As COVID-19 deaths surpassed 2,000 in Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker Tuesday unleashed a blistering, new tirade against a downstate Republican lawmaker whose surprise court win dealt at least a temporary legal blow against the governor’s stay-at-home order.
“This was a cheap political stunt designed so the representative can see his name in headlines and unfortunately, he has briefly been successful in that most callous of feats,” Pritzker said, referring to downstate Republican state Rep. Darren Bailey, who sued to spare himself from the stay-at-home dictates.
On Monday, a downstate judge sided with the Republican from Xenia, throwing the governor’s emergency powers in the coronavirus pandemic into question.
“As absurd as this charade is, we are taking this matter very seriously. While the court’s order is limited, the risk it poses is significant. By agreeing with the plaintiff in this initial ruling, the court set a dangerous precedent,” the governor said.
The legal wrangling came against the grim backdrop of spreading death in Illinois.
After four straight days of decline, COVID-19 fatalities swung sharply higher Tuesday, hitting 144 for the previous 24 hours and translating to one new fatality from the virus every 10 minutes.
The previous high for 24 hours was 125. The latest numbers pushed Illinois’ COVID-19 death toll to 2,125 since the first fatality was reported six weeks ago.
State Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said the numbers were spread geographically across the state: 80% came from northern Illinois, 14% from southern Illinois and 6% from the central part of the state.
Much of Pritzker’s afternoon COVID-19 briefing was spent dealing with fallout from the Bailey case, which he said did not affect the stay-at-home order for the rest of the state’s residents.
The governor warned that Bailey’s case could trigger many more cases from individuals across the state opposed to Pritzker’s move to restrict travel and shut down a huge swath of Illinois’ economy.
“Slowing the spread of this virus is critical to saving lives by ensuring our healthcare system has the resources to treat patients who get sick. And we will not stop this virus, if because of this ruling, any resident can petition to be exempted from aspects of the orders that rely on collective action to keep us all safe,” Pritzker said.
The governor vowed to appeal the decision.
Pritzker noted that Bailey’s legislative district about 250 miles south of Chicago is home to the county with the highest per capita death rate in Illinois and “has the among the lowest hospital bed availability and ventilators in the state, making it uniquely ill equipped to deal with a surge in cases.”
He also told The Today Show that he had heard members of the courtroom audience “laughed” when an attorney for the state said that people would die if the Pritzker’s stay-at-home order was lifted too soon.
“It’s abominable. It’s disgusting, frankly,” the governor said during the network interview.
Bailey argued that the governor does not have the authority to continually extend the stay-at-home order.
In other developments on the COVID-19 front:
White House pledges more testing swabs: Pritzker said he is “thrilled” that the federal government promised to provide 20,000 swabs a day to the state to help in its testing efforts. Pritzker said that it’s “20,000 more opportunities to get testing up and going.” Public health officials announced the state has conducted 242,189 tests so far, with 14,561 tests being run yesterday.
“Encouraging news” on recovery rates: Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the state’s public health department, presented some statistics the department has gained from surveys it does of those who have confirmed cases of COVID-19. Nearly half of those sick with the coronavirus say they felt recovered and were symptom-free within two weeks of being diagnosed with COVID-19. From there, 61% of patients report feeling recovered between two-to-four weeks. And after four weeks, nearly 3/4 of survey respondents said they had recovered. “I hope that’s seen as encouraging news,” she said. “The majority of individuals do recover.”