Officials say suburban Cook County COVID-19 grouping 'defies logic'

  • Danny Barbarigos, owner of La Tasca Tapas, serves sangria to the Crigler family, in June during opening night of Arlington Heights' "Arlington Alfresco" outdoor dining zone. Arlington Heights was among several Northwest suburbs this spring urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker to separate them from Chicago in the state's reopening plan.

      Danny Barbarigos, owner of La Tasca Tapas, serves sangria to the Crigler family, in June during opening night of Arlington Heights' "Arlington Alfresco" outdoor dining zone. Arlington Heights was among several Northwest suburbs this spring urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker to separate them from Chicago in the state's reopening plan. Christopher Placek | Staff Photographer, June 2020

 
 
Updated 8/21/2020 9:43 PM

Three months ago, the Northwest Municipal Conference asked that the state not group the North and Northwest suburbs with Chicago for statistical benchmarks used for loosening restrictions under the Restore Illinois Plan.

In mid-July, Gov. J.B. Pritzker made suburban Cook County its own region and separated it from Chicago in announcing a new plan with 11 regions statewide to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and decide what restrictions are needed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But Northwest suburban officials say what they asked for is different from that plan, which groups their communities with southern Cook County municipalities. They prefer the state's EMS plan, which also has 11 regions but groups Northwest Cook County in with McHenry, Kane, west Lake and north Kendall counties.

Suburban Cook County now shows a COVID-19 positivity rate of 6.4%, higher than Chicago's 5.1%.

The current grouping makes the COVID-19 data "misleading," Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen said.

"Palatine continues to be under suburban Cook County numbers as a whole. That is true for most of the Northwest suburbs," he said. "To have grouped all of suburban Cook together defies logic. We are far closer to Wisconsin than the South suburbs."

COVID-19 positivity rates are not available by municipality in Cook County. The region with Lake and McHenry counties had a positivity rate of 5.6%, and the region with DuPage and Kane counties was at 5.1%, according to the latest figures.

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So far, only the Metro East region outside St. Louis, where positivity rates exceeded 8% for five days straight, has been placed under more stringent restrictions.

Altogether, 20 members, out of 34 present at a meeting of the Northwest Municipal Conference in May, supported a resolution asking Pritkzer to alter the Restore Illinois plan and move up the phase of the recovery allowing restaurants to reopen. Twelve of the organization's 43 members were opposed.

Palatine, Arlington Heights and Hoffman Estates passed their own resolutions in May. All three had fewer reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents than suburban Cook County as a whole.

But the governor stuck to his timetable, which allowed restaurants to reopen for limited indoor dining when the entire metropolitan area entered Phase 4 of the recovery plan in late June.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Conference Executive Director Mark Fowler said the group hasn't discussed the topic further.

Dividing the state into smaller regions, even with one for suburban Cook County, was a "prudent move" that allows for monitoring of "hot spots" and more targeted enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions, Fowler said.

"I think as we get further into the schools starting to open, and people obviously have been maybe lax in their mask-wearing and things like that ... we are going to see these spikes," he said. "Our experience is not uncommon from other areas of the country."

Illinois' single-day positivity rate rose to 5.1% on Tuesday, the highest since June 5, but the seven-day rolling average was 4.3% as of Friday. The statewide death toll is 7,857, with 215,929 total cases in Illinois since the outbreak began.

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