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Pritzker tightens COVID reopening rules
The governor lays out a series of metrics that will govern what can open when, without ordering any rollbacks for now, and splits the Chicago area from the state's regional map.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

With cases again on the rise, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is moving to tighten the rules that have governed the state’s economic and social reopenings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor laid out a series of metrics that will govern what can open when, without ordering any state rollbacks now.

The most significant change: He redrew the lines of the 11 regions into which the state has been divided for reopening cases, making the city of Chicago, suburban Cook County and the five surrounding collar counties into their own regions separate from downstate areas.

That could lead to tighter rules in Chicago and its suburbs, where infection rates generally have been much higher than the rest of the state.

Pritzker said he called Mayor Lori Lightfoot to discuss rising rates among young adults in the city. Today she cautioned the city could begin rolling back its reopening.

The new statewide thresholds include rising positive test rates in seven of any 10-day period and an infection rate about 8 percent. The statewide seven-day positivity rate has been rising, from a little over 2 percent in late June to 3.1 percent today.

“This journey has not been easy,” Pritzker said at a downtown news conference today. “But the virus is still here. Ignoring it, wishing it away, is not going to help us defeat it.”

"Young people are having the highest case rates now than ever in this pandemic," said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. "This virus now is being spread by youth."

The state reported 1,187 new cases today, returning to the four-figure totals that occurred last week for the first time in more than a month.

Pritzker suggested the key metric will be whether positive test rates are rising, not whether they hit 8 percent.

Any rollback “could happen much before (8 percent),” he said. The key thing is what the pandemic, which at times can be fast-moving, is doing. Other metrics will include a seven-day increase in hospitalizations for COVID-like illnesses and any reduction in available beds that curbs a hospital’s ability to handle surge in ICU demand.

If any region falls out of compliance, the Public Health Department said in a statement, three levels of mitigation can be ordered.

“Some mitigation strategies in higher-risk settings, like indoor bars and restaurants, will be automatically applied in a region that meets resurgence criteria to prevent rapid spread of COVID-19,” the statement said. “A larger list of mitigation strategies relating to settings like retail, fitness, and salons and personal care will be available if testing and contact tracing data at the local level indicate those mitigations to be prudent."

Pritzker said he doesn’t expect people to stop traveling across city, county or even state lines. But it became apparent over time that on the previous map, districts were too wide, he said. “We need to be able to monitor the situation, to see where people are in danger.”

Not only will Chicago and suburban Cook County be their own regions for the new rules, but the collar counties will be divided themselves into separate regions, with Lake and McHenry counties in one region, DuPage and Kane counties in another and Kankakee and Will counties in a third.

The governor also ramped up his rhetoric about school re-openings. The Illinois State Board of Education has issued “guidance,” and Pritzker has said how to follow that guidance is up to local school officials. But he made it clear violators will pay a political and possibly a legal price.

“Any district that chooses to disregard this guidance is gambling with the lives of our children, teachers and families,” he said. And it is opening itself to legal liability if anything goes wrong.

The good news, the governor said, is that Illinois’ positive rates now are running well below those of all of its state neighbors. The goal now is to “maintain the progress we’ve made.”

In advance of Pritzker’s announcement, business groups, fearing at least a partial rollback or reopening may be on the way, strongly urged patrons to act.

"Wearing masks is not a Republican issue or Democrat issue—it's a public health issue and a jobs issue. We must unite for the sake of our families, businesses and our communities," said Mark Denzler, president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.

"Retailers must interact with customers every single day, and wearing a mask protects both the workers and customers," said Illinois Retail Merchants Association CEO Rob Karr. "Wearing a mask is a small act that will literally save lives and help protect one of the state's largest economic engines.



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