Pritzker should look to other states to develop a responsible reopening plan
Uncertainty is amplifying the difficulty of the COVID-19 crisis, and Illinoisans need information on what a safe reopening will look like.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced state leaders across the nation to make unprecedented choices. Lawmakers have had to adapt on the fly to new data and research about the virus, as well as the severe economic consequences of lockdown measures.
Unfortunately, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has fallen far behind states such as Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Utah, Colorado and others on one key item: providing residents a roadmap to safely reopen.
Pritzker should learn from other states, and provide Illinoisans with a detailed, responsible reopening plan as soon as possible.
The effects of COVID-19
COVID-19 has caused over 60,000 deaths in the United States, while sickening over 1 million more. The virus has caused widespread economic devastation as well. More than 30 million people have filed for unemployment across the U.S. in just six weeks between March and April as workers have been sidelined and businesses have shut down under various state and local stay-at-home orders.
Nationwide retailers such as Gap, Macy’s and Kohl’s have furloughed workers, AMC theatres is reported to be on the brink of bankruptcy, and small businesses throughout the country have had to close their doors and drastically reduce their staffs. Nearly half of U.S. adults have reported they or someone in their household has lost a job or taken a pay cut because of the shutdowns, and more than half of lower-income adults report job or pay loss, according to the Pew Research Center.
Unfortunately, Illinois is no exception to the health threats or economic destruction caused by the virus.
In addition to the state’s more than 2,300 deaths, and nearly 53,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the surge in unemployment and lost income has devastated Illinoisans across the state. Over 838,000 claims have been filed in the state since March. For the six weeks between March 1 and April 16, Illinois unemployment claims were more than 12 times greater than during the same time period in 2019. And the economic fallout is expected to continue: Nearly 1.5 million Illinoisans are at risk of losing their jobs or having their work hours reduced.
Illinoisans across the state are acutely aware of the daunting challenges faced by their large and small businesses alike. Chicago-based United Airlines has posted its largest quarterly loss since 2008, and small businesses from restaurants in Chicago to landlords in Morton to hair stylists in Oak Lawn are struggling to hold on.
Pritzker said Illinois has formed a coalition with other Midwestern states whose governors are consulting on plans for reopening. And at his press briefing April 24, the governor indicated that, while Illinois’ stay-at-home order will continue through the end of May, with some slightly loosened restrictions, his administration is meeting with mayors and business leaders across the state to determine how reopening might take place in various areas and in different industries.
On April 28, Illinois state Sens. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, and Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, released a plan that contemplates a regional approach to phased reopening. Under their plan, Illinois regions could start the first step of reopening when they meet certain criteria for steady or declining hospitalization rates and sufficient regional health system capacity. Businesses and activities would be evaluated for reopening based on their capacity for accommodating social distancing, with retail stores, outdoor gatherings under 50, dental services and hygiene activities included in the first phase. Gyms, restaurants and bars would reopen with occupancy restrictions in phase 2, and movie theaters, sporting events, indoor religious gatherings and shopping malls to follow in phase 3.
But the governor has not yet made public any detailed proposal or plan for safely reopening.
Uncertainty makes planning for the future impossible, and Illinoisans are desperate to see the way forward from the current crisis. Pritzker should make public his plans for lifting restrictions, indicating the health metrics his administration will rely on and what the various phases of reopening will look like for Illinois residents, businesses and institutions.
Reopening plans among states
The White House has issued guidelines for states making reopening plans. With these in mind, as well as the input of other medical and public health experts, many states have made public their plans for reopening their economies. Here’s a look at some state reopening plans and announcements across the country.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced April 27 that the state will start gradually reopening May 1, with certain nonemergency medical procedures, as well as dental and veterinary services being the first in line.
