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Chicago residents line up for early voting at the Roden Library Monday, March 16, 2020, in Chicago.

Charles Rex Arbogast

Pritzker Orders No Gatherings Of 50 Or More People In Illinois, But Primary Goes On

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday ordered the cancellation of all gatherings of 50 or more people in the state because of the coronavirus outbreak, but he said Illinois’ primary election Tuesday would go on anyway.

The governor said he was “mandating” that move because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday advised against gatherings of that size for the next eight weeks.

Pritzker acknowledged that his mandate was coming moments after President Trump recommended that people avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, but said Illinois’ order for now would apply to 50 people or more.

This comes four days after the governor banned gatherings of 1,000 or more people and asked for the postponement of gatherings of 250 people or more.

But the Democratic governor again defended the decision to go on with the election, despite the rise in the number of cases of infected people in the state.

“This is the right thing to do,” Pritzker said at his daily news conference to update the public about the state’s response to the crisis. “Our democracy needs to go on.”

Public health officials Monday said the total reported cases is 105, with two new counties -- Will and Peoria -- logging their first cases.

On Monday, Ohio’s governor said he wanted to postpone the primary voting there, which also was scheduled for Tuesday, until June 2.

Pritzker did not specify how the new order limiting the size of gatherings would be enforced, saying he believed the public has gotten the message that it must practice social distancing to the greatest possible extent to stem the spread of the virus.

“You can’t police everything all the time,” Pritzker said. “We’re going to do our best to have the communities managing themselves.”

Pritzker previously ordered all bars and dine-in restaurants to close by 9 p.m. Monday. Asked about bars that are allegedly planning to resist that rule to serve customers celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday, Pritzker said such business owners would deserve the blame “when one of those party-goers becomes sick” weeks or months from now.

“They should know that they are responsible for that,” the governor said. “They should not hold these parties.”

And Pritzker again blasted the federal government’s response to the public health crisis, particularly the alleged delay in testing more people for COVID-19.

“We need the federal government to lead, follow or get out of the way,” Pritzker said.

He said there are tests for COVID-19 in use in Europe and Asia but not the U.S.

“I’m calling on the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to review and approve these tests,” Pritzker said. “Precious time has been lost because the White House made some bad decisions early on, which led to the current low levels of testing across the United States.”

The lack of more testing at an early stage in the outbreak is now making it much harder to respond to the problem, Pritzker said.

“We’re stuck with using the little bit of science that we have and statistics and mathematics,” he said.

The governor already had tanged with President Donald Trump’s Republican administration over the weekend, when Trump’s decision to limit flights from Europe caused a dramatic bottleneck at the international terminal of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.

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