandemic has shown us that we cannot continue to have an economy of haves and have nots."

The White House welcomed the preliminary tax plan, which keeps to Biden's promise not to tax anyone making less than $400,000. The proposal "makes significant progress towards ensuring our economy rewards work and not just wealth," said deputy press secretary Andrew Bates.

The House, Senate and White House are working together to align their plans ahead of this month's deadlines, though some differences are emerging that will need to be resolved.

The House tax proposal was pitched as potentially raising some $2.9 trillion, a preliminary estimate — but it would go a long way toward paying for the $3.5 trillion legislation. The White House is counting on long-term economic growth from the plan to generate an additional $600 billion to make up the difference.

Much of the revenue raised would come from the higher taxes on corporations and the highest earners, increasing the individual tax rate to 39.6% from the current 37%.

Looking at wealthy individuals, Neal proposed an increase in the top tax rate on capital gains for those earning $400,000 a year or more, to 25% from the current 20%. Exemptions for estate taxes, which were doubled under the 2017 Trump tax law to now $11.7 million for individuals, would revert to $5 million.

With school year underway, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising for Illinois kids
  • Updated

CHICAGO — Newly released federal and state data shows COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations climbing among Illinois children, along with outbreaks tied to schools, as the state tries to balance limiting the virus’s spread while keeping kids in class.

Since July, in all regions of the state, the number of confirmed infections for school-age children has climbed at least through early September, the most recent data available. Downstate regions have seen the biggest spikes. And childhood COVID-19 hospitalizations in Illinois — although still relatively rare — are nearing the levels seen at the peak of past surges.

Researchers caution that we don’t know for sure how much of the rise in cases is from more testing, vs. more spread, and we don’t know how much transmission is occurring in schools or elsewhere.

“I think it’s too soon to say, especially without good case investigation (or) outbreak tracing,” said Jaline Gerardin, a Northwestern University assistant professor of preventive medicine who works on virus modeling. “We certainly know that with vaccination, masking, ventilation and regular testing, going to in-person school doesn’t have to end in infection or exposure.”

The rising cases and hospitalizations come as Illinois reopens schools while battling the highly contagious delta variant. Districts have said they’re trying to keep students masked and in class, where they learn best, while quarantining exposed children as needed and keeping a wary eye on rising case counts.

“It’s just a tough time; that’s all I can tell you,” said Superintendent Brian Karraker, of New Athens Community Unit School District 60, southeast of St. Louis. His district had to close one of its buildings temporarily this school year because of an outbreak. “We’re doing all we can to keep kids in school.”

Chicago reported that 117 schools — about a fifth of its district-run buildings — had at least one COVID-19 case as of Wednesday. The Chicago Teachers Union said it believes the number is higher.

As of Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health had traced another 128 outbreaks to schools across the state, a 58% rise from the figure it reported the week before. Among those added to the list was Indian Grove Elementary School in the Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect, where a district spokesperson said 75 students across all grade levels were in quarantine Friday. That’s roughly 1 in 6 students.

It’s difficult to assess in real time the pandemic’s toll on Illinois kids and their schools. Case data for Chicago children is less detailed than the information provided for the rest of the state, and the data that is released is delayed and sometimes incomplete.

From all available data, here’s what we know:

Youths leading in new cases

For much of the pandemic, the rate of new COVID-19 infections among people younger than 20 trailed the rates for other age groups. But that’s changed. In the most recent week’s worth of data, those under 20 experienced the highest rate of new infections.

For the week ending Sept. 4, Illinoisans under 20 saw more than 300 new cases per 100,000 people in that group. That’s 22% higher than the state average, which is near 245 per 100,000 residents.

IDPH also breaks out data for children ages 5 to 11 and those 12 to 17, at least for those living in the suburbs and Downstate. (Neither IDPH nor the Chicago Department of Public Health publishes the same data for kids in Chicago, for reasons not explained.)

The state data shows that cases are climbing for both school-age groups, but in different ways in different places. Those trends largely mirror the predominant theme of this surge: less-vaccinated Downstate regions seeing case spikes, while the more-vaccinated Chicago area sees more subdued growth.

For the seven-day period ending Sept. 4 — the start of the Labor Day break — the weekly new case rate for children ages 5 to 11, per 100,000 kids in that group, was nearly 930 for the region covering east-central Illinois, according to a Tribune analysis of state and federal data. That’s four times as high as the lowest rate, around 240, for DuPage and Kane counties.

The spread was even more extreme for the group of kids who can get vaccinated: those ages 12 to 17.

The state’s southern region topped 1,320 weekly new cases per 100,000 kids that old — or six times the rate of that age group in Lake and McHenry counties. The good news, for the southern region, is its latest figures were slightly lower than the prior week, stopping what had been a steep climb since mid-August.

Kids hospitalized near record high

Case counts are an imperfect measure of the pandemic’s trajectory because many people with the virus do not get tested. Complicating matters for children: They may not get tested much or at all over the summer, but then be tested more during the school year.

