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Government, Politics & Issues

Madison County Votes To Reopen Businesses In Defiance Of Pritzker’s Order

Madison County officials are considering a plan to allow businesses to reopen in the county in defiance of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's plans to slowly reopen the state's economy.
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The Madison County Board of Health voted 26-2 to allow businesses to start immedately start reopening in the county. The move goes against Gov. J.B. Pritzker's order.

EDWARDSVILLE — The Madison County Board of Health voted 26-2 on Tuesday night to immediately start allowing businesses in the county to reopen.

The move by the health board, which is made up of the county board members, defies Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s phased plan for how the state’s economy will reopen. Pritzker has said he doesn’t expect limited reopening to start until May 29, at the earliest.

Madison County recommends businesses and individuals follow CDC guidelines, including the reasonable use of face masks, frequent sanitation, social distancing and monitoring workers' temperatures at the beginning of a shift.

The county’s guidelines still initially limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, but restaurants, bars and retail businesses will be able to open at 25% capacity. Houses of worship can open at 50% capacity.

“What we’re doing here today is declaring every business and church essential,” said Madison County Board Chair Kurt Prenzler. 

Personal services like, hair, nail and massage businesses can also resume seeing clients. The board recommends they only take appointments. Gyms and indoor recreation can also reopen at 25% capacity in the first phase of the county’s guidelines.

The plan from Prenzler, a Republican, potentially relaxes restrictions on businesses every 14 days if the Madison County Health Department observes COVID-19 hospitalizations that are “sufficiently below” hospitals ability to treat the cases.

“We’re not throwing caution to the wind,” he said. “We will be following the data, there’s no question about that.”

Victor Valentine, D-Edwardsville, who cast one of the two dissenting votes, said he was concerned for the public’s health over reopening shops.

“The numbers are not coming down; they’re not going to come down with us reopening everything,” Valentine said. “I hope I’m wrong. I hope that it doesn’t spike, and everything works out.”

Michael Holliday Sr., D-Alton, was the other “no” vote.

Madison County has reported 446 total COVID-19 positive cases out of 83,021 positive cases statewide.

The county could move into its second phase of reopening by May 28, which would allow social gatherings up to 50 people and further raise occupancy limits in bars and restaurants and other businesses. The third phase could start as early as June 13 when houses of worship could reopen entirely and restaurants, bars and retailers could operate at 75% capacity, and social gatherings up to 150 people are allowed.

The earliest the full Madison County economy could reopen is June 27, so long as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain low and businesses follow the county's guidelines, Prenzler said. 

“They [county board members] are expecting and requesting that small businesses and individuals in Madison County proceed in a common sense and responsible way,” he said. “If we find that someone is proceeding in a way that’s dangerous to public health, we do have the power to quarantine and shut businesses down.”

Since the Madison County board also serves as the county’s board of health, it has the authority to close businesses and isolate individuals that don’t comply with its guidelines, Prenzler said. 

Earlier Tuesday, Pritzker criticized the possibility of Madison County, and other local governments in Illinois, ignoring the state government’s guidance.

“The vast majority of those counties are not talking to epidemiologists, they’re not talking to scientists; in fact, they’re not relying on science in any way whatsoever to make their decisions,” he said at Tuesday’s daily press briefing. “This virus is still out there and is still killing people.”

Pritzker stressed he has the authority and resources to force cities and counties to comply with his order, he added that he does not want to use them. When asked, the governor said he would consider withholding federal aid to counties and cities that break the rules. 

Pritzker could not immediately be reached for comment after the Madison County vote.

The threat from the governor left many board members concerned their vote would lead to repercussions for the county.

“If the governor said he would take away funding from counties that violate his orders, to me, that’s saying, ‘Wow, let’s step back; let’s wait for him to respond to our proposal,’” said Kristen Novacich-Koberna, D-Granite City, who later voted in favor of the plan. “I just worry about the backlash this is going to have for everybody. It’s a slippery slope that we’re on.”

She wanted to give Pritzker more time to respond to the county’s proposal to reopen instead of pushing forward with a vote, she said. But Novacich-Koberna said she voted for the reopening guidelines mainly to support small businesses in the county.

“I am in favor of seeing the economy get back to where it was,” Novachich-Koberna said. “I don’t think that I or the county board have the authority to play with people’s lives or their livelihoods.”

Novachich-Koberna urged businesses in Madison County to get legal advice before reopening because they could lose insurance or their license to operate from the state. When they do, she said she hopes they move cautiously.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid 

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