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The Metro East region has the highest positivity rate in the state, but its leaders remain stubbornly defiant

Tuesday, Sep 8, 2020

* My most recent weekly syndicated newspaper column, which is from a week ago

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the state COVID-19 “mitigation” plan for the Metro East on Aug. 16, he said it was done in conjunction “with local officials in the Metro East region and across the border in St. Louis.”

Last week, though, the governor admitted the cross-border arrangement to try to contain the virus’ spread was a “mistake.”

Man, was it ever.

Instead of sticking to the state’s original mitigation plan, which would’ve included things like reducing indoor restaurant capacity and shutting down all indoor bar service, Pritzker only ordered bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m., which was in line with what St. Louis was planning at the time.

But the region’s test positivity rate has since continued to rise to, as I write this, just above 10%, by far the highest in Illinois.

Then, last week, Region 7, which includes Will and Kankakee counties, experienced 8-plus percent positivity rates three days in a row, which triggered automatic state mitigation.

According to a Belleville News-Democrat report, the Illinois Department of Public Health informed Metro East officials last Monday that their region’s state restrictions would be tightened to match those that were about to be imposed on Will and Kankakee, including a ban on indoor dining and drinking.

But the same Metro East Democratic legislators who demanded prematurely that Pritzker speed up the business reopening process way back on May 12 pitched a fit and Pritzker backed down.

The protesting Democrats did have a point, I suppose. Pritzker originally said the restrictions he put in place would last two weeks. The local politicians wanted the governor to stick to his word. And the governor’s own plan states that once a region meets the “resurgence criteria,” then a “tiered menu of mitigation options will be considered.” There are no actual hard and fast rules in his plan and those Metro East Democrats undoubtedly knew the loopholes going in.

But that meant Pritzker would be imposing significantly tighter restrictions on Will and Kankakee counties, even though the two counties have substantially lower positivity rates than the Metro East (8.4% vs. 10.4% as I write this).

And that set off Republican state Senators Sue Rezin and John Curran, who represent parts of Region 7. The two claimed the governor had “decided to place partisan politics above science.” The same rules should apply to all regions, they said, “and they should be based on science, not politics.”

It didn’t help that Pritzker failed to reach out to the two Republican legislators before making his announcement. So, they, too, had a valid point.

On a crass political level, the Metro East was instrumental to Pritzker’s 2018 Democratic primary win. It’s also a vitally important region for his “Fair Tax” proposal. Without the full and fervent cooperation of those powerful local political organizations, there’s no dispute that his tax plan will be in serious trouble.

The plain fact of the matter, however, is that Pritzker cannot on the one hand say he values science over politics and then on the other even appear to cave on political grounds.

There may have been sound reasons to try and equalize restrictions with St. Louis because the city is mere minutes away from everyone in the Metro East, which is small in comparison to the Missouri metro region. It’s not like the governor can close the bridges, after all. And, yes, Pritzker said he’d give the region two weeks. But he openly admitted last week that his actions clearly didn’t work. Sometimes, you just gotta bite the bullet.

That region is on the verge of getting totally out of control, if it isn’t already. Illinois can’t do anything about Missouri. Deal with Illinois.

Thankfully, Pritzker seemed chastened by the whole experience last week when pressed by a reporter. “I will readily admit that that was not a good idea,” he said. He should never, ever do this again.

And it’s long past time for those Metro East Democratic legislators who’ve been up in arms since May about the governor’s executive orders to loudly demand that their constituents finally take this pandemic seriously. There’s no excuse for this nonsense. The region is fast becoming a national hot spot, for crying out loud.

Several of those same legislators pushed hard to establish a large local contact tracing pilot program in St. Clair County. But experts have said contact tracing can be overwhelmed when the positivity rate is above 5%. It’s not a panacea. Do better. There is no easy way out of this.

You’d think those folks in the Metro East would start taking this thing seriously. They are not. In fact, they’re growing more militant.

* For instance

On behalf of the 650-member organizations and businesses of the RiverBend Growth Association, I write this letter to implore you to seek a better way to measure the positivity rate that has placed Region 4 back into resurgence mitigation. These efforts are affecting the local Riverbend economy, forcing the closure and/or severely limiting the capacities of our restaurant, bars and entertainment industries. Many owners, employees, and families are being unfairly placed in financial jeopardy.

