As COVID-19 Spreads, Illinois Bans Gatherings Of 50 Or More

Mar 16, 2020

Dr. Engozi Ezike (right), director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, speaks at the state's daily COVID-19 briefing at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Springfield. She was joined by Gov. J.B. Pritzker (center) and an American Sign Language interpreter (left).
Credit screen capture / Illinois Office of Communication and Information

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is ordering the cancellation of any event with more than 50 people. It’s the latest mandate in the ongoing effort to slow the spread of coronavirus disease.

Pritzker’s recommendation follows new guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They come a day after his order to close all bars and restaurants in Illinois effective 9 p.m. Monday night.

“This was a difficult decision, but it’s what the medical experts and the scientists tell us that we must do to safeguard the health of the people of Illinois,” Pritzker said Monday at his daily COVID-19 press briefing.

Public life in Illinois is meant to be winding down as people are urged to stay home and practice social distancing. Local schools are closed for at least two weeks, and as of Monday so are state parks and all video gambling machines.

There are now 105 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois. The state Department of Public Health says it’s been found in 15 counties — including for the first time Peoria and Will. But experts have said official case counts in America are likely understating the breadth of infections, since testing has been so limited.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the state's public health director, says Illinoisans should behave as though everyone they encounter has tested positive for coronavirus disease.

“People should assume that this novel coronavirus is in their community, and take steps to protect themselves and reduce the spread,” Ezike said Monday.

Pritzker said the ban on gatherings of 50 or more people could be reduced to 10.

It applies to public and private events, and includes religious services, fitness centers, and theaters. But it does not apply to grocery stories, gas stations, or other providers of “essential goods or services.”

For more COVID-19 coverage, visit NPR Illinois’ live blog and ongoing list of closures and cancellations.