One school on the outbreak list is the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a residential high school in Aurora that has seen a total of seven COVID-19 cases among students and staff, two of them linked, according to a school spokesperson. It’s also a school that has been testing students and colleagues twice a week, with less than 1% of tests coming back positive.

A more sobering indication of the pandemic’s effect on children may be seen in hospitalization data kept by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows the number of pediatric admissions tied to COVID-19 has increased notably statewide in recent weeks.

Hospitalizations can be measured in two ways: the number of cases confirmed upon admission or the larger number of confirmed and suspected cases. (At the time of admission, test results may not be back yet for kids showing COVID-19-like symptoms). By either measure, the figures are nearing the highest levels of the pandemic.

The average number of kids admitted each day in Illinois with confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen from less than one a day in July to about six now. When adding in suspected cases upon admission, the number increases to nearly 44 kids a day, on average, which is about as bad as the spring 2021 surge and close to levels of last fall’s surge.

Even with the growth in Illinois’ pediatric hospitalizations, however, hospitals across the state have yet to report filled pediatric wards, as has occurred in some other states.

And deaths of children from COVID-19, although tragic, remain extremely rare, particularly compared with deaths from other causes. In Cook County, the medical examiner has reported 12 deaths of children tied to the coronavirus, most with preexisting health conditions. In the pandemic’s past 18 months, about 100 kids died in accidents and 110 from homicide.

What’s traced to schools?

When children test positive, health officials try to trace the cases to see if there’s any connection to schools they attend. The state defines a school outbreak as at least two COVID-19-positive people, from different households, with a shared experience on school grounds.

It’s not a perfect science. The state relies on local health officials to do contact tracing, which has been spotty at times in Illinois. Even in well-traced cases, data can be delayed as officials attempt to determine whether people crossed paths in schools.

Some known cases also aren’t listed, such as CUSD 60′s New Athens High School. The small, rural school went to remote learning Aug. 30 after more than two dozen students tested positive for the virus. But the school wasn’t listed in the state’s update on Sept. 3, or the one released Friday. Nor is it named in a separate state listing of schools where people had potential contact with someone infected.

When asked why, an IDPH spokesperson said the agency was checking with local health officials, who report outbreaks to IDPH, but in general reports can be delayed as they’re processed and evaluated.

Within those limitations, state data show local health officials had confirmed 128 outbreaks in schools as of Friday. That’s up from 81 a week earlier and 26 the week before. (One school can have multiple outbreaks.)

A separate Chicago website lists schools with “actionable cases,” which it said are people who visited a Chicago Public Schools building while deemed contagious. Also listed is the number of close contacts, or people who were, for at least 15 minutes, within 6 feet of someone deemed contagious with COVID-19.

On Wednesday, during its weekly update, CPS reported 161 actionable cases tied to its schools, leading to nearly 3,000 close contacts, between Aug. 29 and Wednesday.

The Chicago Teachers Union has complained that the district appears to be undercounting cases, and the union started its own online “tracker” tallying far more cases at far more buildings.

And in a sign of how confusing the information can be, IDPH began reporting Friday on Chicago school outbreaks but listed only two school outbreaks citywide, then referred people to CPS’ website for more information. One of IDPH’s two listed Chicago outbreaks was at a CPS school the district hadn’t listed on its website as of Friday.

What does it mean?

In some ways, researchers say, it’s not surprising that known cases are skewing younger than they were before vaccines came along. Older age groups tend to be more vaccinated, and those under 12 can’t even get the vaccine yet.

Kids also are more susceptible in general to respiratory diseases, and may be more active now than other times during the pandemic, said Sarah Cobey, a University of Chicago associate professor of ecology and evolution who used to help the state model the spread of infections.

“Elementary school-age kids and young teenagers tend to drive flu infections in the community, for instance,” she said. “This is probably because they’re both more susceptible, and they tend to have more contacts.”

A tougher question to answer: What effect is in-person school having?

Chicago’s health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, has argued schools aren’t a major cause of infection spread, pointing to the city’s experience last year, when some schools held class in person and others shifted to virtual learning.

“We didn’t find that being in school was itself a risk factor for COVID,” she said in a Thursday Facebook Live event. “In fact, both the students and the staff that were (at an) in-person school — with the masking, with the distancing, with the things in place — actually had lower rates than those who did not.”

Cobey, however, said she’s not so sure. There just isn’t enough data, even 18 months into the pandemic, to know precisely who’s getting sick and how, particularly with kids in school.

That means districts should be quick to shut down an activity or area traced to an outbreak, said Mercedes Carnethon, vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“In some cases, that may be the entire school — particularly where transmission can definitively be traced to a policy or action that could be changed in the future,” Carnethon said. “In other cases, it may mean shutting down an extracurricular activity that is risky. We need to have a low threshold for pausing and reevaluating safety procedures so that we can provide as much education in person as safely as possible.”

