Share the article: Illinois Should Plan to Reopen Regionally

The following are thoughts from Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider.

After more than five weeks of a statewide stay-at-home order, Illinoisans have answered the call to flatten the curve. The purpose of the quarantine was to make sure we do not overrun our healthcare system, and we have succeeded so far. We must ensure that the safety of all Illinoisans is the utmost concern. But as we turn to what happens next, our state needs a plan for reopening our economy that takes into account Illinois’ diversity and disparate regions – not a one-size-fits-all approach driven by Cook County.

Recently, President Trump and his pandemic response team released a set of phased guidelines for “Opening Up America Again”, which was sober-minded, based on science, and expert medical advice. The plan gives governors and mayors the discretion to tailor their plans to specific situations on the ground in their states and cities. Most importantly, it provides a roadmap for Americans to safely and cautiously open up our communities and local economies.

Governor Pritzker has a variety of issues to manage in this difficult, unprecedented time, but so far, he has failed to adequately discuss what would need to happen to reopen Illinois. And he has outright rejected the idea of loosening restrictions on a regional basis. I believe that is a tragic mistake born out of the Governor’s lack of connection to – and understanding of – Illinois’ heartland, filled with large swaths of rural farmland and dotted with small towns and medium-sized cities.

Despite Springfield being our state’s capital, the entire Pritzker administration and his coronavirus response team has set up shop in downtown Chicago. The Governor and his team are surely addressing the crisis throughout the state remotely, but optics still matter. Pritzker has not set foot in our state capital, let alone other parts of the state, during this crisis, and Chicago is not the only city in Illinois that is suffering through an historic public health and economic crisis. 

It’s time for Governor Pritzker to utilize the White House’s provided framework, and the flexibility it provides, to craft a plan for a phased reopening of Illinois by region. A comprehensive plan would utilize the federal guidelines and statistical indicators that trigger new phases of gradual reopening. A regional approach would understand that different areas of Illinois would meet these key indicators at different paces and should reopen accordingly.

Different regions of Illinois have wildly different COVID-19 infection rates, and yet all have had their economies equally decimated. Central Illinois for example, resembles Nebraska – geographically, demographically, and in population density – more than it does Cook County. The Governor doesn’t need to treat Logan County like the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. 

Thus far, Governor Pritzker’s responses to questions about regionalization have ranged from dismissive to outright laughter. Not only is that insulting to many Illinoisans outside Chicago, it is also not what other states are doing. Even other Democrat Governors around the nation have come to embrace this approach. Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that New York State will be split into three parts with his Lt. Governor and a former Lt. Governor taking the lead on reopening plans in the two less urban regions upstate. Governor Tom Wolfe’s state health department has split Pennsylvania into 6 regions and will reopen each independently, as indicators laid out in a three-phase reopening plan are met.

Illinoisans have sacrificed so much over the last five weeks. Our people have paid a tremendous price for doing what was necessary to flatten the curve. We are thankful for all of the frontline professionals who are working diligently in our hospitals and in our labs trying to find a way to treat this horrible disease. 

We are not out of hot water in this public health crisis, but we need to begin to open up the state in a cautious and deliberate manner. What we need now is for Governor Pritzker to end the fears of an indefinite economic shutdown by stepping up to the plate and offering a roadmap. We need leadership. And when the Governor finally decides to lead, I urge him to recognize that the entire state needs a plan for reopening that acknowledges regional differences.

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