On a day overshadowed by riots in Minneapolis and President Trump’s bellicose tweeting, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a new disaster declaration Friday and celebrated Illinois’ move into a less-restrictive phase of pandemic recovery.
The governor pointed to lower percentages of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations as justifications for lifting his 10-week, stay-at-home order and partially reopening bars and restaurants, offices, salons and stores in areas outside Chicago.
“The success of the last phase is evidenced by the declining positivity rate, the declining hospitalizations, the declining [intensive care unit] bed use and the declining number of deaths. As we end that phase, it’s important to take note that the people of Illinois have taken this seriously, and that has made all the difference,” the governor said.
“I know there’s a whole lot of noise and bad news out there, so let me tell you a little bit of good news about what Illinois has done,” Pritzker said. “As a state, we’re averaging nearly 250 fewer COVID-19 patients in intensive care each day than we were four weeks ago, a 20% decrease. We’re also averaging nearly 40 fewer COVID-19-related deaths per day than we were just two weeks ago, a 32% decrease.”
But the governor warned Illinoisans to stay vigilant against an illness that is far from being stamped out. State public health authorities announced 86 more COVID-19 fatalities, bringing the statewide death toll to 5,270 people in less than 11 weeks.
“The journey to this point has seemed very long, and unfortunately, the journey is far from over,” Pritzker continued. “Let’s be clear on this: The virus is still out there, and it still is very dangerous.”
The governor characterized the state’s COVID-19 death toll as a “harrowing number” and turned reflective about those who were lost, including one of his own friends.
“Many of our residents have lost someone they love, a family member, a friend to this virus. I have, too. If you’re someone who doesn’t know a single person who has died because of COVID-19 or been hospitalized because of COVID-19, that doesn’t mean that pain isn’t real for another mother, another child, another friend. I hope you will take at least a moment to grieve for their loss,” Pritzker said.
The acquaintance to whom the governor was referring was Evanston restaurateur Hecky Powell, founder of the smoked meat landmark, Hecky’s Barbecue. Powell died from COVID-19 on May 22.
A Pritzker spokeswoman said the governor first became friends with Powell as a law school student at Northwestern University in the early 1990s.
Under his new order, playgrounds, museums, amusement parks, bowling alleys and movie theaters will remain closed, large gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed, and facial coverings are required in public places.
But Pritzker did offer a concession to religious organizations by not dictating a firm ban on churches that want to hold services to groups larger than that. His administration, which faced a litany of legal challenges to his order from religious groups, only offered guidance against large church gatherings.
The Democratic governor used his COVID-19 briefing to launch a new broadside against Trump over his response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis who died after a police officer put his knee on the handcuffed man’s throat for nearly nine minutes.
“I’m pretty blunt about this. He’s a racist,” Pritzker said of Trump, who suggested in a late-night tweet that rioters and looters in Minneapolis be shot. Twitter obscured that a social-media post with a warning, because the company believed the president was “glorifying violence.”
“I’m not sure what else I need to say that’s more severe than that,” the governor continued. “Precisely everything that I have fought against in my entire life is represented by what he tweets and says and foments.”
The governor said Floyd’s death — just the latest in a series of fatal confrontations involving African American victims — only underscores how little real progress America has made on racial equality.
“Unfortunately, time and time again, even when these videos come out, even when so many of us have the feeling of it’s time for a major change and we work toward that change, somehow for black America it never really comes,” he said. “And that’s unacceptable and to me, the progress that should have been made has failed.”
Meanwhile, in other developments Friday:
U.S. withdraws from the WHO: Shortly after President Trump announced the U.S. will terminate its relationship with the World Health Organization, Pritzker vouched for its importance to the global response to COVID-19. The governor said the state of Illinois has sought guidance from the WHO along with other leading public health organizations. “It seems as if President Trump is withdrawing us from the rest of the world, and I think we saw what happens to a nation when you withdraw from the rest of the world, what happens in terms of chaos around the world when the United States is not leading,” Pritzker said. “Unfortunately that’s where President Trump has taken us: to where the United States is not leading where it ought to.”
Warnings against contact-tracing scammers: Illinois’ public health director, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who called contact tracing part of the state’s “new normal,” warned residents of scammers who call pretending to be a contact tracer and instead ask for personal or financial information. The state is currently beefing up its contact-tracing program to alert someone if they came in contact with another person who tested positive for COVID-19. “No contact tracers would be asking you for any money, asking for Social Security numbers or bank account numbers or credit card numbers,” Ezike said.
An end to Pritzker’s daily COVID-19 update: Since early March, the governor, Ezike and others have gone before cameras nearly every day to outline the administration’s response to the pandemic. But that ritual will be ending Monday in the latest sign of the effects of the coronavirus easing in Illinois. “Eighty-two days ago, we held our first of these daily briefings, and aside from the last few weekends, we’ve joined together every afternoon for a public update on our COVID response,” Pritzker said. The governor said COVID-19 briefings will be held in the days and weeks ahead, only on “an as needed basis.”