Reopening concerns at forefront


Last week’s regional reopening plan for Illinois by Gov. JB Pritzker has been met by both praise and criticism from local leaders.

“I commend Gov. Pritzker for putting out a plan today to reopen our state,” state Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) said last Tuesday. “His plan incorporates many of the concepts Sen. (Dan) McConchie and I set forth in our ‘Responsible Illinois Reopening Plan’ last week, such as a phased, regional approach. Most importantly, this plan removes some of the uncertainty associated with the pandemic by letting the people of Illinois know the pathway back to full economic activity.” 

Schimpf had been vocal in calling for Pritzker to release a plan that would allow specific areas of the state to reopen when possible, as opposed to treating “Illinois as a monolithic unit.” 

State Rep. Nathan Reitz (D-Steeleville) had been relatively silent on his views regarding a reopening plan, but he praised Pritzker’s while also arguing it did not go far enough.

“I’m glad to see that there is now a plan in place to allow our state to reopen regionally, which is something that many of us downstate legislators have advocated for,” Reitz said. “I also think it’s encouraging that most retailers and manufacturers are now allowed to reopen with safety measures under the modified order. 

“However, I think there are still many more businesses and industries that should have been included in that group and reopened, as long as precautions are taken to protect both customers and employees,” Reitz continued. “I’m continuing to fight for our local businesses to make sure they have a voice in this and have the resources they need as we start the pathway to reopening our state.” 

At the county level, Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner, who has become increasingly critical of the way the state is handling the pandemic in recent weeks, was the most disapproving of Pritzker’s plan. 

“While the plan on paper looks good, the detail of the timing of opening phases has not been answered,” Wagner said. “This is just about all I can say without knowing the governor’s plan on timing.” 

The plan provides a five-phase framework for the state to reopen on a regional basis, though Pritzker said details of the plan may change if data indicates they should. 

Monroe County is in the southern region, which includes every county south of Bond.

Illinois has been in the second phase of the plan since May 1, when Pritzker’s modified stay at home order took effect. It was in the first phase from mid-March until late April. 

To move to phase 3, several criteria monitored by the Illinois Department of Public Health must be met. 

A region must have a test positive rate at or below 20 percent that is increased by no more than 10 percentage points over 14 days, no overall increase in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illnesses for 28 days and surge capacity of at least 14 percent of ICU beds, medical and surgical beds and ventilators.

It must also be able to test all patients, health care workers, first responders, people with underlying health conditions and individuals in senior homes and begin contract tracing and monitoring within 24 hours of diagnosis. 

While those time frames indicate the soonest a region could move to the next phase would be May 29, there is no concrete timeline or prediction associated with the phases. 

Pritzker declined to provide one or predict when a particular region could move to the next phase, citing the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic.  

A region could move back a phase if data shows there is a sustained raise in positivity rate or hospital admissions for coronavirus-like illnesses, reduction in hospital capacity or significant outbreak.

The third phase allows for manufacturing, offices, retail, barbershops and salons to reopen with capacity and other limits and safety precautions, permits gatherings of 10 or fewer people and requires face covering and social distancing to be the norm. 

It also permits limited child care and summer programs and non-essential businesses to have employees return to work with safety precautions – though working remotely is still encouraged.

To move to the fourth phase, the same criteria previously listed must be met with the addition of testing being available regardless of symptoms or risk factors and contact tracing and monitoring beginning within 24 hours of diagnosis for more than 90 percent of cases in a region.

Phase 4 allows gatherings of 50 or fewer people, restaurants and bars to reopen with capacity limits and safety guidelines, travel to resume, child care and schools to reopen under guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health and entertainment options like movie theaters to reopen with limitations.

Face coverings and social distancing are still the norm in this phase. 

The fifth phase would be post-pandemic and can only be moved to if several factors are satisfied. Life would completely return to normal in this phase, and large gatherings like conventions and concerts would be allowed. 

Pritzker called for Illinoisans to “work together” and abide by this framework, saying the state cannot and does not aim to enforce these measures. Instead, Pritzker said the state would ask local law enforcement agencies to monitor the situation and take action when necessary. 

Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing said his department would rely on the local health department, IDPH and Monroe County state’s attorney’s office in regards to enforcing measures. 

Rohlfing encouraged residents to wear a face covering when required and maintain social distancing, but said his department will escort someone off a property if requested by a business. 

“This will be conducted in a manner intended to keep the peace,” Rohlfing said in a press release. “As an example, if a business owner or management would like an individual escorted off the property due to the individual failing to wear a mask while in the business, we will assist in keeping the peace and will only seek criminal charges if a criminal law is violated.” 

Based on conversations with Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann, Rohlfing also explained that violation of the current stay at home order is not a crime, but an individual who refuses to wear a mask in a business and is asked to leave could be charged with criminal trespass, a class B misdemeanor. 

Rohlfing also said that someone who has COVID-19 or is told to self-isolate because of being in close contact with someone who has the virus and ignores quarantine orders could be charged with reckless conduct, a class A misdemeanor, for endangering the safety of others. 

That charge could be more severe if someone causes “great bodily harm or death to another” by spreading the virus. 

Just to the north in Madison County, officials are voting this week on a resolution that would defy Pritzker’s order by allowing such businesses as restaurants and gyms to reopen at a limited capacity. If the measure is approved, they businesses could reopen after they submit a plan to the county health board detailing how they would reopen in a safe way. 

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