Pritzker ends pandemic disaster status but warns, ‘COVID-19 has not disappeared’

Beyond the bureaucratic red tape, the disaster proclamation allowed Gov. J.B. Pritzker to put in place multiple executive orders. Should the pandemic worsen, he would have to make another disaster proclamation in order to issue those sorts of orders again.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker gives a COVID-19 update to reporters in the Blue Room at the Thompson Center in February,

Gov. J.B. Pritzker gives a COVID-19 update to reporters in the Blue Room at the Thompson Center in February of 2021.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday announced the end of the state’s COVID-19 disaster proclamation — almost three years after first declaring a public health emergency in Illinois during the early surge of the pandemic.

Pritzker’s decision piggybacks on the White House’s announcement on Monday that it will end the COVID-19 national and public health emergencies on May 11. Illinois’ public health emergency declaration will also end that day.

But the Democratic governor, who endured his fair share of criticism over stay-at-home orders, mask and vaccine requirements, also warned that the pandemic isn’t quite over. As of Tuesday, 36,091 Illinois residents had died of COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Let me be clear: COVID-19 has not disappeared,” Pritzker said in a written statement. “It is still a real and present danger to people with compromised immune systems — and I urge all Illinoisans to get vaccinated or get their booster shots if they have not done so already.”

Under the disaster proclamation Pritzker first enacted in 2020, Illinois received federal reimbursements for state pandemic response costs. Illinois was also able to use the State Disaster Relief Fund to cover costs and reimbursements to the Illinois National Guard.

And the proclamation enabled the state to activate a mutual aid network — the State Emergency Operations Center — to deploy resources across the state. The proclamation also gave Pritzker the power to activate the Illinois National Guard and expedited the procurement process for items during the pandemic, including testing supplies, masks and even body bags.

A Cook County Medical Examiner forensic technician wheels the body of a COVID-19 victim from an emergency-management truck in May of 2020.

A Cook County Medical Examiner forensic technician wheels the body of a COVID-19 victim from an emergency-management truck in May of 2020.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP file

And beyond the bureaucratic red tape, it also allowed Pritzker to put in place multiple executive orders, which the governor’s office deemed necessary “to protect public health and safety.” That included Pritzker’s March 20, 2020 decision to enact a statewide shelter-in-place order for the state.

Should the pandemic worsen, Pritzker would have to make another disaster proclamation in order to issue those sorts of executive orders again.

Congress in December pushed back on efforts to extend public assistance programs tied to the public health emergency, as part of a government funding package. That included Medicaid redetermination and SNAP benefits. States can begin unenrolling residents who no longer qualify for Medicaid starting April 1, and will be given 14 months to review their eligibility.

Illinois has also ramped down the licensing of medical professionals with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. That had been expedited to help expand the medical workforce at the height of the pandemic.

Pritzker ended several mandates last year. In September 2022, the governor rolled back his final classroom COVID-19 mitigation by ending a testing requirement for unvaccinated school workers. After lifting the statewide school mask mandate in February 2022, and lifting vaccine requirements on college campuses, Pritzker called it the latest part of his plan to “carefully unwind the state’s COVID-19 executive orders.”

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