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Coronavirus: Education moves online, college towns brace for economic hit

By Kevin Bessler

CARBONDALE, Ill. – As Illinois colleges and universities extend spring break for students and move to online classrooms amid growing concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus, businesses in college towns are already feeling the pinch.

The University of Illinois, Illinois State, Bradley University, and Northwestern are just some of the schools that have announced plans to move classes online after spring break.

The impact on local businesses will be felt in Carbondale, Illinois, the home of Southern Illinois University.

Southern Illinois University, with more than 5,000 employees, is the largest employer in the town of about 25,000.

Carbondale Mayor John “Mike” Henry said the town transforms when the students are away.

“There is a noticeable decrease in traffic and activity, and easier to get into restaurants and that kind of thing. There’s always that impact and we do feel it during the regular breaks,” he said.

Henry said that Carbondale’s businesses make do during school breaks. However, he said this was different.

“Most of the businesses are used to that, but this is a whole different ballgame,” he said.

More than 1,600 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the U.S. in 47 states, and 42 have died. Worldwide, about 128,000 people have been diagnosed with more than 4,700 deaths. Health officials have said the spread is likely to get worse before it gets better, but also urged people to remain calm and make smart decisions.

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.

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