CHICAGO -- Expert recommendations and previously voluntary precautions hardened into law at 5 p.m. Saturday as Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order took effect.
The directive, aimed at slowing the barreling momentum of the coronavirus pandemic, bars gatherings of more than 10 people. It closes playgrounds to children, just as spring arrives. With the exception of a broad array of workplaces deemed essential, it closes businesses and other institutions until at least April 7.
As some Illinoisans spent a cold, gloomy Saturday stocking up on essentials, Pritzker held a news conference at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago that underscored the reasons for his action. The state’s top physician, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, announced 168 new cases of COVID-19, and one more death. That brought the state’s tally to 753 known cases and six deaths.
“Stay home,” she said. “Yes, that means sacrificing getting together to celebrate what should be some festive milestones. Let’s all stay home so that we can celebrate down the road.”
Expanding efforts to build capacity for medical treatment, Pritzker called on doctors, nurses and physicians assistants who have recently left the field to “come back and join the fight.” He announced the state will expedite licensing and waive fees, and he added that health care workers whose licenses will soon expire will be automatically extended through September.
“This is hero’s work,” he said. “All of you have our deepest gratitude for your willingness to serve.”
Asked whether state officials were concerned about putting older, retired medical professionals in close quarters with the disease, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email, “Obviously we don’t want to put any vulnerable people ... at further risk from undue exposure.”
“Retired professionals can be used in various ways in other aspects of healthcare that then relieves front line workers or allows workers at lower risk to move to the front lines,” she wrote.
Even as he defended his own measures, Pritzker lashed out at the federal government over the lack of coronavirus tests available, echoing his past criticisms of President Donald Trump’s efforts against the disease.
“Are we seeing more tests? Yes, but not even at the numbers we were promised weeks ago," he said. "I’m hopeful, in a way, that the commercial laboratories and that the private sector will help us figure this out because so far the federal government hasn’t.”
The order largely codifies prior recommendations and rules issued by state officials, and many were already taking the measures. Officials are largely counting on people self-policing, and Pritzker indicated that he did not expect cops to enforce the order heavy-handedly. An egregious violation might draw a misdemeanor reckless conduct charge, he said.
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