$175 Million Available in B2B Grants for Restaurants, Hotels and Creative Arts Businesses

grant funding

Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced $175 million in available grant funding through the Back to Business (B2B) program. Following state recovery for businesses totaling nearly $1.5 billion, the latest American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) -funded opportunity is designed to provide additional support for the hardest-hit sectors, including restaurants (B2B Restaurants), hotels (B2B Hotels), and businesses or organizations in the creative arts sector (B2B Arts). To provide hands-on support and raise awareness about the program, the State has mobilized a network of more than 100 community navigators across Illinois. 

“In the three years since COVID-19 brought our state, our nation, and our world to a standstill, Illinois businesses have come back swinging—in part thanks to our Back to Business program,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “My administration is committed to helping small business owners move past survival and onto long-term success—and this latest investment of $175 million in B2B grants does exactly that.”

As outlined in statute, B2B Arts and B2B Restaurants grant award amounts will be determined by revenue declines, as reflected on tax returns, and funding for hotels will be allocated by number of rooms. Applications are open from April 5 through May 10, 2023 and awards are expected to be made several weeks after the deadline date. All eligible applicants will receive a grant as long as the business meets eligibility requirements and submits proper documentation and attestations. 

The program design is based on legislation establishing the Restaurant Employment and Stabilization Grant Program ($50 million), Hotel Jobs Recovery Grant Program ($75 million) and the Illinois Creative Recovery Grant program ($50 million). The funding is designed to offset losses and support job retention in the hardest-hit industries. 

“Illinois’ businesses have made a strong recovery since the most difficult times of the pandemic and we’re proud to build upon that progress through additional support for hard-hit industries,” said DCEO Director Kristin A. Richards. “Restaurants, hotels and creative arts are industries designed to bring people together, and with an additional $175 million we are investing in communities and supporting continued economic development.” 

DCEO has enlisted a robust network of more than 100 community navigators to conduct outreach and provide technical assistance in the hardest hit communities. Community Navigators will be conducting outreach, hosting webinars, and supporting prospective applicants to prepare before the application opens on April 5, 2023. This is in addition to available small business support available through Illinois’ network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). 

In order to manage a high volume of applications in a timely manner, DCEO has enlisted a program administrator – the National Community Reinvestment Coalition Community Development Fund (NCRC CDF) – to support with application review, provide technical portal support for applicants, manage the development of the application portal and provide support in processing payments. 

“The impacts of the pandemic are far from over for small businesses and its aftermath continues to threaten their long-term success, especially for those owned by Black, Latino, and other underserved entrepreneurs,” said Marisa Calderon, Executive Director of NCRC CDF. “These grants will help to shore up small businesses, preserve what they have worked so hard to build, and save jobs in our communities.”

Eligibility, Application, and Awards

The B2B Restaurants (20 ILCS 605/605-1100), B2B Hotels (20 ILCS 605/605-1095) and B2B Arts (30 ILCS 709/40) programs were designed in accordance with state statute, which specified industries, buckets of funding, spending guidelines and more. A summary of the programs are included below. 

View a recording from Choose DuPage’s informational webinar:

“Budgets are about priorities, and another $175 million for the B2B program is once again reiterating that small businesses are top of mind,” said Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth, (D-Peoria). “Small businesses are built on dreams. Whether it is a young person with a new plan, or a long-held idea for a second career, it is a priority that the State of Illinois do everything we can to help them thrive.”

“The Back to Business program and other relief efforts helped thousands of small businesses across Chicago and Illinois bounce back from the pandemic,” said State Senator Elgie?Sims, (D-Chicago). “Because Illinois has been responsible in our budgeting, we are able to provide funds for entrepreneurs and businesses that need it most.”

“Tourism businesses like restaurants, hotels, and arts organizations are the beating heart of not just my district’s local economy, but they are critical to the entire state,” said State Senator Sara Feigenholtz, (D-Chicago). “I look forward to businesses across Illinois being reinvigorated by these dollars as they gear up for what will be an incredible travel summer for our state.”

“We are excited to spread the word about the additional $175 million in available grant funding to businesses that need support,” said State Senator Celina Villanueva, (D-Chicago). “During previous rounds, I walked door to door with DCEO to make sure that small business owners, especially immigrant-owned businesses, knew about this opportunity so they can get the support that they need. I look forward to visiting my small business corridors again with this great news.”

“Chicago has seen an encouraging rise in tourism and the timing couldn’t be better for the small businesses in my district,” said State Rep. Theresa Mah, (D-Chicago). “We look forward to building upon this momentum as the state launches the next round of funding for restaurants, hotels and creative arts organizations.”

“These restaurant grants are a lifeline for local restaurants that are continuing to recover from the past few years,” said Sam Toia, President and CEO of Illinois Restaurant Association. “We are grateful to Governor Pritzker and DCEO for their partnership and ongoing support of the hospitality industry.”

