As the U.S. nears 7.5 million confirmed cases and 210,000 deaths from the COVID-19 virus, with a hospitalized President, upward case trends, and little concrete evidence for a vaccine’s release within the next few months: What have the leaders of Illinois’ response, Governor J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, been doing to prevent its spread?
Similar to our president, Governor J.B. Pritzker was in self-isolation after being exposed to a staffer that tested positive. Though his initial test was negative, this is not Governor Pritzker’s first incident of exposure, and questions of future safety continue to grow with each close call.
Pritzker issued the original “Disaster Proclamation” on March 9 (two days before the WHO declared the virus’ spread a pandemic), overruled Mayor Lori Lightfoot in order to close all public and private schools within Illinois on March 13th, issued the Executive Stay-at-Home order on March 21st, enacted the primary state-wide mask mandate on May 1st, and has been continuously extending an eviction moratorium since the beginning of the crisis. It seems like Pritzker has been ahead of the curve.
He has recently been in the news after announcing that the COVID-Relief fund he had supported would be “winding down” in the following days. It had distributed more than $31 million to a variety of community organizations.
In the past week, he has been met with mixed responses for his decision to, amidst climbing unemployment and economic deficits, send the Illinois State Police to Rockford so they would be able to enforce new social distancing regulations after previous non-compliance and rising cases. Businesses who fail to adhere to the rules will be fined, and although the citation has been equated to indoor smoking laws and one is not able to receive jail time for disregarding it, repeated noncompliance could result in a Class A Misdemeanor. Local lawmakers from Rockford are resisting the order, citing its consequences of layoffs and data that demonstrates restaurants not being a major place of transmissions. The order comes after the Rockford Sheriff announced he would not be enforcing Coronavirus safety regulations. But the suburb appears to be an outlier. All but 6% of restaurants are fully complying with Public Health directives.
With issues such as mask mandates being largely partisan, Pritzker, a Democrat, is following suit in authorizing policies some Republican officials have declared too “heavy-handed” to enforce. He recently came under scrutiny for his false announcement that the University of Illinois’ saliva test, announced this past month, had been approved for emergency use by the FDA, a statement which the federal administration quickly challenged. The University is allowed to administer the test, following several tweaks in its health warnings.
Even before Mr. Pritzker lifted his initial stay-at-home orders back in May, he was questioned on the vaccine timeline for Illinoisians. Speaking at a press conference in response to President Trump’s recent statements that there would be a verified treatment present before Election Day, Mr. Pritzker stated: “There’s been a lot of talk about the idea there would be a vaccine before the election, … I think that’s coming from someone who is running for re-election.”
Mayor Lightfoot recently announced her “Halloweek” guidelines for the upcoming holiday which include small groups, continual movement, social-distancing between trick-or-treaters and candy-givers, and a mask requirement in line with the state-wide mask order.
With over a quarter of all Chicago businesses still shut down, worker’s hours down 35%, and unemployment rates up 8% since this time last year, Lightfoot has pushed her announcement of her 2021 budget plan back a week to October 21st, without explanation. With a projected 1.2 billion dollar shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year and a present 800 million dollar deficit, she has clarified to the public that her plan will not count on the unreliable additional federal relief funds. She’s made public her consideration of furloughs, layoffs, and eliminations of vacated public positions, including those within the Chicago Police Department, as an economic measure. Amidst mass evictions, Mayor Lightfoot says raised property taxes are also a route she’s explored, though admits this would be a last resort. With Chicago taxes being among the highest and most inequitable in the nation, this move would almost certainly not be a popular one.
With ongoing mask mandates, indoor and outdoor gatherings restricted to 50 and 100 people respectively, and public areas like playgrounds closed: Chicago finds itself in Stage 4 of the city’s five-stage re-opening plan, which Mayor Lightfoot has stressed operates on a “gradual ramp up.” Released on May 5, this plan functions through the monitoring of hospital admissions, positivity rates, and available hospice capacity to determine restriction levels. We have been in Phase 4 since June 26th.
Mayor Lightfoot is perilously balancing the economic and public health sectors of her job with business owners, many of whom aren’t even breaking even under current restrictions. They are increasingly calling for her authorization of expanded occupancy limits which, in every stage of re-opening, she has emphasized could be reinstated.
The community contract tracing program she has promoted since the pandemic’s early months is behind schedule, but it was formed with the intention of being a hybrid work and health program. With CPS entirely online for the fall semester, the Chicago Teachers Union is fighting for a safe return to school- which they emphasize is virtual.
Every state’s response is unique, and for the most part, it seems Chicago and Illinois are prioritizing safety. With minimal health-related missteps, but still rising cases, it is seeming more and more like that the best Chicagoans can hope for is minimal spread and fatality. Without credible medicinal prevention: transmission, mortality, unemployment, and deficit growth will all be exponential.
- There are three static testing sites in Chicago that offer drive-through and walkup services and are limited to residents showing symptoms or who are deemed to be “high-exposure”.
- There are seven walk-up mobile testing sites operating around Chicago throughout the next week with varying hours.