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Pritzker Announces East St. Louis Contact Tracing Partnership, Addresses Casino Reopening

Screenshot of J.B. Pritzker via Blue Room Stream
Blue Room Stream
Blue Room Stream
Screenshot of J.B. Pritzker via Blue Room Stream

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a health organization in East St. Louis will lend its help to the state's COVID-19 contact tracing initiative. Meanwhile, the governor said Wednesday the state’s casinos will remain shuttered for now.

The East Side Health District in East St. Louis will join the St. Clair County Health Department in an effort to expand Illinois’ statewide contact tracing program.

ESHD Administrator Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside said expanding contact tracing efforts will help people feel more comfortable.

“We are not there to blame you or create any stigma that goes with one knowing that you have or may have been exposed to this virus,” Patton-Whiteside said during a press briefing Wednesday. “We don’t care, we’re there to help you.”

St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern said testing has been ramped up since the pandemic began.

“Just at this site alone, we have the opportunity to do 500 tests a day,” Kern said. “That is a major accomplishment in a fairly short amount of time.”

East St. Louis Mayor Robert Eastern III praised Gov. Pritzker for handling the fluidity of the pandemic and implementing public health measures on the fly. He said contact tracing is a good start to tracking the virus, but more can be done.

“The tracing grant would be very impactful here in East St. Louis, but the most impactful thing that we can do right now in order to make that grant more impactful is get tested,” Eastern said.

The governor said the state already has hundreds of people working as contact tracers, but emphasized technological tools would be necessary as the program expands.

More segments of Illinois’ economy, meanwhile, stand poised to reopen within the next few days. But when asked about when state officials will allow the state’s gambling parlors to reopen, Pritzker said he did not know what that timeline looks like.

Although state lawmakers approved legislation during last week’s special session that would adjust tax rates for a Chicago casino, among other things, Pritzker said he’s not been moved by arguments for reopening casinos quickly.

“There certainly are casino owners in the state of Illinois who have presented their ideas for that, but it’s not going to be happening in the next phase,” Pritzker said.

The governor said he’s most focused on gambling’s long term impact on the state’s economy, rather than the industry’s immediate reopening.

Mike Smith is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.
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