Facing questions about why his administration implemented more stringent restrictions in Will and Kankakee counties than it had in southwestern Illinois amid increasing numbers of coronavirus cases, Gov. J.B. Pritzker admitted that he had made a “mistake” in adopting the less restrictive regulations in Region 4.
Speaking in Joliet Tuesday, Pritzker said that his administration had tried to line up coronavirus mitigation standards in Region 4 with those in effect in St. Louis and parts of eastern Missouri, but admitted that the plan had failed to adequately address the issues the region is facing.
“Let me just say it was a mistake, in my view, to make that adjustment that we made in Region 4,” Pritzker said. “We were trying to understand the concept that the region they live in is slightly different. It’s next to another metro area that had different measures, and we wanted to be responsive to the local communities and county health departments.”
Under guidelines established by the state of Illinois, any region whose 7-day positivity rate rose above 8% for three consecutive days would be required to implement a series of coronavirus mitigation strategies. Region 4, a collection of seven counties located near St. Louis, was the first region in the state to hit that threshold, and saw restrictions put into place earlier this month.
Those restrictions did not include the suspension of indoor dining and bar service, but those restrictions will likely be put into place in early September, as the region’s positivity rate continues to rise.
“We wanted to listen to them and try to follow the suggestion that they had made. I will readily admit that that was not a good idea, and that it appears now that we want to put those mitigations exactly in place as we had originally intended,” Pritzker said.
The Pritzker administration faced questions Monday after it announced new restrictions would be put into place in Region 7, which includes Will and Kankakee counties in northeastern Illinois. Those regions, whose positivity rates have also exceeded 8% for the last four days, will have indoor dining and bar service suspended, and those rules will go into place Wednesday.
“The challenge with bars is often they tend to be packed with people,” Pritzker said. “It is sometimes the case that even though we put capacity limits in that the owners either don’t have the ability to count the people coming in, or to prevent people from coming in the door.”
The new restrictions will remain in place for at least two weeks, per the state’s health department. If the region is able to halt the increases in positivity rate, then the rules could either be left in place or potentially withdrawn. If they remain over 8% after those two weeks, then additional restrictions could be implemented.
Facing some blowback from restaurant and bar owners who feel they are being unfairly targeted, Pritzker emphasized that health experts believe that those types of establishments are uniquely impacted by COVID-19 because of the behavior of individuals who are dining or drinking in an enclosed space.
“Remember how COVID-19 transmits: it is essentially your saliva becoming aerosolized. When you’re speaking, when you’re speaking, when you’re yelling….the louder you are, likely the more aspiration is coming from your mouth,” he said.
Outdoor service can continue at those establishments, with social distancing requirements remaining in place. Masks will also be required for diners and drinkers while interacting with servers at these establishments under new guidelines released Tuesday.