Illinois Public Media News
A school in Tuscola will be back in session tomorrow even though nearly one out of every five students stayed home or were sent home with stomach pain or vomiting.
James Voyles is the interim superintendent in Tuscola, where absence levels at North Ward Elementary School were normal earlier this week. But he says today things changed.
"We had an unusually large number of absences to start the day, and during the course of the morning we had kids getting sick, throwing up, abdominal pain, some diarrhea, but but no fever," Voyles said.
Voyles says school is still on for tomorrow, but he asks parents not to send students back if they experience those symptoms. Tuscola's middle school and high school did not see the same illnesses today.
Voyles says just in case it may have been a virus at work, he called in custodians to give North Ward School a thorough disinfecting before tomorrow. He also says Douglas County Health Department officials have taken food samples, but he's not sure if food service had anything to do with the illnesses.
The devastation caused by the flooding in Pakistan is clear - 20 million people affected. That is more than the combined populations of Illinois and Indiana. Reports put the dead at 1,600. Asma Faiz is a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois. Faiz recently returned from Islamabad, and she spoke to Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn about the importance of raising awareness and support for the country.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Highs in the mid 90s are forecast for Saturday (August 14) but that's not expected to stop hundreds of central Illinois bicyclists from taking part in this year's "C-U Across the Prairie" Bicycle Ride.
The Prairie Cycle Club holds the event each year, on a prescribed route along rural roads in Champaign County. It's known as a "metric century" event, because its 65 mile length is equal to slightly over 100 kilometers. Shorter routes are also provided, at 15 and 35 miles.
Prairie Cycle Club spokesperson Lorrie Pearson says the hot weather might slow riders down, but she says keeping hydrated and using the rest stops set up along each route should help.
"As the heat increases, you're going to want to increase the amount of fluids that you take in, so definitely bring some water" advises Pearson. "We'll have water at the rest stops, but definitely bring water with you, and fill up at each of those rest stops."
Plus there's always "Sag Support" - the nickname for the club member driving a car along the route, ready to pick up weary cyclists who phone for help.
Pearson says "C-U Across the Prairie" is a ride, not a race, and cyclists of all skill levels are welcome.
Last minute registrations will be taken at the Hideway Grill near Lake of Woods Park in Mahomet, Saturday morning between 7 and 10. Pearson suggests cyclists planning to ride the full 65-mile route should arrive by 7:30. A $30 registration fee pays for breakfast at the start of the event, and a 2 PM lunch afterward.
NOTE: This story has been corrected, to identify Lorrie Pearson as a spokesperson for, not the president of the Prairie Cycle Club.
Late summer has become the season for West Nile virus in Illinois. In central Illinois, a mosquito sample collected last week in Champaign tested positive for West Nile, and as did five mosquito batches collected in Macon County.
Robert Millinger of the Macon Mosquito Abatement District says the discovery of West Nile virus comes at a time when the mosquito population is high.
"It's fairly high now, because of the amount of rain that we'd had", says Millinger. "A lot of containers and everything are full of water. And we're getting mainly culex mosquito right now, that is the carrier of the West Nile virus. They like, dark brackish water, to lay their eggs on."
Millinger says his crews test standing water for mosquito larvae in places like drainage ditches and abandoned swimming pools --- treating them when necessary. But he says people can cut down on mosquito population themselves, by targeting the standing water in their back-yards. He advises people to put screen coverings on containers kept out to collect rainwater, clear gutters of debris, and to empty old tires, wheelbarrows or other objects around the yard that collect water. Millinger says plastic swimming pools are another place where mosquitoes can breed, if allowed to hold the same water for several days.
No cases of human West Nile virus infection have been reported in Illinois so far this year. But the virus has shown up in mosquitoes or birds in 18 counties, including Champaign, Macon and Tazewell.
Senator Dick Durbin is recovering today after undergoing a surgical procedure that removed a portion of his stomach.
A release from the Democrat's office says a routine checkup a few weeks ago revealed that Durbin had a small growth in his stomach - the small gastro-intestinal stromal tumor was removed this morning at a Chicago hospital. Durbin's office says it appears the tumor had not spread elsewhere, and no cancer was found in Durbin's stomach or esophagus.
A spokesman says the senator could be released from the hospital and resume a light schedule in a couple of days and a full schedule in a week.
A fatal accident inside a grain bin this week in northwest Illinois underlines just how dangerous it can be to work in the agriculture industry.
Firefighters, paramedics and other emergency workers are taking part in a three-day workshop on responding to farm-related emergencies.
Amy Rademaker is a farm safety expert with Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, which is hosting the event. She says this week's incident occurred at a grain elevator that's subject to a number of safety regulations. But individually-owned grain bins present special problems.
