With a week to go before Illinois' stay-at-home order is set to expire, Gov. JB Pritzker said there are some areas the state needs to improve before lifting restrictions.
That includes testing, contact tracing, treating COVID-19 and personal protective equipment for health care workers.
“The things that you need to re-open the economy are things that we don’t quite yet have in place, nor does any state. Some states are opening anyway. That’s their choice. I think people might get sick,” Pritzker said.
This week, Pritzker said internal modeling shows Illinois might not reach its COVID-19 peak until mid-May. That's led to speculation he will continue to keep non-essential businesses closed for at least part of the next month.
However, the governor is hearing a growing call from industry leaders, residents and lawmakers who want to see changes.
On Wednesday, a group of Illinois House Republicans held a news conference to talk about the economic impact of the shutdown. And they pleaded for the governor to loosen some rules. Among them, allowing hospitals in some regions to once again perform elective surgeries. Stopping such procedures has caused financial trouble at many health care facilities.
Peoria Republican Ryan Spain said he’d like to see clothing stores, hair salons and garden centers among those given the first chance to re-open.
“This is going to be a long transition that takes awhile. We flipped off the switch to our economy very quickly and we won’t be able to flip it back on immediately. But we need to begin the work going forward,” Spain commented.
The lawmakers represent areas where there have been fewer cases compared to the Chicago area. They said some in their communities are wondering if there's enough risk to warrant the economic harm of continuing the shutdown.
“In addition to online ordering and curbside pickup, many businesses can utilize social distancing, face coverings, and density restrictions to operate in a responsible manner," Spain said. "We need to begin the safe economic recovery for Illinois as soon as possible.”
Dave Severin, a Benton Republican representative, has pushed for state parks to open for visitors.
“We feel that we can open our parks, monitor them using conservation police and park staff, and allow Illinoisans to enjoy outdoor activities,” he said.
Pritzker Wednesday reiterated his decision to close state parks was done to protect employees. "Even though you might think of a state park as being quite large. The state workers, how they work right is often in a building together, and in trucks, in which there might be multiple people that are in the truck as they travel around the park."
Pritzker mentioned he has talked about how parks could open but gave no timetable. He made similar comments about other businesses to reporters at his latest briefing, while giving no hints at what he will do when the stay-at-home order expires April 30.
"I'm like everybody. I want to be back to normal as fast as possible. I think we’re all recognizing that normal is going to look a little bit different going forward until there’s a vaccine, until we can literally rid our state and our country and our planet of this scourge of COVID-19," he said.
Illinois joined with several Midwestern states to organize a pact that allows them to work together on decisions to re-open. Pritzker gave little information about what the states are considering. He added that Missouri and Iowa's governors refused to participate.
Pritzker made his comments on a day another 2,049 new coronavirus cases were announced in Illinois, with 98 more deaths. The state's total confirmed cases stand at 35,018 with 1,565 deaths since the pandemic began.
"We are still adding more people to our hospital beds. We're adding more to our ICU beds. You don't want to be on this side of the curve," Pritzker said. "We have to get past that. I want very much to find the right balance."
But he also left a glimmer of hope that opening the state, at least slowly, is a possibility in the not-too-distant future.
"We’re all going to have to be a lot more careful. And while we’re being careful, it allows us to begin to open things up more."