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COVID-19 In Illinois: Gov. Pritzker Urges Local Governments To Take Advantage Of Pandemic Funds, Reminds People That Thanksgiving Must Look Different This Year

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday reminded local governments downstate to take advantage of funding available to help in their battle against the coronavirus pandemic, and also reminded people that they must handle Thanksgiving differently in the midst of a COVID-19 surge.

Pritzker noted that $250 million was provided to Illinois by Congress to reimburse local governments for pandemic-related expenditures in the Local Coronavirus Urgent Remediation, or Local CURE, program. Cook County and the collar counties are not eligible.

But the governor said the counties downstate and elsewhere in Illinois that are eligible too often have not been taking advantage of the funds.

He said the funding could offset costs of things like contact tracing and emergency response, without any municipal or count government having to cut into local school budgets, road work, or environmental cleaning – or to raise taxes.

The deadline to apply for the funds is Tuesday, Dec. 1.

"Remember this is a $250 million program, and I want every downstate community to get its fair share," Pritzker said.

Meanwhile, Pritzker also urged small businesses to apply for Business Interruption Grants from the state to tide them over while they have to be closed. As of Tuesday, the state had awarded $140 million in grants to more than 5,500 businesses statewide – including restaurants, retail stores, event spaces, arts venues, hair salons, and museums.

There is no deadline for that program, but the money is not unlimited. Pritzker said $129 million remains in the program, and it will be given out on a rolling basis until it is exhausted.

Pritzker also had a reminder for the general public that hospitals are still under siege amid a COVID-19 surge, and the latest mitigation efforts will not be reflected in the numbers for at least another week. Thus, Pritzker said, "Thanksgiving this year needs to be different."

"To those who haven't changed their plans, the doctors are asking all of us to skip the big group dinner this year," Pritzker said. "The vaccines that seem to be on the horizon can't help you if you get sick now."

Pritzker also urged people to rethink their plans if they're thinking of traveling. But for those who feel like they "absolutely have to go," Pritzker reminded people to wear their masks and keep some distance, even at the house of a loved one.

"I believe it's the only year you have to do this, and I just urge you, urge you, to do the right thing," Pritzker said.

Public health officials reported 9,469 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Illinois on Tuesday, as well as 125 additional deaths.

It was the second day in a row the Illinois Department of Public Health reported fewer than 10,000 new cases. Illinois hadn't gone two consecutive days with daily caseload that low since Nov. 4 and 5. It's also the first increase in new cases after four days in a row of declines.

Still, the situation is taking a toll – not just on hospitals and physical health, but also on mental health, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Tuesday. Some are distressed about the danger of the virus and the consequences of infection, some have lost a job or a business, and some are struggling with the isolation brought about by social distancing and staying at home, Ezike said.

She also emphasized that many are suffering in silence.

"Please don't underestimate how far a smile or a kind word can go, or an offer to pick up carry-out from a restaurant and leave it on someone's doorstep," Ezike said.

Ezike also noted that Illinois offers a free emotional support text line. Anyone may text TALK for English, or HABLAR for Spanish, to the number 552020.

The Illinois Department of Human Services also has mental health resources on its website, including how to work on mental wellbeing and self-care, and how to navigate anxiety brought on by COVID-19, Ezike noted.

"This pandemic is a truly difficult time for everyone, but we can get through it together by offering support and compassion to those around us," she said.

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