Following the lead of California and New York, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced a stricter and more sweeping “stay at home order” Friday for Illinois’ 12.6 million residents that he said could spare widespread loss of life from the deadly COVID-19 virus.
“To avoid the loss of potentially tens of thousands of lives, we must enact an immediate stay at home order for the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said at a news briefing attended by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and an array of public-health officials.
The governor made his announcement as the human toll from the COVID-19 pandemic grew in Illinois and is on a trajectory to worsen by almost sixfold in a week if steps aren’t taken to slow its spread.
Pritzker announced the death of a Cook County woman in her 70s, marking the state’s fifth fatality from the virus that triggers a lethal form of pneumonia in some victims, particularly the elderly. Additionally, the state said 163 new cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed, bringing the total to 585 cases, with the ill ranging in age between 3 and 99.
Pritzker’s order takes effect at 5 p.m. Saturday and lasts through April 7, and he said for those already home from work and adhering to social-distancing standards, not much will change.
People still will be able to leave their homes to get groceries, fuel up their vehicles, do financial transactions and seek out health care. Additionally, they can go outdoors to jog or walk their dogs so long as they remain six feet away from other individuals.
Still, the new set of rules impose changes on virtually every facet of life, leaving no one untouched.
The order bans all but essential travel, delineates between essential and nonessential work and workers and calls for the closure of salons and barber shops, “non-essential” retail stores, gyms, playgrounds, tattoo parlors and recreational places like bowling alleys to further reduce human interactions.
But employees deemed essential under the governor’s order will still be allowed to report to work, such as key government employees, manufacturing workers so the supply chain can keep running, grocery store workers, first responders, news reporters and food delivery workers.
“I don’t come to this decision easily. I fully recognize in some cases I am choosing between saving people’s lives and saving people’s livelihoods. But ultimately you can’t have a livelihood if you don’t have your life,” he said.
“Of all the obligations that weigh on me as governor, this is the greatest. If there are actions that I can take to save lives in the midst of this epidemic, no matter how difficult, then I have an obligation to take these actions,” the governor said.
The stay-at-home order also means school closures will continue with a new tentative reopen date of April 8.
“I wish I could stand up here and tell you when your schools will safely reopen,” Pritzker said. “But that is not an answer I have at this time.”
The governor said schools will continue to provide food for students. Chicago Public Schools has already decided to remain closed at least until April 20.
Lightfoot backed the governor’s latest steps and said she was ordering the closure of city parks and libraries, though she stressed people could still take walks through parks.
“We can only save lives and blunt the spread of this virus by keeping as many people as practical at home and safe,” she said.
Pritzker’s move follows similar sweeping actions in California and New York, which like Illinois are experiencing spiking numbers of COVID-19 cases amid fears their health-care systems soon will be swamped by an unmanageable volume of sick patients who will outnumber available hospital beds, ventilators and intensive care treatment.
Today, WBEZ reported that Pritzker’s administration has estimated Illinois could have as many as 3,400 new cases of COVID-19 a week from now if the virus continues to spread as it has this past week.
A national stay-at-home order is not in effect and not something President Trump advocated for yet during a press briefing today in Washington. The CDC Friday reported more than 15,000 cases of COVID-19 have been identified across the country, with 201 deaths.
Pritzker said that people who don’t comply with his order could face a misdemeanor reckless conduct charge, or businesses could have their licenses pulled by local authorities as a worst case scenario. But he largely expected voluntary compliance.
Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover state government and politics for WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold.