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Metro East

The Casino Queen in East St. Louis reopened to gamblers on July 1. Casinos in Illinois had been shut down since the middle of March becuase of the coronavirus.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

EAST ST. LOUIS — Dozens waited outside the Casino Queen on Wednesday morning, eager for the first day of gambling in Illinois since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Dale Strom cleans a pair of bowling shoes at Bel-Air Bowl on June 26. The bowling alley reopened for the first time on Friday since the coronavirus closed businesses across the region. 06 26 2020
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

More businesses and public places in Illinois opened Friday as the state moved into its next phase of reopening since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Under phase four, movie theatres, zoos, museums, bowling alleys and some other establishments were able to open their doors to patrons for the first time since March. Restaurants and bars could also start offering indoor dining, too.

Metro East restaurants will be able to offer dine-in food service beginning Friday. Many have only provided delivery or pick-up food during the pandemic.
Provided via the Belleville News-Democrat

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Illinois moves into Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s five-phased reopening plan Friday, bringing much anticipated changes to coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Gatherings of up to 50 will be allowed in Phase 4. Under Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan, which went into effect May 29, groups of more than 10 were banned.

All regions in Illinois were set to move into the new phase as of Monday morning.

Belleville Plant Agrees To Cooperate With Employee Leading Black Lives Matter Protest

Jun 19, 2020
This is the January 2020 drawing on a safety-themed calendar that Empire Comfort Systems in Belleville had made for employees, whose children were invited to submit artwork. Names have been removed to protect privacy.
Provided via the Belleville News-Democrat

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Organizers of a Black Lives Matter protest march set to begin at Empire Comfort Systems in Belleville on Friday have accused the company of allowing racial discrimination and recently producing a calendar that included artwork they deemed racist.

In a meeting Wednesday morning, the two sides came together and agreed to cooperate. An Empire executive plans to march with the crowd, and the company has offered to make signs in its print shop.

The Missouri Department of Transportation says commuters should expect delays along interstates 44, 70 and 270.

Updated June 10 with new closure details

The Illinois Department of Transportation will completely close a three-mile stretch of Interstate 255 on Saturday for the second phase of major work on the roadway, the department announced Wednesday. 

Road crews will close the highway between I-64 and Illinois Route 15, now that the first phase of the project between I-55 and I-64 is finished.

IDOT officials encourage drivers to avoid the entire I-255 project between I-55 and IL-15 on Saturday, as workers will close the whole interstate during parts of the day to make the switch. 

Patrons dine at the Old Herald Brewery and Distillery in Collinsville on May 29. The restaurant can serve customers in-person in phase three of Illinois' reopening plan.  05 29 2020
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

Nearly all businesses in Illinois are now able to open more than two months after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s initial stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

There are still some restrictions and guidelines on how stores should operate, but they’re no longer closed to the public. Generally the state requires workers wear masks, and maintain a six feet social distance when possible.

St. Louis-area businesses remain closed as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. Weeks of reduced income, or none at all, has stretched small businesses thin.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Nearly all businesses in Illinois will be able to reopen in some capacity on Friday as the whole state moves into its next phase of reopening following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order in March.

For businesses in the Metro East, the wait is over, after feeling pressure to reopen when their counterparts in Missouri could weeks before them.

The state issued guidelines and requirements for how businesses in the retail, manufacturing, fitness, office, restaurant and personal care sectors will be able to safely reopen.

Angela Harris delivers a curbside order at her store, EdgyChic Boutique, in Fairview Heights on May 20. She's had many customers come to both her locations wanting to shop in person.  05 20 2020
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

As economic activity resumes in the St. Louis region, business owners in the Metro East are feeling pressure to reopen even though they can’t until at least next week.

Nonessential businesses and manufacturing, barber shops, salons and retail stores will likely be able to reopen in Illinois after May 29, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s phased reopening plan. Bars and restaurants in the Metro East can only continue offering delivery or takeout until the end of June. 

St. Louis-area businesses remain closed as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. Weeks of reduced income, or none at all, has stretched small businesses thin.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Business owners in Madison County are weighing their options after the Board of Health passed guidelines that allow them to reopen.

Those guidelines allow all businesses, including gyms, stores and bars, in the county to reopen at 25% capacity, in defiance of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders that close them. 

Madison County officials are considering a plan to allow businesses to reopen in the county in defiance of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's plans to slowly reopen the state's economy.
Wikimedia Commons

EDWARDSVILLE — The Madison County Board of Health voted 26-2 on Tuesday night to immediately start allowing businesses in the county to reopen.

The move by the health board, which is made up of the county board members, defies Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s phased plan for how the state’s economy will reopen. Pritzker has said he doesn’t expect limited reopening to start until May 29, at the earliest.

Madison County To Vote On Reopening From Coronavirus Shutdown, Defying Illinois Rules

May 11, 2020
Madison County officials are considering a plan to allow businesses to reopen in the county in defiance of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's plans to slowly reopen the state's economy.
Wikimedia Commons

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

A plan to reopen Madison County will be voted on Tuesday after county officials asked for more time to study the legality of the plan.

During a special meeting Friday of the Madison County Health Board, members voted to table until next week a plan to reopen the county that would defy Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to open the state on a gradual and regional basis. The action to delay a vote came at the request of State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons.

Gambling revenue from the Casino Queen is a major source of revenue for the city of East St. Louis.
Paul Sableman | Flickr

EAST ST. LOUIS — Two former Casino Queen employees have filed suit against the casino’s old owners over the 2012 sale of the property that made it employee-owned.

The plaintiffs, Tom Henseik and Jason Gill, allege the former owners of the Casino Queen Inc. sold their stake in the company into an employee stock ownership program (ESOP) at a vastly inflated price and then kept the true value secret for years. The proposed class action lawsuit was filed last month in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.

Illinois Supply and Provisions in Collinsville sold $5 million of recreational marijuana in January. The dispensary accounted for 13.6% of sales in Illinois.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Businesses across the country are losing sales because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Illinois recreational marijuana dispensaries are not. 

The state on Monday announced consumers bought more than $37 million of recreational cannabis in April.

Kruta's Bakery in Collinsville in August 2019. The bakery is still open during the coronavirus, but sales are down between 25% and 30%.
File photo | Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Illinois residents face at least another month of strict social distancing before the state’s economy will start to open up — later than other parts of the St. Louis region.

At the very least, it will be another tricky four weeks for restaurants and other eateries in the Metro East that had to abruptly pivot because of the pandemic. 

With schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, students have had to adapt to trying to keep up with lessons remotely, from living rooms, kitchen tables and bedrooms.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

EDWARDSVILLE — The coronavirus outbreak has forced classes at nearly every university and college in the St. Louis region online, and students and faculty face the challenges of learning or teaching through a screen.

Some courses, like larger lectures, can transfer online with relatively few hiccups. But others don’t translate so well, because they’re designed to be hands on or geared toward experiential learning.

Kurt Prenzler Puts Aides On Leave After Madison County Democrats Demand Resignations

Apr 16, 2020
Kurt Prenzler, a Republican, dismissed the accusations against his office as highly politicized.
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

A day after Madison County Democrats called on members of Kurt Prenzler’s administration to resign, the county board chairman put two of the three on paid administrative leave and launched a separate investigation into allegations against them.

Nurses greet a patient in their car to be tested for the COVID-19 at the Mercy Virtual Care Center in Chesterfield on Saturday morning. Missouri has four known cases of the new coronavirus virus as of Friday evening. 3/14/20
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI

EAST ST. LOUIS — The city will have its first coronavirus testing site up and running by the end of the week, Mayor Robert Eastern announced this morning. The testing facility comes to East St. Louis weeks after many others opened in the Metro East and Missouri.

The city is behind on testing its residents even though the coronavirus poses more of a risk for many residents. African Americans have high rates of asthma, diabetes, hypertension and obesity — all conditions that make COVID-19 deadlier, according to the CDC.

A worker trims marijuana plants in Ascend Illinois' growing facility in Barry, IL.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Illinois’ new recreational marijuana market is off to a hot start even amid the spread of coronavirus. Earlier this week, the state announced nearly $36 million worth of legal cannabis was sold in March — on par with numbers from February.

The center of SIUE's campus without any students on March 30. The university asked all students move out of the dorms on March 21.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

EDWARDSVILLE — College students should respond to the 2020 census as if they were still living on campus or in their off-campus apartment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The coronavirus outbreak has added confusion to this question because most college students are now back at home, finishing their semesters online. 

The decennial headcount tracks where people in the U.S. live and sleep most of the time. 

Illinois REAL IDs have a gold star in the top right corner.
Illinois Secretary of State Office

Updated March 28 with the new October 2021 deadline

Like the rest of the country, Illinois residents will need to get Real IDs if they want to continue to use their licenses or other state identification cards to board domestic flights and enter federal buildings starting late next year.

In March, the state started issuing Real IDs in compliance with the security standards set by the 2005 Real ID act. Compliant licenses are marked by a gold star in the top right corner of the card. 

A sign in Belleville encouraging residents to respond to the census on March 24, 2020. The coronavirus has upended much of the local census outreach efforts. 03 24 2020
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — The actions Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker took to curb the spread of the coronavirus are having an impact on local organizations trying to ensure accurate census counts in the Metro East.

The orders to close schools and stay at home came at the height of many local outreach efforts only weeks before census day on April 1. 

As medical marijuana sales start in Missouri in 2020, local companies see potential new clients in the companies that are recieving the medical program's first licenses.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Thousands of retail stores and other businesses have shuttered across Illinois under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “stay-at-home” order, which was issued on Friday. But there is one notable exception: Marijuana dispensaries are open to both medical and recreational customers.

Medical cannabis facilities are classified as essential health care and public health operations under Pritzker’s order. While other businesses have seen steep drops in customers, sales at cannabis dispensaries remain solid.  

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday ordered Illinois residents to stay home and non-essential businesses to close. 3/20/20
Governor J.B. Pritzker Facebook Live screenshot

Updated 6:20 p.m. March 20 with comments from business leaders and details about what activities and businesses are excluded from the order

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has issued sweeping new orders that restrict movement and close vast numbers of businesses statewide, the latest steps he has taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The order goes into effect at 5 p.m. Saturday. It closes all nonessential businesses, including hair salons, retail shops and recreational businesses like bowling alleys. The order does not apply to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations or other businesses that provide essential services. Transit and roads will not close down, and restaurants will still be able to provide takeout food if they wish.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker annouced he would expand Illinois Medicaid becuase of the coronavirus outbreak at a press conference on March 18, 2020.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced he filed for a federal waiver to expand Medicaid coverage for COVID-19 illnesses in the state at a press conference on Wednesday.

“We’re working both with the insurance companies as well as with Medicaid with the federal government to try and make sure everything around COVID-19 is covered,” he said. “So that nobody has to go without treatment for a [coronavirus]-related illness.” 

Illinois was one of three states that held primaries on March 17, 2020. Voter turnout was lower than usual, officials say.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Voters in Illinois went to the polls on Tuesday to decide whom they wanted to see on the ballot in November. A few cities and villages also put referendums to their voters. Congressional races in three Metro East districts were in play for the primary.

Here are five things to take away from the results.

Three states are voting Tuesday in the Democratic presidential primary: Arizona, Florida and Illinois. Ohio suspended its primary. Follow NPR's live coverage with updates on the ground, news from the candidates, analysis and results.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is projected by the Associated Press to win the Democratic presidential primary in Illinois.
Gage Skidmore | NPR, Flickr

Former Vice President Joe Biden won the 2020 Illinois Democratic Primary. The Associated Press called the race for Biden at 7:23 p.m., shortly after the polls in Illinois closed.

Biden won the vast majority of Democratic voters in the Metro East, capturing between 60% and 70% of the primary vote in St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, Washington and Clinton counties.

Today Is Primary Day In Illinois: Here’s What You Need To Know When You Go Vote

Mar 17, 2020
Election judge Judi Brunstein uses a disinfectant spray to clean and disinfect a voting booth at the polling place inside Douglas Elementary School in Belleville on March 17, 2020.
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat.

Illinoisans go to the polls Tuesday amid extraordinary circumstances to select nominees for various offices from president to county board chairman. 

Local and state election officials prepared for an Election Day amid a pandemic that was effectively shutting society down piecemeal in Illinois. The election will still go on, but with extra precautions and changes.

Gov. Pritzker Orders Illinois Bars, Restaurants Closed For Dining In Through March 30

Mar 15, 2020
Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order closing all public and private schools in Illinois from March 17 through at least March 30.
File photo | Illinois Office of Communication and Information

Editor's Note: The story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all bars and restaurants in the state to close through March 30 to stem the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

The order begins Monday at “close of business” for bars and restaurants, Pritzker said at a news conference in Chicago on Sunday.

St. Clair County officials on Saturday announced the Metro East's first two positive cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. They held the press conference at the county health department. 03/14/20
Andrea Henderson | St. Louis Public Radio

The new coronavirus has come to the Metro East. 

St. Clair County Board Commissioner Mark Kern on Saturday issued a disaster proclamation after two women in the county tested positive for the new coronavirus.

County health officials said the two women — one in her 60s, the other in her 70s — returned from international travel about a week ago.