A Central Illinois city is implementing a phased reopening plan that could potentially conflict with the state’s ongoing “stay-at-home” order.
East Peoria Mayor John Kahl announced in a press release that he had sent a plan, dubbed the “Tri-County Phased Reopening Plan” to Gov. J.B Pritzker on April 29.
The first phase of the plan, which is currently being implemented, would allow nonessential businesses in East Peoria, including hair salons, gyms and shopping centers, to reopen, so long as they have enhanced social distancing and cleaning procedures in place.
At least 20 other elected leaders from the Tri-County area, which includes Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties, have also signed onto the plan.
“We encourage our residents to exercise personal responsibility, to remain respectful and to remain supportive as we week to revitalize our economy,” the mayor said. “These are extraordinary times which require us to take necessary steps to protect public health, while at the same time protecting the businesses that serve our community.”
The plan does not “compel any business or any individual to reopen or to take any action, including any that might be contrary to the directives found in the governor’s executive order,” according to a city press release.
Police officers in East Peoria will not take steps to “discourage anyone from reopening or taking action consistent with the Tri-County Phased Reopening Plan,” meaning that law enforcement officials will not enforce all aspects of the state’s stay-at-home order.
Pritzker did not elaborate on whether he would take measures to try to halt the phased reopening plan, but warned that businesses who do choose to reopen could open themselves up to liability, since they would be doing so in defiance of a statewide order.
“I think they’re running the risk that they’re going to infect people who work there, people who patronize their stores,” he said. “You will (also) be subject to liability because it would not surprise me if insurance companies are found not to be required to cover you when you are defying essentially state law or state executive order.”
Under phase one of the plan, detailed by multiple outlets including the Peoria Journal-Star and Central Illinois Proud, nonessential businesses, including shopping centers, nursery/garden shops, marinas, parks, lakes, golf courses and auto dealerships, would be allowed to reopen.
Salons, barbershops and spas would be allowed to reopen, but are required to take “appropriate mitigation measures,” including keeping people more than six feet apart to maintain social distancing and implementing enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
Kahl also encouraged owners of state-licensed businesses, including hair salons and barber shops, to consult with state officials and potentially private counsel before reopening.
Gyms and fitness studios can also reopen.
Restaurants and bars will still be allowed to provide takeout and drive-thru services, but no dine-in eating will be allowed.
The second part of phase one of the plan is set to begin May 15, allowing restaurants and bars to reopen at 50 percent capacity. Nonessential travel will also be allowed, but gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited.
Theaters, churches, and childcare facilities would also be allowed to reopen.
Phase two of the plan will be implemented June 1, with gatherings of 50 or fewer people allowed. Restaurants and casinos will be allowed to open to 75 percent of capacity. All restaurants and casinos will be allowed to open to 100 percent capacity on June 15, but will still be required to maintain social distancing protocols.
July 1 will mark the start of phase three, when large venues will be allowed to open for concerts, carnivals, conventions, and conferences, with some social distancing guidelines in place.
The implementation of the plan comes as the area sees fewer COVID-19 cases. According to NBC 5 Investigates, Tazewell County, where East Peoria is located, has had three COVID-19-related fatalities since the pandemic began, but hasn’t reported a new death in more than two weeks. In all, the three counties that comprise the Tri-County area have reported 165 total cases and six deaths as a result of the virus.
The one area where East Peoria has fallen short is in daily testing. The White House guidelines on reopening emphasize the importance of wide coronavirus testing, and a widely-used Harvard study recommends daily testing of a minimum of 152 people per 100,000 residents.
In East Peoria, that would translate to 38 residents being tested for the virus each day, but NBC 5 Investigates has found that over the last 10 days, the city has not reached that minimum threshold.
Not all government entities in the Tri-County area are onboard with the plan. According to the Peoria Journal-Star, the Tazewell County Health Department has encouraged residents to continue to adhere to the state’s “stay-at-home” order.