State health officials announced Saturday the latest 74 deaths attributed to the coronavirus as several hundred protesters rallied in Chicago and Springfield, calling on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to roll back his executive stay-at-home order.
The Illinois Department of Public Health also said an additional 2,088 people have tested positive for COVID-19, raising the statewide case tally to 92,457. The death toll stands at 4,129.
And for the third straight day, the Northeast region of the state met the medical criteria set by Pritzker’s administration to advance to the third phase of his reopening plan when his stay-at-home expires at the end of the month. That would mean many non-essential businesses including salons and barbershops could reopen with health precautions in place.
Those Phase 3 reopening requirements include holding the coronavirus testing positivity rate under 20% for two weeks. The Northeast region, which includes Chicago and the collar counties, was at 18.8% Saturday.
The state received 23,047 test results Friday, and more than 561,000 tests have been administered overall. Pritzker has highlighted testing capacity as another key factor in reopening, with several new testing sites opening this weekend.
But even as plans are laid to gear the economy into motion, the governor’s office has said the peak of the pandemic could extend well into the summer.
The virus has been confirmed in all but two Illinois counties, while Cook County is registering the most confirmed cases of any county in the nation. More than 1,800 coronavirus deaths have been reported in the state this month alone.
Reopen Illinois protesters rally again
Despite the grim figures, a vocal contingent of demonstrators rallied again outside the Thompson Center in the Loop and the State Capitol Building in Springfield demanding Pritzker reopen the state immediately.
With a roster of conservative speakers including radio host Erich “Mancow” Muller, people in the crowd chanted “Right to go to church” and toted signs declaring “Jesus is my vaccine,” a day before a handful of churches planned to hold services in defiance of Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, which bars gatherings of more than 10 people.
Other signs declared “Freedom is essential” and suggested Pritzker’s extended stay-at-home order is part of a political scheme to subvert President Donald Trump’s reelection effort.
“They said this was all about flattening the curve. I think we flattened the curve,” Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said. “These are the snarky things he says: ‘This is all about science... and the peak isn’t going to hit until the middle of June.’ Why did they take down all the beds in McCormick Place already then?
“You know what this is all about. This is about taking down President Trump in November,” Schneider said.
A concurrent protest was held outside the State Capitol in Springfield.
Connie Unger, one of the several protesters at the downstate rally who carried a “Fire Pritzker” sign, said the Democratic governor has “overstepped his boundaries” with his stay-at-home orders.
“He is against our state, he has another motive and I don’t believe that he is a true patriot,” Unger said. “His motive is to be the most liberal governor so that he can run for a higher office.”
At both protests, a few signs were spotted comparing Pritzker, who is Jewish, to Adolf Hitler. A handful of similar anti-Semitic signs were seen at the first major Reopen Illinois rallies held May 1, drawing condemnation from the Auschwitz‑Birkenau Memorial and State Museum.
Pritzker has said most Illinoisans have been following his guidelines, and has framed the protesters as “outliers.”
“Today, as millions of Illinoisans followed the public health guidance in place to keep everyone safe, a loud minority gathered in an attempt to get headlines for their hateful, ignorant, anti-Semitic protest against science,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email. “We know the majority of Illinoisans who remain vigilant in this fight against COVID-19 are the reason we’re flattening the curve and those gathering in defiance of the medical experts have them to thank for their health and safety.”
Contributing: Neal Earley