Franks wants McHenry County in different region under Restore Illinois plan

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks sent a news release Friday requesting the state of Illinois move McHenry County into another "health region" in the governor's Restore Illinois plan to allow its business and commerce to open sooner.

The Restore Illinois plan, a road map with five phases designed to gradually bring the state out of quarantine, was announced by Gov. JB Pritzker during a news conference Tuesday.

It divides Illinois into four regions where commerce, schools and other functions can slowly be allowed to reopen as the COVID-19 pandemic threat subsides.

McHenry County is in the northeast region, according to these guidelines, which includes Cook and the collar counties.

Franks said McHenry County's "much lower number of infections and deaths" makes it a better fit for the neighboring region, which encompasses 27 counties in northwestern and central Illinois.

"To be fair to the governor, these boundaries were set in great part based on existing care regions defined by the Illinois Department of Public Health," Franks said. "However, under the Restore Illinois plan, the gradual reopening of McHenry County's businesses is dependent on the number of cases in Chicago and the other collar counties getting under control."

In a news release, Franks cited the unveiling of city-specific reopening guidelines by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot as a reason why McHenry County's request should be considered.

"Chicago is making changes tailored to their specific situation," Franks said. "We're asking for changes specific to ours."

Another recommendation Franks made was that the state draw the region boundaries based on hospital capacity rather than IDPH regions.

Franks also suggested that McHenry County be treated as its own region, as it has four hospitals to handle health needs and a lower infection rate than the other collar counties.

Franks told the Northwest Herald on Friday that he has talked to some of Pritzker's staff members, and the county is gathering additional information regarding its options, which officials expect will be given to the governor next week.

Since the Restore Illinois plan was announced, Franks said his staff has been overwhelmed with phone calls and emails from residents asking for McHenry County to be put into another health region.

"We're all in this fight against COVID-19 together, but when it comes to recovery, our situation is much more akin to Boone and DeKalb counties and points west than the Chicago metro area," Franks said. "While we must flatten the curve and slow COVID-19's spread, we also have to recognize that the economic havoc the shutdown is wreaking on people and businesses is as serious an issue. It makes more sense to tie our reopening to these more rural counties."

Before the release of Restore Illinois, Franks created a task force of local business, industrial and health leaders looking for the best ways to reopen businesses as soon as it is safe and practical to, called "Resume McHenry County."

According to his release, Franks met virtually Wednesday with the county's mayors and city managers to discuss bringing common-sense recommendations to the governor's office for ways that businesses can resume sooner. Franks also expressed his concerns Friday morning during a virtual meeting of collar-county chairpeople.

"I think (Pritzker) makes perfect sense in what he's trying to do, and we have to protect their citizens," Franks said. "I support the governor's initiative. I just think it needs refinements."

Franks said he is "cautiously optimistic" that the governor's office will consider his request.

"We have to lay it out and give them the options and show them that we're following all of the directions," Franks said. "We'll ask them to work with us."

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