“The hotel industry was among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. As occupancy numbers rise closer to pre-pandemic levels and the industry continues to recover, the funding from this grant will give us the boost we need to rehire workers and support the returning tourism demand,” said Michael Jacobson, President & CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association. “I want to thank Governor Pritzker and DCEO for their efforts to support Illinois’ tourism economy and show the rest of the world that we are ready to welcome visitors to our communities.”

“This $50 million in relief funding for the creative sector couldn’t come at a more critical time,” says Claire Rice, Executive Director of Arts Alliance Illinois. “We just passed the three-year anniversary of the March 2020 shutdown, and our sector is still facing significant challenges: lower revenues, audience hesitancy, and increased expenses. We’re grateful to the State of Illinois for making this recovery funding possible, and the Alliance will work tirelessly with a large partner network to make sure that our colleagues in arts and culture across Illinois know that these invaluable dollars are available to help recoup some of their losses.”

B2B Restaurants, B2B Hotels and B2B Arts builds on the success of the Business Interruption Grants (BIG) program and the first round of the Back to Business (B2B) Programs, launched by the Pritzker administration to provide more than 15,000 awards to businesses totaling $536 million, with 47 percent of grants awarded to minority-owned businesses – a testament to the work of the community navigators program designed to help reach more underserved businesses in minority and rural communities across the state. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, DCEO has allocated nearly $1.5 billion in pandemic-related support for businesses, including $536 million through B2B & BIG, $899 million in Child Care Restoration Grants (administered in partnership with DHS), $18.5 million in local CURE funding specifically allocated to businesses, $14 million in Emergency Hospitality Grants, and $3.5 million in BIG agriculture grants.

Governor Announces $250 Million Back to Business (B2B) Grant Program

As part of Illinois’ COVID-19 economic recovery program, yesterday Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) launched the $250 million Back to Business (B2B) grant program to support the continued recovery of small businesses across Illinois.

The first in a series of economic recovery programs by the administration, B2B will offer the hardest hit industries grants of $5K-$150K to help offset losses, bring back workers, and take continued steps to rebuild amid the fallout from the pandemic.

To reach the businesses most in need, DCEO will work alongside over 100 community navigators, 42 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) and other outreach partners who have relationships with their local business community. These partners stand ready to help small business prepare and apply for funding with 1-on-1, and multilingual assistance in every region of the state.

While the State announced the program this week, we are providing businesses with application information early to provide them with a jumpstart in preparing before the application formally opens on August 18, 2021.

Locate a local community navigator to help you prepare and apply.

Learn more about B2B, requirements and how to apply.

DuPage County Ranks Healthiest in Illinois


DuPage County— The DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) is pleased to announce that DuPage County has been ranked the healthiest county in Illinois, according to the 2021 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. The county rankings, produced annually by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, are an easy-to-use snapshot that compares counties within states, demonstrating that where you live influences how well and how long you live.

“This designation truly highlights the incredible work of our local health department, healthcare systems, community groups, organizations, and residents to continue improving the health and well-being for all of us here in DuPage County,” said DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin.

The rankings use more than 30 measures to help communities understand how healthy their residents are today (Health Outcomes) and what will impact their health in the future (Health Factors), which are used to measure the current overall health of each county in all 50 states. While DuPage County has ranked in the top five in both categories for several years, this year the county was ranked Number 1 in both Health Factors and Health Outcomes among the 102 counties in Illinois.

“This year’s rankings show us what we can accomplish when we come together to build a healthy community for our residents,” said Karen Ayala, Executive Director of DuPage County Health Department. “We will continue our work to further improve the health of our communities, recognizing that not all residents enjoy the same access or outcomes. This is particularly important as we face the challenges further revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

View the full 2021 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report.

The Rankings are the outcome of robust county-wide partnerships that meet the priority health needs of residents. This includes Impact DuPage, a group of organizations committed to creating a common understanding of community needs, gaps, and priorities that will advance the well-being of the DuPage County community. Our 2018 county-wide assessment identified Behavioral Health, Affordable Housing, and Health Status Improvement as the top three strategic issues that must be prioritized and addressed in order to advance the well-being of our community. Examples of efforts to address these issues through Impact DuPage include:

  • DuPage Health Coalition’s work to provide access to health services for low-income populations;
  • The ongoing efforts of the DuPage County Heroin/Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Taskforce, Prevention Leadership Team, and Behavioral Health Collaborative to address substance use and mental health needs of residents;
  • The DuPage Housing Collaborative’s work to create affordable housing opportunities; and
  • FORWARD DuPage’s efforts to improve healthy eating and active living opportunities for residents.

DCHD remains committed to the health of its residents and values the information provided by the 2021 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. By working together, we can make DuPage County a healthier place for everyone to live, learn, work, and play.

