How, and When, Does Central Illinois Begin Easing Stay-At-Home Restrictions?

Apr 30, 2020

It won't be health professionals or local politicians who ultimately set the pace of reopening the region. It's COVID-19 itself.

 That's Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson's take on recent talks of reopening the local economy.

 She said the virus' 14-day incubation period before symptoms appear is at top of mind when considering reopening plans.

 "We really have to make sure that our timelines that we're looking at when we're looking at phases and we're monitoring is aligned to how the virus operates," she said. You know, by setting arbitrary numbers or dates, we're going to put ourselves at a disadvantage."

 140 positive COVID-19 cases are currently reported in Peoria, Tazewell, and Woodford Counties. Many are considered recovered. Six deaths are reported regionally.

Twenty-one local elected officials submitted their "Tri-County Phased Reopening Plan" to Gov. J.B. Pritzker Wednesday.

 The officials want the governor to allow nonessential businesses in Peoria, Tazewell, Fulton, and Woodford counties to begin reopening Friday with mitigation measures like sanitation, social distancing, and mask requirements in place, depending on the business. The officials wrote that the governor's extension of the order through May will lead to "impassible fiscal barriers for many."

The plan would gradually reopen Central Illinois' economy in several phases through July 1.

 "We must never underestimate the importance of the financial and mental well-being of all," the officials wrote. "As tensions continue to rise and uncertainty continues to loom, our collective cities are seeking to take a measured approach by reopening the Tri-County region in phases starting May 1."

 East Peoria Mayor John Kahl, Pekin Mayor Mark Luft, Canton Mayor Kent McDowell, Morton Village President Jeff Kaufman, and the county board chairmen of Tazewell, Woodford, and Fulton counties were among the 21 signatories. But Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said he couldn't sign.

 Ardis said while he wants to begin reopening, it's not realistic to ask Pritzker to allow the region to start this Friday. He also said there was another important component missing.

 "As area leaders talk about how we're gonna make this happen, and the smart way to do it, and the safe way to do it, there has to be a lot more medical metrics to it. And the proposal had zero," he said.

Since the three community-based COVID-19 testing sites opened in Peoria last week, the region is averaging 8 new cases a day. Ardis said he'll let data from local health departments and hospitals guide the regional reopening timeline effort.

"Part of what the city manager's team, and economic development, Chris Setti from GPEDC, and several of us are trying to craft something, is the importance of getting the medical metric in there," Ardis said. "And we just want to get that part right. So it makes sense, so the governor's comfortable with it, and so we can get this area opened back up."

The governor said he'll take those suggestions into consideration when formulating his own reopening plans, but didn't endorse an implementation.

"These are very helpful. And so as we look at the phasing back of the economy, we'll be taking all of those letters into consideration. And I want to thank all of the local officials," he said.

Pritzker said he's received similar letters from mayors around Quincy and the Chicagoland area. Pritzker said he's also spoken to East Peoria Mayor John Kahl, the lead signatory of the Tri-County letter, personally.

The governor backs a statewide, rather than regional, approach to lifting stay-at-home restrictions. A growing number of Republican voices are calling for a more localized approach.

Hendrickson said testing should continue to roll out and ramp up to help formulate a staggered reopening timeline that protects community health.

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