Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot served up a one-two punch against exponentially rising COVID-19 case counts Thursday, with the governor threatening another statewide stay-at-home order and the mayor imposing voluntary restrictions.
Pritzker’s intensifying language about a new, mandatory shelter-in-place dictate came as the state set another daily record for coronavirus-related hospitalizations and overall case counts with no end in sight.
The state endured a stay-at-home order for more than two months last spring, and Pritzker left little doubt that that represents his last, remaining option to slow COVID-related hospitalizations that have jumped 179% since Oct. 1.
“The numbers don’t lie. If things don’t take a turn in the coming days, we’ll quickly reach the point when some form of a mandatory stay at home order is all that will be left,” the governor told reporters Thursday.
“With every fiber of my being, I don’t want us to be there, but that seems where we’re headed,” he said.
If the governor indeed goes down the same path he did last spring, he may find compliance more difficult to enforce than it was before because only local officials are positioned to enforce a new stay-at-home order. And many of those have flouted recent steps the governor has taken to move restaurant and bar service outdoors, fueling steep increases in some of their communities.
Meanwhile, Lightfoot announced a plan urging Chicagoans not to leave their homes or have any social gatherings as COVID-19 cases surge across Illinois, mirroring similar, newly-issued guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
For weeks, the city has been sounding the alarm about record COVID-19 cases in Chicago, Lightfoot said at a press conference.
“The rapid rise that we are experiencing in Chicago is being felt across our state, across our region, and across the nation,” she said. “If we continue on the path we’re on, and you and me and others don’t step up, our estimates are that we could see 1,000 more Chicagoans die from this virus by the end of the year.”
The head of Chicago’s Department of Public Health, Dr. Allison Arwady, said COVID-19 metrics are rising across the board in the city.
“We are in uncharted territory,” Arwady said, “We are the largest city in the part of the country that is having the most uncontrolled outbreak. Every opportunity that COVID has to spread here is an exponential opportunity.”
Advisory starts Monday
The so-called “Stay-At-Home Advisory” goes into effect Monday at 6 a.m., but it’s unclear how City Hall plans to enforce its more stringent requests to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Lightfoot warned Chicagoans that if they don’t stay home and avoid unnecessary contact, a thousand city residents could die in the city’s second surge of COVID-19.
To mitigate that risk, Lightfoot and city public health officials are announcing new guidelines that will encourage Chicagoans to limit the amount of time they spend in public spaces.
The new “Stay-At-Home Advisory” asks – but does not require – that Chicagoans take more rigorous precautions to limit the spread of the virus, including:
Not leaving home except for a critical need, such as for groceries, medical appointments, school or work.
Not inviting friends of family over to your house. The rule to go by: If they don’t already live in your home, meet virtually.
Don’t touch commonly used surfaces when you are outside, even if you just go outside “to get fresh air.”
Don’t travel outside the state or have contact with someone who has left the state, especially for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
Starting Monday, all social gatherings, meetings and events in the city – indoor and outdoor – will be limited to 10 people. That includes events at venues, such as weddings and funerals. It does not apply to gyms, retail stores, movie theaters and other service industry businesses which are under a different set of guidelines. Those businesses can generally only allow up to 40% capacity, or up to 50 people.
Currently, the city department that handles business licensing has taken the lead on enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, meaning that penalties have largely fallen on businesses, not individuals.
Private gatherings causing Chicago’s spread
Lightfoot noted that city health data show the biggest cause of the virus’ spread has been in-home and private gatherings — like in hotel rooms or Airbnb parties. The city is scrubbing social media to better track and prevent those types of gatherings, she said.
“Where we are really seeing it is in those private social spaces: homes, weddings, funerals, other venues where people think that it is party time — it’s not,” Lightfoot said. “This is serious life or death.”
Lightfoot and Arwady called the latest trends sobering. Compared to a month ago, Chicago has seen three times more people in hospital beds, three times more people in intensive care units with the most serious cases, three times more people on ventilators and four times as many people testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
In late October, City Hall banned indoor dining and drinking at restaurants and bars, and mandated that all non-essential businesses must be closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Lighfoot defended her decision to keep open non-essential businesses Thursday, saying a complete shutdown would destroy the city’s economy.
“Part of the calculus and balancing we have to do is not completely destroy our economy, not put even more workers out of work and on the unemployment rolls,” she said.
As of Thursday, the biggest regions of concern for Chicago are the Northwest and Southwest sides, according to Lightfoot’s administration. Lightfoot’s announcement closely mirrored new guidelines issued by Pritzker’s administration on Wednesday.
The tougher new guidelines came on a day that Illinois once again broke a record for the number of daily COVID-19 cases. On Thursday, the state Department of Public Health reported 12,702 new confirmed and probable cases. In the seven days leading up to Wednesday, Illinois led the nation in the number of new cases reported, with nearly 75,000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.