Don’t get your hopes up.
Yielding ever so slightly to public pressure, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday laid out a long-term plan to phase-out coronavirus restrictions and return the state to normal.
The bad news, of course, is that it’s really long term, as the governor said “returning to normalcy” is impossible without a cure or vaccine.
“We have to figure out a way to live with COVID-19 until it can be vanquished,” he said.
That’s a tall order, considering that viruses mutate. Multiple flu strains each year take many thousands of lives.
Under Pritzker’s plan, as now contemplated, there are five phases of recovery that will be implemented in four regions of the state — Northeast, North Central, Central and Southern. Champaign is in Central Illinois while Bloomington is in North Central Illinois.
The plan’s regions aspect apparently is a bow to downstate legislators who have complained that their areas, which have not been hard hit, were being subjected to the same rules as Chicago and Cook County, which have. The governor’s regional distinctions are appreciated, theoretically allowing some regions the possibility of more freedom of economic and social movement than others. But the rules Pritzker and his public-health bureaucrats have put in place remain severe for everyone.
Illinois now is under a modified lockdown that Pritzker said will last until the end of May. Under the current rules, hospitals are permitted to perform elective health care procedures; only essential gatherings of 10 or fewer people are permitted; schools and universities are closed with remote learning; restaurants can provide only drive-thru, pickup or delivery service; and essential retail services can open under restrictions while nonessential retail can provide only pickup and curbside services.
Phase 3 is only slightly less onerous while Phase 4 allows restricted openings across the board.
Not all states have adopted Pritzker’s rigid rules, taking a much more liberal approach. The results in those states will be instructive in terms of whether Pritzker’s preferred approach is the right way to go. In the meantime, Pritzker said he’s depending on people self-policing, while at the same time depending on local authorities to police people.
That approach has generated pushback in both directions. Some law-enforcement representatives have indicated they will not enforce the lockdown, while others have eagerly cracked down on violators. At the same time, the governor’s authority to declare multiple emergencies and widely restrict individual and business behavior have been challenged in the courts, so far without significant success.
At the same time, opinion polls show strong support for Pritzker’s restrictions even as more people ignore them. Whatever the reality on the ground, the reality on paper — Pritzker’s declarations — is that there is much more misery to endure in terms of disruption of the status quo. That doesn’t even include the economic and financial disaster that has befallen the state. The bad news just keeps on coming, the latest shoe to drop being a disastrous decline (up to $560 million) in motor-fuel tax revenue needed to pay for a variety of state-backed public-works projects.
The good news — it’s not that good — is that April sales of marijuana exceeded $37 million, second only to January’s blockbuster month, when the drug first became legal for recreational use. With time on their hands and nothing to do, people apparently are deciding in increased numbers to toke up and check out.