DuPage County’s pandemic response is all about collaboration

DuPage Community Vaccination Clinic

There isn’t anything quite like visiting a mass vaccination clinic.

When you park at the DuPage County Fairgrounds, the site of a new COVID-19 vaccine center, you’ll head to Building 1, a massive, echoey, hangar-like structure with a high oval ceiling and a floor that’s been painted for an indoor tennis tournament. Inside, there’s a meticulous organization at work. Chairs are arranged in a grid, six feet between each; signs point to important areas; staff in neon vests direct you from station to station.

First, you’ll check in. As long as you scheduled an appointment in advance and aren’t feeling sick, a worker will scan a QR code on your phone and let you in. Now, take a seat. A few minutes later, your name will be called, and you’ll receive a vaccine, perhaps from one of the graduating Elmhurst University nursing students who recently joined the team. After your shot, you’ll return to your seat for fifteen more minutes, to make sure you don’t experience any adverse symptoms. Then, you can leave this otherworldly bubble and get back to your day.

It’s like clockwork. If there were enough vaccines—there aren’t—this site alone could process a thousand people or more each day. In fact, the clinic is so organized, so fast, so factory-like, you almost get the sense that distributing and administering vaccines to the public is, well, easy.

“It’s not easy,” Christopher Hoff told us on a recent Zoom call. Normally, if there wasn’t a global pandemic, Chris would be introduced as the Director of Community Health Resources at the DuPage County Health Department (DCHD). Today, he is the Deputy Incident Commander. Chris oversees the DCHD’s COVID-19 response; he and his team have orchestrated everything from testing and contact tracing to communication and vaccination in DuPage. Right now, the primary focus is vaccination.

The day we spoke to Chris, DuPage had just reached a milestone: The number of residents vaccinated had surpassed the number of local COVID-19 diagnoses since the beginning of the pandemic. Since mid-December, DuPage had administered about 100,000 doses—and, as reported by local media, had vaccinated a greater percentage of its residents than any other Illinois county.

While only a small portion of the local population has been vaccinated—just shy of 3 percent, as of writing—the DCHD has built a coordinated infrastructure of providers, clinics and staff to quickly get vaccines to the residents next in line. The infrastructure is flexible; it’s designed to scale based on the volume of vaccines DuPage receives from the State of Illinois.

So far, that’s mostly meant scaling down to accommodate an extremely limited and inconsistent supply. However, in the coming months, as the State delivers more vaccines, DuPage’s distribution infrastructure will be ready to quickly scale up—reducing the time residents have to wait for vaccines and potentially saving lives.


Vaccine distribution is the art of managing uncertainty.

The DCHD doesn’t know how many vaccines they’ll receive a few weeks from now. Each week, the State tells the DCHD how many vaccines they’ll have to distribute over the next seven days (so far, the number has wavered from less than 10,000 up to 20,000). They have no idea how many vaccines they’ll have to distribute and administer until, essentially, it’s on their doorstep.

Despite the uncertainty, DuPage has managed to move vaccines quickly and efficiently. The success is largely due to a community-wide collaboration, formed of new and existing partnerships across the private and public sectors, that’s unique to the region.

The DCHD isn’t a huge agency; they have a staff of about 600. With more than 900,000 residents in DuPage County, a few hundred people couldn’t possibly vaccinate the target 80-100% of the population. While the health department of a smaller county might handle distribution on their own, it just isn’t practical in a place as large as DuPage.

“We really need those partners,” Chris said. “They all have a role to play.”

Within the pandemic response, the DCHD plays the role of coordinator. They’re the conductor, focusing on the big picture, organizing all the disparate parts, cuing organizations when it’s their turn to step up. The DCHD makes sure the right people and resources are in the right place at the right time. Nearly every week, the department meets with mayors, village managers, school superintendents, fire chiefs, police chiefs, hospital administrators, business leaders—all the stakeholders.

As the chief coordinator of DuPage County’s pandemic response, the DCHD shares tools and resources with partner organizations throughout DuPage. They hire nonmedical staff to shepherd people through vaccination sites (110 part-time staff for the fairgrounds alone). They sit down with the leaders of public schools, some of the biggest employers in the state, to answer questions and help them make key decisions. As vaccines become available, the DCHD has partnered with 96 providers across DuPage County—including hospitals, medical offices, your local Jewel, among many others—to coordinate distribution.

“These organizations and leaders have to know what they should do, what their role is. Every aspect of the pandemic response, we’ve coordinated to some extent.”

Elmhurst University is a good example. In February, 60 graduating students from the school’s nursing program joined the DuPage County vaccination team. Working with an instructor from the University, the students are learning to administer COVID-19 vaccines, monitor patients and educate community members about the vaccine.

“The students are thrilled,” said Diane Salvador, PhD, Executive Director and Professor at Elmhurst University’s Department of Nursing and Health Sciences. “They’re serving the community, learning important population health concepts, and being a part of this historic endeavor as we fight to conquer the pandemic.”

