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Thursday, March 31, 2022

Illinois community COVID-19 testing sites closing on March 31

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced that the ten community-based testing sites in the state are closing today, March 31st.

Market Place testing site in Champaign | Credit: Manu Ferreira 

Health officials say the end of federal funding and the drop in demand for tests is the reason the operations will be shut down in Aurora, Bloomington, Champaign, Fairview Heights, Rockford, Arlington Heights, Peoria, Harwood Heights, South Holland, and Waukegan.

“The State had a contract to run those sites, and it was supposed to be closed last year. But we had the surge of Delta and then the Omicron in the Fall as well. So, the State decided to extend those,” explains Awais Vaid, the Deputy Administrator and the Epidemiologist of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

Demand for tests at the Community-Based sites reached a peak of more than 1,040 tests per day at each site in November 2020. However, according to IDPH, this number dropped considerably with each site seeing fewer than 50 individuals per day.

“Right now, the testing site at the Market Place Mall was not being utilized as much. Five or 10 people in a day were testing, so the numbers were very small.”

Rainika Young, who works at the Market Place site collecting samples for tests, says the demand is not as high as before. “When I first started working here it was crazy busy. The line was all the way back to the mall. But now, we get maybe a couple of cars every 10 or 15 minutes.”
According to Dr. Vaid, another reason for the closing of the community-based test sites are the At-home rapid tests, which are offered for free by the Federal government, and the SHIELD saliva-based test. “It is also sponsored by the State. So, the State is already paying for testing for anybody that wants to get tested. It is much faster and easier to do as well,” affirms.

The SHIELD system was created by the University of Illinois in 2020 and was recently expanded statewide. The CovidSHIELD requires only a small amount of saliva from an individual and provides results within six to 12 hours. It is also an option free of charge.

You can order at-home COVID-19 tests on the website www.covidtests.gov. To schedule a saliva-based test visit the website www.shieldillinois.com.

Five of the locations that are closing (Aurora, Arlington Heights, South Holland, Fairview Heights, and Peoria) also provide vaccinations. This service will be suspended as well. To find COVID-19 vaccines available near you, visit www.vaccines.gov.

This article was published on the UI7 Newsroom website.

Watch the UI7 Live story:

Published: By: Manu Ferreira - 3/31/2022 12:31:00 PM

Saturday, March 26, 2022

International Investigative Journalism: What are examples of it? How has it evolved?

In an era of the internet, social media, fake news, and newsrooms layoffs, investigative journalism is more than necessary. In-depth reporting based on verified facts is one of the solutions to combat misinformation in shallow media coverage. 

Credit: Shutterstock

Despite its relevance, it appears that investigative journalism is under threat since journalists have been losing their jobs due to the transformation of the media's business model. That is explained by the fact that investigative journalism takes time and is expensive to produce when compared to a regular news story. Sometimes it requires a team of journalists, photographers, videographers, editors, data scientists, and lawyers.


However, technology has been an ally and has changed media coverage, especially when it comes to international investigative journalism. Nowadays is possible to involve professionals from all over the world to report in-depth stories. As an example, I would mention The Ericsson List, an investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which counted with the collaboration of journalists from 19 countries, and had media partners from more than 20 countries.


A second example is the ICIJ’s “U.S. Aid in Latin America” investigation that inquired how anti-drug money is funneled through corrupt military, paramilitary, and intelligence organizations and violates human rights in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. And, of course, the Wikileaks case, in which its publications mobilized the media in the whole world.


Bringing it into current days, we can also observe the use of technology in how journalists covering the war in Ukraine have been using WhatsApp, Telegram, and other messaging apps to communicate, share news, and keep track of their moves for security purposes. As Joel Simon says in the article “For journalists, Ukraine is a WhatsApp war”, published on CJR, “WhatsApp and Signal groups connect colleagues in the field—and provide a level of real-time battlefield information that, a decade ago, would have been available only to a top general.” 

AI and Machine Learning

Besides connecting people and information, technology like AI has powered investigative journalism. Machine learning can analyze massive datasets in less time to identify leads, name, and predict misclassifications. Emilia Díaz-Struck, research editor and Latin American coordinator for the ICIJ, said in the article “The impact of AI and collaboration on investigative journalism” (here) that there is a lot of potential in using machine learning for journalism when dealing with vast amounts of data. “For these kinds of investigations, it would take years to manually go through and screen millions of records and make sense of them.”


Nevertheless, reporters are still required to do their work as well, such as talking to sources and cross-checking the data with public records. “Machine learning can help us find a needle in a haystack, help us be more efficient, and help journalists figure out if we are missing connections that could actually help with our reporting.” 


Regardless of using technological tools or old methods, covering national or local stories, I believe investigative journalism is essential. And it is time to reflect on the worth of original in-depth reporting and its value to a healthy democracy and informed society.

*This article was submitted as a memo assignment for the course "Current Issues of Journalism" at the University of Illinois.

