Gov. J.B. Pritzker extends Illinois’ stay-at-home order, school closings through April 30

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — Now April is canceled in Illinois, too.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday he’s extending his stay-at-home order through April 30 as part of the state’s effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, bringing Illinois in line with the federal government’s latest recommendations. The governor’s order will also keep schools closed until the end of the month.

A little more than a week into a new world of safe distancing and keeping up with family and friends through Zoom and FaceTime, Pritzker’s announcement drives home the reality that the crisis likely will only intensify before any sense of normalcy returns.

Acknowledging the missed paychecks and lost jobs that have resulted from his decision to close down “nonessential” businesses, Pritzker said he’s been guided by the advice of experts in his actions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Each step we have been forced to take by this pandemic has made things more challenging for our residents,” Pritzker said at his daily news conference. “The cascading consequences of these steps weigh on me every minute of every day.

“But as I’ve said since the beginning, my priority through each and every one of these decisions has been and continues to be saving as many lives as possible. That’s the one goal that I will put above all others, every time.”

On Tuesday, officials reported 937 known new cases and 26 deaths. That’s the highest number of daily deaths reported since the outbreak began. There now have been 5,994 known infections and 99 deaths statewide since the start of the outbreak. Cases have been confirmed in more than half of Illinois’ 102 counties.

Pritzker said he intends to sign an extension of the stay-at-home order Wednesday, while also extending his statewide disaster declaration. Under action taken last week by Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education, school districts on Tuesday were required to begin offering remote learning for their students.

“Remote learning will look different for every district and maybe even for every school,” Pritzker said. “School districts will create plans based upon their local resources and their needs.”

The State Board of Education is recommending that grades given during this period serve as feedback “and not as an instrument for compliance,” he said.

Pritzker’s initial order went into effect March 21 and requires people to stay at home as much as possible, although there are a number of exceptions that include going to work at jobs deemed essential, running errands to grocery stores or pharmacies or exercising. The order was set to expire after April 7. The new order will push back the expiration date but leave the other provisions unchanged, a spokeswoman said.

Illinois was among the first states to institute such far-reaching statewide restrictions ordering residents to stay home. Since then, more than half of the nation’s states have issued some sort of stay-home decree, with differing lengths and varying rules.

While the extension brings Illinois in line with the most recent social distancing guidelines, some states have orders that don’t expire until later. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday issued a stay-at-home order that extends until June 10.

Pritzker left open the possibility that his stay-at-home order could be extended even longer, or that it could be shortened, depending on whether the measures already in place prove effective in slowing the virus’s spread.

“We have to see the peak here,” he said. “We haven’t seen the peak.”

Indeed, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike once again cautioned that the case count and death toll will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. While stark, the increasing numbers can be viewed as a good thing insofar as they indicate increased early testing, particularly among those most vulnerable to the respiratory disease, Ezike said.

“We also know that all the illness is not reflected in these numbers because of the limits of testing,” she said.

While the majority of people who contract COVID-19 won’t require hospitalization, Ezike said, continuing the stay-at-home order should help ensure the number of severe cases doesn’t overwhelm the health care system, even as the state reopens closed facilities and works with the National Guard and Army Corps of Engineers to set up a 3,000-bed field hospital at McCormick Place.

“The concern is that our medical resources will be stretched to their limits,” Ezike said. “And so that’s why staying at home will help us save the health care capacity we need.”

Pritzker said his administration also is working to increase the ranks of health care workers. In addition to previously announced efforts to allow former health care workers to reactive their licenses and encouraging health professionals to sign up for a statewide emergency alert system, the governor said attorneys in his office are working with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation on ways to issue temporary licenses to nursing and medical students who are close to completing their required education.

“We need health care workers, and we need to add to our workforce in every and any way we can,” Pritzker said.

Earlier in the day, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke at a ceremony honoring 34 newly minted paramedics, which was held at the Fire Department’s headquarters and not in its normal place in the ballroom of Navy Pier.

In her remarks, Lightfoot noted that, in light of the pandemic, the new paramedics graduated ahead of schedule. Their classes in the academy were conducted in small groups, and their coursework was “intentionally accelerated.”

Joining the governor at his daily briefing, Lightfoot offered her support for “the governor’s bold and necessary extension of the stay-at-home order.”

“This may not be what residents want, but it is what we need,” Lightfoot said.

The mayor said her order shutting down the city’s Lakefront Trail, The 606 and other popular outdoor spaces will remain in place for the duration.

“We’ll do it consistent with the stay-at-home order, but also we’re going to be guided, as we all are, by whatever the data and the science tells us,” said Lightfoot, who issued the order after pleasant spring weather brought people out in droves.

Pritzker’s order doesn’t prevent people from exercising outdoors or walking their pets, but officials have urged people to follow social-distancing guidance and stay 6 feet away from others.

Asked last week whether he was considering statewide action on park closures, Pritzker said he was leaving those moves up to local jurisdictions. State parks were closed to the public earlier in March.


(Chicago Tribune’s Jeremy Gorner contributed.)


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