In addition to providing much-needed volunteers, the partnership helps DCHD solve a particular challenge. The process of training volunteers is often resource-intensive and logistically complex. But, with the new partnership, Elmhurst University is handling the major components of the training: providing the structure for the course, working out schedules and communicating with students. This takes a burden off DCHD.

“When we work with programs like Elmhurst University to figure out these logistical hurdles, like training personnel, it makes it ten times easier,” Chris said.

DCHD has relationships with higher education institutions throughout DuPage. In the coming months, Chris said, the DCHD’s partnership with Elmhurst University serve as a model for training additional staff.

“I think this kind of collaborative thinking is engrained in DuPage. We have all these partners in the community we can draw on, no matter what the issue is. We couldn’t execute this level of pandemic response without it.”


With all the careful planning, coordination and collaboration, why is it so many of us still can’t get a vaccine?

The problem isn’t the County’s distribution effort. If it were, that would be an easier problem to solve. The problem is the supply shortage, the gap between the volume of vaccines DuPage County is capable of distributing and the volume they receive from the State government.

Currently, there just aren’t enough vaccines. As you read this, the DCHD and their partners have the resources to distribute more than five times the volume they’re receiving from the State. (The week we spoke to Chris, they had the capacity to distribute 53,000 vaccines; they received 10,000.)

For those of us waiting for a vaccine, that’s a frustrating figure. It’s also a reason for hope. When the vaccine supply increases—and it will increase—the network of providers lead by the DuPage County Health Department is poised to quickly scale-up their operations, so they can get vaccines to residents as soon as possible.

When it’s your turn to be vaccinated, and you sit in that chair and roll up your sleeve, you probably won’t be thinking about all the time, planning, energy, resources, creativity and community-wide collaboration that went into bringing the vaccine to you. In fact, it will all look pretty ‘easy.’ And that’s kind of the point.  

COVID-19 Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources Webinar

On Thursday, February 4, Choose DuPage hosted the COVID-19 Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources Webinar. The webinar discussed federal programs to assist businesses, non-profits, and sole proprietors as you navigate the challenges presented by the pandemic. Bo Steiner from the U.S. Small Business Administration shared updates on the most recent iteration of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other small business/non-profit financial assistance programs.


Watch the Webinar


Ver el webinar (subtítulos en español)

Regions 8 and 9 Move to Tier 1


The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) today announced Region 8 (DuPage and Kane) and Region 9 (Lake and McHenry) are moving to Tier 1 effective today. Information about which tier and phase regions are in can be found here.


  • Indoor service limited to the lesser of 25 guests or 25% capacity per room
  • Establishments offering indoor service must serve food
  • All bar and restaurant patrons should be seated at tables
  • No ordering, seating, or congregating at bar (bar stools should be removed)
  • Tables should be 6 feet apart
  • No standing or congregating indoors or outdoors while waiting for a table or exiting


  • Sports should follow the mitigation measures set forth in the All Sports Guidance, which outlines appropriate levels of practice and competition based on individual sport risk
  • Face coverings must be worn at all times in fitness centers, including while engaged in individual exercise regardless of person or machine spacing
  • Recreation, fitness centers and outdoor activities (not included in the above exposure settings) follow Phase 4 guidance

MEETINGS AND SOCIAL EVENTS (including weddings, funerals, potlucks, etc.)

  • Limit to lesser of 25 guests or 25% of overall room capacity both indoors and outdoors.
  • Applicable to professional, cultural and social group gatherings.
  • Not applicable to students participating in-person classroom learning, or sports.
  • This does not reduce the overall facility capacity dictated by general Phase 4 business guidance such as office, personal care, retail, etc.

IDPH will continue to closely monitor test positivity, ICU bed availability, and the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19. Should data show regions trending in the wrong direction, based on the established mitigation metrics, regions could once again find themselves in a higher tier with increased measures.

Metrics for moving from a higher to lower tier are as follows:

Moving from Tier 3 to Tier 2

  • Test positivity rate ≥ 8% and below 12% for three consecutive days (7-day average); AND
  • Staffed ICU bed availability ≥ 20% for three consecutive days (7-day average); AND
  • Sustained decline in COVID patients in hospital (7-day average for 7 of 10 days)

Moving from Tier 2 to Tier 1

  • Test positivity rate between 6.5% and 8% for three consecutive days (7-day average); AND
  • Staffed ICU bed availability ≥ 20% for three consecutive days (7-day average); AND
  • No sustained increase in COVID patients in hospital (7-day average for 7 of 10 days)

Moving from Tier 1 to Phase 4

  • Test positivity rate ≤ 6.5% for three consecutive days (7-day average); AND
  • Staffed ICU bed availability ≥ 20% for three consecutive days (7-day average); AND
  • No sustained increase in COVID patients in hospital (7-day average for 7 of 10 days)

Information about mitigation and resurgence metrics can be found on the IDPH website at http://www.dph.illinois.gov/regionmetrics.