Published: By: Manu Ferreira - 3/26/2022 03:12:00 PM

Friday, March 25, 2022

Fundraising projects in Champaign-Urbana to support Ukraine

It’s been one month since Russia invaded Ukraine. More than 3.5 million people have fled the country looking for a safe place to live. Organizations all over the world started fundraising projects to help the refugees.

Credit: Farrah Anderson/Illinois Newsroom

Here in Champaign-Urbana, the Ukrainian Student Association has raised over twelve thousand dollars with various initiatives, like rallies, t-shirt fundraisers, and a collaboration with other clubs on campus. Its President Larysa Brandys says they have been working to spread awareness about what is happening in Ukraine and to collect as many donations as possible.

“We are currently in process of planning a number of fundraisings with other organizations on campus such as UofI UNICEF chapter and the Center for Children Action Network. We're also planning a vigil scheduled for April 7th. It's going to be a collaboration with some other schools across the US that have Ukrainian clubs,” explains Brandys.

Another project on the University of Illinois campus was created by Carle Illinois College of Medicine. The students launched a medical and physical goods supply drive to get additional aid to the region. “These people need help, and the things they need are things many of us have lying around our homes. We all have the ability to make a difference in this crisis,” affirms Dylan Mann, a fourth-year medical student, and co-lead on the relief project. 

Small businesses are also stepping up to support Ukraine. Central Illinois Bakehouse in Champaign recreated a traditional Ukrainian garlic bread to raise funds for children and families. 

“We’re selling Pampushky for $20 each and 100% of the sale, all $20, is going to benefit the International Rescue Committee,” says the Brand Manager Miranda Martin.

The International Committee is an organization that is currently in Poland supporting Ukrainian refugees with essential supplies and psychological care. Miranda says they are happy to bake for such an important cause. 

“It’s a wonderful benefit to be able to give back to not only our community but to the global community. We love being able to benefit all of the people of the world and just not our small town.”

The goal is to sell five hundred Pampushky, which sum up a total of ten thousand dollars in donations. “We have currently sold a hundred twenty-six. We are matching the first ten thousand dollars in donations, which will be five hundred, so we are just going to stop when we hit our goal.

The Pampushky is available at Central Illinois Bakehouse and Pekara Bakery in Champaign, at Urbana Farms Market, and Martinelli’s Market in Bloomington. It is also possible to order it online at centralillinoisbakehouse.com.

This article was published on the UI7 Newsroom website.


Watch the UI7Live TV story about the Pampushky:

Published: By: Manu Ferreira - 3/25/2022 06:28:00 PM

Friday, March 11, 2022

Augmented and Virtual Reality Journalism: what is its role in the future?

Until a few weeks ago, Augmented and Virtual Reality were synonyms of video games or entertainment to me. I haven’t realized how it has been in journalism and it will be part of the future of the newsrooms. It can reshape storytelling and reporting, and it’s a way to engage the public and appeal to new audiences. 

Virtual Reality | Credit: Pixabay

One fact that particularly made me interested in this immersive technology is that our brain registers the virtual reality experience differently than reading or watching a video because the body feels it and that sensation is recorded as a real memory. And how having that feeling someone has experienced is more impactful and can enhance empathy and make the user care more about the subject or problem in question. 

As an example, I would mention The Weather Channel (TWC), which has used mixed reality to communicate forecasts and other pieces of weather information. One that impressed me is called “A tornado hits the weather channel”, in which the meteorologist explains the different stages of the phenomenon and safety tips. At a certain point, the tornado appears to crash into the studio and he shows all the damage caused by it afterward. It actually seems real. 

However, in my opinion, incorporating these tools daily will be a challenge for journalists since they will have to acquire new skills and approaches, and rethink the core journalistic concepts. I agree with Taylor Owen, in his article on CJR, when he says that “journalists cannot appropriate the physiological power of virtual reality without also thinking seriously about how leveraging it for journalistic purposes changes the way the world is represented.” 

That is an issue pointed out in the paper “Real Virtuality: A Code of Ethical Conduct”, published by philosophy professors Michael Madary and Thomas Metzinger in 2016. They affirm that VR is a “powerful form of both mental and behavioral manipulation, especially when commercial, political, religious, or governmental interests are behind the creation and maintenance of the virtual worlds.” 

There is also another possible negative point to consider. As Saleem Khan says here, as the technology advances, false (but real-looking) VR/AR experiences will inevitably enter the market. It’s a challenge that’s critical for media outlets to face. We need to consider the accountability of actions and structures that determine what occurs within them. Media literacy and fact-checkers will have to be extended in order to include the new technology journalism. 

In any case, this is the future. Technology is consistently progressing. News organizations and journalists must do experiments with all the news tools in reporting to take advantage of these advancements, creating engaging and compelling stories. That is the route to attract new audiences and keep journalism alive.


