‘Red alert’ or red-faced? Pritzker admits ‘mistake’ in different responses to COVID-19 outbreaks in south suburbs and downstate
Indoor dining and bar service is banned in Will and Kankakee counties beginning Wednesday, a state “mitigation” effort that’s the result of the region reporting three consecutive days with an average coronavirus testing positivity rate of 8% or higher.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared a “red alert” Tuesday for Will and Kankakee counties while issuing his coronavirus crackdown on the region due to rising COVID-19 testing positivity rates.
And as three state senators from the far south suburban region slammed what they viewed as an “inconsistent” state response, the Democratic governor acknowledged the lighter restrictions he imposed a week earlier on the similarly resurgent downstate Metro East region were a “mistake.”
“This is a red alert for everyone who works and lives here, and it demands a renewed effort to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Pritzker said at a news conference in Joliet, the seat of Will County.
Indoor dining and bar service is banned in Will and Kankakee counties beginning Wednesday, a state “mitigation” effort that’s the result of the region reporting three consecutive days with an average testing positivity rate of 8% or higher. Experts use that number to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading.
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The Metro East region crossed that threshold last week, but local health officials argued against a full indoor dining ban, according to Pritzker. The governor’s health team obliged, instead imposing tighter capacity limits and shortening hours of operation.
“Let me just say it was a mistake, in my view, ultimately, to make the adjustment that we made in Region 4 [Metro East],” Pritzker said. “We wanted to listen to them and try to follow the suggestion that they had made. … I will readily admit that that was not a good idea, and that it appears now that we want to put those mitigations exactly in place as we had originally intended.”
For now, the initial, more lenient Metro East mitigations are in effect for another week, as that region has soared to 9.8% positivity.
The south suburban restrictions will last for at least two weeks. They’ll be rolled back if the region dips below 6.5% — or tightened even further if it’s still over 8%. Will and Kankakee are up to 8.4%.
As in Metro East, party buses are banned and most venues, including casinos, have to close by 11 p.m., with capacities limited to 25%. That doesn’t apply to schools.
Before the governor’s mitigation mea culpa, two Republican state senators had claimed Pritzker “decided to place partisan politics above science” with the disparate mitigations in the south suburban region versus Metro East.
“Why the double standard? Because Democrat elected officials from that region pressured the Governor to change this stance,” GOP state Sens. Sue Rezin and John Curran said in a joint statement. Their districts both include parts of Will County. “Backroom political deals should not be how public health decisions are made. The same rules should apply to all regions, and they should be based on science, not politics.”
Criticism came from within the governor’s own party, too.
“These inconsistencies in public policy between similarly positioned institutions place our local businesses and their employees at a disadvantage,” state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, said in an open letter to Pritzker. “It is one thing to suffer through an initial pandemic shutdown this spring. A second shutdown — with no guaranteed reopening period will be devastating, and some will never recover.”
Pritzker said “this is not a political choice on my part. I’m not sitting around coming up with, you know, ‘this number makes the most sense.’ This is truly a reliance upon the doctors and their view of the data that’s coming out of each region.”
The statewide testing positivity rate actually inched downward, to 4.1%, as the Illinois Department of Public Health announced 1,680 more people were confirmed to be carrying the virus among the latest 40,859 tested.
Health officials also said COVID-19 killed 29 more Illinoisans, including a Winnebago County woman in her 20s. That raises the state death toll to 7,917, among more than 223,000 who have been infected since March.
Chicago’s testing positivity rate increased slightly to 5.4%, as the city updated its travel quarantine list to remove Arizona and North Carolina. Travelers arriving to Chicago are still ordered to self-isolate for two weeks after visiting any of 19 states considered hotspots, now including South Dakota.
As of Monday night, 1,549 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 345 in intensive care units and 135 on ventilators.