Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker suggested on Monday that if the current trends surrounding the number of cases of COVID-19 continue in the state, some elements of the stay-at-home order may be changed after it expires April 30.
“I think it’s likely that there will be adjustments to the orders that we’ve put in place,” Pritzker said.
That comes after new data from the Illinois Dept. of Public Health show a leveling of the number of new cases and deaths in the past week, rather than the exponential growth that occurred in the last part of March.
In the past 24 hours, there were 1,173 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 74 deaths. While that is a spike in the numbers of people who have died of COVID-19 in a 24-hour period compared to recent days, the number of new cases represents a 7-day low.
Pritzker said epidemiologists, hospital workers and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois’ public health director, are coming to a consensus that “things are leveling more than they have before.”
That revelation prompted several questions to Pritzker about how — if at all — schools and businesses could reopen.
As for schools, Pritzker would not commit to a date when he might decide whether to keep children out of the classroom for the rest of the year, or to reopen them.
But he did suggest that if people continue to stay at home and there is no sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, then his next order starting May 1 might look different than it does now, industry by industry.
“Nothing that happens next month or the month after that is gonna be exactly the way it was four months ago or five months ago,” Pritzker said. “The question really is not, ‘Could you do this or that?’ The question is, ‘How would you do it, practically speaking, so you don’t have many more people getting infected?’’
Pritzker said before taking those next steps, he needs to see more testing, a better way of tracing where a confirmed COVID-19 case may have spread and also a treatment system in place for those who are sick.
But as he considers changing his stay-at-home order for May, the governor wondered aloud what that might look like — such as whether people would be required to wear masks in stores, or having public health officials mandate a certain number of people in a building in the same way a fire marshal does.
His comments came as governors in several states began weighing publicly when and how they would open, with the New York Times reporting that two groups of states — one on the west coast and one on the east coast — pledged to form “working groups” to plan those steps together.
Pritzker’s comments also came just hours after Illinois House GOP Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, called on the governor to receive input from the four legislative leaders in Springfield before extending the stay-at-home order.
Durkin, who has supported the Democratic governor’s stay-at-home orders and has not been vocal against Pritzker up until now, criticized the Pritzker administration’s handling of the sharp influx of unemployment claims filed with the state — more than 500,000 claims between March 1 and April 4.
“This should’ve been thought about,” Durkin said. “I believe that the state of Illinois has failed those Illinoisians who have been left out, that were cut out as non-essential, but they have not been able to survive and also rely upon the state of Illinois through the Department of Employment Security.”
Pritzker bristled at Durkin’s comments, saying many lawmakers have offered help and suggestions as to how to handle problems that have arisen out of the pandemic.
“I draw a distinction between those who stand up in this moment and try to help and those who hold press conferences to complain,” he said.
To address the busy signals and crashed website that those who have tried to file for unemployment have experienced, Pritzker announced an expansion of 200 people who will assist in taking unemployment applications over the phone, saying even retired workers have been asked to help by working from home. He also said the website has been overhauled to increase how quickly it loads.
The state also hired an outside vendor to take unemployment applications from contract workers, who are newly covered because of the pandemic but who were being told to wait to apply until the state’s backlog of regular workers’ applications was dealt with. That new application apparatus should be in place by May 11, Pritzker said.
The Illinois Workers Compensation Commission also passed an emergency rule deeming that certain essential workers can claim a positive COVID-19 diagnosis as work-related.
Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.