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GOP lawmakers criticize Gov. Pritzker's coronavirus response, media 'hype'

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ROCKFORD -- Three Republican legislators are criticizing Gov. JB Pritzker for his decision to close restaurants and bars for two weeks to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

"To bureaucrats and billionaires, two weeks without a paycheck is nothing," said a joint statement issued Monday by Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, and Sen. Brian Stewart, R-Freeport. "In fact, the bureaucrats' paychecks are guaranteed by the taxpayers of Illinois, unlike the cooks, the servers, the dishwashers, and the owners of those bars and restaurants."

Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, turned to Facebook over the weekend to mock what he described as government and media "hype" of the coronavirus with a post featuring a Scooby Doo meme.

"Governor and local leaders are making emotional decisions without thinking through consequences of their actions," Syverson wrote in another Facebook post on Sunday.

When asked on Monday which local leaders he believes are making emotional decisions, Syverson said:

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"Any of them. The local leaders that were supporting the idea of closing all the restaurants and bars -- it's not their decision to do it, but supporting it without questioning the governor or stopping to think and ask why are we doing this? I think the governor is sincere. I don't doubt his sincerity.

"... My only concern is some of that stuff just doesn't make sense. Why not close grocery stores also? Why only restaurants and bars? I don't see how closing A and pushing people to B is going to solve the problem. And it will create further problems, especially economic and financial problems, especially for hourly workers."

Winnebago County Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said during a news conference on Monday that she was disappointed to hear criticism of the governor's response to the pandemic -- a response crafted by public health experts.

"This puts my community at social determinant risk even more than it was before," Martell said of the comments from Cabello and Stewart. "When you start talking about economics and school closures and disruption and everything -- that is terrible. We're not making these recommendations with the idea that this is not intended to help."

County Board Chairman Frank Haney and Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, who were also at the news conference, said they, too, were disappointed with the statements made by the trio of lawmakers.

"Right now is not the time for politics. ... Right now is the time for leadership," McNamara said.

"Neither of those two individuals have reached out (to ask) if they could help," McNamara said of Cabello and Stewart. "That's what we need leaders to do. We don't need leaders sitting on the bleachers taking pot shots.

"To my knowledge, I don't know either of them all that well, but to my knowledge none of them have a medical degree from anywhere. We need to follow the medical professionals' advice, and that's what we're doing."

Pritzker on Sunday ordered that all Illinois restaurants and bars close -- for in-person dining only -- at midnight Monday to interrupt the spread of the virus. The governor's order came after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN: "I would like to see a dramatic diminution of the personal interaction that we see in restaurants in bars."

During an appearance on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Fauci said: "I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting."

He added: "I think Americans should be prepared that they're going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing."

Indiana, the home state of Vice President Mike Pence, on Monday joined at least 17 other states that, as of Monday, have restricted or banned in-person dining at restaurants, barsand other establishments in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention advises that people practice "social distancing" and avoid close contact by maintaining a 6-foot distance from others to prevent the spread of the virus. Among the White House recommendations made Monday by President Trump: Avoid eating and drinking in bars, restaurants and food courts, avoid gatherings of 10 people or more and avoid discretionary travel.

Syverson said he patronized Rascal's Bar & Grill in Loves Park and at Murphy's Pub & Grill in Rockford on Sunday "as a last hurrah, and to show my support for local businesses."

It makes little sense for Illinois to keep restaurants and taverns open for carryout purchases only, Syverson said.

"So you're going to force all these people who are ordering carryout to go into this little 8-feet-by-8-feet carryout room, where they're going to pick up and pay for their food and be a lot closer than 6 feet?" Syverson said.

Furthermore, Syverson said, Wisconsin has not banned dining inside its restaurants and bars. So Rockford residents can simply drive a few miles to a restaurant in the Badger State, where they could be exposed to the coronavirus and then drive home and potentially expose others.

Haney said Syverson's criticism is out of line with guidance given Monday by Trump and other federal and state health experts.

"Everyone is concerned about economic disruption but I just heard the U.S. president, the Illinois governor and more importantly, health experts at all levels of government express serious concern over crowd size and social distancing," Haney said. "The senator needs to listen or perhaps people need to stop to listening to Dave Syverson and his Facebook memes."

The trajectory that Pritzker is on "could lead to some permanent damage to the Illinois economy and the confidence of the people of Illinois," the news release from Cabello and Stewart said. "We urge the governor to proceed with the same caution that all of us have been advised to do when dealing with the coronavirus. Gov. Pritzker, please don't kill the patient."

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