Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday announced a new plan aimed at preventing another surge of COVID-19 in Illinois, as the state saw yet another day where newly identified cases of the virus topped 1,000.
Illinois is now broken into 11 regions when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions and regulations, allowing state policy makers to take “a more granular approach” to containing the virus. The City of Chicago, which has seen the state’s highest case counts, is now in its own region, instead of being lumped together with the rest of Cook County or surrounding suburbs.
The first iteration of Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan broke the state up into four regions, prompting backlash against the governor’s stay-at-home order from some downstate counties with lower case counts who railed against what they argued was a one-size-fits-all approach.
“These mitigation options allow us to move decisively without reacting more broadly than circumstances require,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker also said during a press conference Wednesday that while Illinois currently has among the lowest positivity-case-rates and highest testing tallies in the country, he would not hesitate to move a region back to an earlier phase of his reopening plan if cases surge. That could involve reimposing the kind of restrictions on businesses and social interactions that brought the state to an economic standstill at the start of the crisis in March.
“So it’s important, when we see trends in the data that indicate a potential problem in any region in Illinois, that we need to start tightening mitigations in that region – before it’s too late,” Pritzker said.
The newest version of Pritzker’s plan lists several factors that could prompt a region to move back a phase – namely, if it sees a sustained increase in its seven-day rolling average positive test rate, coupled with either an increase in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illnesses, or a specific reduction in hospital capacity. A region could also be bumped back if it sees three consecutive days of its testing positivity case rate of 8% or more.
No region must make immediate changes or shut down parts of its economy under Wednesday’s announcement. And while certain aspects of the new plan were not detailed on an outline released to the media by the governor’s office, such as size limits on gatherings, a spokeswoman for the governor said previous guidelines remain in place.
The spokeswoman said data might suggest a region’s case numbers are increasing due to one specific problem or industry which could be addressed under this new system, rather than the more broad phases that were a part of the original Restore Illinois plan.
Likewise, one of the 11 regions would be allowed to reopen its economy once it sees consistently decreasing numbers and hospitalizations over seven days, she said.
Chicago’s 7-day rolling case positivity rate was 5.3% as of July 9th.
Pritzker specifically raised concerns about the spread of COVID-19 at bars and youth sports during his Wednesday news conference. He said he’s seen outbreaks in northwest suburban Lake Zurich where dozens of students and parents tested positive, and in Knox County, where members of a teen softball team are experiencing an outbreak.
“The degree to which we can reduce risk and restore aspects of our daily lives is still unfolding, he said. “We’re continually evaluating at what works and what doesn’t work and we’re taking a good hard look at how youth sports fits into that conversation.”
Pritzker also addressed concerns about school districts choosing to welcome students back for in-class learning. Students, parents, teachers and administrators faced with uncertainty about what the school year will look like should likely expect remote learning and hybrid schedules, in which students learn remotely for part of the time and in-class for others, he said.
An attorney representing certain students or parents have sued individual districts — such as the school district in downstate Quincy — over guidelines from the Illinois State Board of Education requiring face coverings in the building and temperature checks at the start of the day.
Pritzker warned school districts that don’t abide by the ISBE rules could face their own lawsuits by community members in an attempt to have the courts mandate those guidelines.
“I wouldn’t let my own children return to a school where masks are not mandatory and serious effort hasn’t been made to keep students distanced during the day,” he said. “This shouldn’t be controversial.”
Pritzker’s announcement comes as the state announced another 1,187 new COVID-19 cases, including eight deaths. That accounts for a 3.11% positivity rate. It’s the fourth day the number of positive cases have been over 1,000 in the past week as cases have ticked upward since more of the state’s economy opened at the end of June.