    • Why are bars, restaurants and our entertainment industry being looked at with scrutiny, when the contact tracing does not point to these specific industries as a source of the problem?

    • Why are those incarcerated or living in nursing homes and assisted care facilities included in the totals when they are confined to their facilities and not a part of the community spread?

    • Why are the daily hospital admissions, due to COVID-19, not factored into your decision to allow these businesses to operate when that was such a focus back in March and April?

The RiverBend Growth Association and its members ask that you take these questions into account as we continue to try and move further in the right direction. By looking at the above, and not just restaurants, bars and the entertainment industry, we can help create a better sense of normalcy for our local businesses who are trying to plan for employee scheduling and inventory ordering.

We ask that you give these questions your consideration as you weigh your decision, on Sept. 16, to remove the current restrictions placed on our area.

In closing, it is extremely unfair to all of our local businesses that have been doing their part to serve their customers in a safe and comfortable environment to endure the economic hardship that this resurgence mitigation has placed them in when other businesses are allowed to operate freely. The RiverBend Growth Association will continue to promote Safely Shopping Local in the Riverbend.

* I asked the governor’s office to address those three questions…

• Why are bars, restaurants and our entertainment industry being looked at with scrutiny, when the contact tracing does not point to these specific industries as a source of the problem?

    1. Contact tracing does point to bars, restaurants and entertainment venues contributing to the spread of COVID-19.
    2. Contact tracing in the area has pointed to bars and social gatherings at various venues as major contributors of spread. In Madison County, 23 percent of the most recent outbreaks occurred in restaurants and bars. The same is true of 12.5 percent of East St. Louis’ East Side Health District’s traced outbreaks and 10.5 percent of those in St. Clair County. In each jurisdiction, outbreaks were also tied to critical infrastructure such as healthcare, as well as workplaces, group homes and office settings.
    3. As is highlighted in the weekly press release announcing the counties that are at warning level, which includes Madison County, some of the common factors for an increase in cases and outbreaks are associated with college parties, weddings, large gatherings, bars and clubs, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, travel to neighboring states, and spread among members of the same household who are not isolating at home. Cases connected to schools are beginning to be reported. General transmission of the virus in the community is also increasing.
    4. Local public health officials are observing people not social distancing, gathering in large groups, and not using face coverings. In some counties, local law enforcement and states’ attorneys are not enforcing important mitigation measures like social distancing and the wearing of face coverings. Additionally, some people refuse to participate in contact tracing and are not providing information on close contacts or answering the phone. Individuals are also waiting to get tested believing their symptoms are allergies or some other cause.

• Why are those incarcerated or living in nursing homes and assisted care facilities included in the totals when they are confined to their facilities and not a part of the community spread?

    1. The notion that those with COVID-19 who live in congregate settings are not a part of community spread is not supported by science. People with COVID-19 who live in congregate settings interact with a variety of staff members who then interact with others in the community during the course of their life outside of work. Also, the assumption in this question is that congregate settings are leading to increased positivity rates for region 4. That again, is simply false. Those who live in congregate settings are counted because they are part of the community and they can contribute to the virus spreading in the community.
    2. Between August 23rd and 29th, the region saw 1,064 new cases, 25 of which (2.35%) were associated with long-term care facilities. In preliminary data from August 30th to September 5th, long-term care facilities were associated with 5 of 1230 cases, or 0.41%.

• Why are the daily hospital admissions, due to COVID-19, not factored into your decision to allow these businesses to operate when that was such a focus back in March and April?

    • Daily hospitalization admissions due to COVID-19 are factored into the mitigation plan outlined by the state as you can read here: https://coronavirus.illinois.gov/s/restore-illinois-mitigation-plan

    • There are two ways to trigger additional state level mitigation: Sustained increase in 7-day rolling average (7 out of 10 days) in the positivity rate AND ONE OF THE FOLLOWING: Sustained 7-day increase in hospital admissions for a COVID-19 like illness; Reduction in hospital capacity threatening surge capabilities (ICU capacity or medical/surgical beds under 20%) OR Three consecutive days averaging greater than or equal to 8% positivity rate (7 day rolling)

    • Region 4 has triggered the 8 percent positivity rate, a rate that according to the public health experts is a warning sign that unless mitigations are in place to lower it, the rate of growth for the virus will be exponentially more difficult to manage.

* Related…

* Local lawmakers unhappy with Pritzker’s tougher virus rules

- Posted by Rich Miller        

32 Comments
  1. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 2:51 pm:

    Let them secede and join Misery.


