Starting Wednesday, Madison County will begin its phased plan to reopen the county, officially going against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s statewide plan to reopen Illinois.
The county Board of Health, which is comprised of county board members, voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to approve the resolution, 26-2, becoming one of the first counties in Illinois to defy the statewide stay-at-home order.
The four-phase plan will begin Wednesday, May 13, and stretch until late June.
Phase 1 allows nonessential travel to resume while advising against social gatherings of 10 or more people. Retail businesses may open with 25% occupancy and restaurants may have seated dining at a rate of 25% occupancy.
Personal care providers, such as hair, nail and massage providers, may reopen but only provide service by appointment. Childcare facilities can reopen but heavy sanitation rules have been put into place.
Gyms and indoor recreation spaces also may reopen at 25% occupancy. Public parks, golf courses, campgrounds, athletic fields, swimming pools and recreational spaces may open with limitations.
Churches can resume worship services, but may allow only 50% occupancy.
Phase 2, which is estimated to begin May 28 and last until June 12 if guidelines are followed, will increase social gatherings to 50 or more people, allow retail businesses, restaurants and churches to open further and allow increased occupancy.
Phase 3 is estimated to begin June 13 and last until June 27 if guidelines are followed and will open up churches entirely, increase occupancy at restaurants, bars and retailers to 75 percent and increase social gathering limitations to 150 people.
The final phase is estimated to begin June 27 and amounts to the total reopening of the county.
During the meeting, State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said the resolution and plan were only recommendations to county residents and emphasized that they were not legally enforceable.
“This is, as it’s titled, a set of recommended guidelines for reopening,” Gibbons said.
Several members of the board said they had received large amounts of emails and calls from constituents. Republican Judy Kuhn said some asked her to vote no on the plan, but the majority were in favor of reopening.
She said it was the board’s duty to meet the demand of their constituents and let small businesses who are struggling in Madison County reopen.
“I’m voting yes today,” she said. “Legislators at every level of government should be the voice of the people.”
Pritzker says funding could be pulled
Pritzker said during his daily press briefing Tuesday that counties and cities that defy his five-phase plan put in place to reopen Illinois could lose state and federal funding.
The comments came just hours before board members in Madison County voted to enact their own reopening plan.
“We would consider that,” he said in answer to a question from the Belleville News-Democrat. “The state always provides a lot of support to cities and counties. There are a number of enforcement utilities available to us and I don’t want to use those.
The governor added that federal funds that must pass through the state could also be restrained.
Pritzker said the people who are going against the state stay-at-home order aren’t listening to science and instead are listening to partisan rhetoric or their gut.
“The vast majority of those counties and individuals, those business owners are not talking to epidemiologists, they’re not talking to scientists — in fact, they’re not relying on science in any way whatsoever to make their decision,” Pritzker said. “They are putting the patrons of their businesses and the people who live in their counties and cities in danger when they simply break the rules, break the laws, in fact, when they decide they want to go it alone.”
Pritzker said the Southern Illinois region of Illinois, which includes Madison County, was “on track” to reach phase 3 in the next 16-17 days. However, he warned if counties open too early, that estimated date could be delated due to a second surge of COVID-19 cases.
County Board Democrat Kristen Novacich-Koberna voted yes on the plan, but had urged that the board hold off on voting until a more clear message from Pritzker came down. She said she worried about the possible fallout from the vote.
“I’m afraid that we may cut off our nose to spite our face. I don’t want to see anyone lose funding I don’t want to see anyone lose anything over us trying to help small businesses,” We want to help them, we don’t want to hurt them”
County Democrats say plan is dangerous
Other county Democrats also came out against the plan Tuesday afternoon in a press release, calling County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler’s plan dangerous and risky for small businesses.
“We all understand that there must be a plan in place to help reopen Madison County, and to help save small businesses, retailers and manufacturers, but this plan would ultimately endanger those same small businesses across our county,” said Madison County Democratic Party Chair Randy Harris. “Item 7 in the Resolution clearly shows Prenzler knows that small businesses may not be insured, may put their business licenses in a risky position, and he’s trying to avoid any legal liability for the county, while still encouraging businesses to open. This is politics, plain and simple.”
At Friday’s meeting, county Health Department Director Toni Corona said the department could handle the “intended or unintended consequences” of beginning to reopen the county, but said there is a risk the health service could be overwhelmed.
“The increased work that the resolution potentially implies on the health department’s part, is ‘bring it on,’” she said. “But I’m going to tell you, hear me loud, we’re maxed. We’re holding on by our fingernails right this second and there will be a lot of consequences intended and unintended as we continue on in this response.”