Ill. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s modified stay-at-home order kicks in Friday amid legal and political pushback

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — With his modified stay-at-home order taking effect Friday, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois is facing multiple legal challenges to the cornerstone of his coronavirus response and political pressure from Republicans in more conservative corners of the state to reopen the economy more quickly.

Pritzker signed a new executive order Thursday that extends his directive for people to remain at home as much as possible through May 29, with changes including a requirement that people older than 2 wear face coverings in public when they can’t maintain a safe distance from others.

The governor’s new order allows certain state parks to reopen and some elective medical procedures to resume, particularly in areas with fewer cases of the new coronavirus.

The order also requires “essential” businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, to provide face coverings to workers who can’t maintain 6 feet of distance from one another and caps the number of people who can be in an establishment at one time.

“All these changes represent a shift in our approach to COVID-19, a shift made possible by the millions of Illinoisans who have stepped up by staying home and keeping each other safe,” Pritzker said at his daily news conference.

Despite the governor’s message of unity, partisan and regional divisions have been on full display this week as people across the state prepare for another 30 days at home. It has been largely in rural, conservative areas where residents have chafed under a perception that Pritzker’s regulations are motivated by Chicago’s efforts to control the spread of the virus.

The five Republicans in Illinois’ 18-member congressional delegation, who largely represent downstate areas, on Thursday sent Pritzker a letter urging him to adopt a phased plan to reopen the state’s economy.

Also on Thursday, a church pastor from rural northwest Illinois sued the governor in federal court, alleging that his actions have demonstrated “illegal and discriminatory hostility to religious practice, churches, and people of faith.”

Pritzker already was facing two lawsuits from GOP state lawmakers accusing him of exceeding his legal authority by extending the stay-at-home order beyond its initial 30 days.

On the eve of the third extension of the stay-at-home order, state officials reported 2,563 more known cases of COVID-19 and 141 additional deaths, the second-highest daily totals in each category since the start of the outbreak. That brings the total number of known cases to 52,918 and the death toll to 2,355 statewide, officials said.

Cases of COVID-19 have been detected in all but five of the state’s 102 counties. When the initial stay-at-home order took effect March 21, there were 753 known cases and six deaths across 26 counties.

Pritzker and health officials have attributed the recent rise in cases in part to recently expanded testing capacity and relaxed criteria for who can get a screening.

The state has massively increased COVID-19 testing over the past week, performing an average of 13,000 to 14,000 tests daily, Pritzker said. Illinois — along with the rest of the nation — had grappled with mass testing for most of March and April.

Pritzker called testing for the new virus a “key to our ability to reopen our economy and keep people safe” and said more progress needs to be made before that can happen.

Pritzker publicized the planned opening next week of two new state-run drive-thru testing sites, in Waukegan and East St. Louis. The state already is operating drive-up testing sites in Harwood Heights, Markham, Aurora, Bloomington and Rockford.

The state now has 177 public testing sites, up from 112 locations less than a week ago. This includes 41 sites in Chicago, 22 sites in the southwest suburbs, eight sites in the west suburbs, 11 sites in the northwest suburbs and 11 sites in the north suburbs. This does not include private medical providers also offering testing for their patients.

“We’re staying the course here on making sure we’re keeping an eye on the health and safety of every Illinoisan, wherever they live, whether they live in far southern Illinois in Cairo or in Vienna or live in Freeport or Rockford and everywhere in between,” Pritzker said. “And guess what, just because they don’t live in Chicago or Cook County or the collar counties doesn’t mean that people are not in danger.”

In their letter, however, the Republican congressmen wrote that “it is unreasonable and untenable to continue on this course for the duration of the pandemic.”

“The fact is, communities across the state are desperate for a plan to navigate the reopening of business in a responsible, reasonable manner,” says the letter from Reps. John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis, Mike Bost and Darin LaHood.

“There is a strong desire among the people we represent to move forward with a plan focusing on balancing our health and our economy. It should not be an either/or proposition,” the congressmen wrote.

Pritzker said he spoke with the state’s entire congressional delegation Wednesday and didn’t disagree with the Republicans “that different areas of the state require different rules.” He said some of the changes in his new order acknowledged those regional differences.

Statewide, the latest order clarifies that garden centers and nurseries are essential businesses and adds pet groomers to the list. It also allows “nonessential” retailers to reopen to take online and telephone orders for curbside pickup or delivery.

However, the new order also tightens some restrictions.

Retail stores, including grocery stores, will be required to cap occupancy at 50% of store capacity, or at occupancy limits based on store square footage set by the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. They’re also required to set up store aisles to be “one-way where practicable to maximize spacing between customers” and to discontinue use of reusable bags.

Stores must provide face coverings to employees who are not able to maintain 6 feet of distance between themselves. The order also calls for households to limit the number of members going to stores to the “minimum necessary.”

Anyone over the age of 2 who is able to “medically tolerate a face covering,” which could be either a mask or a cloth covering, is required to wear it to cover their nose and mouth when they’re in a public place and unable to maintain 6 feet of distance from other people, according to the order.

Face coverings are required in public indoor spaces, such as stores.

Pritzker on Thursday said he would “suggest having one on hand” even when going out for a walk, run or bike ride around the neighborhood.

“You don’t have to wear it at all times if you’re going running, jogging outside or bicycling,” he said. “But if you encounter a crowd, a public space with a lot of people in it, that’s when you need to, are required to put on a face covering.”


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