DuPage County Health Department COVID-19 Vaccine Weekly Update

DuPage County—This week, vaccination efforts in DuPage County remain focused on administering first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare personnel in Phase 1a and expanding vaccine capacity throughout the county. As of Jan. 12, 2021, approximately 33,950 vaccines have been administered to DuPage County healthcare personnel according to vaccination data provided by Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). DuPage County is currently in the top five counties for the percent of population fully vaccinated.

DuPage County, Illinois’ second-most populous county, is fortunate to have a vast medical community. There are several hospitals, outpatient medical clinics, doctors’ offices, federally qualified health centers, and congregate care centers as well as other medical personnel such as dentists, nurses, physical therapists, etc. Due to these factors, health officials expect it will take several weeks before DuPage County is ready to move into Phase 1b.

“We understand some counties throughout the State are ready to move into Phase 1b. However, here in DuPage County we remain committed to vaccinating the thousands of healthcare personnel who have signed-up to receive vaccine appointments,” stated Karen Ayala, Executive Director of DuPage County Health Department. “We ask residents for their patience as we continue to move forward in our vaccination efforts of Phase 1a. As more updates become available, this information will be shared on our website, social media channels, and weekly newsletter.”

DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) has received and distributed an average of 11,000 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines per week. Health officials are working closely with partners at all levels, including hospitals, healthcare providers, pharmacies, and community leaders to expand vaccine access and local capacity to administer vaccine in DuPage County. As vaccine supply increases and additional vaccination sites become available, the Health Department expects the rate of vaccination will increase. Additional information about DuPage County vaccine planning and related updates will be posted at www.dupagehealth.org/covid19vaccine.

DCHD COVID-19 vaccine clinics continue offering about 1,500 appointments per week for unaffiliated healthcare personnel (e.g., dentists, physical therapists, hospice workers, home health care). Healthcare personnel residing, working, or attending a college/university in DuPage County should sign-up for the COVID-19 Vaccine Weekly Update. Through this communication, the Health Department will share weekly updates and contact individuals and organizations with opportunities to schedule an appointment through DCHD or community partners as additional vaccine becomes available.

Healthcare personnel who schedule an appointment with DCHD will be required to present verification of their healthcare personnel status, i.e., employee ID badge, check stub, state licensure, or certificate at the time of their appointment. If healthcare personnel are affiliated with a health system, they are advised to contact their health system to coordinate vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccination data by county is now available through the IDPH website. Data include the number of doses administered, the vaccination rate per population, and what percent of the population is fully vaccinated. It is important to note that vaccine distribution figures are reported in real-time, while vaccine administration figures are reported with as much as a 72-hour lag.

As residents wait for vaccine to be available to them, they should sign-up for our COVID-19 Vaccine Weekly Update to receive regular updates on DuPage County’s vaccination efforts. Additionally, everyone is urged to do their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by:

  • Wearing a mask whenever outside your home or with anyone not from your household;
  • Watching your distance, staying at least 6 feet from people outside of your immediate household and avoiding in-person gatherings;
  • Washing your hands often; and
  • Staying home if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID19 or if you have been in close contact with a person infected with COVID-19, and contacting your healthcare provider for appropriate evaluation, testing, and care.

DuPage County COVID-19 information and resources can be found at www.dupagehealth.org/covid19

A Safer Tomorrow: Advanced Tech is Critical to Protecting Public Health in DuPage

In 2020, many of us were forced to learn just how far a sneeze can travel. While some of us (naively) assumed that a sneeze flies no more than a few feet before harmlessly disappearing, researchers at MIT shattered our illusions with a series of unpleasant statistics. It turns out, a sneeze can travel up to 27 feet, reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. After the initial flight, droplets linger in the air for up to 10 minutes, forming a very personal kind of cloud that contains everything from bacteria to viruses, including COVID-19.

Sneezes, coughs, laughter, even just normal breathing, speaking and contact: As we learned in 2020, there is no end to the channels that a virus can take en route from one body to another. While social distancing and masks have helped mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many organizations are looking for more effective and potentially permanent solutions to protect public health—now, during the pandemic, as well as in the future.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on communities across the world, but it has also highlighted critical weaknesses in our current systems and taught us important lessons about public health. These lessons may help us prevent future pandemics and protect individuals from the viruses and bacterial infections that kill thousands, even in ‘normal’ years.

In DuPage County, organizations of all sizes are turning to innovative ideas and advanced technologies to protect the health of individuals and communities.

Mesòn Sabika is Helping Customers Breathe Easier

The food at Mesòn Sabika is fantastic. But, as anyone who has visited the Naperville restaurant knows, atmosphere is a major part of the restaurant’s appeal.

