Thankfully, Pritzker’s ‘Restore Illinois’ plan relies on science, not politics

The governor is using hard-and-fast metrics to determine how to reopen Illinois in a reasonably safe way. The standards won’t please everybody, but we see nothing overtly punishing or political about them.

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An overview of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan for a phased reopening of the Illinois economy on a regional basis.

State of Illinois

Just yesterday, we wrote that America’s road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will be faster, smoother and fairer if we can all, finally, reject the politics of division and find common ground.

We need leaders who seek to unite us, we wrote. We need a plan to reopen the country that is objective, measurable and rooted in science, rather than politics. And we need a plan that recognizes one size does not fit all — if we’re serious about appealing to the good sense of all kinds of folks.

On Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker presented a framework for reopening Illinois that fits squarely with this way of thinking. The governor’s plan lays out five phases for returning life to some semblance of normalcy in Illinois, with the move to each happier phase dependent on measurable progress — hard metrics — in beating back the coronavirus. Equally important, the plan divides the state into four regions for purposes of reopening: Northeast Illinois, North Central Illinois, Central Illinois and Southern Illinois.

Acknowledging complaints

Why are these two features of the governor’s plan — measurable triggers between phases and regionalism — so important?

Because as much as those angry demonstrators who demand that Illinois and the rest of the nation reopen immediately are dangerously wrong, some of their underlying complaints are not entirely off base. There has, in fact, been a degree of arbitrariness in the lockdown orders of some states, and not every state or region has faced the same level of threat at the same time.

Because Pritzker’s recovery plan takes into account the most legitimate gripes about lockdowns, we would hope that it will be easier for people to buy into, from Zion to Cairo. We say that knowing that it is already drawing fire, especially from Downstate Republican legislators who say they weren’t invited to offer much input.

Illinois in phase two

Illinois already has soldiered through “phase one” of Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, during which stay-at-home orders were strict and only essential businesses could open their doors. Now the state is in “phase two,” during which non-essential retail stores are allowed to offer curbside pickup and delivery, and people can, once again, enjoy outdoor activities such as golfing, boating and fishing — so long as they practice social distancing.

But before any region of Illinois can move up to “phase three” — retail stores, barber shops and salons reopening with restrictions and public gatherings of up to 10 allowed — it must reach explicit benchmarks of progress in the fight against COVID-19. The share of people testing positive for the coronavirus must be under 20% and increase by no more than 10 percentage points over 14 days. There must be no overall increase in hospital admissions for COVID-19 for 28 days. There must be enough ICU capacity to handle a 14% surge.

Coronavirus Data

The numbers that tell the story: Our coronavirus data tracking

On our Coronavirus Data page, you’ll find a collection of graphs, charts and maps tracing the spread of the virus, tracking test results and plotting the impact on individual counties. Check back daily for updated totals.

These are hard-and-fast metrics, spelled out upfront for each of the five phases, based on expert guidance on how to reopen Illinois in a reasonably safe way. The standards won’t please everybody, but we see nothing overtly punishing or political about them.

On the contrary, because the reopening of Illinois is to be phased in region by region, rather than statewide, we would hope not to hear so much complaining from downstaters that their freedoms are being tread upon because of a health scare that’s mostly a problem for Cook County.

If folks in Southern Illinois hit their numbers, they’ll be going to stock car races again long before South Siders in Chicago go to White Sox games.

Not a timetable

What Restore Illinois does not include is a timetable. That would be impossible. The coronavirus doesn’t wear a watch. The number of confirmed cases of infection in Illinois continues to climb, meaning in all likelihood that Pritzker’s current stay-at-home order, scheduled to run through at least through May, is not going to be lifted early anywhere in Illinois.

Restore Illinois is a framework for recovery, not a promise of good times to come. It is one governor’s effort to balance public health with other imperatives, like people’s need to earn a paycheck, in a fair and predictable manner.

The same Restore Illinois metrics that might allow a region of the state to reopen more, as its numbers improve, could also force it to lock down more, if its numbers grow worse.

Restore Illinois may well need tinkering. We’ll hear more about that in the next few days. But it already offers our state an honest and informed framework for re-starting its economy and keeping us safe as we wrestle with all the problems the coronavirus pandemic has caused.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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