Some suburban leaders have intensified their push to reopen their communities on a different timeline from Chicago and Cook County under Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's plan to reopen the state during the coronavirus pandemic.
Downtown Kankakee, like so many other communities in the far suburbs, sits quiet, and businesses are hoping that they can have a different timeline to reopen.
Kankakee County, which is part of the Northeast region in Pritzker’s phased reopening plan for the state, may not be able to move into phase three of that plan on May 29, while the other three regions in the state may be able to do so.
“I received a lot of phone calls from Kankakee and Grundy County in particular and a little bit from Will on how they were linked with Chicago in the map,” State Sen. Patrick Joyce said. “And they’re concerned that it’s going to delay their reopening.”
Joyce wrote a letter to Pritzker this week, asking to have the counties, along with Will County, removed from the region that Chicago is in, so long as they meet the state’s guidelines to do so.
“They could meet it by the end of the month,” he said. “So, they could start, move into phase three and that’s all we’re asking at this point.”
According to the guidelines set forth by Pritzker’s administration, a region must have a positivity rate of lower than 20 percent for a period of 14 days, and must not rise more than 10 percent during that time. According to data from NBC 5 Investigates, Grundy County, with a positivity rate of 7.1 percent, and Kankakee County, at 13.9 percent both meet that threshold.
The region that the counties are in, however, does not. The Northeast region is the only region in the state that is falling short, with a positivity rate over 22 percent.
Pritzker said that the region could still potentially hit the threshold and maintain it for more than 14 days, but residents in Kankakee still want to open earlier than the governor’s plan would allow.
“It’s kind of under control now, but if we open it up is it going to go wild? That’s not a good deal,” longtime area resident David Nixon said.
Julie Busken, a retired teacher, was called back to help the school district with e-learning. She hopes that the county remains careful about reopening too quickly.
“With opening the schools, golly. We’d have a lot of people in a lot of places and that’s concerning,” she said.
Schools would not be eligible to reopen until Phase Four of the plan, which wouldn’t be put into effect until the end of June at the earliest.
Nixon agrees with Busken, and says that although he empathizes with the plight of businesses, he wants to be careful that the region doesn’t open too quickly, leading to a second wave of the virus.
“Everybody wants to open up, but it might be too early because we don’t know how far this is going to go,” he said.