"Those safety practices may not be implemented -- they're not required by OSHA standards unless you have so many employees," Rademaker said. "So it's different when you talk about an elevator versus on-farm storage. But we do have a lot of elevators here, and so we hope they're taking precautions."
Rademaker says emergency workers this weekend are learning how to respond to grain-bin incidents as well as tractor rollovers and other accidents specific to farms. She says rural crews are obviously prime targets for training, but even urban fire and ambulance workers can be called out to help in farm-related accidents.
Tests have found little to no toxicity from the algae in Clinton Lake, but state officials still say swimmers and other users should be concerned.
A 12 year old girl from Urbana had become ill after swimming there over the Fourth of July holiday. The state Department of Natural Resources posted an algae advisory. But they've amended it now that 2 out of 4 water samples found only very low levels of the type of algae that would cause a public health concern.
DNR spokeswoman Januari Smith says blue-green algae scum is common in most bodies of water, but it's best avoided. "We didn't close the lake to swimming or boaters or any other lake users," said Smith. "We just advised them -- we did this last week and we are still doing it -- to be very cautious. Do not swim in stagnant water or in obvious algae blooms."
Smith says Clinton Lake is not treated for algae and they don't plan any treatment.
The new University of Illinois president says he has experience dealing with state governments that are struggling with meager budgets, and more struggling will take place in the next year.
Michael Hogan says he wants to correlate the yearly increases in tuition with state funding reductions that are forcing universities to pass the cost on to students and parents. Hogan sat down for an interview with Illinois Public Media's David Inge, telling him that the U of I has to concentrate just as much on controlling costs, and future staff reductions are possible. He wouldn't specify where layoffs could happen, but he says a committee report has focused on certain services that could be restructured.
"We're going to begin right away when it comes to IT, human resources, strategic purchasing and a variety of other back-office operations, administrative operations. We can begin implementing the recommendations coming out of that committee and begin realizing the savings quickly."
Hogan expects a steering committee to help implement the first of the cost-cutting measures soon. In the meantime, he foresees opening a line of credit to keep up with bills, admitting that doing so makes him uneasy.
Meanwhile, Hogan says some steps to help ease the budget crunch can also be of academic benefit. He admits that students from outside Illinois pay much higher tuition rates - but he also says they're needed to bring a diverse perspective.
"We're trying to create a learning environment on campus that's more cosmopolitan and prepares people for life in the world they're going to face when they get their degrees," Hogan said. "So the best argument for more nonresidents, or more diversity or more international students, is not really a financial argument. It's an intellectual and academic argument, an educational argument." But when asked, Hogan would not give a target number of out-of-state students the U of I wants. The report recommended keeping in-state enrollment level.
Hogan says he won't get defensive about the $620,000 salary that trustees approved for him before he took over as president earlier this month. But he says he plans to forgo pay raises or deal with furlough days if the university calls on other employees to do so.
Property tax money owed by Provena Covenant Medical Center is now in the hands of Champaign County.
County Treasurer Dan Welch received the $8-point-8 million check Thursday morning. An appellate court last week sided with taxing bodies, meaning the hospital owes the funds for tax years 2002 thru 2008. But Welch notes Provena is still fighting the court's decision regarding 2004 onwards. In October, an administrative law judge will determine whether about $6-point-6 million can be released to taxing bodies. But Provena could still take the decision to appellate court.
Welch says that means taxing bodies will likely want to hold off on using that $6-point-6 millon, but they could use just over $2 million from years the hospital is not contesting for taxing bodies like Urbana's school District and Champaign County. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says those funds would come out of the city's tax increment financing district, which would first receive that money. "Smaller units really do need the money," said Prussing. "I don't think it would be right for the city to try to glom onto it. These are people that we work with continuously, so I think the fair thing to do is just give the money back as quickly as we can. And we have our legal council looking into exactly what is the proper way to do this." Prussing says it's 'unfortunate' that Provena is dragging this case out.
Meanwhile, Provena is planning to file for an exemption on its 2010 taxes. Spokeswoman Lisa Lagger issued a statement... noting the hospital provided over $25 million in charitable care in the Champaign Urbana area in the past year, saying those amounts 'clearly represent the value of charitable assets being returned to the community.
Shirley Hicks recently took over as the Public Health Administrator at the Vermilion County Health Department. Hicks has been with the health department for 25 years, and comes into her new role amid massive program and staff cuts. In the first six months of this year, the department cut more than half of its staff and eliminated eight programs. The state still owes the health department $600,000, which Hicks says could be paid back by December. She estimates that it could be at least a couple of years until her department can start thinking about adding to its services. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to her at the department's office in Danville.
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