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Going South: Pritzker says southern Illinois coronavirus surge ‘worse than in Chicago’

The Democratic governor traveled to Carbondale Tuesday to urge local leaders to implement stricter health precautions to stem a rise in cases: ‘Unfortunately, right now the virus is winning in Jackson County.’

Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveils a new mask awareness campaign called “It Only Works If You Wear It” to combat COVID-19 at a news conference in Springfield on Monday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveils a new mask awareness campaign called “It Only Works If You Wear It” to combat COVID-19 at a news conference in Springfield on Monday.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

Some southern Illinois politicians have spent months hammering Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 measures for bringing the downstate economy to a halt to solve what they have called a Chicago-area problem.

Now, southern Illinois is the problem, the Democratic governor said Tuesday.

“I’m here today because the COVID-19 pandemic, which once seemed tame in Carbondale and throughout the entire region, is surging here,” Pritzker said at Southern Illinois University. “It’s worse than in Chicago.

“And I’ll be frank, if we don’t see some change here, the virus will cause some businesses to close, and an increasing percentage of people to get sick, and some will even die.”

Pritzker pointed to coronavirus testing positivity rates of 7.3% and 7.4% over the last week in the Metro East and southern Illinois regions, including an 8% rate in Jackson County.

In Chicago, the seven-day positivity rate was at 4.9%, and 5.8% in suburban Cook County.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale on Tuesday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale on Tuesday.
Provided

The governor’s office has said it will intervene with various “mitigation” efforts including business shutdowns if a full region passes that 8% threshold.

“These are the highest in the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said of southern Illinois. “Unfortunately, right now the virus is winning in Jackson County.”

Jackson was one of 11 counties spanning the state that were deemed to be at “warning level” last week by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

While Illinois cases have trended steadily upward over the last month, those counties were singled out for outbreaks traced to large gatherings of young people and lax enforcement of masking and social distancing guidelines.

Pritzker said he was “encouraged” to see local leaders stepping up restrictions, including a masking ordinance passed by the Carbondale City Council and increased enforcement at bars and restaurants in Jackson County.

“We also need all of our residents to take this seriously, and to protect themselves, no matter how young and invincible you might think you are, the largest increase in cases is occurring among young people in their 20s and below,” Pritzker said. “This virus is dangerous no matter how young you are, because of the long term damage it can cause you.”