  2. - Stephanie - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:06 pm:

    Wedding venues are still hosting large events in the metro east. They seem to be completely ignoring the new mitigation measures put in place.

    One advertised to brides earlier in the pandemic stating “Don’t let corona ruin your special day, we’re here to help!”

    This will never end.


  3. - BlueDogDem - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:06 pm:

    spent about equal time in Regions 4& 5 this weekend. No discernable difference in compliance.


  4. - Donnie Elgin - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:08 pm:

    You can label them defiant or militant. Others may use the words non-compliant or protesting actions that are against someone’s wishes


  5. - pool boy - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:12 pm:

    I have relatives that live in Region 4. The older ones are following the recommended guidelines, the younger and middle aged ones not so much.


  6. - Jocko - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:18 pm:

    ==all of our local businesses that have been doing their part==
    While your elected officials and citizenry fail to do theirs.

    The bloc-heads remind me of the rabbi’s story about the man who drills a hole in ‘his’ room while traveling by boat.


  7. - DuPage Saint - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:25 pm:

    If some of the forecasters are right and the virus will come back stronger in the fall we all will be in a world of hurt


  8. - Honeybear - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:39 pm:

    I love me some Katie Stuart. But I think that the Metro East is turning redder because of Covid. The region owes a lot of prosperity to small business owners. I feel like the Metro East Dems are making a deal to survive. Unfortunately I don’t think placating the republican business owners is going to get them any votes. Its a deal with the devil at the crossroads at midnight


  9. - Froganon - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:46 pm:

    But keeping those businesses open for two more weeks improved economic indicators, didn’t it? After all, everyone “knows” that our economic pain is caused by the businesses restrictions not the virus or people staying home to avoid catching it, right, right?


  10. - SSL - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:50 pm:

    I don’t know why people just won’t wear a mask. It is so easy and puts many people at ease. Even better, wear it correctly. Cover your nose people or show everyone you aren’t smart enough to put it on correctly.

    As for the doom and gloom group projecting big death totals coming, you will likely be happily disappointed. The ICU and ventilator trend is flat and has been. The treatments and standard care has improved, the senior facilities are much more on top of protecting their residents and the vulnerable appear to be taking appropriate measures. I’m not saying the fat lady is getting ready to sing, but once the vaccines hit the market we’ll be back to talking about unfunded pensions and corruption. Thankfully.


  11. - H-W - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:52 pm:

    I want to not offend, so this is a serious question. Isn’t Madison County in the Metro-East, and aren’t the residents there pretty solid conservatives? When I think of Madison and Adams, I tend to think of Tea Party conservatives. In that context, is part of the problem the rugged individualism ethos?


  12. - Name Withheld - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:54 pm:

    Cases in sangamon county have been increasing for weeks, but the death toll has been at 40 for weeks as well. Deaths may be a lagging indicator, but for days or a couple of weeks only, not all summer. It’s time to move on from the nonsense and scare tactics.


  13. - Lefty Lefty - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 3:57 pm:

    “The Neal (sic) Ferguson team” actually said:

    “In the (unlikely) absence of any control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behaviour,…”

    It’s not funny that when I googled Neil Ferguson, the top results were a laundry list of right-wing “news” sites like gatewaypundit.com, the Federalist, and dailywire.com. We’d all be better off right now if people would follow the science instead of them.

    It’s early September and a forecast from March is being cited here. That’s fake news (and bad science).


  14. - Lefty Lefty - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:01 pm:

    Sure thing, Name Withheld, what’s a few more dead on top of the 190,000+, many of which could have been avoided if we all just put masks on?

    As soon as this is over, you can say “see that wasn’t so bad” and cook your right-wing freedom numbers some more. The question is whether that’s when there’s 250,000 dead or 400,000 dead in America because of “freedom.”


  15. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:04 pm:

    === a number of the original forecasters called for a much worse death toll===

    If you say 190,000 deaths are acceptable, you’re probably part of a cult of some sort.


  16. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:06 pm:

    ===actions that are against someone’s wishes===

    Aw. Poor things.


  17. - JS Mill - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:07 pm:

    =A number of the original forecasters=

    If they are doing it right, the regularly update the models with new input data based on current conditions, which they are doing. So I am not sure what your point is.

