By REBECCA ANZEL
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — All of Illinois is “on track” to progress into the next phase of Gov. JB Pritzker’s plan to reopen the state safely, he said Tuesday during his daily update teleconference in Chicago.
The current phase of the plan allows residents to visit golf courses and state parks, retail shops to deliver orders placed remotely and medical centers to allow elective surgeries to resume.
By moving into the “Recovery” phase in 10 days, offices, salons, barbershops and manufacturers will begin to return with some capacity restrictions. Pritzker said the progress in various metrics — including the rate of positive COVID-19 tests, hospital admissions and ventilator availability — is “terrific news.”
The governor added while some residents are “itching” to move ahead quicker than the 28-day period prescribed, the Restore Illinois plan was designed by experts to ensure safety.
“I can say with confidence that here in Illinois, we’ve committed to operating with a focus on public health and transparent measurable benchmarks to move to each new phase,” Pritzker said. “...There’s no doubt this is hard, but public health means that each of us is working to protect all of us.”
Also difficult is residents living in border communities seeing restaurants, bars and shops open in Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin, he added.
The federal government should have instituted a national procedure to avoid a “patchwork” of rules and regulations, Pritzker said. And instead of following the guidance issued by the White House which would have delayed Illinois’ reopening, the governor added, President Donald Trump “decided to inject politics where science and data should have won out.”
Keeping Illinoisans safe is the job of Illinoisans, lead epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine Dr. Emily Landon said.
“Now we all realize there will be no swift rescue, no knight in shining armor in the form of a vaccine or an antiviral that will sweep in and return our lives to normal before the summer comes,” she said. “...Our transmission balance is tenuous and business as usual could set off another wave of infections that threatens our lives and livelihoods.”
Protestors over the weekend in Springfield and Chicago rallied to encourage officials to reopen the state sooner than the government’s plan allows. Some had signs depicting Pritzker, who is Jewish and whose parents escaped persecution in Europe, as the German dictator Adolf Hitler. Others threatened his life.
The governor said he is “frankly disgusted by the failure of so many people to call that out,” including lawmakers.
“This is a fight against a virus, not an ideology,” Landon said, encouraging residents to continue wearing face coverings when shopping, frequently wash their hands and observe social distancing guidance.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 1,545 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 146 related fatalities. That brings the state’s total to 98,030 cases and 4,379 deaths in 100 counties. There were 18,443 tests completed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number tested to 621,684.
Illinois’ metrics, though, show the number of hospital admissions, intensive care unit beds and ventilators occupied by those with COVID-19 are at the lowest levels since the state began publishing the statistics daily on April 12.
There were 4,002 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of midnight Monday, the lowest since there were 4,091 hospitalized on April 12. There were 993 COVID-19 patients in ICU beds, the first time that number fell below 1,000 during the period of daily updates. There were 576 COVID-19 patients on ventilators – the first time that number fell below 600 in the period.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the department’s director, said that downward trend is positive and officials will continue to track those numbers as the end of May approaches.
“This just solidifies these measures have been working, both the stay-at-home, both the masking, both the social distancing — all those things are effective and that’s why we’ve got the numbers that are improving,” she said.
Ezike said as Illinois enters the next phase, health officials will be watching the hospitalization numbers closely to “make sure that these measures that have loosened don’t have a spike that will make us want to tamp the brakes a little bit.”
While case numbers continue to climb, that’s a function of increased testing, she added.
Pritzker said Illinois achieved “another major milestone” by becoming the most populous state in the U.S. for testing per capita. There is “much more work to do,” he added.
Those interested in receiving a test can do so at any of the 250 locations statewide. Priority is given to those with symptoms or have a risk factor, and those who work in a health care facility, as first responders or in government, to name a few.
Pritzker said state officials have been “deeply concerned” about potential fraud against Illinois during the pandemic, as departments worked to secure necessary personal protective equipment and other goods residents needed. The attorney general’s office is consulting with officials “constantly,” as are federal officials, to ensure the state is following necessary protocols. The governor said he did not want to specify what those steps include, but did say officials double and triple check vendor information before doing business with the entity.
IDPH will release guidance to child care facilities and other establishments later this week about how to safely reopen.