The Responsible Restart Ohio Plan provides detailed guidance on how different sectors should go about safely reopening their businesses. Manufacturing, construction, general offices and distribution businesses can reopen May 4 provided they meet safety requirements for employees and customers. Retail establishments can reopen May 12 with safety measures in place. The governor also announced increased testing and tracing capacities to allow the state to better track and control the spread of COVID-19. Other institutions and businesses such as schools, day cares, restaurants and salons are not scheduled for reopening yet under the plan.
Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order allowing certain “noncritical” businesses to start reopening April 27. In determining which businesses and manufacturers can start reopening, the state is evaluating factors such as how many workers they have in their space, as well as how much foot traffic they bring in.
The order is primarily focused on industrial and office-based businesses that generally don’t have much in-person customer interaction. Companies eligible to reopen must establish and implement COVID-19 preparedness plans. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has published guidelines to help businesses and manufacturers develop COVID-19 plans to start safely reopening.
On April 17, Gov. Gary Herbert released the second iteration of a plan, Utah Leads Together, which contemplates a “soft” reopening starting in May, with flexibility for different areas, dependent on meeting criteria focused on health system readiness, testing capacity and certain disease transmission measures.
In the phased recovery, an area that meets the health criteria can begin to proceed from the first “urgent” stage to the “stabilization” stage. Ultimately, the “recovery” stage will come, though is not expected for several months. The plan provides specific industry guidelines for reopening and operating as safely as possible in the different stages. Some counties have very few cases and are already allowing gyms and fitness centers to reopen with strict safety protocols.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans for a phased-in reopening on April 27. Under the plan, retail stores, movie theaters, malls, museums, libraries and restaurants can open May 1 at 25% capacity. In areas of the state with minimal cases, these businesses and institutions can operate at 50% occupancy.
The first phase is expected to last until May 18. The governor said additional businesses, such as barbershops and gyms, might be able to reopen in phase 2, which could start as early as May 18. Abbott also announced a new statewide testing and contact tracing program. Abbott formed a Strike Force to Open Texas, which includes leaders from the state’s medical, government, business, industry, financial and nonprofit sectors, and which has been charged with developing plans and advising the governor on safely reopening various parts of Texas’ economy.
Gov. Larry Hogan released a plan April 24 that contemplates initiating reopening when certain public health criteria are met, such as a two-week decline in the rate of hospitalization, including use of intensive care units, as well as the number of deaths. The plan lays out three phases for gradually reopening shuttered businesses and slowly resuming activities. The plan lists the members of the governor’s recovery team, including health experts and government and business leaders. The plan has no dates for commencing the phases of reopening, but the governor said he hopes phase 1 could begin in early May.
On April 20, Gov. Jared Polis outlined what a return to work would look like for Colorado, with details about the phases of reopening. The state’s stay-at-home order expired April 26, and the governor issued a new “safer-at-home” executive order on April 27. The governor is forming a New Normal Advisory Board to advise him on safely reopening Colorado’s economy.
While certain nonemergency medical, dental and veterinary procedures resumed April 27, as well as retail business conducted through curbside pickup and delivery, many other businesses, such as nail salons and barbershops, are expected to reopen by May 1. The Department of Regulatory Agencies will issue rules regarding reopening precautions and procedures. Some areas such as Denver will keep their stay-at-home orders in place for longer.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on April 26 a phased-in plan to reopen New York, starting with less affected regions and with the construction and manufacturing industries being the first to reopen. The governor’s plan is a broad outline that contemplates reopening on a regional basis once a designated area experiences a 14-day decline in its hospitalization rate.
After construction and manufacturing, additional businesses may open in phase two, with “more essential” businesses that also pose less risk for spreading the virus to proceed before “less essential” businesses or those that pose a greater risk for spreading the virus. There will be two weeks between each phase to monitor the health effects of the reopening and the ongoing capacity of the health care system. The governor’s announcement indicated that more precise plans are in the works between the administration and business and industry representatives.
And in Illinois?
Governors across the country have published their reopening plans for businesses and residents. Pritzker should do the same.