A short drive west of downtown Naperville, Mesòn is located in a 19th-Century mansion on a pristine, four-acre estate adorned in traditional Spanish décor. It’s the kind of place where you want to be. Going there and sitting on the patio with a cocktail and a plate of empanadas is an experience, not just another dinner. That’s why, in any other year, most of us would be talking about visiting Mesòn Sabika—not just grabbing takeout.

As the first wave of lockdown restrictions began to relax, the community was eager to once again enjoy the atmosphere of Mesòn Sabika, presenting the restaurant with a challenge that many businesses are now facing: How do you give your customers the experience they want, while also protecting their health (and yours)? The owners and staff at Mesòn Sabika went to great lengths to create a safer environment—spacing tables eight feet apart, reducing contact as much as possible, frequently sanitizing surfaces—but, like many of us, they had become aware of the many channels a virus can use to travel across a room, including a simple sneeze. They wanted to protect their customers and staff from any threat, even the ones they couldn’t see.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could catch a sneeze as it travels through the air and remove all the potentially harmful particles before they reach us? Mesòn Sabika discovered a device that does just that. This year, the restaurant installed a state-of-the-art air-purification system (the REME Halo) that continually purifies the air within the mansion. According to the manufacturer, the system uses an innovative zinc ionization system to reduce airborne particles, like dust and mold spores, while killing up to 99% of bacteria and viruses (including COVID-19) both in the air and on surfaces. It even ‘catches’ sneezes mid-air. By the time a sneeze travels three feet, the system will have reduced its germs by 99%.

Mesòn Sabika isn’t the only business using advanced technology to protect the health of customers and staff. All across DuPage County, this sort of solution is appearing in restaurants, schools, hospitals, hotels, shops and the many other places where we gather.

Meanwhile, some DuPage organizations are not only using this technology. They’re creating it.

Sound Inc. is Creating Healthier Office Environments

If you work in marketing or web development, you may be familiar with the concept of ‘heat-mapping’, a technology that creates a ‘map’ illustrating how users have interacted with your website.

A technology company in Naperville has taken the heat-mapping concept and repurposed it to help us clean our offices more efficiently and effectively. Sound Inc.—a tech services firm specializing in audio/visual, security and connectivity for businesses—weaves together a network of technologies designed to keep employees and visitors safe as we return to the workplace. One of the systems uses thermal (heat-sensitive) cameras, motion-sensors and analytics to map the places where people frequently contact surfaces in an office, so cleaning services can focus their efforts on the places with the highest risk of transmission.

But that’s just the start. In addition to mapping high-contact areas, Sound Inc. creates systems that can automatically sound alarms when rooms have surpassed their intended capacity, scan the temperatures of visitors, send alerts when employees are lingering in high-traffic areas—such as hallways, where they’re more likely to come into contact with coworkers or visitors—and monitor policies like mask-wearing and social distancing.

“For a business owner who is worried about having their employees come back and feel safe, that first line of defense is really important,” says Brian Clark, Vice President of Sound Inc. “You want to know who is coming into your building. That concept is called ‘visitor management’, and, traditionally, most businesses don’t do it very well. But now we’re paying closer attention to who comes and goes into our workplaces.”

Beyond protecting employees and visitors from COVID-19, Brian says that his company’s technology can offer protection from other kinds of threats. For example, a system with a motion-sensor can be installed near a door to detect weapons and automatically perform background checks, in addition to reading temperatures.

Scientel Solutions is Helping Organizations Safely Return to ‘Normal’ 

Of all the strange rituals that became ‘normal’ in 2020, the act of having your temperature taken in public is among the strangest. If you have visited a doctor’s office or a restaurant in the past nine months, you probably experienced something like this: Someone in a mask approaches you, aims what looks like a plastic Marvin the Martian laser gun at your forehead, and pulls the trigger. Odd as it may seem, taking temperatures at the entrance of a high-traffic area is a good idea, as it allows businesses to turn away anyone who is feverish, a potential sign of COVID-19.

But these handheld devices have three weaknesses: 1.) Their accuracy ranges from mediocre to unusable, 2.) They require the operator to be in close proximity to multiple, potentially infected individuals, putting them at greater risk, and 3.) The process of scanning a person with a handheld device is tedious and time-consuming. It isn’t a practical solution for businesses or events with high volumes of people entering the area.

The engineers at Scientel Solutions in Aurora were frustrated with the existing temperature-reading systems—on behalf of their own business, as well as their customers’—so, they built a better machine. The Mobile Evaluation and Triage (MET) Unit, which resembles a tall, friendly robot with wheels in lieu of legs, combines several advanced technologies to overcome the weaknesses of handheld scanners.

