A Downstate judge has ruled that Gov. J.B. Pritzker no longer has the authority to order folks to stay indoors during the coronavirus pandemic.
As a matter of law and the Illinois Constitution, that’s debatable. We’ll just have to wait for reviews by higher courts as to whether Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney got his legal thinking right.
But as a matter of good public policy to keep people safe, there’s no debate at all. Pritzker’s initial stay-at-home order on March 20 and his recent 30-day extension have been crucial to slowing the spread of the virus and undoubtedly have saved thousands of lives.
We can only urge our fellow Illinois residents to continue to follow the governor’s executive order, even in highly conservative Clay County, where as of Tuesday morning there were only two reported cases of COVID-19 and no deaths.
Strictly speaking, we should stress, the judge’s ruling allows only the plaintiff in the suit, state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, to ignore the extension of the executive order.
Science doesn’t lie
We know all this social distancing stuff can seem a little much in small rural communities that, so far, have seen little sign of the coronavirus. We understand how devastating the lockdown can be for small businesses, paychecks and our daily lives. To somebody like Bailey, a fellow who once proposed that the rest of Illinois kick Chicago out of the state, we suppose it might look like a big city Democratic plot.
But the science doesn’t lie, even if some people don’t put much stock in science.
It is appalling, that is to say, that critics of the governor’s executive order reportedly laughed in court when a lawyer for the state argued that people would die if the stay-at-home order were lifted.
As Pritzker said Tuesday, that’s “abominable.”
The science says the spread of the coronavirus is beginning to peak in Illinois precisely because the vast majority of us have been following the rules of social isolation. If we let up on the rules too soon, the virus will come roaring back — bet on it — sweeping even through the loneliest crossroads of Clay County.
Feeling our way forward
Bailey, we should note, also represents parts of neighboring Jasper County, population 9,611, which has reported three deaths from COVID-19. That’s the highest per-capita death rate of all the state’s 102 counties. The virus has arrived.
Illinois will not remain closed indefinitely. It simply can’t. We are, as a state, feeling our way forward, trying to strike a humane and responsible balance between doing what’s best to fight the virus and what’s best for our economy and way of life. We all yearn for a return to some semblance of normalcy.
Even as Pritzker last week extended his stay-at-home order through May — the action Judge McHaney ruled to be unconstitutional — he signaled the beginning of an end to restrictions. Most notably, he called for a phased-in reopening of state parks, golf courses and “new essential businesses” such as garden centers and pet grooming shops.
Never an easy call
Every step to reopen Illinois will require tough decisions about tough tradeoffs. Everybody knows that. There will never be a completely safe time. It will never be an easy call.
We just think those decisions are best made together — as one state, headed by a pretty reasonable governor — based on the best expert advice of scientists, economists, business leaders and others.
Bailey’s lawsuit, whatever its legal merits, does Illinois no favors.
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