Kankakee Mayor, State Senator on Pandemic Response and Shutdown

About 60 miles south of Chicago, Kankakee County has seen 874 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday, with 36 deaths and 204 recoveries.

The city of Kankakee, the county seat, has a population of about 26,000 people.

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Elected in 2017, Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong says the pandemic has exacerbated several existing issues in the area, including food insecurity. In response, the city has launched a partnership with local grocery stores to assist food banks.

Interactive: More from our series, COVID-19 Across Chicago.

“I want to make sure that everyone has a meal, we’ve been working with our schools as well to make sure the kids have meals while they’ve been home. And we’ve partnered with them to make sure they have cleaning supplies and those types of things while we’re enduring this pandemic,” she said.

The city is also hoping to receive some relief funds from the federal government. It’s working with the Illinois Municipal League and other groups across the country to try and make that happen.

“We are lobbying Congress very heavily right now for $500 billion dollars over the next two years, in direct aid to municipalities,” Wells-Armstrong said. “Some of the previous packages were restricted to populations of 500,000 or more. Kankakee County at the last census has about 110,000 residents, so we were well under that threshold. This would allow us to get money directly to the city of Kankakee, to help us supplement the losses we’ve had in our budget.”

Under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan, Kankakee is grouped in with Chicago and Cook County in the Northeast region of the state. Because of the area’s large population and number of coronavirus cases, it’s expected to be the slowest of the state’s four planned regions to fully ease pandemic restrictions.

Area State Sen. Patrick Joyce (D-Essex) says because of the low population density in Kankakee and neighboring Grundy County, the two counties should have the option to reopen sooner under the plan.

Pritzker said Thursday that the entire state, including the Northeast region, should be moving to the next phase of the plan by the end of May, if the latest numbers and trends hold steady.

“I just want to make sure that they are afforded every opportunity in Kankakee, in Grundy, if Chicago’s numbers were to change, and they weren’t to change in those two communities, I’d like for them to be able to [reopen sooner],” Joyce said.“We want to go along with the governor’s program. I was just concerned about where the line was drawn. It’s even better if all of the [Northeast] region meets the governor’s criteria, and we all open up at the end of the month.”

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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