Owen, Taylor 2016, "Can journalism be virtual?", Columbia Journalism Review, accessed 11 March 2022, <https://www.cjr.org/the_feature/virtual_reality_facebook_second_life.php>.

Wired Insider 2018, "Digital Reality and the Revival of Journalism", accessed 11 March 2022, <https://www.wired.com/wiredinsider/2018/08/digital-reality-and-the-revival-of-journalism/>.

Madary M and Metzinger TK (2016), Real Virtuality: A Code of Ethical Conduct. Recommendations for Good Scientific Practice and the Consumers of VR-Technology. Front. Robot. AI 3:3, accessed 11 March 2022, <https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frobt.2016.00003/full>.

*This article was submitted as a memo assignment for the course "Current Issues of Journalism" at the University of Illinois.
Published: By: Manu Ferreira - 3/11/2022 08:44:00 PM

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Urbana Fire Chief is Set to Retire in May

Urbana Fire Chief is set to retire in May. Chuck Lauss will leave the department after three and a half years of service. 

Chuck Lauss | Credit: Manu Ferreira

Lauss came to Urbana as fire chief in 2018 having a large background. He started his fire service in the city of Pekin, where he worked for 22 years. After retiring there, he commanded the fire department at Caterpillar facilities in the Peoria area for 5 years, and served the city of Peoria as an assistant fire chief and later fire chief. 

All together sum up to a 35-year career. “I love this job. It’s never been a job to me. You know, for 35 years I love it so much, I’ve never gone to work,” he says.

Although his time was short in Urbana, he is proud of his and the staff's accomplishments. Including plans for two new modern stations and six additional firefighters that will join the department in May.

"I’ve always said. It’s not me, it’s we. I’ve not done anything. I’ve been able to help with the direction and the vision, but it’s my department, it’s the staff that we work with. It’s we that have done all of this. Collectively, together.” affirms.

Chuck Lauss said that the crew always talks about things that are important for the department, such as the new stations, for example. “The firefighters have started collecting data on what the new stations should look like for health and safety purposes. We got all that stuff put together.”

The two old stations are a little over 50 years old now and don’t offer many facilities focused on health and safety. Therefore, they expect to implement workout and movie rooms, as well as nutrition and psychological programs.

“I want them to look at putting things in the stations that affect their retirement. We want them to retire healthy and happy,” explains.

The biggest challenge

Lauss says he has faced big challenges during his time in Urbana. The biggest one is Covid-19.

“It’s been a long process to navigate through, but as we had worked together with other staff members and with this awesome department, we maintained our staffing and we never had any reduction in services. But it has been a challenge of making sure we are complying with the testing, with the masking mandate, with the social distancing, all of that. We try to make sure that everybody stays safe,” states Lauss.

Now the plan is to move to South Carolina and enjoy his time with his wife. “I jokingly tell my wife that this 35-year love affair with my career is just coming to a close and we will spend a lot of more time together,” revealed the Chief adding that he will miss the fire service. 

"I’ll miss my Urbana firefighters. They’ve been part of my family, my life, but it’s time. It’s time to move on to the next chapter,” added 

Chuck Lauss’ last day in the office is on May 6th. But on the 5th, the city of Urbana will do a walkout ceremony to honor his service. The new fire chief will be announced by the mayor soon.

Credit: Manu Ferreira

*This article was published on the UI7 Newsroom website. Click here to watch the TV story. 

Published: By: Manu Ferreira - 3/09/2022 09:52:00 AM

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

“Coffee With a Cop” to return in March

Champaign Police Department has announced the return of the “Coffee with a Cop”. The event is an opportunity for residents to meet with police officers to ask questions, share concerns, and get to know each other.

Coffee with a cop | Photo courtesy
The goal of “Coffee with a Cop” is to break down barriers and offer time for one-on-one interaction in a relaxed setting to help bring Champaign-Urbana residents closer. Usually, most of the contact officers have with the community happens during emergencies, which doesn’t encourage them to build a relationship. Besides, the public may also be hesitant to approach officers while they’re on duty. 

“Whether it’s sharing a personal concern or just discussing the weather, an opportunity for engagement between our residents and Officers is always welcome, and I hope that all who can attend will join us,” said Interim Chief of Police Tom Petrilli. “Coffee with a Cop gives us a chance for open dialogue, and we look forward to a good morning of conversation.”

It is important to observe that Champaign Police Department is currently down on 26 officers from its authorized maximum, while the Urbana Police Department is down on about two. That means the event is a good opportunity to also thank the officers for the extra work they have been doing.

The first “Coffee with a Cop” of this year will take place on Friday, March 11th, from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at Café Kopi on Walnut Street. Coffee is complimentary for those participating.

Coffee with a Cop is a nationally recognized initiative supported by The United States Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Events are held across the country, to advance the practice of community policing. For more information, visit www.coffeewithacop.com.

*This article was published on the UI7 Newsroom website.

Published: By: Manu Ferreira - 3/02/2022 11:13:00 AM