    One “forecaster” said the virus was going to simply disappear. We were going to go from 15 cases to zero in a few days. That “forecaster” has not updated his “model”. Can you guess his name?

    Hint: rhymes with Tonald Drump


  18. - Medvale School for the Gifted - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:08 pm:

    When the pastors decide to give advice, the followers will listen.


  19. - Anyone Remember - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:10 pm:

    H-W.
    Serious think “E Pluribus Unum” will be replaced by “You can’t tell me what to do!” … no /s


  20. - Bob_Loblaw - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:47 pm:

    Rachelle Crowe’s office has been dismissive to hostile to criticism. I’ve called several times since their demand to open early, and have had staffers tell me the small businesses are more important than the deaths, laugh at me for not going out, and straight up lie about their position. The Dems and Reps down here are in lockstep with the virus on this issue


  21. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:48 pm:

    You can’t explain the necessity and reality of science to those first unwilling to accept science and second those seeing money more important than lives… under a silly guise of “freedom”.

    Problem is… they are the ones infecting my family, friends, people I don’t know, people special to someone or someones, they are hurting whole communities for a cult of personality too.

    I dunno if you’d want to be the one against something and the reason being you don’t accept facts or science and wear that proudly.

    That’s like relishing being a foolish soul.

    Sure, it’s fun for a while…


  22. - Bob_Loblaw - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:48 pm:

    Monica Bristow used to be President of Riverbender Growth Association


  23. - BlueDogDem - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:49 pm:

    honeybear. I agree with many of your thoughts. But there are numerous Democratic small business owners who are on life support as well


  24. - Jibba - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 4:55 pm:

    ===few would have been avoided if we just obeyed you and put our masks on.===

    ===mask usage is at an all time high===

    Some citations needed. Or debunking.


  25. - Groundhog Day - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 5:01 pm:

    The seasonal influenza has been studied for years, and much is understood about why it peaks in the winter (although many mysteries remain). Anyway, just as we are sure the flu is coming back in a few months, it is a reasonable extrapolation that COVID will also. With increased deaths as in the spring. I certainly hope I am completely wrong.


  26. - Just Me 2 - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 5:16 pm:

    ===I write this letter to implore you to seek a better way to measure the positivity rate…===

    What he really means is find a different way that will produce the results we want to see.


  27. - olddog - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 5:30 pm:

    == Deaths may be a lagging indicator, but for days or a couple of weeks only, not all summer. It’s time to move on from the nonsense and scare tactics. ==

    Can’t argue with the numbers, but what might look like “nonsense and scare tactics” to some folks is precisely what keeps mortality rates down during an epidemic.


  28. - DownSouth - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 6:11 pm:

    there’s a wide disregard for any and all restrictions in Region 4. Few individuals or businesses are following any of the guidelines. In my county, the local HD is seemingly just ignoring complaints from the public and local law enforcement. If folks become quarantined, they ignore it and brag that they are supposed be quarantined, but “will not comply”. Devore is gaining popularity and he’s trolling for new customers. It’s a sad situation here, a little scary. It feels like I am living in an intellectual wasteland.
    I am high risk, as is my husband. We’ve literally had to put signage on porch instructing visitors. Very very few are taking any of this seriously in any way in my neighborhood. I really don’t see any good outcome at this point.


  29. - striketoo - Tuesday, Sep 8, 20 @ 7:45 pm:

    When you consider the relative populations, (the Chicago metro area has about 2/3rds of the state’s population but only about a third of the new deaths) it is clear that the infections have significantly moved downstate (ie, outside of the Illinois portion of the Chicago metro area). Of course, being politically Trump country downstate takes its Covid clues from their leader.


  30. - Davis Junction - Wednesday, Sep 9, 20 @ 7:28 am:

    How many of the 10% in Metro East actually have symptoms? That’s the number worth having, as most people have little to no symptoms, and CDC data points to only 6% of folks that die with Covid actually die from Covid, the other 94% die from something else and happened to have Covid.


  31. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Sep 9, 20 @ 7:34 am:

    === CDC data points to only 6% of folks that die with Covid actually die from Covid, the other 94% die from something else and happened to have Covid.===

    Please stop being a Covidiot. That’s not what the data “showed”

    Thank you.


  32. - Downstate - Wednesday, Sep 9, 20 @ 10:53 am:

    Davis Junction - do you acknowledge that someone who is positive but does not have symptoms can spread the virus to others?


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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