UPDATED 1:40 P.M. | McLean County officials are working with other central Illinois leaders to encourage Gov. JB Pritzker to create a subregion for the area in his plan to reopen the state.
Currently, Pritzker’s plan lumps McLean and Peoria counties into a region that extends north to the Wisconsin border and includes Rockford. The alternative proposal, led by Peoria officials, seeks to establish an 11-county “Heart of Illinois” subregion that would reopen sooner than the northern portion of the region. McLean County would be part of that subregion.
“This is not, to clarify, some sort of ‘go-it-alone’ kind of approach or request,” Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said Monday night. “It is a request for the governor to reconsider creating a separate region for central Illinois, which would allow us to move at a different pace than other regions, including one that we’re attached to in the current plan.”
Renner said he participated in a conference call Friday with a group of area mayors, adding the plan is based on the number of hospital beds available and the number of COVID-19 cases in the area. The area covered by the plan “benefits from high levels of medical services per capita and, as such, has more than sufficient surge capacity to manage an increase in cases during the reopening phases,” according to a Heart of Illinois staged implementation plan obtained by WGLT.
“Our 11 counties have more in common with each other than they do in the regions that were originally drawn,” said Renner.
Town of Normal Mayor Chris Koos expressed cautious optimism.
"I think it's worth exploring and credit to the people in Peoria, they are not saying we're going to do this, they are asking permission to do it and for feedback from the governor's office if they think that's a good idea. If it makes sense to the people that are managing public health at the state level, and in McLean County, I think we should explore it," said Koos.
Koos cautioned that contact tracing capacity and adequate local testing availability would be necessary to detect any spread of the virus if a regional reopening were to happen.
“These are data-driven decisions. These aren’t crystal ball decisions,” said Koos.
Illinois is now in Phase 2 of the governor’s five-phase reopening plan. The earliest that regions can move into Phase 3 would be the end of May, followed by Phase 4 at the end of June.
The Heart of Illinois implementation plan essentially speeds that up, provided certain public health requirements are met, spread across three new “stages.” Restaurants and bars, for example, would be able to open in the Heart of Illinois subregion earlier than they would be allowed to under the governor’s plan. They’d be able to open right now, while we’re in Phase 2, instead of waiting until Phase 4.
The Heart of Illinois plan does not affect schools, meat and food processing, long-term care facilities, state parks, and some other businesses and organizations.
“We believe that in each of these cases, there are other regulatory authorities better positioned to manage the protocol for safe reopening and operation,” the plan’s authors wrote.
The McLean County Board’s executive committee is expected to discuss the Heart of Illinois plan during its meeting 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. County Board chair John McIntyre asked County Board members for their feedback on the plan in an email Monday afternoon.
He said he is seeking consensus from the board on whether to send a letter of support to the governor regarding the subregion idea.
“We think it’s a decent option for the governor to consider,” McIntyre said. “Maybe with the experts that he has and the medical advice he has, there’s a possibility some of the plan or all of it could be developed even more or maybe even further down the road in a few weeks.”
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