House Republicans said Wednesday that Illinois' pandemic control plan needs GOP input and again urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to convene the Legislature.
The Democratic governor on Tuesday presented a five-phase plan to reopen shuttered businesses and ease the social distancing guidelines necessitated by the coronavirus crisis. Republican lawmakers said Pritzker's plan moves too slowly to save many businesses or take the state back to how it was.
Pritzker closed schools and implemented a stay-at-home order in mid-March to slow transmission of the coronavirus. Rep. Dan Brady said “Restore Illinois” proves the state's pandemic response “continues to be a decree by one person.”
“With this plan it could be months or even years before the state would fully reopen as we wait for a treatment or vaccine,” said Brady, a Bloomington Republican. “I have already heard from countless business owners that if the governor’s plan continues, they won’t be able to reopen whenever the time comes.”
On Wednesday, the Pritzker administration reported 136 more deaths from complications of COVID-19 and 2,270 new cases. Overall, 2,974 people have died and 68,232 have confirmed infections.
The Legislature hasn't met since early March and the spring session is scheduled to adjourn May 31. There has been little public discussion about convening even to vote on a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Pritzker said he has talked repeatedly with lawmakers of both parties and implemented many of their suggestions.
Republicans said they should be allowed to convene under guidelines developed by the Illinois Department of Public Health for the General Assembly's return to the Capitol: Temperature readings upon entering the building; excluding the public and lobbyists; and voting on legislation with members maintaining 6 feet of space between them. Some members would have to take seats in the public galleries.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who could also call the chamber to action, said it’s clear "Illinois is not out of the woods" and discouraged a quick return to Springfield.
Illinois is in the second phase of “Restore Illinois,” with rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases and deaths leveling off. More social interaction is allowed at each stage, with the final one coming only after a vaccine or cure has been introduced. Republicans and others concerned about the economy noted that under the plan many businesses won't reopen until the later stages.
Under the plan, the state is split into four regions, and some could progress through the phases more quickly than others. But, a region experiencing a resurgence of the coronavirus can be bounced back a phase.
In the face of pressure from central and southern Illinois regions where there are lower coronavirus case numbers than in Chicago, Pritzker has emphasized that he's guided by medical experts and scientific modeling.
Dixon Rep. Tom Demmer dismissed Pritzker's suggestion that those pushing to reopen are blind to the data.
“There’s a lot of complexity that comes into establishing these multifaceted plans,” Demmer said. “And when we have that level of complexity, we need to have input from a wide variety of stakeholders."
Chicago officials said Wednesday that the number of new coronavirus cases among Latinos has surged in recent weeks, deepening concerns that the virus disproportionately affects minority communities.
Public health officials say a month ago 14% of people in Chicago who tested positive were Latinos but that proportion has risen to 37%. The city’s population is about 29% Hispanic, according to public health officials.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the numbers “breathtaking” and said community leaders and health care providers will help the city communicate more with Hispanic residents.
“Nothing about this is OK and we can never allow ourselves to think that it is,” Lightfoot said. Pritzker said one-third of the state's 200 COVID-19 testing sites are in Latino communities and many have bilingual support.