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Health, Science, Environment

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Announces Statewide COVID-19 Restrictions On Retailers

Illinois retailers, gyms and indoor recreation centers will face new restrictions by the end of the week, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday. The restrictions come as cases, deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 surge in the state.
File photo / Derik Holtmann
Illinois retailers, gyms and indoor recreation centers will face new restrictions by the end of the week, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday. The restrictions come as cases, deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 surge in the state.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced new statewide restrictions on retailers as cases, deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 surge uncontrollably.

The new restrictions fall under Tier 3 of the state’s plan to slow a resurgence of the virus in Illinois. Starting Friday, there will be new rules for retailers, and museums, casinos and video gambling will have to close.

“Tier 3 boils down to this,” Pritzker said Tuesday at a news conference in Chicago, “if you don’t need to do it, don’t.”

State health officials attempted to find a balance in the restrictions that would help flatten the exponential spread of the virus while not shutting the economy down entirely, said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

The governor hopes the rules will help reduce numbers by the holidays in December. In the spring, it took about six weeks to flatten the curve, Pritzker said. This time around, people have a better understanding about how to stop the spread: wearing a mask, keeping 6 feet of distance and avoiding gatherings.

The hope of a widely distributed vaccine, however, is still months away. State health officials hope to prevent as many illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths as possible in the meantime through restrictions.

Without additional restrictions, Illinois could see a daily COVID-19 death count as much as 5 times the numbers seen in the spring, Pritzker said, leading to between 17,000 and 45,000 additional deaths by March 1 assuming hospitals continue providing optimal care.

Here are some of the new restrictions under Tier 3:

Retail

  • Operate at no more than 25% capacity, including general merchandise stores, “big box” stores that offer groceries and pharmacy, and convenience stores
  • Grocery stores and pharmacies may operate at up to 50% capacity
  • Encourage delivery or curbside pickup options wherever possible
  • When in-store shopping is necessary, promote efficient trips and consistent circulation

Health and fitness centers

  • Operate at no more than 25% capacity
  • No indoor group classes
  • Face coverings must be worn at all times, including while engaged in individual exercise regardless of person or machine spacing
  • Reservations required
  • Locker room areas should be closed

Indoor recreation, theaters, cultural institutions

  • Gaming and casinos close
  • Indoor recreation centers, including theaters, performing arts centers and indoor museums and amusement centers, close
  • Live streaming of performances encouraged with social distancing of performers and minimum operational staff
  • Outdoor activities allowed at 25% capacity or less
  • Outdoor group activities limited to 10 persons or less, participants/guests must wear face coverings at all times
  • Reservations required for each guest for outdoor activities

The restrictions, set as part of a 30-day executive order, stop short of a stay-at-home order like the one the governor implemented in March, but state health officials said an order could be in Illinois’ future if the new restrictions don’t work.
The Illinois Department of Public Health urged people to stay at home as much as possible except for essential errands, and said they should avoid dinners, gatherings, meetings or events outside their own household.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 12,601 new confirmed and probable cases of coronavirus in Illinois, including 97 additional deaths, bringing the total death count to 10,875.

As of Monday night, 5,887 people were hospitalized in Illinois with COVID-19, a thousand more than the peak in the spring. In the Metro East, 80% of hospital beds were occupied.

Indoor service at bars and restaurants is already banned statewide under previous restrictions to control the spread, which the state calls “resurgence mitigations.”

The Metro East was in Tier 1 of the mitigations and skipped entirely over Tier 2 along with seven of the 11 regions in the state defined by IDPH. The new restrictions under Tier 3 were the minimum needed to slow the spread, Pritzker said.

The tiers were designed to address a slower spread of coronavirus on a regional basis, but all of Illinois has seen drastic increases of the virus. Each region can have restrictions lifted if they manage to reduce rates of COVID-19.

State Rep. Dave Severin, R-Benton, said mom and pop stores are the businesses the new restrictions will hurt the most.

“In Southern Illinois, we rely heavily on Main Street businesses to provide jobs and livelihoods for our citizens,” Severin said in a statement. “The big box stores are doing fine.”

But as hospitals begin to run out of room for patients, those sick with COVID-19 or otherwise, state health officials must act, Ezike said.

“We cannot in good conscience let our behaviors and activities go unchecked,” Ezike said.

Trade organizations representing retailers, hospital systems and health care workers praised the governor’s move.

The Illinois Primary Health Care Association, a health care trade association, said the number of seriously sick patients threatens hospitals’ ability to care for them

“If we do not take immediate action, the consequences will be devastating,” the association said in a statement.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association, a lobbying group that represents retailers, accepted the governor’s action as striking “the right balance between allowing access to retail services and the need to adjust safety measures in response to the latest science about how to address this virus.”

SEIU Healthcare Illinois, a union representing 91,000 health care and child care workers, praised the governor’s decision. SEIU President Greg Kelley said the virus disproportionately affects union members, who are largely women of color.

“When many in the public are cavalier about a life-threatening virus, it endangers the lives of the essential healthcare workers that society depends on to save them,” Kelley said.

This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

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