An order to stay home, an opportunity to stand together

It’s time to show ourselves and the nation that we as a state can make the hard decisions necessary to save our fellow Illinoisans’ lives.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker, along with elected and health officials, announces a stay-at-home order for the entire state of Illinois on Friday.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

This is our moment, Illinois.

On Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker called on all of us to rise up to meet the enormous and frightening challenge of the coronavirus, beyond the sacrifices we have already made. He called it an “order” — an order to stay at home starting at 5 p.m. on Saturday — but this will not be martial law enforced at gunpoint or with checkpoints. It is, instead, an opportunity to show ourselves and the nation that we as a state can make the hard decisions necessary to save our fellow Illinoisans’ lives.

For many of us, it won’t be easy. The order technically lasts until April 7, but we really don’t know how long — weeks, maybe even months — we must drastically change our lives to keep COVID-19 from sweeping across the state at an exponential rate.

We don’t know what recovery from this pandemic will look like, from a public health or economic standpoint. Or how hard it will be to achieve.

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But we do know that this is a moment when cooperation among all 12 million of us can achieve great good. It is a test we cannot afford to fail.

Yes, Illinois and Chicago have been known for corruption, but we also are known for some of the nation’s great reforms. This is a moment for all of us to follow in the footsteps of the idealistic reformers.

Adhering to extreme measures now — no trips beyond the essential, such as buying food and medicine or to take care of an elderly relative — can forestall widespread tragedy later. We only need to look at Italy, where the number of cases spiraled past 47,000 and the number of deaths has surpassed 4,000, to grasp the seriousness of the situation. The number of cases in Illinois is nearing 600.

We know this isn’t easy. People are out of work. We’re relying on the federal government to deliver economic aid — aid that must put the working class at the front of the line ahead of the fat cats.

But let’s follow the lead of Pritzker and Chicago’s mayor, who have come together to deliver a unified message as President Donald Trump has sputtered.

Unlike the dithering Trump administration and its allies, who tried to discredit early warnings about the impending pandemic, Pritzker has worked to base his decisions on input from medical experts and scientists. He has been open and honest, showing leadership at an extremely trying time.

As Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a joint press conference with Pritzker on Friday, this is a make or break moment. That’s why she announced Chicago Park District buildings and libraries will close for the duration of the order.

The risks of inaction are very real. The hospital systems we rely on could be overwhelmed to the point where there is no room for us if we need it.

We could run out of protective equipment for front-line health care workers, and that equipment is already in short supply.

We might find we don’t have enough hospital beds, health care workers or ventilators. Tens of thousands of people could die.

The worst-case scenarios could indeed become reality.

Yes, laboratories are working feverishly to churn out many more test kits. We might learn that an existing drug is a helpful treatment. Other effective therapies might emerge. Eventually, we hope to have a vaccine. But Pritzker is right when he says the only tool we have right now that is powerful enough to slow COVID-19 is a stay-at-home order, a step that other states — California, New York, and Connecticut — also have taken. Nothing else can stop us from spreading this respiratory virus among ourselves at an ever-greater rate.

Even with the order, we will be able to leave home for groceries, medications and essential work. Banks, social services, hardware and supply stores that have critical parts to keep a home operating and other essential businesses will remain open. We can go outside and exercise — just stay a safe distance apart from each other on the jogging path.

Our local leaders have done their part. Now it is up to us.

Let’s make this our moment.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens to a question after announcing a stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus, during a news conference Friday in Chicago.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

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