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Chicago businesses, groups undertake COVID-19 preparations
by Matt Simonette

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As Windy City Times neared its deadline, organizations and businesses within Chicago's LGBT community were readying to cope with measures undertaken by state and local authorities to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus.

Gov. JB Pritzker on March 15 ordered all restaurants and bars in the state to close, effective at the close of business on March 16. The order followed Pritzker and other officials expressed their displeasure with Chicagoans who'd ignored recommendations to avoid bars and large gatherings the evening of March 14, when many were celebrating ahead of St. Patrick's Day. Pritzker's order is effective through March 30.

On March 15, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) recommended no gatherings with 50 or more persons for eight weeks.

Pritzker's order will surely have a significant impact upon local LGBT-owned and operated businesses. Windy City Times will closely follow how the community pulls itself through.

LGBT-advocacy organizations related a number of preparations they'd been undertaking as Chicago copes with the virus.

Howard Brown Health announced March 12 that its facilities and walk-in clinics will remain open to patients and keep regular hours, though some meetings will be moved online. Howard Brown officials also said that they are in preparations for outdoor triage stations to assist persons who have flu-like symptoms or who believe they have been exposed to coronavirus.

South Side-based Brave Space Alliance ( BSA ) announced March 15 that it would be moving its programming online with a "virtual drop-in center" that would incorporate aspects of BSA's workshops.

"To limit person-to-person exposure among the vulnerable populations that the organization services, Brave Space Alliance will be offering 30-minute appointment slots for members of the Black and Brown LGBTQ community on the South and West sides," said BSA Executive Director LaSaia Wade in a statement. "These appointments can be used for assistance with applying for recently expanded unemployment insurance benefits, SNAP and Medicaid, public housing, and other offerings such as career services, and financial planning services. The organization will also be transitioning its support groups and regularly-scheduled mutual aid groups to an online platform."

BSA, in partnership with Center on Halsted, will also be undertaking a "rapid-response crisis pantry" that will collect food donations and compile lists of Chicagoans in need.

In a March 13 statement, the Center's CEO, Modesto Tico Valle, said his organization would be taking measures "to flatten the curve so that illness does not overwhelm our medical infrastructure as vaccines and cures are sought. Social distancing is key to containment. We are focused on downsizing large events and preparing should a closure be necessary."

Valle said that face-to-face senior social programming will be cancelled for the remainder of the month, but that a limited number of boxed lunches will continue to be available for senior clients on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings.

Youth programming will continue but will be drastically scaled back. HIV testing will be available by appointment only.

In a March 12 statement, AIDS Foundation of Chicago President and CEO John Peller said, "At AFC, we care about our community's health and safety and the impact of COVID-19. We are following the advice from the CDC, Illinois Department of Public Health and Chicago Department of Public Health and will make changes based on their recommendations, while having a strong contingency plan in place for AFC.

"AFC is also standing with our Asian and Asian-American community as they—unjustly—have been the target of racism and bias, which only makes it more difficult to keep everyone healthy."

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