As Illinois sees its 12th day of new reported COVID-19 cases over 10,000, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday announced new statewide restrictions on businesses, including shuttering casinos, movie theatres, banquet halls and museums across Illinois, and limiting retail store capacity.
Pritzker framed the new restrictions, set to take effect Friday, as a shared sacrifice to lower the strain on Illinois' healthcare system. The number of Illinoisans hospitalized with COVID-19 last week surpassed the statewide hospitalization record set during the peak of the state's first wave in the spring.
Since then, hospitalizations keep reaching new heights, with ICU bed and ventilator utilization following close behind.
“Think of exponential growth like a snowball rolling downhill, picking up speed and gaining in size," Pritzker said. "As it rolls, it gets larger and faster until it becomes something so big that it takes extraordinary effort to slow or stop it.”
Pritzker's office is relying on statistical models from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University showing the potential rise in hospitalizations without further mitigations. In the worst-case scenario under Northwestern's model, hospitalizations could reach levels up to five times the record set in the spring.
Pritzker said putting more restrictions on the state heading into the holiday season could potentially allow Illinoisans to hold more normal holiday gatherings next month if they canceled big Thanksgiving plans with people outside their immediate family units.
“The more we can avoid gatherings now, especially indoors with the people we don’t already live with, the more likely we are to be able to celebrate the December holidays with less risk to loved ones and ourselves," Pritzker said.
All of Illinois' 11 regions will begin operating under so-called Tier III mitigations beginning Friday. The Illinois Department of Public Health introduced a three-tier system of mitigations this summer. In August and September, two regions went under Tier I mitigations, which shuttered indoor dining and drinking, but were eventually able to lower their positivity rates to escape those mitigations.
However, after COVID-19 began spreading faster in early fall, certain regions began triggering Tier I mitigations again, and by early November, all 11 regions of Illinois were operating under mitigations. As of Tuesday, seven regions were operating under Tier I mitigations, and the four remaining regions were operating under Tier II mitigations, which slightly tightened restrictions on outdoor dining.
Despite massive pushback from the hospitality industry, lawsuits filed by individual restaurants have largely failed, and will now run up against an appellate court decision upholding Pritzker’s restrictions. However, under Tier III mitigations, outdoor dining will still be allowed.
The whole of Illinois will be under Tier III mitigations beginning Friday. Before today, seven regions were in Tier I mitigations and four were in Tier II mitigations.
Tier III mitigations shutter casinos, museums, group fitness classes, banquet halls +indoor group sports. pic.twitter.com/AAnBfMvuzC
— Hannah Meisel (@hannahmeisel) November 17, 2020
Under the Tier III restrictions, most retail stores, including big box stores like Walmart and Target, will be limited to 25% capacity. But grocery stores and pharmacies can continue operating at 50% capacity.
Gyms can remain open for members on a by-appointment basis, but group fitness classes will be prohibited.
Youth club and travel sports, as well as adult recreational sports are also not allowed. Banquet halls, private clubs, hotel ballrooms and golf clubs will be prohibited from holding private events, including weddings.
Salons and barber shops can continue operating at 25% capacity or 25 clients — whichever number is smaller — but must suspend services like facials or beard trims that require patrons to remove their masks.
In addition to shuttering casinos, Pritzker's orders will take video gaming terminals offline, cutting into the state's gambling revenues as well as revenues split between local governments and the bars, restaurants and gaming cafes who operate the gaming machines.
Illinoisans hospitalized with COVID-19 hit a new record high last week, and has since kept climbing, threatening to dwarf hospitalizations from Illinois’ first COVID-19 peak this spring. As of late Monday evening, 5,887 COVID patients were hospitalized in Illinois, with 1,158 in ICU beds and 545 on ventilators.
Bad news: Another record high for Illinoisans hospitalized with COVID. (Numbers always reported as of 11:59 p.m. last night).
There are 5,887 COVID patients hospitalized in Illinois.
Of those, 1,158 are in ICU beds (getting close to that spring record).
545 are on ventilators. pic.twitter.com/rJFoCkFvPz
— Hannah Meisel (@hannahmeisel) November 17, 2020
The Illinois Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported 12,601 new COVID-19 cases in Illinois, which includes a small number of probable cases. The state’s current average case positivity rate is 12.5%, according to IDPH.
Last week, Pritzker warned that with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations on the rise, Illinois would “quickly reach the point when some form of a mandatory stay-at-home order” would be the only option left on the table to combat the spread of the virus, though the governor insisted he did not want to put another one in place. Illinois’ spring stay-at-home order ended on April 28.
The Tier III mitigations are not indefinite; a region can go backward to Tier II mitigations — where casinos, museums, movie threatres and other recreation can resume — if it experiences an average positivity rate of 12% or less for three consecutive days, as well as having more than 20% of its ICU beds available across the region for three consecutive days along with a declining average number of COVID-19 hospitalizations for seven out of 10 days.
The mitigations do not affect schools or child care.