Week in Review: COVID-19 mitigation, school sports, jobs & more


Illinois House Republicans demand full transparency regarding data that ties indoor restaurant seating to spike in COVID-19. On Thursday, Governor JB Pritzker announced that beginning Sunday, November 1, restaurants and bars in Illinois Region 3 will be closed to indoor dining/serving, and that other public gatherings will be limited to 25% capacity or 25 people, whichever is lower. In response to the Governor’s announcement, House Republicans who represent the communities in Region 3 are demanding to see concrete data that ties the recent spike in COVID-19 to indoor sit-down dining. 
Region 3 includes the following 18 Central and West-Central Illinois counties: Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Cass, Christian, Greene, Hancock, Jersey, Logan, Schuyler, Macoupin, Mason, Menard, Montgomery, Morgan, Pike, Sangamon and Scott.

“On a call this morning, the Governor’s Office and IDPH once again refused to show us legislators the data and science that supports closing restaurants to indoor seating,” said State Representative Avery Bourne. “Before we take this drastic step that will certainly put some of our restaurants and bars out of business for good, we need to have confidence in the data that is driving these decisions. We need full transparency and cooperation from the Governor and his staff. Additionally, the Governor’s continued go-it-alone approach without formally consulting the legislature goes beyond his constitutional authority. If the Governor wants us All In, he needs to include all elected officials and all data in these decisions. ”

So far, 10 of the state’s 11 Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) regions have had mitigations measures ordered. As for the last region, according to IDPH data, Region 2 (Peoria) has a positivity rate currently hovering right around the 8% threshold. By the middle of next week, the entire state could very well be under the additional mitigation measures.

State Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer questioned the metrics being used to trigger mitigations, and suggested the Governor is using the wrong data to support his interventions.

“The Pritzker administration is using the wrong metrics in their unilateral decision-making to shut down our restaurants and taverns,” Rep. Davidsmeyer said. “These are small businesses that have been operating carefully and following CDC guidelines. There is no evidence that outbreaks have started because of indoor dining. The State should not be punishing responsible small businesses and their employees, which have already suffered enough from the pandemic and shutdown.”

Per the Governor’s Restore Illinois plan, heightened mitigations can be triggered when a region posts positivity numbers of 8.0% or higher for three consecutive days. Region 3 posted positivity rates of 8.0%, 8.1% and 8.8% over the last three days. While the number of tests and number of positive tests are made available, the state is not sharing contact-tracing data that targets positive cases to specific settings.

“Governor Pritzker needs to make decisions based on science instead of punishing small businesses in central Illinois,” said State Representative Tim Butler. “In a call with IDPH today, we were told that two recent events in Region 3 which led to a spike in positive cases did not occur at a bar or restaurant. So I again am left asking the Pritzker administration, where is the contact tracing data we have been asking for? Governor Pritzker needs to be more transparent in the decision making because his decision to close indoor service at bars and restaurants doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m disappointed with Pritzker’s refusal to release contact tracing data that he says justifies his decision to close indoor service at bars and restaurants,” said State Representative Mike Murphy. “Dr. Ezike stated today that the biggest cause of outbreaks is universities and large private gatherings; however, the new restrictions only damage local small businesses that provide opportunities for thousands of workers to make a living.”

House Republicans have repeatedly asked for, but have not yet received, contact-tracing data from the Illinois Department of Public Health and from Gov. Pritzker’s office. Representative Brad Stephens pointed out that the State claims to have data “that we haven’t been able to see.” As this data is being used to drive thousands of Illinoisans into unemployment, House Republicans continue to request that it be shared publicly with the people whose lives are being negatively impacted by decisions based upon this data.

Fitch Ratings shifts Chicago’s debt outlook to negative. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the city’s unfunded pension obligations both weighing on the financial outlook of Illinois’ largest city, Fitch Ratings has shifted Chicago’s debt outlook from “neutral” to “negative.” Chicago’s revenue streams are being devastated by the decline in retail sales and other revenues, including supplemental taxes levied on hotel rooms and restaurant meals, that have followed the viral outbreak that began in March 2020.

With the change in its Chicago debt outlook, the score Fitch Ratings now posts for Chicago general-obligation (GO) debt is BBB- with a negative outlook, which is the lowest class above the junk-bond mark. Debtors with a BBB- rating typically have to pay much higher interest rates than debtors with a higher credit rating, with triple-A (AAA) being the highest rank attainable. Fitch, a New York-based independent rater of the credit ratings of debtors in the public and private sectors, pointed to the current Chicago budget gap of $1.2 billion. The debt rating agency advised Chicago to take steps to enact permanent budget fixes to restore the structural balance of its spending outlook.

Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announces plan to begin high school basketball season. The plan was announced on Wednesday, October 28 over the objections of Gov. Pritzker. The governor’s staff had previously presented a plan for the high school winter sports season that cancelled or truncated most sporting activities, including basketball. After consulting with athletic directors and members of the public, the IHSA rejected the plan and called for basketball practices and games to begin. The IHSA decision was an explicit rejection of the “guidance” recommended to it by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The IHSA decision with regards to high school basketball came after most 2020 fall season sports, including high school football, were cut back or cancelled. The fall 2020 actions were supposed to prevent the COVID-19 coronavirus from reestablishing a hold in Illinois, but after the sports seasons were postponed, Illinois virus positivity increased anyway. Furthermore, a growing quantity of statistically valid coronavirus case reports indicate that high-school-age young adults are not highly at risk for complications of COVID-19. These reports are coming in from a wide variety of locations throughout the United States. This data is being gathered by locations, such as Michigan, that have a sociological profile and a COVID-19 status similar to Illinois, but which in contrast to Illinois allowed a wide variety of youth sports in fall 2020.

Unemployment continues to climb higher, while Illinois Department of Employment Security staff racks up massive overtime. Jobless claims for unemployment insurance (UI) continue to be filed in high numbers throughout Illinois. During the week ended October 19, the most recent week for which numbers have been reported, Illinois applicants filed 53,138 new UI claims. This was an exponential increase over the prosperity-time UI claims activity, 8,307 claims, filed in the comparable year-earlier week in mid- October 2019.

Many UI claims wait for many days or weeks to be processed. At the same time, Illinois’ IDES staff is submitting massive claims for overtime pay. IDES work includes claims processing, walking applicants through the claims process, trying to stop false and fraudulent claims from being filed, and trying to investigate and claw back moneys that have already been paid out. Approximately $6.5 million in overtime had been paid to IDES workers as of September 30.

Illinois Department of Public Health publishes guidances for families during fall holiday season. The IDPH recommendations cover both travel plans and plans for holiday gatherings. The Department urges Illinoisans to carefully consider their travel plans this year. Hosts of family-and-friend gatherings should hold as many activities outside as weather can permit. The guest count can be limited; in different parts of Illinois in the final week of October, Illinoisans are being strongly urged not to gather in groups larger than 10 people, or larger than 25 people, and there is a strong possibility that these guidances will continue to be in effect in November. Attention paid to seating arrangements, face coverings, and other precautions will reduce the threat posed by coronavirus this holiday season.

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