While the MET also reads temperatures, it does so with far greater accuracy and speed than handheld scanners, while allowing operators to maintain a safe distance from the individuals they scan. At the core of the device is a retinal camera, which reads temperatures by scanning a person’s tear ducts. Sound strange? Maybe it is. But the system is incredible accurate, reading temperatures within 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit, vastly better than most scanners. It’s also fast, scanning each person within less than a second, enabling the device to process dozens of individuals per minute. If a person does have a fever, the device alerts operators—and can be integrated with other systems (for example, to automatically send a notice to security).

The MET unit is ideal for any location that may see a high volume of people—hospitals, corporate centers, municipal buildings, stadiums, airports, etc.—and can be used in conjunction with other safety measures to make events safer. Locally, Scientel has brought the MET to the City of Aurora, Kane County, Stephen Co. and Hesed House, as well as other businesses and organizations around the country.

For Nelson Santos, Founder & CEO of Scientel, technologies like the MET are an essential component of any reopening effort.

“We use the MET Unit for our own employees and all guests on a daily basis,” Nelson says. “With the help of the MET—as well as other technologies—Scientel has been able to hold events in conjunction with social distancing. We believe that we need to continue to operate as a business and function as families, all while being socially responsible given the pandemic.” 

A Safer Tomorrow

No single technology, concept or guideline will protect us from threats like COVID-19 (although, vaccines will go a long way towards solving our immediate problem).

Instead, creating a safer, healthier future for the communities of DuPage County comes down to collaboration: many minds, technologies, businesses and institutions coming together to find smart solutions to our immediate problems, while addressing our long-term challenges.

We need innovators like Scientel Solutions and Sound Inc. bringing us the devices that keep us safe; local businesses like Mesòn Sabika adopting new technologies; organizations like the College of DuPage training contact tracers; companies like Import Logistics finding creative solutions to protect our supply chain; and institutions like Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab using science to fight back against threats like COVID-19. Just as critically, we need every member of our community supporting these organizations, uplifting one another and thinking about tomorrow.

A safer future isn’t a distant possibility; it’s something we can start building right now. It’s up to every one of us to make it.

In DuPage County, our communities are tapping into high-tech solutions to create a safer tomorrow. From the labs of Argonne to the dining room of Mesòn Sabika, you can find innovation in every corner of DuPage. Learn more at ChooseDuPage.com/Ready

College of DuPage is training hundreds of contact tracers, meeting an urgent public health need while providing employment

Contact Tracers

When we think of the fight against COVID-19, we tend to think of doctors, nurses, scientists and other frontline workers. But there’s a growing army of individuals—largely consisting of retirees, medical students and those who were recently unemployed—fighting the pandemic from behind the scenes.

Known as “contact tracers,” these trained workers help limit the spread of COVID-19. And now, thanks to the hard work of several individuals and a collaboration amongst local institutions, an innovative new program at the College of DuPage is preparing hundreds for careers in contact tracing.

When Lori Gache-Garcia stepped into her role as Program Manager at the College of DuPage, she never imagined that her first year would be defined by a pandemic. And then—over the next three weeks—COVID-19 swept across the nation, Illinois ordered residents to shelter-in-place, and the College sent faculty home.

It wasn’t the beginning she expected.

But Lori didn’t panic. Instead, she got to work.

As the nation faced a public health emergency and an unemployment crisis, the College of DuPage responded on both fronts—introducing a new course designed to train people for careers fighting the pandemic. Working from her home computer, Lori collaborated with College staff and local organizations like the DuPage County Health Department to develop the contact-tracing program.

As a contact tracer, your job is to track COVID-19 and limit its spread. The work is entirely remote—you spend a lot of time on the phone with people who have been exposed to the virus, encouraging them to quarantine and identifying others with whom they may have come into contact.

Contact tracers are often compared to detectives. There is some scientific sleuthing involved, as you follow a trail of evidence, gather clues, conduct interviews and piece together a bigger picture. But contact tracers are often less like detectives and more like counselors, broaching uncomfortable subjects while providing valuable guidance and information.

The best contact tracers are often the most personable and empathetic people.

Contact Tracers

To create an effective contact-tracing program, the College of DuPage collaborated with the DuPage County Health Department. The Health Department employs numerous contact-tracers, so they knew exactly what skills were needed. With their guidance, College staff tailored the curriculum to focus on these key skills.

“Right off the bat, the Health Department told us they wanted soft skills, like customer service,” Lori says. “As a contact tracer, there are a lot of phone conversations, and these conversations are very sensitive. With that in mind, we incorporated communication skills into the curriculum. We actually have a script that students learn—it’s part of the final exam.”

The program that Lori developed—with curriculum designed by COD Surgical Technology Professor Kathy Cabai—covers a wide range of “hard” and “soft” skills at the core of contact tracing: from building the student’s knowledge of infectious diseases, to learning how to build rapport with cases and accounting for cultural sensitivities.

The program consists of four modules over four weeks. It’s entirely online; instructors are available to answer questions; and students largely determine the pace over the course of each week.

