Without progress, Pritzker says more COVID-19 restrictions ahead

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By Greg Bishop | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – If Region 4 that includes East St. Louis, but also surrounding rural counties, doesn’t get its COVID-19 positivity rate below 6.5 percent in the next two weeks, more COVID-19 restrictions could be coming from Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

On Sunday, the governor announced new COVID-19 restrictions would be in effect starting Tuesday for Region 4. That includes East St. Louis and the surrounding rural counties.

The restrictions come after the governor’s office said the region had a COVID-19 positivity rate of more than 8 percent for more than three days.

In a survey of some businesses across the region, one restaurant manager called the regulations “stupid,” another restaurant operator said they’ve implemented things for customers to feel safe but getting customers to put on masks has been difficult. There are also concerns about outdoor dining space becoming less appealing as the weather gets colder this fall. The manager of a bar and grill that’s set to open for the first day since the pandemic started said the timing is horrible.

Pritzker said all businesses in Region 4 should follow the 25 percent or 25 people rule, amid other new restrictions. Dancing isn’t allowed and no reception halls or party buses can be open.

Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside, the administrator of the East Side Health District, said the townships she oversees are impoverished and there are numerous strip clubs, night clubs and poor residents.

“This is a breeding ground for coronavirus so people you need to wake up, you need to step up, you need to do better,” she said.

Madison County Board member Chris Guy said the governor’s actions were unfortunate and didn’t seem to reflect the reality elsewhere in Region 4.

“Somehow you’re not able to grab dinner with your family, but you can go to a strip club,” Guy said.

The restrictions require reservations for dine-in restaurants and require bars, restaurants and casinos to close at 11 p.m.

Pritzker said he’s taking a targeted approach.

“Now I think we can do it instead of with a machete we can do it with a scalpel,” Pritzker said in East St. Louis on Monday. “And that’s why we have 11 regions and why we’re trying to tamp down on the positivity rates where they’re popping up in those specific regions.”

The governor’s previous plan had the state split into four regions. Before that, he had unilateral stay-at-home regulations that he said then was meant to keep hospitals from being overrun so it could handle any surge of COVID-19 cases. 

State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, said what’s happening isn’t surgical and puts rural counties in with densely urban areas. He said the governor shouldn’t take positivity rates as the trigger for more restrictions.

“There are three people in the hospital in Clinton County,” Wilhour told WMAY. “Bond County has 70 total positive cases since the beginning of this pandemic. There’s zero in the hospital.”

Wilhour said the Democratic majority should call for hearings to provide oversight to the rules and how they’re compiled, something that hasn’t happened since the pandemic started in March.

State Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Centreville, said there needs to be more buy-in all around.

“If we don’t have the buy-in, we won’t get there,” Belt said. “We have to find the middle ground. … Let’s come together and fight this common foe.”

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