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Southern Illinois community college leaders unite in call for vaccinations
  • Updated

College leaders are renewing calls for vaccinations as their institutions work to meet state requirements that all students and employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing.

In a joint press release, the presidents of John A. Logan College, Kaskaskia College, Rend Lake College and Southeastern Illinois College presented a unified front when it comes to COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

“While each of our campuses will implement procedures that best fit our campus communities, it is essential to recognize that we are unified in our message and our adherence to state and federal guidance and orders regarding vaccination and testing. It is vital to note that we are unified in ensuring our students and staff can visit our campuses, knowing that their safety is our top priority,” the release said.

The release was signed by Kaskaskia’s George Evans, Kirk Overstreet of John A. Logan College, Jonah Rice of Southeastern Illinois College and Rend Lake College President Terry Wilkerson, said.

Rend Lake College Media Services 

Betty Deters prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic on the Rend Lake College campus, Sept. 1.

The statement continued: “We, as presidents, are in agreement that the best and safest way for our campuses to continue providing face-to-face learning and services is for our communities to get vaccinated against this virus. For over a year, we waited while the vaccinations were developed and tested."

Since May of this year, campuses have held vaccination clinics and worked with our local county health departments and the medical community to promote and provide vaccination, the release stated. The vaccines have been shown to successfully mitigate the virus and the duration and severity of the virus in rare breakthrough cases.

"We as a collective believe that the science behind the vaccines and the widespread vaccination efforts will allow us to stay face-to-face on our campuses and in our communities. This message is not about politics, we are educators, and our ultimate goal is to ensure our students succeed while also keeping everyone safe," they wrote. 

The colleges, which include all or parts of nearly 20 counties in the lower one-third of Illinois, called the rate of COVID-19 transmissions in the area “dangerously high,” and said that the colleges intend to work together and provide assistance to one another.

Officials at John A. Logan College and Southeastern Illinois College did not respond to The Southern’s request for additional comments.

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SIU outlines COVID-19 testing, vaccine plans; chancellor stresses personal responsibility
  • Updated

SIU Chancellor Austin A. Lane and university officials on Monday outlined plans to ramp up vaccinations and for weekly testing of the unvaccinated campus population.  

Lane also stressed the need for everyone to exercise personal safety.

“It is incumbent upon everyone, especially our adults — and I'm calling our students adults at 18 — it is your responsibility to act responsibly. Be well informed and get the information you need to know to keep yourself safe, and don't be reckless, because that could have consequences that now that we know can lead to death. I’m putting that responsibility on all of the adults to take care of yourselves and each other. It is your responsibility to help us in beating this pandemic, because we're definitely fighting it right now,” he said.

Lane's comments came Monday night during a campus-wide teleconference in which he and others outlined the campus’ response to an Aug. 27 statewide COVID-19 vaccination mandate that applies to students, faculty and staff.  

The mandate also applies to all students and employees in K-12 education.  

One of the panelists, Jackson County Health Department Administrator Bart Hagston, said the Southern Illinois region hasn't been "faring very well" lately, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. The state health department gauges a region's community transmission risk and crisis level based on hospitalizations, positivity rates and other COVID metrics.  

“Many counties, including Jackson County, set new records for the number of new cases in the month of August. In addition, 30% of the new cases we saw in August in Jackson County were in teenagers and younger," Hagston said. 

Out of 381 tests administered, 34 students and five faculty and staff tested positive during the week of Aug. 30-Sept. 5, a slight increase from the week prior, according to the latest university data available. As a comparison, six students and zero faculty tested positive during the week of Aug. 9-15, when a total of 385 were tested. 

Jennifer Jones-Hall, vice chancellor for student affairs, said a free vaccination clinic offered in partnership with the Illinois Department of Public Health for the campus community and area residents is ongoing.

“We’ve had them set up for the last week and a half and we’re going to continue this week,” she said.

Vaccinations are available 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. To accommodate people who work earlier in the morning, hours are 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday. 

The vaccination clinic is in the Cambria Room on the SIU Student Center’s first floor.

Jones-Hall said students are required to upload proof of vaccination to the SIU Student Health Center’s website.

“I’m really happy to say that of the students who have responded so far, we’re close to 50% of our student population being vaccinated, but I know that we have many more that are vaccinated and haven’t uploaded their vaccination cards yet,” she said.

For those who have not been vaccinated, the university’s Director of Public Safety Benjamin Newman, who also manages SIU’s Emergency Operation Center, said unvaccinated students will be required to be tested weekly.

Lane said the university has to comply with the executive order in continue in-person learning. 

“Essentially, the requirement is that you either vaccinate, show proof of vaccination or you are going to have to be part of a weekly testing protocol and if you’re not in compliance with that, you cannot be in an educational facility because of the risk that’s out there,” Lane said.