For those who pass the final exam, the prospects of landing a career are good. There’s no guarantee of employment, but contact tracers are in high demand. Students are often employed by public or private institutions shortly after graduating. Many are employed by the DuPage County Health Department, and they find themselves fighting COVID-19 within their own community.

To date, more than 400 students have enrolled.

Contact Tracers

While many of us are learning about contact tracing for the first time, it isn’t a novel concept. Tracing has been used to fight a variety of infectious diseases, from the 1918 Flu Pandemic to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. In tandem with other measures—like masks, social distancing and vaccines—contact tracing has been used to reduce the spread of diseases and, in certain cases, eradicate them.

Dr. Sanjeeb Khatua, Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive at Edward-Elmhurst Health, is the Incident Commander for the organization’s COVID-19 response. He says that contact tracing is a critical component of any community’s response to the pandemic—and it also benefits individuals. 

“Contact tracing allows us to identify individuals who have COVID-19 and their contacts, so we can warn them and inform them,” he says. “The more we’re able to do that, the better it’s going to be for all of us. The less community spread, the less chance you have of actually getting COVID-19.”

And while contact-tracing is nothing new, the demand for contact tracers in 2020 has skyrocketed.

“The urgency and the sheer number of contact tracers the country needed was incredible,” Lori says. “When the need arose, we recognized that we, the College, needed to create a short-term training program to teach people the skills and knowledge they need. And we had to create it quickly.”

“In a matter of weeks, Lori worked with full-time faculty to develop this wonderful program,” says Joe Cassidy, Assistant Vice President of Economic Development and Dean of Continuing Education and Public Services at COD. “This is a great example of how we can flex as a college to meet an urgent need. It’s also a perfect example of what can happen when we collaborate on-campus and off-campus, with partners like DuPage County Health.”

Contact Tracers

You don’t have to be a scientist or a public-health expert to become a contact tracer. To enroll in the College of DuPage program, all you need is a high school diploma (or equivalent) and a computer.

Contact tracers are a diverse group, consisting of many demographics. COD’s program has seen students ages 18 to 72 (the 72-year-old recently graduated and was hired soon after). And while students come from all walks of life, many fall into one of three categories: retirees, college-aged students or those who were recently unemployed.

For retirees, becoming a contact tracer is the perfect way to fight back against the pandemic. It’s entirely remote, so you don’t have to put your own health at risk. It can also be a good way to get some much-needed socialization.

For college students interested in the medical industry, contact tracing is a good way to gain some real-world experience in the world of public health. For those who were recently unemployed, a career as a contact tracer is a win-win. The pay is good—contact tracers make up to $28/hour—and the work is fulfilling.

And while there may be no “typical” contact tracer, Lori says the majority are drawn to the program simply from a desire to help their community.

“Not surprisingly, they tend to be the most diligent students,” she says.

Interested in becoming a contact tracer? To enroll in the College of DuPage program, you must be 18 years or older, have a high-school diploma or equivalent, and have access to a computer. The online program consists of four modules over four weeks, and the cost is $279. The next course is January 25-February 21.

DuPage County Announces a New Drive-Thru COVID-19 Testing Site

DuPage COVID Testing

In response to the exponential spread of COVID-19 cases and the increased need for testing, the DuPage County Health Department is announcing the addition of a second community-based drive-thru testing site to provide additional testing resources in DuPage

The additional COVID-19 testing site will be located at the Odeum Expo Center (1033 N Villa Avenue) in Villa Park, Illinois, and will open on Monday, Nov. 23. The week of Thanksgiving the site will be operational Monday, Nov. 23 through Wednesday, Nov. 25 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., or until the daily test capacity of 600 tests is completed each day. The week of Nov. 29, the site will operate from Sunday, Nov. 29 through Friday, Dec. 4 with the same hours and test capacity.

Anyone can be tested, and no appointment, doctor referral, or insurance is required. Visitors are encouraged to pre-register at testdirectly.com/dupage, but pre-registration does not guarantee testing or a place in line for that day. For more information about how to prepare before your visit and what to expect, visit www.dupagehealth.org/covid19testing.

Additionally, DCHD has collaborated with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to expand mobile testing opportunities by
partnering with local municipal leaders. The mobile test sites rotate throughout the county to increase access to testing for residents. “While testing is a crucial component of DCHD’s COVID-19 response, we must remember that it is only one part of the overall strategy to slow the spread of this virus. Even more important than identifying cases and their close contacts, is preventing new cases from occurring,” said Karen Ayala, Executive Director of DuPage County Health Department.

The Health Department continues to encourage residents to protect themselves and their families by staying home as much as possible, avoiding all non-essential travel, and not gathering with people from outside of their household. In addition, everyone is reminded to practice the 3Ws, to wear a mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands to slow the spread of COVID-19.

For additional COVID-19 information and resources, visit the DCHD website at www.dupagehealth.org/covid19.