Pritzker defends citing of businesses that open too soon; Lake County pilots contact tracing

  • Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced new contact tracing initiatives for people with COVID-19 that include an app, plus a collaboration with the Lake County Public Health Department Monday.

    Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced new contact tracing initiatives for people with COVID-19 that include an app, plus a collaboration with the Lake County Public Health Department Monday. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/18/2020 7:25 PM

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday deflected controversy over a new emergency rule enabling police to issue citations to businesses flouting Illinois' stay-at-home rule to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Until the rule was issued Friday, police had "limited latitude" to enforce the state's gradual reopening plan and stay-at-home order, Pritzker said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Under existing law, when a business violates an Illinois Department of Public Health rule and puts the public health at risk, it has committed a Class A misdemeanor, Pritzker said, and police can issue a citation that involves up to $2,500 in fines or jail for up to a year.

His latest rule "requiring businesses to follow the existing stay at home order" updates that authority.

"This additional tool causes less harm to a business than total shutdown or loss of a license," which the state is also empowered to do, he said.

"Both are expensive measures for a business to come back from and not preferred by anyone, least of all me," Pritzker said.

Republicans like Naperville state Rep. Grant Wehrli have seized on the move, saying Pritzker overstepped his authority "to quietly issue a rule that would make it a jailable offense for businesses to violate the provisions of his stay home order," according to a statement.

So far, "I'm not aware of anyone receiving (citations) over the weekend," Pritzker said, but added it's crucial business owners "not put people at risk."

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The emergency rule came as northeastern Illinois remains on course to have stay-at-home restrictions eased May 29 as part of a gradual reopening program. For example, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 was 17.9%, officials reported Monday, as compared to 18.3% Sunday, based on a seven-day average.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois rose by 59 Monday. This marks the third day in a row of daily fatalities under 100; the 14-day average is 114.

The total number of Illinoisans who have died from the respiratory disease is 4,234.

The number of new cases rose by 2,294 on Monday, the state reported. There have been 96,485 cases since the outbreak began.

Meanwhile, the Lake County and St. Clair health departments will participate in pilot programs for contact tracing of people infected with COVID-19, officials announced.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The state intends to hire thousands of contact tracers "to further control and reduce the rate of spread of COVID-19," Pritzker said. Lake County was chosen because it has a high number of COVID-19 cases and a strong infrastructure of existing contact tracers along with public health professionals, medical students, and volunteers ready to go.

The state seeks to collaborate with county health departments to coordinate contact tracing and hire workers locally.

"Contact tracing has been at the foundation of our response to COVID-19 since we identified our first case two months ago, and we encourage anyone who is interested in joining our efforts to apply through the IDPH website," Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister said in a statement.

The plan spearheaded by the governor is under attack by Republican lawmakers who want hearings on it this week when the General Assembly convenes.

With the Illinois House and Senate just scheduling Wednesday through Friday for deliberations, "there's so little time ... they have to be focused on the budget," Pritzker said. The state faces a massive shortfall in 2020 and its fiscal year expires June 30.

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