Gov. Pritzker Says Illinois Is ‘On Track’ For Eased COVID-19 Restrictions By Late May

Under Illinois governor’s reopening plan, the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 has dipped to a promising level.

COVID-19 Official Updates Pritzker V2
AP/WBEZ
COVID-19 Official Updates Pritzker V2
AP/WBEZ

Gov. Pritzker Says Illinois Is ‘On Track’ For Eased COVID-19 Restrictions By Late May

Under Illinois governor’s reopening plan, the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 has dipped to a promising level.

As attacks intensify on Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, improving COVID-19 metrics appear to put the state, and the Chicago area in particular, “on track” to having the statewide pandemic lockdown eased later this month, the governor said Thursday.

For the first time since Pritzker debuted his reopening plan, the state and region are meeting his targets for hospitalizations, healthcare capacity and for the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in order to move into a less restrictive phase beginning on May 29.

A final determination on that forward movement won’t be made until later this month, but the governor cheered the result as momentum that the state hasn’t witnessed since the pandemic took root in Illinois in mid-March.

“The trend for the state and trend for that region is downward. So I think that’s a very good sign,” the governor said during his daily COVID-19 briefing, adding that all of the state’s four regions appear “on track” to advance to a more favorable posture by month’s end.

Pritzker’s stay-at-home order lasts until May 28, and the state is currently in the second-most restrictive part of his five-phase reopening plan.

What he characterizes as Phase 3: gatherings of 10 or fewer people are allowed for any reason; barbershops and salons can reopen under new safety guidelines; health and fitness clubs can provide outdoor classes and one-on-one training; and stores can reopen with capacity limits.

For Cook and the collar counties, the most stubborn aspect has been meeting the required 20% positivity rate — meaning no more than one out of every five COVID-19 tests administered turns up with someone afflicted by the virus over a rolling 14-day period.

On Thursday, the region that includes Chicago and the suburbs crept down to a 19.9% positivity rate, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“On May 28 … it’s highly likely that on that metric, the northeast region as well as the other regions will meet that mark,” Pritzker said. “We’ve got to look at the other marks. But it looks to me like they’re all on track to meet the other marks to move onto Phase 3,” the governor told reporters.

The state and city have largely similar reopening plans, with subtle differences that could dictate Chicago loosening its restrictions at a different point in time than villages or cities in suburban Cook and the collar counties. WBEZ has published a guide comparing the two plans.

On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot signaled any upgrade to the city’s current stance would amount to a “cautious reopening,” but would not involve allowing residents to regain access to the shuttered Lakefront, which is sure to draw big crowds as warm weather arrives.

For Pritzker, the glimmer of hope couldn’t have come at a better time, as he faces increasing pressure from several suburban mayors, demanding their fates not be linked to Chicago’s because the rate of infection is lower outside the city.

But dampening the promising signs of momentum that Pritzker alluded to Thursday was a continuing climb in COVID-19 fatalities statewide. State public health officials announced 138 more deaths, bringing Illinois’ death toll to 3,928 since the first COVID-19 casualty on March 17.

In other pandemic-related developments in Illinois:

  • Unemployment claims hit ‘plateau’: New statewide data shows unemployment filings flattened this past week. The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported processing 72,671 new initial claims for regular unemployment benefits during the week ending May 9, a drop of 2 percentage points from the previous week. The department has now processed 1,076,461 claims for unemployment benefits since March 1. Pritzker also announced a new online portal for those seeking a job, which can be found here.

  • Cases keep rising: State public health authorities announced more than 3,200 new COVID-19 cases Thursday during the past 24 hours, bringing Illinois’ overall total to just below 88,000. As of Wednesday, Illinois ranked third in the nation in the overall number of cases, despite being the sixth-largest state. But Pritzker says that number is so high compared to other states because of how many people are now being tested across Illinois. The most recent statewide seven-day data show 17% of those tested have tested positive, according to the public health department. “I know everybody turns on the TV and you see the climbing number of total cases that have existed in the state, but the reality is we’re doing a better job than almost, well most, other states at testing, and that’s revealing that indeed there are cases out there,” Pritzker said. “If you don’t test — and take a look at some of the states out there that aren’t doing much testing — then you don’t report any cases. But the cases are there.”

  • Youngest Cook County victim: The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office has determined a 12-year-old boy who died of COVID-19 is the youngest coronavirus-related death in the state. The Illinois Dept. of Public Health announced in March that an infant had died of the virus, but that death is now under review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A spokesman for the Cook County medical examiner’s office said a final determination on the baby’s death won’t occur until after the CDC completes its investigation.
  • Governor on Catholic Archdiocese’s reopening plan: Pritzker said the Catholic Church’s timeline to reopen their churches to parishioners “fits well within” the requirements of the state. The governor says his office advised the church, and he’s “very pleased” with its plan, which includes allowing weddings, funerals and baptisms with a 10-person limit. It comes as a handful of churches have sued the state — and lost — to try to get a judge to exempt them from Pritzker’s executive order.

  • Despite self-quarantine, Pritzer vows to be in Springfield: Pritzker said he hopes to be in Springfield next week for a three-day special legislative session that’s scheduled. That comes as Pritzker is under a self-quarantine after a senior staffer in his office tested positive for COVID-19 despite being asymptomatic. Pritzker has tested negative. Nevertheless, he said he intends to work in the governor’s office and sleep at the Illinois governor’s mansion while in the state’s capital next week. “I just need to get sign-off from the experts, from the doctors,” he said.

Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover Illinois state politics and government for WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold.